What is a word class?
Dictionary.com defines word classes as a group of words all belonging to the same class or part of speech. The word class will determine what part a word plays in a sentence.
The most common word classes are:
Nouns: nouns are names of objects, places and a person. For example: table, London and woman.
Verbs: verbs are doing words. For example: run, jump and hide.
Adjectives: adjectives are describing words. For example: beautiful, fascinating and scrupulous.
Adverbs: adverbs describe a verb in relation to time, manner, circumstances, degree or cause. For example: quickly, accidentally and beautifully
More complicated word classes are:
Preposition, determiners, conjunctions and articles.
Prepositions are words that are used before a noun and functions as a modifier. For example: over, through and since
Determiners are words that refers to who a noun belongs to or how many there are. Determiners include articles, demonstrative determiners, possessive determiners, quantifiable determiners and numeral determiners. For example: that (demonstrative), your (possessive), fewer (quantifiable) and three (numeral).
Conjunctions are any words that function as connectors between words, phrases or sentences. For example: because, however and as.
Articles are words that identify the noun rather than describing it. There are two types of articles: indefinite articles and definite articles. Definite articles are words that identify the noun it precedes. Indefinite articles are words that are not specific about the amount of something. For example: the (definite article),a and an (indefinite article)
For more about the more complicated word classes in grammar, check out:
How to teach them?
There are a wide range of different strategies for learning different word classes. Some embed them in their lessons through different interactive activities; while others use them as stand-alone lessons and dedicate their time to the teaching of word classes. And the final group use word classes as decorative posters around the room that students may learn through osmosis. Unfortunately, no one is certain which is the most effective method to use and, therefore, is very much done trial and error. Each students learning styles are different and therefore it should be the teachers decision how is best to teach this knowledge to their students.
If students know how to use a dictionary accurately, then their troubles will be blown away (especially if they use an online service) as the dictionaries categorise the words into word classes so that all the students have to do is to absorb the information and retain it.
There is no set way of teaching, why should the learning of grammar be any differently?! But the three ways that you could consider teaching it is: overtly, covertly and through osmosis. If choosing the latter just make sure that it catches the eye, “be big, bold, daring” Lumiere says, and let’s be honest, if you can’t take advice from a talking candlestick, who can you take advice from?
How to find out which is which?
I know that you aren’t supposed to teach rules anymore because they go out of fashion like last year’s colours. But, unfortunately, they do seem to stick. ‘I before E except after C’. ‘Adverbs usually end in LY’. I know there are a vast array of words that contradict the rules, which is why they aren’t taught.
The only easy way to know what a word class is is to have been taught it. I can break down the descriptions even more to:
Nouns are names, verbs are actions, adverbs describe verbs and adjectives describe.
With my greatest sorrow, I have not yet found a way of having students understand which is which without them having been taught it. But fear not, I will continue my search and update you once my search is complete.
What is the effect of using them in writing?
Now, this is an interesting question…
The simple answer is: it all depends on how well it is being used.
Regrettably, word classes are not always used to their fullest potential. Upgrade sentence starter cards are used, thesauruses out and you will be well on your way to having a powerful piece of work for any occasion; whether it be persuasive, descriptive, informative or simply creative. Creative writing is a perfect opportunity for students to explore the way that word class and word choice can change a piece of writing.
When used well, the piece of work can transport you to wherever their imagination has taken you, you can feel what they felt, hear what they heard and see what they saw. And that is the power of word classes.