Teaching English Grammar in Schools

Creating a Web-Based Platform for English Language Teaching and Learning

A Knowledge Transfer Fellowship

funded by
in partnership with Camden Council

The interactive Grammar of English App

A new Mobile App for teachers and students to learn English grammar.

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The Glamour of Grammar workshop - 8 July 2010

Project blog


UCL: Survey of English Usage

Bas Aarts (Knowledge Transfer Fellow)
Sean Wallis (Senior Research Fellow)
Dan Clayton (Research Fellow)

Camden Council: Children Schools and Families Directorate

Karen Thomas (Deputy Head, School Improvement Service)
Alison Pyle (Senior Secondary Ethnic Minority Achievement Consultant)
Claire Wilmer (Secondary English Consultant)
Karla Martin-Theodore (Secondary Ethnic Minority Achievement Consultant)


The English language plays a very important role in the National Curriculum (NC). Great demands are made of teachers at secondary schools to teach complex linguistic and grammatical concepts, as laid down in the NC. Table 1 below summarises the main points of grammar required of students at Key Stages 3-5 (or, for English for Speakers of other Languages, Entry 3 to Level 2). These requirements are extremely demanding for both teachers and pupils.

Most English teachers have received limited linguistic training at teacher training college. Hudson and Walmsley (2005: 616) write:

Most younger teachers know very little grammar and are suspicious of explicit grammar teaching. Not surprisingly, therefore, new recruits entering teacher-training courses typically either know very little grammar (Williamson & Hardman 1995) or have no confidence in their knowledge, presumably because they have picked it up in an unsystematic way (Cajkler & Hislam 2002). This situation raises obvious problems for the implementation of the official programme.

Teachers also have a very limited period of time to plan and organise lessons, mark assessments, and so forth.

Pupils at secondary schools 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. They find these difficult to relate to real linguistic settings and almost impossible to apply to their own language production.

To address these problems we propose to create an English language teaching and learning platform based on our existing research. The platform would be specifically designed for teachers and students at secondary schools and delivered over the internet.

Aims and Objectives

The impetus for this proposal is a recent review of Key Stage 3 Grammar Teaching, published by DfES in 2007, which concluded that teaching should make use of formal and informal English in different settings, and that grammar teaching must be driven by real examples.

We will construct a web-based teaching and learning platform consisting of an interactive structured English language course, tailored to the goals of the National Curriculum’s Key Stages 3-5 (see Table 1). This will consist of lesson modules dynamically accessing a grammatically analysed corpus of English.

The objectives of this project are to:

  1. Translate our rich corpus resources into effective English language teaching tools and curriculum materials for teachers to use in the classroom;
  2. Provide pupils with high-quality web-based learning materials in both classroom and self-directed modes; and
  3. Provide quality Continuous Professional Development (CPD) resources to enable teachers to make the most of the resource.

Our partner is the School Improvement Service of the London Borough of Camden.


The dynamic selection of real language examples taken from the corpus has many potential benefits:

  • Since the source material is independent from the teaching modules (the system design is modular and extensible) modules can easily be revised;
  • A great deal of context and contextual information is available (e.g. the setting in which a conversation is conducted, who the speakers are, etc.), as well as audio material;
  • Material can be selected for a particular student group or purpose (e.g. to teach students the features of formal English, or how to write a letter).

The proposed platform will have a modular design to provide a very high level of adaptation for teachers and students.


The specific outputs are:

  • A fully-functional web-based system for teaching and learning the English language and its grammar, built in Moodle, interfaced with the ICE-GB corpus;
  • Course materials for English language students at Key Stages 3-5 and equivalents used in the classroom by teachers or in a self-directed mode by students working alone. Examples will be sourced directly from the corpus providing context, alternative examples, etc.
  • A course management component for teachers including:
    • tools for creating courses from existing modules;
    • tools for selecting modules from restricted material sets;
    • guidance on the selection of modules;
    • randomisation controls, etc.
  • Exercise and project materials;
  • Continuous Professional Development materials for English language teachers to support the above;
  • Evaluation results of the platform;
  • User documentation on the system, integrated into the website;
  • Technical documentation, including the interface to the corpus management system.

