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Grammar & punctuation in Year 6 (age 10–11)

In Year 6, your child will be expected to understand and use the complete range of grammar and punctuation outlined in the National Curriculum. Their knowledge will be tested through teacher assessment, and through a grammar, punctuation, and spelling test that children sit in May.

Read on to discover the National Curriculum expectations for grammar and punctuation in Year 6, and to find out how you can support your child at home.

What your child will learn

Take a look at the National Curriculum expectations for grammar and punctuation in Year 6 (age 10–11):

Using the passive voice

Your child will use the passive voice in sentences. The sentence ‘the slipper was chewed by the dogis in the passive voice. The active voice version would be: the dog chewed the slipper.

The passive voice is sometimes used in formal writing to remove the person writing from the action: for example, ‘the sodium was added to the beaker’ rather than ‘we added the sodium to the beaker’.

It is also used when a person wishes to remove themselves from a sentence for other reasons: for example, ‘some mistakes were made’ rather than ‘we made some mistakes’.

Using formal and informal language as appropriate

Your child will be taught to move between the informal type of language we use in everyday speech and more formal ways of writing and speaking.

Informal language includes contractions (for example, ‘can’t’), colloquial language (‘mates’), abbreviations (‘TV’ instead of ‘television’), double negatives (‘he hasn’t got none’), and dialect-specific subject-verb agreement (‘we was’ instead of ‘we were’). Formal writing tends to avoid these.

Your child will think about the purpose of their writing and their audience to choose the right level of formality. They will be taught to control sentence structure in their writing and understand why sentences are written differently for different purposes.

Linking ideas across paragraphs with a wide range of cohesive devices

Your child will use words and phrases to build cohesion within a paragraph. Thankfully, the grammar knowledge required isn’t too tricky and many children will do this naturally when they write. The main difficulty as a parent lies in knowing what the different terms mean.

A text has cohesion if it is clear how the meanings of its parts fit together. A cohesive text will make sense and is easy for the reader to follow. To help their writing flow, your child will be taught to use cohesive devices. Cohesive devices are words used to show how the different parts of a text fit together. In other words, they create cohesion. Some examples of cohesive devices are:

  • Determiners indicate if a noun is known or unknown, and they help us show which particular thing we are talking about. Some examples of determiners are: the, a/an, this, those, my, your, some, and every. Choosing the right determiner helps us to show exactly what we mean: ‘some spiders are venomous’ is very different to ‘that spider is venomous’, especially if the spider happens to be in your bathroom.
  • Pronouns are used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned. They avoid unnecessary repetition. For example, ‘Liz was hungry so she made a sandwich’.
  • Conjunctions are words that link two words or phrases together, such as but, and, or because. A conjunction might be used to express time (for example, ‘I went to play football after I’d finished dinner’) or cause (‘I asked him to move so I could see the sign’).
  • Adverbs are words that describe or give more detail about a verb (for example, ‘kindly’). An adverb might express time (for example, ‘I’ll do my homework later’), place (‘the car pulled up outside’), or cause (‘Lucy walked quickly to her seat’).
  • Adverbials are words or phrases used, like adverbs, to describe or add more information to a verb or clause. Adverbs are often used as adverbials, (for example, ‘he walked slowly’) but many other types of words and phrases can be used this way, including preposition phrases (‘the day after tomorrow’) and subordinate clauses (‘when we’ve finished’).
  • Ellipsis is where a word or phrase can be left out because is expected and predictable. We might write ‘I wanted the red jumper, not the blue one’ rather than ‘I wanted the red jumper, because I did not want the blue one’. Some of the words are left out without changing the meaning of sentence.

Your child will think about all of these things in their writing with the aim of making their work as clear as possible. In a story, they might start a new paragraph with ‘earlier that day,’ to show that there is a flashback, or ‘meanwhile, in another part of the kingdom,’ to show that the action has moved elsewhere. In persuasive writing, they may use adverbials, such as ‘on the other hand’, to show they are thinking about different sides of an argument.

As a parent, the most important thing to do is to encourage your child to think about what they are writing, whether it makes sense, and whether it conveys their meaning. Your child will learn the terminology listed above at school.

Using different layouts

Your child will use different layout devices like headings, sub-headings, columns, bullets, and tables to structure text and make it easy to understand. This is particularly important for non-fiction writing.

Using colons, semi-colons, and dashes to mark independent clauses

An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a sentence, often expressing a complete thought. For example, ‘I like chocolate biscuits’.

We can join independent clauses together to combine ideas. This could be done by using a conjunction (a word used to join clauses in a sentence together to make multi-clause sentences). For example, ‘I like chocolate biscuits, but I couldn’t eat a whole pack’.

Where two or more independent clauses are used in the same sentence, the boundary between them can also be marked with a semi-colon, colon, or dash.

A semi-colon is used used between two independent clauses that balance each other and the writer feels that they are too closely linked to be made into separate sentences. For example:

‘I’ll be there on time tomorrow; that’s a promise.’

