Functional Grammar: learning with YouTube

Summer Holidays and a chance to reflect and learn

As a teacher I am constantly looking for better ways to to inspire and to present learning opportunities for my students. Since I have started learning about functional grammar and experimenting with video to flip my lessons I have opened up new possibilities and I am still finding my path as to the explicit content and the form of delivery for my grammar videos.  With the summer holidays I have had time to search the Internet for ideas, to process what I have found and to make connections.

Firstly, I found Manxman’s moodle site Functional Grammar for Teachers and this led me to two more resources- a video presentation by Mary Schleppegrell and a video conversation with Professor Beverly Derewianka.

Mary Schleppegrell

Functional Grammar for Teachers

This video is a presentation on the pedagogical framework and approaches in Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). Schleppegrell focuses on unpacking meaning from texts and interacting with students. Watching this video I thought about how I could integrate FLS into my ESL Stage 1 and 2 curriculum and to talk about grammar in new ways. I am not a linguist but I am aware that FLS is a powerful tool and I am still developing my understanding of FLS.

Below are some notes from the video that resonated with my understanding of SFL:

  • The learning cycle of text deconstruction, model texts, class interaction, and that reading and writing is connected.
  • To use SFL metalanguage to explore meaning to analyse texts and to explore meaning through interaction.
  • It is important for the teacher to set a learning goal to focus on the text. To think about what functional grammar strategy can be used?  To think of the big picture. “What do I want for the students to realise?”
  • Develop a guiding question.
  • What do I want to teach?
  • It is necessary to identify a particular functional grammar strategy – i.e. to look at participants. To unpack meaning: talk about agency and processes.
  • To constantly make the connection between language and meaning.
  • To examine register; the relationship between the reader and the writer. How  does the writer use the first person? How do they use colloquial language? How does the author interact with the reader?
  • Learning needs to be active. Students make charts and posters about how the author expresses opinion.
  • Different types of process: doing, feeling words. Work with small portions of the text to categorise processes. English language learners need the opportunity to talk about language.
  • Through activities develop the metalanguage to talk about language.
  • Allow students to feel smart by giving them the metalanguage to deconstruct texts for meaning.
  • Students need to reflect and discuss their findings on the texts. Use sticky notes, ideas wall or online discussion.
  • SFL metalanguage gives students the tools: i.e. to be able to discuss language features in text construction. For example; to use being and sensing process in an evaluation.
  • The SFL scaffold gives students something concrete to give other students feedback. Students do not use formulaic responses as they have the FLS tools to say what language texts need. This relates to my blog post on peer drafting to produce high quality work.

In conversation with Prof. Beverly Derewianka

This is a video conversation with three PhD students at Hong Kong Polytechnics in April 2013. Some points that I found interesting are:

  • Applying Systemical Functional Language to TESOL programs and Deriwanka’s role in writing the Language part of the Australian National Curriculum.
  • When teaching  functional grammar to use function and meaning as a starting point.
  • Start with function and transitivity because it is obvious to learners.
  • Ask the three questions: What’s happening?…Who or what is involved? …Are there any details surrounding the activities?
  • Gradually introduce function terms then talk about nominal groups, prepositional phrases, building in difficulty.
  • To use visual signals and images as supports.
  • Use lots of activities so learners understand the clause.
  • Don’t do everything at once

Australian National Curriculum

Derewianka discusses how the modes,; reading, writing and speaking were got rid of and the core values of English Language, Literature and literacy were adopted. The whole curriculum is organised around these three strands. Derewianka describes how the language strand uses systemic functional linguistics but it was disguised using the three sub-strands that are in fact the meta-functions such as structuring coherent texts. It is an SFL curriculum but can also be read as  traditional grammar.

Genre and Purpose.

Another point that I fround particularly relevant is that when teaching English it is important to start with the genre and the idea that grammar is about choice and language as a resource, it is not a punishment if you get things wrong.

How will this change my approach to my functional grammar videos?

These 2 videos have made me rethink my approach to making functional grammar videos. especially about starting with the big picture and text type. To start with a discussion with students about meaning. Always focus on meaning and what functional language tool you want to teach.

  • Rather than making videos on one topic such as nominalisation my videos should be more relevant to the context of the learning situation and the curriculum.
  • Start with the big level: What is the  purpose of using the language? Identify purpose and how the students need to use the language to give the academic genre or text type. How is the text structured? How are the fonts and images related to the text and meaning? To discuss the organisation and themes in texts . To look for participants and processes. To trace participants and explore interactions and dialogues in texts.
  • Analyse the context and what the students need to be able to do.
  • Include differential activities so students can work at own level.
  • To highlight interaction, to talk about texts as this is where the real learning is happening. The key is the FLS metalanguage to abstract from particular texts to talk more generally about the processes, the participants and the themes and apply this independently to other texts.
  • To use the videos to give students the metalanguage for interaction and feedback.


Derewianka mentions working with John Polias at TeleNex at Hong Kong Polytechnics.

The video ends with Derewianka talking about future projects including working with teachers and creating Interactive ibooks. Now it is time for me to rethink and develop other approaches in my grammar videos. What about ibook or using free ebook software.



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