During the coronavirus school lockdown, all sorts of jokes and wry comments have been flying around as everyone tries to keep spirits up.
One of the more interesting ones we’ve seen (from a pedagogical perspective, at least) involves someone being rather rude about everyone’s favourite part of the English National Curriculum: fronted adverbials – with some justification.
The truth is, not only are parents suddenly having to contend with being the teacher at home, but they are also being forced to grapple with ideas they may never have encountered before – and in the case of this particular meme, fronted adverbials had become the punchbag on which they were taking out their frustrations.
We’re mentioning this for two reasons: one is to give you a well-deserved boost if you already feel confident about teaching fronted adverbials; the other is to offer some encouragement if you find them somewhat perplexing. Either way, there is always something new to learn. Here are some of the things I have found useful to bear in mind.
What is a fronted adverbial?
Don’t be put off by the rather monstrous name; fronted adverbials are nothing scary. In fact, they are part of an easily recognisable family: the adverbs.
Of course, you are well aware that adverbs are words that describe actions – they show how, when or where a verb is doing its thing (slowly, cheerfully, quietly, etc). Hopefully, you also know that not all adverbs end with the suffix -ly (straight, hard, yesterday, etc).
An adverbial phrase is simply a group of words that does the same job as a single adverb (the other day, across town, as quiet as a mouse, etc). Adverbial is just the family name for words or phrases that do the same job as an adverb.
So, then, what is a fronted adverbial? Stated bluntly, it is merely an adverbial (either a word or an adverbial phrase) stuck at the front of a sentence. Possibly one of the most familiar phrases in storytelling is a fronted adverbial: Once upon a time...
Fronted adverbial examples
- Meanwhile, we went to the park.
- Somewhere near here, Rhea had lost her glasses.
- Just then, there was a knock at the door.
- Somewhat understandably, Mr Turner was not impressed.
- In July, we’re going camping.
- Occasionally, I like to indulge with my favourite ice cream.
Understanding fronted adverbials by explanation
Have you noticed how people often like to explain something by giving an example? In this case, that would be too easy – so make sure each child can demonstrate deeper understanding by giving a decent definition, in their own words, of the term fronted adverbials. KS2 students should be able to do this reasonably confidently.
Hunt the fronted adverbial
Find a suitable extract of text (or write one yourself if you’re feeling creative) and get pupils to underline all the fronted adverbials they can find. Try to ensure that there is a range of fronted adverbial examples, including single words that don’t end in the suffix -ly, to confirm that your pupils have a secure understanding. If you’re feeling keen, you might also want to discuss whether the author has put a comma after the fronted adverbial. Technically speaking they should, but this doesn’t always happen. Perhaps this could make an interesting class discussion.
Types of fronted adverbials
As was mentioned above, adverbials describe how, when or where the verb was being done. Give pupils a selection of adverbials to sort into those three categories. To make life easier for yourself, use the version of this activity included in our Year 4 Sentence Starters Grammar Game resource. (Don’t be put off by the earlier age-group tag as it is still totally relevant and makes a great revision exercise.)
Fronted adverbials ‘finish my sentence’ game
Another fun activity is to provide a range of fronted adverbials and ask pupils to complete a sentence that starts with each of them. No one says they have to be sensible! They should, however, be grammatically correct. Of course, you could come up with some starters yourself but it might save you some work to use this fronted adverbial teaching pack and worksheets (part of our exclusive, member-only Grammar Bursts resource collection).
Putting fronted adverbials into practice
Of course, the whole point is that pupils are able to apply this knowledge to their own writing. In order to develop good habits, why not set them writing tasks that specifically require them to include fronted adverbial? This might be in response to an image, for example, that both sparks their imaginations and focuses their minds on writing a certain number of sentences that begin with appropriate adverbials.
Fronted adverbials – Don’t overuse them
Before your pupils enthusiastically add fronted adverbials to their writing toolboxes, remind them that almost everything is best in moderation. Sentences need to be of different style, length and function to retain the reader’s interest. A whole text in which every sentence is structured the same way will be very dull indeed, no matter how descriptive the adverbials are.
To emphasise this point, it could be worth setting an exercise in which pupils are required to experiment with where they place their adverbials. They should find that putting them at front works well in some cases but ‘feels’ wrong in others.
Successful fronted adverbial use
The ultimate proof that your pupils understand fronted adverbials will be whether they can confidently include them in a larger piece of writing. Even if you haven’t made them the focus of a particular writing task, why not include them on a peer-assessment checklist now and again, just to see whether they can both use them in their own work and spot them in other people’s?
Oh, and remember, if ever you want to revise this topic, our fronted adverbials SpaG Challenge Mat, from the members-only SPaG Gym collection, offers a range of activities that really embed understanding. See? That wasn’t so scary after all, was it?