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Concept-based Instruction in an English Classroom

Subject English Language
Level: Year 1
Name of teacher Jassie Teo
Topic Grammar
Macro-concept 1.     Systems have elements that interact with each other to perform a function.

2.     Systems are composed of sub-systems.

3.     Systems follow rules.


Enduring Understanding Language codifies concepts and relationships.
Essential Questions


Guiding questions



●      What are the components of the English language?


●      How does language function as a system?

●      Can meaning be conveyed without language?


●      Does language always have to follow the norm to communicate meaning?              

Curricular or Pedagogical Focus / Lens Concept-Based Instruction

The Grammar Unit was planned with the aim of allowing students to appreciate how the macro-concept of Systems operates in the English Language grammar. The lessons in the unit move progressively from meaning at the morpheme level to the sentential level, with a focus on how the elements within each level of meaning interact to convey meaning. This second lesson of the unit that I have described below focuses on how meaning is conveyed at the phrasal level.


Communication with the Level teachers

Prior to the lesson, I communicated to the level teachers the essential topical concepts for the lesson: thought group, head of a phrase, noun phrase, verb phrase, adjectival phrase, and adverbial phrase. Key understandings that students need to grasp by the end of the lesson were also shared:

  • Words can be organised into meaningful thought groups known as phrases.
  • The head of a phrase is the obligatory element that determines its syntactic function.
  • Phrases can be embedded to elaborate and extend meaning.

Flipped Classroom Strategy

Uncovering concepts takes up much of curriculum time; hence, I included the flipped classroom strategy where students were expected to access relevant resources and read up on the topics before the lesson.



At the start of the lesson, I played two audio recordings of the children’s story The Three Little Pigs. The first recording was read by Fran Capo, the fastest talking woman in the world, while the second one was a regular recording of the story. Although Capo was speaking in English, what she said was totally incomprehensible. I asked the students to compare their experience of listening to the two recordings, and to think about what caused one recording to be more comprehensible to the listener than the other. The aim of the activity was to activate their prior knowledge of how the English Language system conveys meaning by employing ways of segmenting information into meaningful units of information known as “thought-groups”.

Checking for Understanding through FA

Next, I wanted to check the students’ understanding of the materials assigned prior to the lesson (refer to the Flipped Classroom Strategy above). I informed them that we would be playing a game to assess their understanding of their pre-lesson assignment. In this activity, each member of the group was given a card with one of the following labels: (1) Determiner (2) Adjective 3 (3) Noun (4) Lexical / Auxiliary verb (5) Preposition and (6) Adverb. As I flashed each phrase on the screen (e.g. the news of the ferry disaster), students with cards carrying the parts of speech that were present in the given phrase would have to stand up. The head of the phrase, which is the Noun in this case, will have to stand on the chair (or shout aloud). My intention was to check for their understanding of the content knowledge in a quick and fun way.

Understanding Concepts via Higher Order Thinking Skills

In the preceding activities, students had been equipped with the two pieces of knowledge: In a language system, words are organised into meaningful thought groups known as phrases, and that these phrases fulfil syntactic functions in a sentence.

In this next activity, students were shown the sentence below and told that it can be understood in various ways.

I saw a man on the hill with a telescope.

They were then instructed to:

(i) Apply their knowledge of phrases to interpret the ambiguous sentence below in as many ways as possible; and

(ii) analyse the interpretations and explain the ambiguity using knowledge of the syntactic function of the phrases.

Possible interpretations:

  1. There’s a man on a hill, and I’m watching him with my telescope.
  2. There’s a man on a hill, who I’m seeing, and he has a telescope.
  3. There’s a man, and he’s on a hill that also has a telescope on it.
  4. I’m on a hill, and I saw a man using a telescope.

I used the following prompts to guide the discussion:

  • What kind of phrases can be identified in the sentence? (Factual)
  • How does the syntactic function of the phrases change with each interpretation? (Conceptual)
  • Which phrases can be shifted to a different position in the sentence? How does their position in the sentence affect the overall meaning? (Conceptual)
  • Can a language exist without ambiguity? (Provocative)

Explanatory note:

For example, in the third interpretation above, the preposition phrase “with a telescope” tells us more about the hill on which the man was standing. So, its position cannot be moved to a position before “the hill”. In the fourth interpretation, however, the preposition phrase “on the hill” is no longer part of the noun phrase with “man” as the head, and it can be moved to a position in the sentence before the noun phrase “a man with a telescope”.


In the last part of the lesson, I invited a few students to share what they had learnt about how phrases convey meaning in the language system. To help the class make the connection with the previous lesson, I asked them how meaning created at the word level is similar to or different from that at the phrasal level. They were given a preview of the next lesson on Meaning at the Clausal Level to reinforce the idea that language is composed of sub-systems.

Students who wished to extend their learning were directed to the following resources:

  • An interactive linguistics puzzle that requires users to translate Tajik phrases into English


  • Additional reading: Chapters 6, 11 and 13 of Grammar for Secondary 1-5


Posted by: Mrs Jassie Teo

Senior Teacher

Raffles Girls’ School

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