Phrases: when, where or how?


Explicit teaching

Students at the Foundation stage need to write accurate simple sentences. Students learn to apply their beginning writing knowledge to compose texts of one or two sentences. Teach students that sentences are made up of words or groups of words (phrases) that make meaning.

Common sentence structure in everyday and familiar texts use adverbial phrases to describe when, where and how actions occur. However prepositions such as ‘on’ and ‘in’ are challenging words. They often belong with other words as part of phrases such as, ‘on the weekend’ but ‘in the holidays’, we travel ‘on a bus’ but ‘in a car’.

Teach students to identify when, where and how phrases in simple sentences.

Example 1. When: (After the bell) I line up.
Example 2. Where: I line up (outside the classroom).
Example 3. How: I line up (very quickly).

General strategies

Engage students with frequent experiences of hearing and sharing accurate texts read aloud. Prompt students to consider what information different words and groups of words convey in a sentence.

Provide examples of everyday and familiar sentences that contain adverbial phrases. Encourage students to consider when, where or how action occurs in these sentences. Guide students to identify the words or groups of words that add this information, fro example, listen to this sentence: ‘On Saturday, Sam played football.’ Which words tell us when Sam played football?

Model sentence structure with adverbial phrases. Teach students the ways in which phrases can be moved around in sentences for effect and be explicit about what is possible with word order. Teach phrases, keeping words together to ensure that students hear and see them in context. Provide wall charts of common examples.

Guide students’ use of adverbial phrases by providing oral and written sentence patterns, featuring familiar adverbial phrases. Students can vary these by inserting their own preferences, for example, At home I…, Before school…, I can…quietly. This can be adapted to suit subject matter in any learning area.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: adverb charades

This exercise can be a whole lesson, a lesson break or writing warm-up to support students’ familiarity with identifying phrases that describe when, where and how an action occurs.

  • Display a basic simple sentence such as ‘She ate an ice-cream.’ Choose sentences with relevant subject matter for your students’ learning focus and context.
  • Select two students to be actors and tell each a secret adverbial phrase to add to the sentence.
    • She ate an ice-cream at the movies.
    • She ate an ice-cream on a tightrope.
  • The two actors take turns acting out their sentence to show the added phrase to the class/group.
  • Students in the audience can try to guess what the added phrase was.
  • If the audience does not guess the correct phrase after 3 guesses tell them the sentences given to each student and compare these with students’ suggestions.
  • Play as many rounds as you like with different phrases and/or starting with different simple sentences.

Variation: After a few rounds ask students to think of their own sentence containing one of the acted out phrases, record these on the board.

Extension: Group students in small groups, pairs or individually to compose a written sentence containing one of the acted out phrases (display the selection of phrases on the board or IWB).

Activity 2: matching where, when and how phrases

This exercise can be a whole lesson, a regular literacy activity, a lesson break or writing warm-up to support students’ familiarity with sentence structure containing adverbial phrases.

  • Use sentences from familiar or everyday texts cut up into phrases (remember to keep words in phrases together to support familiarity with accurate word groupings).
  • Group students and hand the phrases and sentence parts to groups to reconstruct them to make meaning.
  • Use simple or compound sentences to differentiate the activity for your students’ learning needs and readiness.

Variation: Students attempt to complete this activity in pairs or individually once they are familiar with it.

Extension: Omit sentence punctuation and model/guide adding accurate sentence boundary punctuation to reconstructed sentences at the end.

Extension: Share reconstructed sentences and model what is possible in terms of phrase order, for example, ‘I watch TV at home.’, or ‘At home I watch TV.’


Australian curriculum

ACELA1434: Expressing and developing ideas: Recognise that texts are made up of words and groups of words that make meaning.

NSW syllabus

ENe-9B: Outcome 9: demonstrates developing skills and knowledge in grammar, punctuation and vocabulary when responding to and composing texts (ENe-9B) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: experiment with adverbial phrases in structured and guided activities to indicate when, where and how actions occurred, eg last week, at home.

Teacher resources

  • A comprehensive and easy to use grammar reference text for teachers:
    Derewianka, B. (1998). A Grammar Companion for Primary Teachers, Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association.
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