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The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) in English on 5 to 16 year olds’ accuracy and quality in written composition

What do we want to know?

Views  on the effectiveness of grammar teaching remain polarised, with a belief among some teachers, newspaper editors and members of the public, that such teaching is effective, and among others that it is ineffective.  A systematic review is therefore required to provide an authoritative account of the results of research into the question.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, those involved in teacher training, practioners.

What did we find?  

  • One high-quality study concluded that traditional or transformational syntax teaching had virtually no influence on the language growth of typical secondary school students.
  • A second high-quality study concluded, tentatively, that a generative grammar approach does make a difference to syntactic quality and to the control of malformed sentences.
  • The third high-quality study concluded that mastery of written forms of standard English is improved for elementary school African-American pupils by using strategies for labelling and identifying grammatical features and by practising these forms and receiving teacher feedback.

What are the implications?

  • Research is needed to establish what does work in improving written compositions.

  • The research base is small, and a large-scale randomised controlled trial on the effectiveness of teaching grammar is needed.

How did we get these results?

Ten studies were synthesised, of which three were considered of high quality.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Andrews R, Torgerson C, Beverton S, Locke T, Low G, Robinson A, Zhu D (2004) The effect of grammar teaching (syntax) in English on 5 to 16 year olds’ accuracy and quality in written composition. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.

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