Tag Archives: writing

Improving the formality of students’ writing – nominalisation

This blogging lark is really tricky to get off the ground! First of all, there is the inevitable dilemma about the topic for your first blog post and the ensuing self-doubt. Why would anybody care about what I write? Then, just when you develop an inkling of confidence, another blogger touches on your treasured subject matter or, just as your forefinger hovers over the ‘publish’ button, you are overwhelmed by the wit and worth of someone else’s writing. So, in order to overcome these psychological barriers and my own hesitation, I thought I’d better just get stuck in and hope people will be kind.

So, the purpose of this occasional blog will be no more than to record some lesson ideas I have used or might use in future.

Those who were involved will know that there was a cracking discussion on #literacychat last week, which explored the impact of talk for writing and methods which had a positive impact on students’ levels of formality. Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) produced a fresh and incisive blog straight after which explored the importance of teachers making explicit to students what he referred to as an ‘academic code’. This led me to consider how I do this currently and how I might do it with greater impact in future.

Anyone who is familiar with the GCSE English assessment criteria will know that students’ work must be ‘confident and assured’ in order for them to achieve at least band 4. If their work lacks formality, this is almost impossible to achieve. In order to convince my students that they are not just hoop-jumping for the sake of their GCSE, I tell them that standard English is the formal language of public life and their ability to use it successfully will help them make their views heard and enable them to influence others.

One of the ways I try to help them develop a confident and formal tone is by teaching them to nominalise in their writing. In a nutshell, this means turning verbs into nouns – but this is a simplistic and not very helpful explanation. Used sparingly, nominalisation creates a tone of confidence and certainty in writing or speech, which is why it is so widely used by politicians.

At the NATE conference about three years ago, I attended a workshop (very good it was too) on improving formality and the resources which were handed out are included below. These have been helpful to me and so might be helpful to others.  What follows is a description of a lesson sequence and some resources. I wanted to embed copies of these, but as a novice blogger, I haven’t worked out how. I am happy to share electronic copies if people would like them – just contact me on Twitter @kerrypulleyn.

Bell work: Put the following questions on the board for discussion upon entry:

Who do you know who speaks very formally or very informally?
How do we know if a text is formal?
Why might we choose to speak of write formally or informally?

This is designed just to get them ‘in the zone’ for thinking about the lesson topic. Take feedback.

Learning objective:

 To be able to use nominalisation in your writing so that you can create a confident tone and be more convincing.

(They will need to live with some uncertainty at this point, because they will need to see examples of nominalisation in order to understand what it is.)

Starter: Ask students to compare the following statements.

Crime was increasing rapidly and the police were becoming concerned.  The rapid increase in crime was causing concern among the police. 
Germany invaded Poland in 1939. This immediately caused World War Two to break out.  Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was the immediate cause of the outbreak of World War Two. 
We engaged staff in the initiative by encouraging them to attend lunchtime meetings.  The engagement of staff in the initiative was encouraged by attendance at lunchtime meetings. 

Once they have highlighted and discussed the basic grammatical differences, they should have noticed the following:

Crime was increasing rapidly and the police were becoming concerned.  The rapid increase in crime was causing concern among the police.  
Germany invaded Poland in 1939. This immediately caused World War Two to break out.  Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was the immediate cause of the outbreak of World War Two. 
We engaged staff in the initiative by encouraging them to attend lunchtime meetings.  The engagement of staff in the initiative was encouraged by attendance at lunchtime meetings  

At this point, it is worth revising the LO and start to establish students’ confidence with the key term – nominalisation – and a definition of it, making sure they understand which column has the nominalised sentences in.

Nominalisation

The process of nominalisation turns verbs (actions) into nouns (concepts/ideas)

It makes your writing sound more formal and authoritative.

 

Activate:

Introduce the text below. Model finding a sentence and denominalising it. Remind students that you are looking for a noun, presented as an important idea or concept. For example, you could identify ‘promiscuity’ and change it to ‘getting involved in promiscuous behaviour.’

Demonstrate:

Students find three examples of nominalisation in the text below and denominalise the sentences, considering the change in effect.

 

Teen lifestyle is ‘health time bomb’

The party lifestyles of teenagers today could be destroying their health later in life, warn doctors.

The British Medical Association describes their obesity, binge drinking and promiscuity as a potential public health time bomb. It is calling for swift action to reverse the worsening trends in adolescent health. This follows a prediction from England’s Chief Medical Officer that children could face death before their parents. Official health statistics suggest a growing threat to child health on a number of fronts, says the BMA.

The number of children with weight problems has doubled in the last two decades, with nearly one in five fifteen year-olds now classes as obese. Alcohol consumption among the young is also on the rise – some under sixteens admitting drinking an average of ten units of alcohol per week, five pints of beer or ten normal glasses of wine. Six out of ten sixteen to twenty-four year olds admit to not using condoms and rates of certain sexually transmitted diseases are soaring among this age group. In addition, almost a quarter of fifteen year-olds are regular smokers and cannabis has been tried by one in three.

Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s Head of Science and Ethics said: “Young people in Britain are increasingly likely to be overweight, indulge in binge drinking, have a sexually transmitted infection and suffer mental health problems. It is high time we provided education and health care services that target the specific needs of young people. We need to ensure that young people do not fall in between the gap between services for children and those designed for adults.

Doctor Russell Viner from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was one of the authors of the BMA report. He told a newspaper: “The report paints a bleak picture. It’s not until you take all these figures together that you realise how worrying the situation is. It seems that adolescents are the only age group whose health is actually getting worse.

BBC News Channel

 

 This is the sort of thing they are likely to come up with: 

 The party lifestyle of teenagers today could be destroying their health later in life, warn doctors.  Doctors warn that teenagers today go to parties all the time which means they could be less healthy later in life.
 It is calling for swift action to reverse the worsening trends in adolescent health.  It is calling for someone to act swiftly to reverse the way adolescent health is getting worse.
 This follows a prediction from  England’s Chief Medical Officer that children could face death before their parents.   This follows England’s Chief Medical Officer predicting that children could die before their parents. 

Pair/Share:  Get them to compare answers as a practice run for giving you well developed feedback if asked.

At this point, they know enough to be able to analyse the effect of each and consider why the nominalised sentences create a greater sense of confidence and authority.  The kind of thing students come up with are as follows.

  • ‘party lifestyles’ suggests a wide range of activities and seems more potentially harmful than simply ‘go(ing) to parties’
  • ‘calling for swift action’ suggests that they know it could happen and hints even that they may have some power in making it happen.  In contrast, ‘calling for someone to act swiftly’ makes the speaker/writer seem a bit lost and hints they don’t know who ‘someone’ is
  • ‘England’s CMO predicting’ sounds as if he uses guesswork for important issue – it’s also written in the present tense, whereas ‘follows a prediction’ from England’s CMO’ suggests it’s something more important, a bit like an announcement.

You have a choice of where to go now, depending upon how confident you think your students are.  They could either attempt a paragraph of their own, including some nominalised sentences, or the opportunity to edit for nominalisation.  You could provide further text transformation opportunities.  Lastly, you could decide they have done enough and leave it there.

Plenary:  Depending on what you have opted for beforehand, students could peer assess and write a brief comment on the effect of a partner’s work or you could play nominalisation bingo with a text you read aloud – always a winner!

If you feel like giving this a try, I would opt for a fairly able group to begin with.  Then, as you see it working, you could consider how it might be made accessible to a wider range of students.  That’s my next step.