5 tips on preparing for the national SPAG tests

Ask an Expert David Waugh et al SPAG

The authors of Teaching Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling in Primary Schools provides some helpful tips on preparing for the national SPAG tests. 

  1. Be clear about what the children already know, understand and are able to do, so that you are clear about their misconceptions. Remember that it is not just about plugging gaps in knowledge – all grammar is interrelated, so it is important to make sure that understanding is based on a firm foundation. In addition to whole-class teaching, use guided sessions to work with groups of children who share the same misconceptions.

  2. Do use the correct terminology throughout the school. Some of the terms we have become used to have changed: for example, make sure you talk about adverbs, adverbials, progressive verbs, prepositions and conjunctions rather than the generic term connectives. Be careful to be precise. Verbs are commonly talked about as doing words – but they also include to be and to have. Some schools have chosen colours for different word classes (for example, green for adjectives, blue for nouns) and used these consistently across the school. This approach can be helpful, but remember that words can belong to different word classes according to how they are used.

  3. Try to have a short grammar/punctuation/vocabulary/spelling warm-up session every day where children can play with language in creative and imaginative ways. Use drama to help children take on more formal ‘voices’ – at Key Stage 1 this will really help with Standard English. Integrate these sessions with your units of work so that there are opportunities to practise and apply new learning in English and across the curriculum.

  4. Encourage children to use language precisely when peer- and self-assessing. Make sure you have modelled how to do this. If you have a visualiser, use it to discuss the writing of one of the children or to point out how authors have used the particular aspect of grammar or punctuation that the children have been learning during shared reading.

  5. Make sure you don’t just test spelling and punctuation, but teach it too. Challenge children to come up with ‘rules’ themselves rather than simply telling them – this approach can be used for punctuation and spelling. There are suggestions for ways of doing this in the earlier chapters.


about the author icon About the authors

David Waugh is subject leader for Primary English at Durham University.  A former deputy headteacher, David worked in ITT from 1990 at the University of Hull, where he led the PGCE course and became Head of Department. 

Claire Warner is an education consultant for Primary English. Her recent roles include working as a senior adviser for literacy with the National Strategies, and as a senior lecturer and leader of undergraduate ITE programmes at Chester University.

Rosemary Waugh is a linguist and classics teacher at Queen Margaret's School York. She has a particular interest in the history and development of grammar and etymology, and in their evolution.


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