The main beneficiaries will be teachers and students of the English language in the local community, but with the long-term aim of producing a resource that is available across the UK. Teachers will benefit from the availability of pre-written, but flexible and adaptable, courses and modules for building their own course plans. They will be able to access corpus materials, including texts and audio recordings. Students will benefit through the acquisition of grammatical concepts being made relevant to them through lessons and interactive hands-on exercises.

Further benefits:

  • Teachers can monitor students’ progress, and can support their homework, exercises, projects and self-study;
  • Teachers can decide on course modules, and then select specific text genres to teach (formal/informal, spoken/written, etc.). They can also select materials written by different authors in different periods and opt for different complexities of analysis;
  • Teachers can select source materials and determine a set of possible lessons, exercises and student projects.

The resource will be will be compliant with the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (SENDA), and can also be used for the following categories of students: ESOL students (English for Speakers of Other Languages), ‘Skills for Life’ students, and Adult Education students. The use of web technologies is designed to maximise access from schools, libraries (via the People’s Network, www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk), and home.

The entire development system will be available over the internet from UCL and requires no additional software at the user’s end, aside from standard internet browser programs. This will enable the community in general, and teachers and students of English in particular, to gain access to the system.


Level Entry 3/KS 3 Level 1/KS 4 Level 2/KS 5
  • word order in complex sentences with one subordinate clause
  • defining relatives
  • reported speech
  • wh- questions
  • word order with multiple subordinate clauses
  • conjunctions for contrast, reason, etc
  • conditional forms
  • non-defining relatives
  • participial clauses
  • more reported speech
  • embedded questions and tag questions
  • word order with wide range of subordinate clauses
  • conditional forms using had and would/could (etc.) have
  • comparative clauses
  • complex participial clauses
  • fronting and cleft sentences
  • more advanced reported speech, question tags, etc.
Noun phrases
  • pre and post modification
  • a range of determiners
  • more complex pre and post modification
  • word order of determiners
  • definite, indefinite and zero articles
  • possessives
  • noun phrases of increasing complexity
  • zero article with countable and uncountable nouns
Verb forms, time markers, interrogatives, negatives and short forms
  • past, present, perfect
  • modals
  • phrasal verbs
  • present perfect continuous
  • past perfect, simple passive
  • conditional would
  • causitive have and get
  • more modals, phrasal verbs
  • wide range of simple, continuous, perfect, perf. continuous verb forms
  • would expressing habit
  • modals for past obligation, etc.
  • wide range of phrasal verbs
  • comparative and superlative
  • compounds
  • comparison
  • collocations of adjective plus preposition
  • connotations and emotive strength of adjectives
  • wider range of collocations
Adverbs and prepositional phrases
  • range of prepositional phrases
  • expressions of certainty
  • intensifiers
  • concession
  • collocates of verbs and prepositions
  • collocates of nouns and prepositions
  • adverbial phrases
  • comparative, superlative adverbs
  • more intensifiers
  • prepositions and -ing form
  • prepositions followed by noun phrases
Discourse markers
  • addition, sequence, contrast
  • vagueness
  • cause and effect
  • spoken discourse markers
  • logical markers
  • sequence markers
Table 1: English Grammar in Key Stages 3-5


Hudson, R. and J. Walmsley (2005) The English Patient: English grammar and teaching in the twentieth century, Journal of Linguistics 43.3, 593-622.

Nelson, G., S. Wallis and B. Aarts (2002) Exploring Natural Language: Working with the British Component of the International Corpus of English. G29, Varieties of English Around the World series. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. More...

Quirk, R., S. Greenbaum, G. Leech and J. Svartvik (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.

This page last modified 14 May, 2020 by Survey Web Administrator.