Research supporting the teaching of L1 English grammar

The following publications are generally supportive of the teaching of explicit English grammar to English-speaking pupils. (Please tell me if you can add to the list or improve it in any way.) The works are organised according to the which benefit of grammar-teaching they support.

Primary (years 1-6, ages 5 to 11)

  • 2016. Safford, Kimberly (with David Messer, Jill McLachlan, Kim Walker, Kerenza Ghosh, Stephanie Laird, Ann Disney and Deborah Wright) Teaching grammar and testing grammar in the English primary school. An investigation of the impact on teachers and teaching of the grammar element of the statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) in England. (Summarised in Kimberly 2016 below.) Main findings:
    • In English primary schools, since the introduction of the statutory SPaG test:
      • Time spent teaching decontextualized and contextualised grammar has increased significantly.
      • Grammar is now taught explicitly and formally as a classroom literacy routine.
      • The grammar test format influences teaching content and approaches.
      • Teachers observe that pupils enjoy learning grammar and taking the test.
      • Teachers disagree about the extent to which explicit grammar teaching and testing have a positive impact on pupils’ language and literacy skills
      • Teachers feel more confident about teaching grammar.
    • Additional desk-based research indicates:
      • Ethnic and linguistic minority pupils perform as well as, or better than, white and native English speaking pupils on the SPaG test.
      • Pupil socioeconomic deprivation is the strongest indicator of low performance on SPaG.
      • Socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils perform better on SPaG when they are learning in classrooms that are linguistically and ethnically diverse.
  • 2016. Safford, Kimberly. “Teaching Grammar and Testing Grammar in the English  Primary School: The Impact on Teachers and Their Teaching  of the Grammar Element of the Statutory Test in Spelling,  Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG).” Changing English 23 (2016): 3–21.
    Abstract: The  research  examined  the  impact  on  teachers  of  the  grammar element  of  a  new  statutory  test  in  Spelling,  Punctuation  and Grammar (SPaG) in primary schools in England. The research aimed to evaluate the nature and the extent of changes to the teaching of grammar and to wider literacy teaching since the introduction of the test in 2013. The research explored teachers’ responses to teaching grammar to a statutory test format, and how teachers implemented rapid curriculum change in their classrooms. The research sought to learn the perspectives of teachers as they adjusted to new English assessments  and  new  expectations  for  children’s  language  in  the primary school. This paper draws on teacher interviews (n = 16) and an online survey of teaching staff ( n = 170). Teachers discuss their knowledge,  understanding  and  enjoyment  of  grammar  at  their own level, and their skills for teaching pupils; they also discuss their observations  of  how  pupils  have  responded  to  explicit  grammar teaching and the grammar test. The data give some insights into the processes for teachers of applying new requirements for teaching and  testing  grammar,  and  how  teachers  strive  to  make  grammar accessible to children. The findings discussed in this paper are: (1) since the introduction of the statutory SPaG test in primary schools, time spent teaching decontextualised and contextualised grammar has increased significantly; (2) grammar is now taught explicitly and formally as a classroom literacy routine; (3) the test format influences grammar  teaching  content  and  approaches;  (4)  teachers  observe that pupils enjoy learning grammar and taking the test; (5) teachers disagree about the extent to which explicit grammar teaching and testing have a positive impact on pupils’ language and literacy skills; (6) teachers feel more confident about teaching grammar.
  • 2016. Bell, Huw. “Teacher Knowledge and Beliefs about Grammar: A Case Study of an English Primary School.” English in Education, 2016, 1–16.
    Abstract: This case study of developing teacher attitudes, beliefs and content knowledge at one primary school in the North-West of England deals with the new spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) elements of the National
    Curriculum, focusing on grammatical terms and concepts. It uses data collected over 10 months from June 2014 to March 2015, including surveys, interviews and comments made during post-observation discussions and during SPaG CPD sessions. The findings suggest that, while much work remains to be done in developing teachers’ knowledge base, attitudes are largely  supportive of teaching children grammar terms and concepts.
  • 2011. Nunes, Terezinha, and Peter Bryant. “Applied Linguistics and Primary School Teaching.” In Why We Need to Know about More than Phonics to Teach English Literacy, edited by Sue Ellis and Elspeth McCartney, 140–53. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
    [Why primary children need to learn about morphological structure.]


Focused teaching improves writing

  • Research by Prof Debra Myhill and colleagues has shown a very clear positive effect of focused grammar teaching on pupils’ writing skills.
  • Bryant, P., Devine, M., Ledward, A., and Nunes, T. (2002). Spelling with Apostrophes and Understanding Possession. British Journal of Educational Psychology 67. 91-110.
  • Bryant, P., Nunes, T., and Bindman, M. (2004). The Relations Between Children’s Linguistic Awareness and Spelling: The Case of the Apostrophe. Reading and Writing 12. 253-276.
  • Nunes, T. and Bryant, P. (2006) Improving Literacy by Teaching Morphemes. (London: Routledge)
  • Nunes, T., Bryant, P., and Bindman, M. (1997). Learning to Spell Regular and Irregular Verbs. Reading and Writing 9. 427-449.
  • Hurry, J. (2005) Why morphology matters and comprehension counts. Discussion paper for QCA’s “English 21” inquiry.
  • Hurry, J; Nunes, T; Bryant, P; Pretzlik, U; Parker, M; Curno, T; and Midgely, L. (2005) Transforming research on morphology into teaching practice. Research Papers in Education 20. 187-206.

Sentence combining improves writing

  • Hillocks, G. and Mavrognes, N. (1986). Sentence combining. In Hillocks, G.(ed.), Research on Wrtten Composition: New Directions for Teaching. Urbana, IL: NCTE. 142-146.
  • Hillocks, G. (2003). Reconceptualizing Writing Curricula: What We Know and Can Use.

Even unintegrated grammar teaching can help some children

  • Bateman, D. R. and Zidonis, F. J. (1966). The effect of a study of transformational grammar on the writing of ninth and tenth graders. Champaign, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.

Unintegrated teaching generally doesn’t improve writing

Grammars continue to grow through school age.

  • Chomsky, C. (1969). The  acquisition  of  syntax  in  children  from  5  to  10. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Perera, K. (1984). Children’s Writing and Reading. Analysing Classroom Language. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Perera, K. (1990). Grammatical differentiation between speech and writing in children aged 8 to 12. In Carter, R.(ed.), Knowledge About Language and the Curriculum. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 216-233.

Teaching pupils grammar improves their listening and comprehension skills

Dabrowska, E. (1997) The LAD goes to school: A cautionary tale for nativists. Linguistics 35,

Chipere, N. (2001). Variations in native speaker competence: Implications for native language teaching. Language Awareness 10. 107-124.

Chipere, N. (2003). Understanding Complex Sentences: Native Speaker Variation in Syntactic Competence. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Street, J & Dabrowska, E. (2010) More individual differences in language attainment: How much do adult native
speakers of English know about passives and quantifiers? Lingua 120, 2080-2094

Investigative grammar teaching helps children to understand the scientific method.

Fabb, N. (1985). Linguistics for ten-year-olds. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 6. 45-61.

Honda, M. (1994). Linguistic inquiry in the science classroom: “It Is Science, but It’s Not Like a Science Problem in a Book”. MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics 6. 1-262.

Honda, M. and O’Neil, W. (1993). Triggering science-forming capacity through linguistic inquiry. In Hale, K. & Keyser, J.(eds.), The View From Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 229-255.

Grammar for fun, challenge, interest and creativity