A colon is used between two independent clauses where the second clause follows from the first, perhaps explaining or qualifying it further:

‘All the practice was worth it: the boy got full marks.’

A dash can be used in the place of either colons or semi-colons:

‘I’ll be there on time tomorrow – that’s a promise.’

 

‘All the practice was worth it – Tom got full marks.’

Dashes tend to be used more in informal writing.

Using colons and semi-colons to write lists

Your child will be taught to use colons to introduce a list. For example, ‘Choose any four of the following items: sandwich, crisps, juice, water, apple, grapes, cake.’

The items in the list are separated by commas. Occasionally, the list items themselves contain commas, so semi-colons are used to separate the items to make it easier to understand. For example:

‘This Monday, sports matches are taking place for the under-11s, under-12s, and under-13s in rugby; the under-11s and under-13s in football; and the under-14s, under-15s, and under-16s in hockey.’

Using hyphens to avoid ambiguity

Hyphens are used in many compound words to make the meaning clear. For example, ‘man-eating tiger’ tells you that the tiger eats people – ‘man eating tiger’ could mean that a man is eating the tiger.

Sometimes hyphens are used to join a prefix onto a word. Prefixes are morphemes (groups of letters that mean something on their own) that are added at the start of a root word to change the meaning. While most prefixes are joined onto words without a hyphen, they can be useful to avoid confusion with another word. For example, ‘re-cover’ (giving something such as a book a new cover) has a different meaning to ‘recover’ (get well after an illness).

How to help at home

There are lots of ways you can help your Year 6 child with grammar and punctuation. Here are our top ideas.

1. Read to your child

Although your child will probably be able to read independently now, reading aloud to your child is still very important for their education, especially with books they can’t yet read on their own.

Listening to a story develops reading skills, builds vocabulary and broadens general knowledge. It also helps to support your child’s writing skills and understanding of grammar and punctuation. While children will learn about how language works from speaking and listening, the type of language we use in writing is often different from that in speech, so listening to text can model different patterns of language.

When you are reading together, look at how authors use different sentence types for effect:

  • Simple sentences containing one clause (for example, ‘Sam picked up the spoon.’).
  • Short commands (for example, ‘Give me the spoon, Sam!’).
  • Compound sentences (for example, ‘Sam picked up the spoon and she ran away excitedly.’).
  • Sentences with a subordinate clause (for example, ‘With great excitement, Sam picked up the spoon.’).

Talk about different types of punctuation as well, such as question marks, exclamation marks, commas, and so on. Can your child identify ellipses? See how these are used to ramp up tension or to get the reader thinking.

You can find lots of free reads for your child on the Oxford Owl eBook library.

2. Encourage reading

Making time to hear your child read, even when they can read independently, can be really valuable. By frequently seeing words in print, they will have the opportunity to see how the punctuation and grammar are used to share meaning.

When you read, occasionally look at the punctuation and talk about what it is telling the reader to do. For example, you could show your child how a question mark tells you to raise your voice at the end of the sentence to indicate a question being asked.

Explore how you can show the ‘feeling’ behind an exclamation mark. Are the characters shouting? Has something unexpected happened? Has something gone wrong?

3. Give your child opportunities to write

Writing at home can be a great way of practising writing, including using grammar and punctuation to create particular effects. Here are some ideas to encourage regular writing:

  • Create a story about a space adventurer with strange planetary systems to explore. Every week or month, your child could write about a new chapter about a different planet. Before long, the chapters will have built into a book they can be really proud of.
  • Write an A-to-Z. It could be based on anything your child is interested in  animals, space, dinosaurs, fairies, even their favourite TV programme. A page for each letter of the alphabet gives you 26 short pieces of writing spread over the year that build into one big project.
  • Produce a version of a book for a younger child. For example, they could write The Rhino Who Came to Tea or The Very Hungry Angler Fish. Books with a distinctive format such as The Day the Crayons Quit or The Last Polar Bears are perfect for this.
  • Write the book of a film or TV programme. If children have watched something they’ve really enjoyed, they could try and tell the same story in writing. Watching the story on screen can give them a useful frame to hang their own writing on.
  • While writing using a pen and pencil is useful practice, writing on the computer counts too. You might want to turn the spelling and grammar check off to help children to learn to confidently use their own knowledge. The grammar check can be wrong, too, so this can be confusing for children.

4. Help your child learn key grammatical ideas

Activity sheets and books can help your child get to grips with particular points of grammar and punctuation. Take a look at our grammar activity books for some practical ideas.

5. Play games

Playing games can help children to learn about grammar and punctuation in an enjoyable way. Watch grammar expert Charlotte Raby’s ‘How can I help my child with grammar, punctuation and spelling?’ video playlist to see some quick and easy games in action:

Charlotte Raby offers her expert advice for helping your child develop their grammar, punctuation, and spelling skills at home.