But seriously, what is Happening?

I once heard two people discussing how to eat a mango. One person was revealing with some enthusiasm to the other that they had just figured it out. “Just cut the cheeks off,” they exclaimed, “and then cut into them horizontally and vertically, Then pop the squares out!” I could tell by the way that this person explained that they had had this amazing revelation, A light bulb moment. As I listened I wondered how this person had previously been eating mangoes. Had they been eating them with the skin on? or perhaps, a more horrifying option, peeling the whole skin off and then trying to attack a slippery slimy mango?


Overhearing that “light bulb moment” stuck with me. It was memeroble becaue I heard it as a young child and even at that point I thought “surely EVERYONE know how to eat a mango!” What an ignorate child I was! Not everyone does. Everyone has to learn. So what does mango eating have to do with grammar?

Well lately I have been thinking how learning to eat a mango is similar to learning to teach grammar. You don’t know how to start. You don’t know where to begin. You might not know where the first “cut” should go. You need that light bulb moment. But getting to that place takes time, especially if no one explains it to you.

Functional grammar is not a new thing. Lets get that straight. It has been around since the 1970’s developed by M.A.K Halliday. It has been in our (Austalian) education system since the National Curriculum came into practice in 2010. So it isn’t new.

But, it might be new to you. It might be your mango. And that’s OK. It might be new to you because of the education you received, or the university you attended or the school that you have been working in and the systems they have had in place. It might be so new you don’t know where to start. This post is for you.

Hopefully this post is just like the mango explanation, it is very simple when you know where to begin.


So here is where to begin. Start with what is happening. Start with the process.

To do this you will need a book.

Step 1. Find a book you LOVE!

Choose a real book, one off a shelf. Don’t spend your precious time creating a sentence. Instead choose some that has been expertly crafted by a professional, an author. Choose a book that you enjoy. Because every literacy practice can be another opportunity to demonstrate how brilliant books are. Read the book to your class. Go ahead, do it more than once, you know you want to.

Step 2. Find a sentence in that book.

It begins with a capital and ends with a full stop…you have been reminding little Johnny about this ALL YEAR and he still doesn’t get it (lets fix that now).

Step 3. Ask your class (and yourself) “What is happening?” when reading the sentence.

This is how you find the Process or the verbal group. Don’t freak out if it is more than one word. That’s pretty normal. Highlight the words that answer this question with green.

Repeat this over and over and over. Just looking for the Process or the “happening”. Use different sentences and different books, use your student’s writing. You can even use your jointly constructed texts. The point is to continue to do this, over and over. Until your students can do it independently…but with some discussion, because will help those “light bulb” moments.

Then, when you feel that your students can find the process, you can start talking about different sentence types, the different parts of the sentence and so, so much more. Find some ideas here and here and here.

Now, go stand over the sink. You have a mango to eat.


Featured Image: “Mangos” by Xtina_05 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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