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

What do we want to know?

For over a century, there has been debate as to whether the teaching of grammar helps young people to learn to write well. The results have been inconclusive, partly because some have refused to acknowledge research evidence that suggests that the teaching of formal grammar (syntax, parts of speech) in a top-down approach is ineffective; partly because some of the research has been difficult to access; and partly because previous studies and reviews have not been sufficiently comprehensive.  A previous review has reported on the teaching of syntax; this review considers the effectiveness of the teaching of sentence combining.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, those involved in teacher education, practitioners, those involved in the production of teaching materials.

What did we find?  

  • Sentence combining is an effective means of improving the syntactic maturity of students in written English between the ages of 5 and 16.
  • In the most reliable studies immediate post-test effects were seen to be positive, with some tempering of the effect in delayed post-tests.

What are the implications?

  • The National Curriculum (England) and accompanying guidance should be revised to indicate that the teaching of sentence combining is an effective method.

  • Teaching materials and approaches should include recognition of the effectiveness of this approach.

  • There needs to be a review of the effectiveness of present materials designed to help young people to write.

How did we get these results?

Eighteen studies were synthesised - seventeen from the USA and one from Canada.  Most studies were of children between the ages of 9 and 16.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI Centre

This report should be cited as: Andrews R, Torgerson C, Beverton S, Freeman A, Locke T, Low G, Robinson A, Zhu D (2004) The effect of grammar teaching (sentence combining) 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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