Verbs and conjunctions

Verb tenses and conjunctions are two of the most commonly misused grammatical markers for school children and are essential for speaking, reading and writing well.

Verb tenses modify a verb to give us information about time, such as whether action occurred in the past, present or future (the dog will jump/is jumping/jumped). They also give us information about who is doing the action (he runs, she runs, I run, you run, they run). Irregular verbs do not follow the pattern of the other verbs. Children typically develop these later than regular verbs and may still be learning to use them correctly in the early years of school. Usually these occur in past tense, such as ran, ate, drew, caught and they can be difficult for children with language difficulties to learn. Passive verbs change the order of the sentence so that the person doing the action is at the end rather than the beginning of the sentence such as “the girl pushed the boy” becoming “the boy was pushed by the girl. These also can be confusing for children with language difficulties.

When helping children to learn to use verb tenses work though the following steps:

  • Modelling: He will jump. He is jumping. He jumped. As you do this help your child link the action with the time element “Tomorrow he will jump. Now he is jumping. Yesterday he jumped”
  • Comprehension: Look at these pictures and show me ‘He will jump’.
  • Imitation: You tell me the sentence – ‘He will jump’.
  • Forced Choice: Do we say “he runned” or “he ran”?
  • Sentence closure/expression: The boy….
  • Practice/ generalisation: Tell me about what your friend is doing.

Try these activities to practice verb tenses with your child:

Act it out. Use dolls, teddies, toy farm animals or figurines or even yourself and your child to act out the verb tenses in real time. “Look at teddy, he will jump, look now he is jumping, teddy jumped, now it is dogs turn”. You can use this technique with simple actions such as clapping and jumping but also make it more fun by doing this modelling while on the playground, on a home-made obstacle course, cooking or doing craft activities.

Talk about daily activities using verb tenses. Tell your child what you are going to do using future tense: “I will make a sandwich, I will get bread and jam, I will spread the jam, I will cut the bread then you will eat the sandwich”. Next talk about what you are doing as you do the activity using present tense: “I am making the sandwich, I am getting the bread, I am spreading the jam, I am cutting the sandwich, you are eating the sandwich”. Finally talk about the activity after you finished it using past tense: “I made a sandwich, I got bread, I spread it, I cut it and you ate it”.

Make some verb tense pictures. Use a digital camera to take photos of your child before during and after they do an activity. For example take a picture of your child holding their toothbrush, brushing their teeth and rinsing or wiping their face. Print out the pictures and place them in order on the table and model the sentences: “you will brush your teeth, you are brushing your teeth, you brushed your teeth”. Next mix the pictures up and ask your child to put them back in order and tell you the sentences.

Make a verb tense video. Many people now have video cameras or have video functions on their phone or iPad. Use the ideas from “act it out” or “daily activities” and record the activity in a short video. Model the verb tenses as a commentary as you do the actions so that your child can hear the words and see the action at the same time. They will love to watch videos which star their family members, their toys and themselves. Let them watch it over and over for lots of modelling and practice.

Using verb tenses correctly in written work: Older children with language difficulties often make errors in verb tenses when they are writing.

To help with this try:

Reading written work aloud. Encouraging children to read their work aloud helps then to hear when their grammar does not “sound right” and encourages them to self-monitor and self-correct their written work. You can use the steps above if the child needs help to correct their errors.

Using a grammar check on the computer. Show the child the difference between the spell check and the grammar check and explain that the grammar check means the words are not right. Help them to read aloud and correct grammatical errors as they write.

Conjunctions are used to join shorter simple sentences together to form longer, more complex ones. They also provide important information about how different words and ideas relate to each other in terms of things such as time and causality. Think about how each of the following have different meanings: I ate it when it was hot, I ate it because it was hot, I ate it although it was hot, I ate it and it was hot, I ate it but it was hot, I ate it however it was hot, I ate it while it was hot, I ate itbefore it was hot, I ate it after it was hot. Each sentence has a different meaning because of the way the conjunction links the two parts together.

Conjunctions become particularly important when children are at school and developing literacy skills. In spoken language we often use a lot of “and” and “then” conjunctions and these are used quite easily by most younger children, but after the age of five children begin to understand and use more complex conjunctions. Children who have difficulty with this may have difficulty understanding what they are reading and may not be able to write in a clear and interesting way.

To help children develop understanding and use of conjunctions try:

Developing awareness through books: Make a habit of reading good quality children’s books to your child regularly. As you read, emphasis the conjunctions slightly. After a while stop at a conjunction and see if your child can guess what comes next: “He went to the shop for an ice cream but……” See if your child can fill in with an appropriate response. They can use the picture cues to help. If your child says something which does not make sense, use this as an opportunity to talk about the conjunction, such as “He went to the shop for an ice cream but…..” Child “he got one” Adult “when we say but it means something different happened to what was expected, it might be “but they had run out” or “but he changed his mind”, what could we say?

Developing conjunctions though storytelling: If your child uses lots of “and then” when they tell stories you can help them use more complex conjunction by telling a story together, with the adult putting a conjunction at the end of the child’s sentences and allowing them to finish the sentence. Use a picture book to provide the story. Adult “What happened?” Child they went to the shop” Adult “They went to the shop because …” Child they went to the shop because they wanted an ice cream”. Adult “They went to the shop for an ice-cream but…..” and so on. Record your story though writing or taping it.

Sentence making: Write a number of conjunctions on separate cards. Use the above examples to being with. Write a simple sentence on a card such as “the dog chased the cat”. Place one of the conjunction cards at the end of the sentence and ask your child to finish the sentence such as “the dog chased the cat but….” Then change the conjunction card and make a different sentence “the dog chased the cat when…” If your child’s sentence does not make sense, model a correct sentence and talk about the meaning of the conjunction.

To help children use conjunctions in written work try:

Using a list of conjunctions on your child’s desk as a cue as they write. Talk about the different ones that they used when you read their work, and perhaps suggest some others.

Highlighting all the “and” and “then” words and using the list to choose a better more interesting joining word to put in it’s place.

Photocopying a piece of writing then blanking out all the conjunctions with a black texta and seeing if your child can guess what the word was by looking at the two parts of the sentence and thinking about how they relate to each other.

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