Michelle Nicholson offers some timely advice on writing in KS1.

This blog aims to unpick the STA guidance around bullet points one and two of the KS1 ITAFs for children writing at the expected standard or at greater depth within the standard.

As the Summer Term is now in bloom, many Year 2 children will be entering a delicious stage of confidence in their writing careers.  At this age, my youngest daughter used to inform me that she intended to be a teacher on Mondays and Tuesdays, and an author for the rest of the week! As the child’s words gush onto the page, often unhindered by the adult shackles of punctuation and spelling, how does the Y2 teacher perform the subtle task of shepherding that stream of consciousness into a collection of writing that meets ‘EXS’ or ‘GDS’?  We do not want pupils’ efforts to be ‘sentenced to death by ITAF’, but neither do we want them to miss getting an age related judgement on a technicality.  Last year, one of the often-missed statements of the ITAFs seemed to be the second bullet point in Working at the Expected Standard:

  • using sentences with different forms in their writing (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)

It seems straightforward enough in its mandate, but it can seem to get muddled with the statement before:

  • demarcating most sentences with capital letters and full stops and with some use of question marks and exclamation marks

The reason the sentence forms bullet point was problematic was possibly twofold. Firstly, I read quite a few examples of children’s work where there simply were not any examples of all four of the sentence types.  Statements were in abundance but the other three forms seemed to be a rarity, especially the dear old exclamatory sentence.  The second reason for difficulty was possibly that the first two bullet points were being viewed together and yet they are quite distinct.  In this blog, I intend to unpick the grammar behind the two bullet points and examine the STA clarification materials and guidance to moderators that relate to these points.

“Using sentences with different forms in their writing.”  For this to be possible, children need to know that a sentence must contain a verb:  We sleep. She runs. You stop.  We can add other elements to a sentence eg We sleep in a bed.  She runs every day. You stop that.  If children have been taught that verbs are ‘doing words’ or ‘action words’, you may inherit a problem with sentence recognition.  The verb ‘to be’ in all its forms is present in a vast number of sentences (I am hungry. They were outside. It is raining.). A quick session to show children that verbs are, in fact, ‘words of doing or being’, will rectify the situation and support children to identify sentences in their own writing as well as that of others. (Why not have a read of Martin Galway’s Do-be-Do Blog for further analysis of verbs?)

The next step is to show children that there are different types of sentence.  The first that they master is the statement:  It is funny. In Year 1, children will learn that a statement needs a capital letter at the beginning and a full stop at the end to turn a clause into a correctly demarcated sentence (they do not need to know that terminology though).  Once the statement is secure, children learn to play around with word order, oral intonation, and punctuation in order to create questions (Is it funny?) and exclamations (It is funny!).  They will also learn the art of bossiness to create commands (Make it funny. Laugh!)

So far, so good, but the National Curriculum guidance is quite specific about the distinction between an exclamatory sentence and the use of an exclamation mark for the purposes of Y2 onwards.  Some children cannot be awarded this strand because they only ever use the exclamation mark and do not write exclamatory sentences.  The STA clarification states:

An exclamation mark is a punctuation mark that can end statements, commands and exclamations, or be placed after a phrase or single word (eg an interjection). An exclamation mark shows that the writer wants to indicate a certain effect, such as heightened emotion eg ‘Be my friend!’ [command].

The use of an exclamation mark does not change a sentence into an exclamation.

Most young children’s books tend to make liberal use of interjections so that we see plenty of examples of these in reading: Help! Fire! No! Yes please! Commands also feature heavily: Sit down! Go away! Eat your dinner! One of my favourite books for modelling exclamation marks is Open Very Carefully by Nicola Byrne in which a crocodile eats through the book.  It is full of interjections and commands to the naughty creature. Therefore, if a sentence needs a verb, what- the astute Y2 child might ask- is wrong with: “He’s eating the letters!” or “He must be hungry!”  Verbs are all present and correct, are they not, in these instances?  Over to the STA for further clarification:

The national curriculum states that an exclamation is one of the four forms of sentences. An exclamation must be introduced by a phrase with ‘what’ or ‘how’ and should be followed by a subject + verb + any other elements. It is typically demarcated by an exclamation mark, for example:

What big teeth you have, Grandma!

How beautiful Cinderella looks in that dress!

Whilst accurate in terms of a definition, this is a somewhat old fashioned and stylised use of the exclamation, reminiscent of the world of Enid Blyton: How spiffing it is Julian! What a wonderful day we had mother! It is clear that children will need to be taught this mode of writing as this is not a sentence form that we tend to use orally nowadays.  Essentially, the exclamatory sentence is a literary device and, used well, it shows that the Year 2 writer is aware of how to manipulate the reader. It is a useful way for the narrator or character to reflect upon a situation and offer a commentary. I would argue that it should be no more difficult than learning other traditional narrative structures such as “Once upon a time” or “And they all lived happily ever after.” However, the structure is quite specific.  The STA warns that the requirement is for a sentence not a phrase:

  • Whilst not incorrect, exclamative phrases, such as What an amazing adventure! don’t provide evidence for this statement.

Reminders about the need for a verb can support children to turn phrases such as, “How lovely!”, “What an amazing adventure!” into sentences such as “How lovely she is!”, “What an amazing adventure that was!”

