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From research to CPD: UCL linguistic experts help teachers with English grammar in schools

14 February 2017

UCL English Language and Literature is using a long-standing research project to enhance UK teachers' knowledge of English grammar so they can pass this on to their pupils. Led by Professor Bas Aarts, the department has developed its research data into a useful, practical teaching tool and a series of continuing professional development (CPD) courses.

The research background

The Survey of English Usage ('the Survey'), based in UCL English Language and Literature, carries out research in English linguistics.

The Survey, currently led by Professor Bas Aarts, was founded in 1959 by Randolph Quirk and many well-known linguists have undertaken research there. 

To date the Survey has completed three major research projects:

  1. The million-word Survey Corpus samples written and spoken British English produced between around 1955 to 1985. Hundreds of publications have used, and continue to use, material from the Survey Corpus.
  2. The British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB) is a corpus of spoken and written text materials, collected with the aim of providing materials for the study of English grammar. It also allows comparative studies of varieties of English throughout the world using the other corpora in the global ICE project. The Corpus has been used for research and education in universities, colleges and schools all over the world.
  3. The Diachronic Corpus of Present-Day Spoken English (DCPSE) contains 400,000 words of spoken material from the Survey Corpus, and 400,000 words of spoken material from ICE-GB, allowing scholars to track changes in the English language over a short span of time.

Read more about the research and history of the Survey.

Making the knowledge available to others

The Survey team wanted to make their research findings easily available to a wider audience in the community and developed several projects to disseminate it.

One project aimed to benefit pupils and teachers in UK schools. The team was involved in the development of the new National Curriculum (NC) for English at Key Stages 1 and 2 (published in 2014) by the Department of Education. This stipulates that teaching should make use of formal and informal English in different settings, and that grammar teaching must be taught and tested in schools. The Survey team saw an opportunity to use their research to ensure teachers have suitable materials readily available.

Why teachers need help with grammar

The English language plays a very important role in the National Curriculum. Teachers

at primary and secondary schools are expected to teach complex linguistic and grammatical concepts to their pupils. 

This can be challenging, as many English teachers have typically received very limited subject knowledge training in grammar. Often new recruits entering teacher-training courses know very little about grammar or are lacking confidence in their knowledge, presumably because they have picked it up in an unsystematic way. This situation raises obvious problems for the implementation of the National Curriculum.

Pupils, particularly at secondary schools, can also have difficulties with learning complex grammatical concepts. Typically, invented examples are used in the tradition of grammar teaching. These examples are often simple, but unrealistic, and pupils find them difficult to relate to real linguistic settings and almost impossible to apply to their own language production.

To address these problems The Survey created an English language teaching and learning platform for schools, based on their existing research, called Englicious.

" It was...surprising to really understand the level of anxiety secondary teachers have about grammar. There are now grammar requirements across all subject areas, from photography to physics, so teachers who traditionally left grammar to the English teachers are now finding that they have to teach it as well. "  Joanna Woodhouse,  Curriculum Team Leader and Literacy Coordinator at The Minster School and participant in English Grammar for Teachers CPD 2016. Read the full interview with Joanna.

Englicious in the classroom

The English Grammar classroom

Englicious is a web-based teaching and learning resource tailored to the goals of the National Curriculum for primary and secondary schools.

Working with the London Borough of Camden and St Aidan’s primary school in Haringey, Bas’ team designed a platform that enables teachers to meet the demands of the National Curriculum.

Englicious contains lesson plans, exercise materials, a glossary of grammatical terms, videos and other support materials to help deliver practical, relevant and up-to-date learning materials children can relate to.

Englicious also includes extensive resources to help the teachers refresh their own subject knowledge about grammar.

The resources are completely free and over 3,000 teachers are now enrolled on the site.

Watch a video about the Englicious resources being used in the classroom.

Providing professional development for teachers

The next phase of the project was to deliver valuable CPD for primary and secondary teachers.

Using funding supplied by the UCL Life Learning team and UCL Arts & Humanities, Bas recruited Dr Seth Mehl, and subsequently Dr Ellen Smith, to work on the project and deliver CPD training for teachers.

The CPD training days aim to:

  • illustrate the differences between the old and new National Curriculum with regard to English grammar
  • equip primary and secondary teachers with the knowledge and vocabulary they need to teach grammar
  • show them engaging ways to teach grammar to their pupils by using the online Englicious resources

As the team was determined to keep access to their research and the Englicious resources free for all teachers, the CPD offering was a way to generate essential income for the project.

Through the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), they’re offering large CPD discounts to those currently studying to become teachers. They’ve now also delivered several CPD days and bespoke inset training days at local schools.

Future plans for the project include exploring ways to deliver the CPD days nationally, and also to develop follow-on courses to keep teachers’ knowledge and skills up to date.

Feedback from teachers who attended the CPD course: English Grammar for Teachers:

  • “Challenged my own learning at times – great!!”
  • “The day went beyond my expectations. The subject knowledge and enthusiasm of the workshop leaders was inspiring”
  • “Very thorough, with practical activities to support…a resource that can now be used/incorporated in lessons”.

Further information

Read about one teacher's experience on the short course 'English Grammar for Teachers'.

Other related short courses



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Page last modified on 12 July 2016 14:49