Explicit Teaching at the Top of the Rope

Scarborough’s reading rope is separated into two sections. The strands at the bottom of the rope relate to word recognition. At the top of the rope sit the strands that deal with language comprehension.  We hear much about explicit teaching of phonics and phonemic skills, which sit in the bottom of the rope, but we hear about explicit teaching at the top of the rope less often.

Grammar is an area that many teachers struggle to understand themselves, let along teach. We resort to surface level activities about simple word classes (nouns, verbs and adjectives) and download PowerPoints and worksheets from websites. We do a little teaching about using FANBOYS and whatever else we can find on Pinterest. But these things only scratch the surface of grammar and the impact it has on student reading and writing.

Grammar needs to be examined and learned at both word and sentence level and this work needs to start early. So many children come to school not speaking Standard Australian English (whether their family consider themselves English speakers or not) and we need to provide a language rich environment that includes intentional teaching.


In order to really get stuck into grammar teaching, we need to consider some things:

  • The Explicit Teaching Model applies. Those who have read my blog before know that I love the explicit teaching model. It outlines exactly what to do at what stage of learning to support students. Following it will mean that you can lead students one step at a time and set them up for success.
  • You need to understand something in order to teach it. There is a fun idea that it is fine for teachers to ‘learn along with their students’.  Pft!  I do not subscribe to this particular view, however and so encourage you to take steps to educate yourself about the fundamentals of grammar.  You cannot carefully lead children through learning if you have not yet been there yourself.
  • The teaching of language (including grammar) needs to provide context for learning as well as use. We cannot teach knowledge in isolation, provide a worksheet and leave it at that. Picture books area an excellent way to provide models and context for different aspects of grammar.
  • Children need lots of opportunity to practice orally before being expected to write.
  • It can be a good idea to teach ‘about’ before teaching student ‘to use’ different aspects of grammar.  This supports student cognitive load and prevents them (an you) becoming overwhelmed in the new learning.

We may not feel particularly confident in teaching grammar explicitly in context, but with some straightforward, hands on professional learning we can master this tricky area and succeed at bringing the top of the reading rope to life.

I am currently planning two Teach Alongs for Term 3. You can learn more about them here.

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