So to sum up this section:

  • The definition of an exclamation should not be confused with the uses of the exclamation mark for punctuation. The exclamation mark can be used in a variety of sentence forms and not just in exclamations. 

Later this is clarified with an example:

  • An exclamation mark can also be used to demarcate a command or a statement, e.g. Go away!

 By the end of Y2, the concept of a sentence in all its different forms should be much stronger.  This element becomes one of the non-negotiable strands of the ITAFs and pupils at KS1 who are ‘working at the expected’ or ‘working at greater depth’ standards must use sentences with different forms across their writing.  This guidance from STA explains what moderators can hope to see:

  • To meet the requirements of this statement, there may be appropriate use of each sentence from across a collection of writing, or multiple examples within a single piece of writing, for example commands in a set of instructions
  • Evidence for this statement must include sentences which use the appropriate syntax for all 4 sentence forms (statements, questions, exclamations and commands)

It is not a checklist – no one expects to see all four forms of sentence in any one given piece.  Conversely, neither you (nor a moderator) should have to hunt around for an example of a question or exclamatory sentence – children should be confidently using these on multiple occasions. Are children able to apply their understanding of sentence forms across the curriculum, in different contexts and written genres?

Most importantly, we need to plan in opportunities to model examples of each form whilst ensuring that these statements are addressed in a creative and natural way.  We do not want to shoehorn in elements of writing in a way that snuffs out the burgeoning talent we so often see at this stage of education.  It is vital that children learn grammar in a meaningful context and see how sentences structures appear in their favourite books. Phase One of the Teaching Sequence for Writing is all about engaging with and responding to texts so that the reader wants to write like the writer.  Hopefully, children will see that the application of their grammar teaching leads to more confident, captivating writing on their part.

Try showing the children how to include commands, exclamations and questions in exchanges between characters (no inverted commas necessary of course).  Explain that these different types of sentences reflect the speech patterns we use and are each present in a typical conversation.  Using them makes the writing come alive. Here is a narrative example with all four sentence types popped in for purposes of modelling:

Red Riding Hood knocked on the door. The wolf called to her.

Come in child. Sit on the bed.

How are you grandma? Oh my goodness! What big ears you have!

Similarly questions, exclamations and commands ‘speak’ to your reader in a non-fiction text.  The inclusion of these sentence types enhances writing because the reader becomes ‘hooked in’ and involved.  Here is a possibility (again, you can see all four sentence types in a condensed paragraph for exemplification purposes):

How quickly can you run?  Try timing yourself. The cheetah can run faster than a car and is the fastest animal on earth. What an amazing creature it is!

Modelling is the key here- it we show children rather than tell them, they tend to follow suit.

Once the sentence forms are mastered, how pedantic do we need to be about the demarcation, giving the specificity of the ‘how/ what phrases’? The following piece of STA clarification for moderators is particularly interesting.  It explains that children working at the expected standard who are wobbly with their inclusion of final punctuation could still be awarded the sentence forms standard as long as their exclamatory sentences are syntactically correct. The strand about accurate demarcation of sentences is bullet number one and is quite separate to this element.  The STA advises:


  • Providing the syntax is correct, this statement is met, even if the sentence demarcation has been omitted, for example, the question mark omitted at the end of a question. (The correct demarcation of sentences is assessed separately.)
  • The statement refers to sentences with different forms
  • Therefore, evidence for exclamations must be full sentences, for example What a fantastic goal he scored

So, thinking back to the first bullet point, children must be “demarcating most sentences with capital letters and full stops and with some use of question marks and exclamation marks”. The implication is therefore that children must evidence exclamatory sentences but might not be 100% accurate in applying final punctuation at this stage.  Of course, unless ‘most’ sentences are accurately punctuated this becomes a moot point but could be useful if the only examples of an exclamatory sentence seem to have missed the exclamation mark.  Of course, children working at greater depth within the standard are expected to use the full range of KS1 punctuation accurately ‘most of the time’.


At risk of causing further confusion, here is one further piece of clarification from STA:

  • It is not always necessary to demarcate an exclamation with an exclamation mark, for example

               What a sad day it was for Sally.

               How strange this afternoon has been…

And what better way to prove that than with a section from The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear:


The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are.”
Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?”


Within the delightful nonsense of this poem, we can spot statements, commands, questions, phrases with exclamation marks and exclamatory sentences without them.


So in short, here is a bite-size summary of the STA clarification regarding strand two:

  • All four sentence types are needed across a body of evidence
  • If the child misses the end punctuation from an exclamatory sentence or question they can still be awarded this strand as long as they are correctly demarcating most sentences with full stops and showing some use of ? and ! elsewhere (strand one)
  • Exclamatory sentences need a verb so :
    • How clever! X
    • How clever you are! ü
  • Exclamatory sentences need to begin with ‘How’ or ‘What’ phrases
  • Exclamation marks can be used for other sentence types or interjections eg Stop that now! Ouch! However these do not count for strand two
  • Exclamatory sentences could end in a full stop and still count

 Goodness.  How confusing this all is! What a complicated set of rules we have! As Yoda might say: Keep smiling you should…..


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