Understanding standard English and other varieties
The following teaching approaches are designed to develop pupils' interest in and knowledge of language varieties and how these vary according to factors such as region, culture, time and usage. They also touch on differences between speech and writing.
The work in this substrand has strong connections with the Language strand from the Framework for secondary English.
- Pupils research examples of phrases and sentences they might hear spoken but would not expect to see written (except as dialogue): I never do nothing on Fridays. I've just ate my tea. We was out when it happened. I really likes it when Sarah comes round. The place were dead quiet. Ask them to explore which features make these examples of spoken rather than written language.
- Compare the grammar of the local variety of English with standard English (SE), for example subject–verb agreement with was/were (point out that was/were is the only past tense verb that agrees with the subject in SE). Collect a list of verbs that have different past tenses or past participles in SE and local English, and discuss the different situations in which the alternatives are used. Ask pupils to write a glossary for visitors to the area giving the SE version of phrases used in the local dialect.
- Create a text in which we expect SE, but include some non-standard features, for example, a radio news report rewritten to contain errors of agreement and double negative: The Prime Minister’s been in Birmingham today chatting to school children. We was hoping to bring you a live report…. Ask pupils to pinpoint why this text feels 'wrong', for example why the style feels too informal. Identify specific features that need changing. Ask pupils to improvise similar examples (a lot of fun here), and press them to pinpoint:
- what is inappropriate
- how it is inappropriate
- how it should be changed.
- Look at extracts of regional dialect used by a range of authors (for example D.H. Lawrence, Hardy, Dickens, Mark Twain, Alan Bleasdale, David Almond in Heaven Eyes, Susan Price in The Story Collector). Discuss how the use of dialect impacts on the reader. Discuss the issues of transcribing speech in general and non-standard dialects in particular. If appropriate, include dialect speech patterns when writing dialogue in narrative or when writing play scripts to add authenticity to characters.
- Select poems, plays, narratives or non-fiction texts that use a variety of English, for example Black English or Indian English. Model annotating use of grammatical features that differ from written SE. Ask pupils to rewrite an extract in SE and discuss the effects of the change on the reader and why the use of a variety was appropriate in the context. Poems by Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard can be used to explore Black English. (see Grammar for reading and writing (PDF-1.1 MB) Attachments for notes on Listen Mr Oxford Don by John Agard.) Some travel writing, such as Indian Summer by Will Randall, includes dialogue written in Indian English. Ask pupils to write the script for a TV advertisement persuading people to visit India or the Caribbean using the conventions of the variety of English spoken there.
Grammar and time period
- Select paragraphs from a number of prose texts through the ages, for example, works by Defoe, Austen, Dickens and Golding, and ask pupils to compare the length and construction of sentences, then generalise about change over time.
- Using the extract from Jane Eyre in Grammar for reading and writing (PDF-1.1 MB) Attachments , ask pupils to identify archaic expressions. Discuss the ways in which these differ from modern English.
- Compare the grammatical features used in a description of a contemporary event and a historical event, for example compare the Times report of the Charge of the Light Brigade and a report of a contemporary event, or a historical account of a natural disaster and a modern account.
- Ask pupils to write a diary entry of a teenager living in the future using the style of language that they think may be used at that time.
Differences between speech and writing
- Translate extracts from transcripts of anecdote, gossip or storytelling into written forms, and discuss the differences, for example:
- the ways in which speech includes vague language
- discourse markers
- nouns/noun phrases at the beginning of clauses
- chains of clauses linked by 'and' rather than structured sentences using subordinate clauses
- adverbs at the end of sentences.