Re-thinking grammar: the impact of embedded grammar teaching on students' writing and students' metalinguistic understanding



Publication Details

Myhill, D. A., Jones, S. M., Lines, H. & Watson, A. (2012). Re-thinking grammar: the impact of embedded grammar teaching on students' writing and students' metalinguistic understanding. Research Papers in Education, 27 (2), 139-166.


This paper reports on a national study, involving a mixed-method research design comprising a randomised controlled trial (RCT), text analysis, student and teacher interviews and lesson observations. It set out to investigate whether contextualised teaching of grammar, linked to the teaching of writing, would improve student outcomes in writing and in metalinguistic understanding. The RCT involved 744 students in 31 schools in the south-west and the Midlands of England, and was a blind randomisation study. Classes were randomly allocated to either a comparison or intervention group, after the sample had been matched for teacher linguistic subject knowledge (LSK). The statistical data were complemented by three interviews per teacher and three interviews with a focus student in each class, plus three lesson observations in each class, giving a data-set of 93 teacher interviews, 93 student interviews and 93 lesson observations. In addition, the final pieces of writing produced for each scheme of work were collected. The statistical results indicate a significant positive effect for the intervention, but they also indicate that this benefit was experienced more strongly by the more able writers in the sample. The regression modelling also indicates that teacher LSK was a significant mediating factor in the success of the intervention. The qualitative data provide further evidence of the impact of teacher knowledge on how the intervention was implemented and on students’ metalinguistic learning. It also reveals that teachers found the explicitness, the use of discussion and the emphasis on playful experimentation to be the most salient features of the intervention. The study is significant in providing robust evidence for the first time of a positive benefit derived from the teaching of grammar, and signals the potential of a pedagogy for a writing which includes a theorised role for grammar.

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