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Shannon O'Sullivan


  • Experienced Senior Leader and Primary Teacher
  • Specialises in data, Leadership, English, Maths and Curriculum design
Key Stage,Curriculum

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A primary writing game your children will love

As English Lead in a very large primary school during the introduction of the new curriculum, I clearly remember the faces of the teachers as I explained the next part of today’s inset is… Grammar! Specifically, adverbials and adverbial phrases. Puzzled faces crept like wildfire across the room. Whispers were heard, “What is an adverbial again?”

I had spent the first two hours introducing interactive reading to writing approaches, why did I plan grammar in at this point, I panicked, just before lunch? So, I changed tactics, I ditched the slides. Let’s play a game! I did have over 30 teachers and another 30+ support staff in the room. I really hadn’t planned this. Fortunately, I did not need any extra resources. This game became a school-wide go to and absolutely rocketed writing! Children across the school were correctly using terminology like adverbials, phrases and conjunctions.

Step One

Begin by sharing a picture, or drawing, or word. This works best when linked to the book which is the basis for your current writing. Let’s start with tiger, the noun. Now we must add a determiner, which tiger? Next, consider the adjective, ferocious, striped, fierce. Each time have a pupil write these on a piece of paper. I like to think of this as the Talk, Develop, Build, Play approach. With pupils demonstrating vocabulary and oracy skills first.

Step Two

I always found my pupils liked drawings, so draw a clock on a piece of paper, now model and share an adverbial of time. When does something take place? In the morning? After lunch? On Sunday? Or use a fronted adverbial, such as first or next. Choose one and write it on a piece of paper or whiteboard.

Step Three

Draw a palm tree or house etc. Now model and share an adverbial of place. Where does something take place? Upstairs? On a deserted island? In the countryside? In the forest? Write this on a separate piece of paper. Remind children you are using a preposition if you write an adverbial phrase, in the office.

Step Four

What is the noun actually doing? What action is taking place? Devour, dashed, bounce? Add in your powerful action verb.

Step Five

How does something take place? An adverbial of manner tells us the way something is done, (often they end in an ly- however words like fast, well and little, do not). Again, do as above.

Now that we have where, when and how something takes place, we must add the above, who and what is taking place and describe them. Now, play.

Deep in the rainforest, at dusk, a ferocious tiger slowly but silently stalks his prey.
Now, move it around.
Slowly but silently, at dusk, deep in the rainforest, a ferocious tiger stalks his prey.
Now, move it around.
At dusk, a ferocious tiger, slowly but silently stalks his prey, deep in the rainforest.

Move the children around, reworking the sentence, adding commas and conjunctions as you go to build more interesting sentences. The majority of your children will begin their sentences more interestingly, the more often you play similar games, they will begin to use the game independently developing unconscious application of the skill.

My top tips for teaching any sentence or grammar game:

  • Use the correct terminology, guide pupils and staff too. Having taught across the primary stages, this ensures a consistent approach.
  • You do not need special resources; the best games are played with post-it’s, paper and whiteboards.
  • If you have support, involve them, have them play along. If you can, have them write things to be placed on the working wall.
  • Try displaying this on your working wall to support the children using the approach in their writing.
  • When first introducing this game, I would do this as a group, developing this independently once they are comfortable with the expectations.

Remember writing should be interesting, interactive and fun!