Fantastic Contractions and how to find them!

Arrrrrrgh what’s a contraction???????

  • Question: how can I give a concrete meaning to this abstract word? Is there a real life application?

Kinaesthetic/experiential (aka primary information): ask students to hold up their arm – when outstretched, the muscle is longer (antonym: expansion).

Tense the fist and bend the arm, feel the muscle; it is a ‘contraction’, it is smaller.



  • Depending on your assessment of class needs and arousal levels, other kinaesthetic options:

Walk around the room, on the command ‘expansion’, stretch up tall, on ‘contraction’, get down and scrunch up into a ball.

  • Question: Can I provide some semantic information about the word ‘contraction’?

From Latin contrahere: join together.

What physically happens in a contraction in grammar?

(Antonym: expansion) In the expanded phrase e.g. have not – the jaw creates two syllables (yes, test this! place hand under chin: ‘have’, ‘not’ – two movements of the jaw – agreed? good).

If you have mirrors for maths USE THEM, let students see how the jaw moves.

Fact: A syllable is created by a vowel, we have to open our mouth to let a vowel sound escape!

open mouth vowel

In speech, we are lazy and shorten phrases by clipping out a vowel and SOMETIMES a consonant too.

  • ‘Con’ ‘son’ ‘ant’ (meaning: ‘with sound’), consonants are said using the teeth, lips, tongue, throat.

Hence: have not, becomes havent, the missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe – havent.

Say it now and look in the mirror, hand under jaw – we have lost a syllable – the phrase is shorter.

Fact: apostrophes were invented by printers to show where letters were missing in text (in case someone thought they couldn’t spell!).

And another thing: whilst it’s thought that no two people with dyslexia are the same, I find there are lots of common misconceptions.

One is, the comma vs apostrophe confusion. Why? BECAUSE THEY LOOK THE SAME!! Argh!

The difficulty is with perception and orientation: one goes on the ground, one goes in the air! They have different jobs too, OBVIOUSLY.

Try saying to your class: the word apostrophe has ‘trophy’ in it, reach up for the trophy in apostrophe!

  • Comma means ‘to cut into’, commas are used within sentences to cut the words into chunks and change the meaning. Commas go on the line.

Reinforcement activity: write a list of items, and ask children to cut with scissors where comma should go, (scaffold according to age, stage).

We can see that memory is not the issue but how information is processed is. If the information is abstract, can I give it other meaning?:

  • Kinaesthetic (using primary information – the senses); muscle for contraction, feeling the jaw for syllable
  • Semantic memory: some history, narrative or additional meaning.
  • Can I make it funny??
  • Can I help to differentiate between commonly confused items. WHY are they causing confusion? e.g. apostrophe and comma.

If these confusions aren’t addressed, they will persist into High School. It doesn’t mean a student CAN’T learn them, they haven’t been taught in the right way…until now!


How to fold away a vowel




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  1. Pingback: Siiiiiigh…..t words: what to do?! – thinkpix

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