Narrative and Expository Writing: A Functional Linguistic Approach
Schleppegrell (2003) presents a three-step systematic approach to help teachers assess student writing in today’s K-12 classrooms. Grounded in functional linguistics, this approach identifies grammatical structures which, according to Schleppegrell (2003), are called upon to write in today’s classroom.
There are three narrative writing sequences and three expository writing sequences as reported by the English Language Arts Standards (California Department of Education [CDE], 1999, as cited in Schleppegrell 2003). The three writing sequences are summarized below building developmentally from simple to complex forms of writing (p. 9).
Briefly, narratives propose to “give an account of something dealing with sequences of events and experiences” (CDE, 1999b:227 as cited in Schleppegrell, 2003). In short, narrative writing is used to retell and create stories, including: stories, biographies, autobiographies, and short stories.
Pathways to Narrative Writing
- Recount- Report a sequence of events and make a judgement or express an attitude about events. Further development incorporates story grammar, such as plot, point of view, setting, characters, conflicts, resolution, twist or complication, and theme.
- Narrative- includes response to literature.
- Reflective Composition- Explore the significance and attempt to persuade a reader about the interpretation of a narrative.
(based on the Standards, CDE 1999a; b; as cited in Schleppegrell, 2003)
Briefly, expository is intended to set forth and explain, including research and information reports, analytical / persuasive essays across different subject areas (CDE 1999a; b; summarized and as cited in Schleppegrell, 2003).
Pathways to Expository Writing
- Report- Describe how things are.
- Explanation- Develop a thesis through supporting details and examples.
- Persuasion- Make judgements and argue for a particular view (at the higher grades).
A Three Step Writing Assessment
Schleppegrell (2003) recommends that teachers should notice the verb grammar developmentally across four levels as illustrated in Table 1:
|Table 1. Verb types with example extracted from a recount text
Describe or define
Dialogue or report
|go, start, watch, take, look, arrive, line up,
||saw, wish, feel
From Schleppegrell (2003)
Table 1 highlights a progression in verb grammar. Notably, writing should first develop consistent use of action verbs. Subsequently, writing to express feelings can include “could have,” a feature not readily available to early or emerging writers. Consider the highest level, ideas about one’s inner world such as summary evaluations: “This is the best trip I had.” Here is a sophisticated form, but lacks paired past-tense noting that Table 1 shows mostly present tense. Additionally, many times the student’s target level showcases an inconsistent use, or in this case, a lack of variety in tense. Therefore, Schleppegrell (2003) recommends that teachers point out the occurrences of the correct form, and invite the student-author to apply the form consistently across the paper.
The second recommended step to analyze a student’s writing is to highlight the noun-phrase grammar. For example, does the student-author use articles consistently? Does the student-author use noun phrases consistently? Does the student-author use adjectives and, if so, check the control of prepositional phrases and relative clauses. Schleppegrell (2003) recommends noting the developmental level where the student-author lacks consistency; starting from the simplest to the more advanced forms. The following flow chart elucidates levels of development in noun-phrases.
Figure 1. A Flow chart of Noun Phrase Grammar
Notable in Figure 1, “articles” such as “a” and “the” often challenge English learners. Here the teaching tip is to direct the student in consistent use: an important skill to self-monitor and develop metalinguistic knowledge. Schleppegrell (2003) recommends teaching points based on the consistency and variety of the target form. Figure 1 starts with nouns and expands to descriptions and more elaborate complex sentence structures.
The third step recommended to analyze a student’s writing is to examine the linking clauses. The linking clauses will demonstrate cohesiveness. Some of the example linking clauses are: therefore, however, first, second, third, last of all, another point to consider, and, or, but.
Teaching cohesive markers seems to be easy to acquire for English learners by introducing target words or sentence frames. From experience in the field, I believe that student-authors latch onto the linking clauses readily because they enhance meaning-making; they assist memory by organizing and ranking; and they internalize orderliness of language. However, despite the ease of linking clauses, such an approach seems to counter the natural order hypothesis. Specifically, a good command of a variety of verb-forms naturally should precede the use of linking clauses. This is intuitive teacher theorizing. However, in practice, teachers often direct students’ to use linking clauses, even at the early or emerging stages of language development. Schleppegrell (2003), given my interpretation of the functional linguistic approach, on the other hand, recommends more attention to the order of language development in writing. Such ideas are important and enhance teacher decision-making in writing assessment.
In conclusion, Schleppegrell (2003) presents a three-step approach. When it comes to grammar and sentence structure, teachers are given little guidance because the Standards and Proficiency Level Descriptors do little to elucidate the progression of skills in narrative and expository writing (Schleppegrell, 2003). Using this functional linguistics approach highlights a natural progression and higher order. A systematic examination of grammar and sentence-structure in writing expository and narrative texts is fundamental to teaching and learning and the development of student-authors, K-12.
Schleppegrell, M. J. (2003) Grammar for writing: Academic language and the ELD Standards. Unpublished manuscript, final report, University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute, Santa Barbara, California.