Following many requests for help, Grammar Puss has decided to start a new blog for parents. Grammar Puss for parents

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Using animation as a stimulus for children's writing - George Summer's 'Just some morning tea'

I've just watched the lunchtime news and seen a report about a short animated film made for an A level project by 17 year old George Summers.  BBC Spotlight have it on their facebook page.

I think this would make a great stimulus for children to write.  See what you think.  Well done George - I'll look out for future films!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Building Cars Live - a good resource for teaching the passive voice

Watching the BBC’s Building Cars Live this week I felt I should post my thoughts on using this as a resource in Year 6 to teach/consolidate learning of the passive voice.  I’ve linked a few clips and some of the transcribed sentences I would use to exemplify the passive.  There are only a couple of examples in each clip and this is important for children to note.  The passive should not be overused and is only necessary in certain situations:
  • We don’t know who the agent is: The artworks were stolen overnight on Friday. (We don't know who stole them.)
  • The agent is not important in the textThe cars are transported to destinations in Britain and around the world. (We are not interested in who transports them.)
  • You want to be vague about who is responsibleResponses to the Consultation Document have been considered and amendments made. (We are not informed who is responsible for the consideration and amendment.  This use of the passive often appears in official writing!)
  • The focus of the sentence is the person or thing being acted on, so the agent may not be mentioned or will appear later in the sentenceMini Coopers are manufactured at the Oxford plant.  Mini Cooper frames are constructed by robots.
  • Texts that rely on the passive voice, e.g. some scientific writingThe seeds were planted in the pots and left in different places to germinate.  Observations were made each day to monitor growth.
  • In some general truths: Rules are made to be broken.  They were made for each other.


Duvet wearing robots that can open car doors
This clip contains the following sentences, which I would unpick for children as examples of how the passive is formed: a form of the verb ‘be’ as the auxiliary, followed by the past participle of the main verb.  Both uses are present simple passive.
  • The jackets are used to keep the robots at an ambient temperature …
  • All this data is carefully collected.

James May meets a singing trolley called Dougal
  • Toyoto are obsessed with their quest for continuous improvement.  (This sentence highlights that in some passive constructions we use ‘with’ instead of ‘by’.)
  • That’s steered by a wiper motor from an Avensis.   (Children will be able to see that we can use contracted forms of ‘be’ as the auxiliary for the passive construction.)
Meet the factory
  • The following example show the first use of the passive voice constructed with the auxiliary but, because we have another passive used in the same sentence, the auxiliary is omitted to make the structure more efficient: Steel panels are pressed in Swindon; engines manufactured in Birmingham …
  • This example repeats this structure, but with a list of passives: Once built the cars are driven for the first time, tested, inspected, wrapped and sent out into the world.

How to build a car in less than 2 minutes
This clip shows the car’s construction ‘journey’ through the factory, without commentary.  This could be used for children to produce examples of sentences using the passive voice (e.g. The car frame is welded by robots.  The car is dusted in the Emu, using ostrich feathers.  Cars are parked in the huge car park.)  Before they view this clip, they will need to have seen and discussed a number of the other clips from the programme so they understand the speeded-up content.  They will need to see this clip a few times to recognise the procedures and I suggest you model writing one or two passive structures first.

As a group or class, collect their sentences in sequential order to explain the processes in constructing a car.   Trying to structure an explanatory text using the sentences from the above activity, will highlight that overuse of the passive doesn’t work well.  Re-writing using a few, well-placed passives (chosen for correct reasons) and a range of other verb forms will help children understand that variation of verb forms and tenses is required in this type of text, but will also provide opportunity for developing:
  • appropriate style and vocabulary to maintain the reader’s interest throughout.
  • make choices in drafting and revising writing, showing understanding of how these enhance meaning.
  • proof read for grammatical sense (e.g. subject/verb agreements, correct tense use).


I’m sure teachers will be able to find more examples in some of the other clips on the BBC website.  Actually the language used during filming contains many examples of other verb tenses or forms appropriate to non-fiction writing, so could be a useful resource for revision.