Functional Grammar


On completion of this course you will be able to:

  1. Compare a functional (e.g., Halliday) to a formal perspective of grammar (e.g., Chomsky);
  2. Analyze how cultural and local contexts influence how people make meanings with language and other semiotic means;
  3. Recognize and analyze critically the linguistic features of the types of texts, or genres, teachers routinely teach in school (e.g., narrative, descriptions, summaries, reports, explanations, arguments, and others);
  4. Analyze critically the linguistic features of student writing samples as students attempt to become more expert producers and critical readers of school- based genres (e.g., narratives, descriptions, reports, explanations, arguments and others);
  5. Develop an action plan for teaching grade-level, content-based academic language to students drawing on the principles and tools of Systemic Functional Linguistics.

Learning Activities & Assignments

To achieve the learning objectives, you will work in grade-level or content-area interest groups of 3-4 people (e.g.,  middle school Science, middle school English Subject matter, college level language instruction, ESL, EFL, ESP). Based on your group’s collaboration, you will produce three individually authored papers:

  • Paper 1: a 10-15 page analysis of an academic genre you are likely to teach in the future (e.g., a narrative, an essay, a report, other genres of spoken texts); (a sample paper can be found here)
  • Paper 2: a 7-10 page analysis of a student-writing sample. This sample should reflect a student’s attempt to write a particular high-frequency, high-stakes text type (e.g., a narrative, an essay, a report, other genres of spoken texts). In selecting a sample text, I strongly encourage you to select the same genre for Paper 1 and 2. This comparison will provide you with concrete linguistic insights into the differences between novice and expert writers and what teachers can do to support their students’ academic language development. I also strongly encourage you to work with your group to get access to samples of student writing that will be of the most interest to you.
  • Paper 3 is a 15-20 page course paper in which you combine your work in Paper 1 and 2 to develop an action place for your future teaching practices based on your knowledge of SFL-based pedagogy, your analysis of disciplinary text types, and your analysis of a sample student texts.
  • Reading Summaries: You are also expected to maintain a summary of your readings. The purpose of these entries is to “hold still” the main ideas in the reading so that class discussion will be more informed or to give you some practice in applying the concepts discussed in the readings. Please bring a hard copy to class each week. Please also post one copy to If you are new to reading this amount of academic texts each week, I encourage you to use reading strategies such as pre-reading, skimming, noticing headings, noting repeated ideas, and re-reading key sections of chapters (e.g., introductions and conclusions).

Submit your ASSIGNMENTS here.


  1. Knapp, P., & Watkins, M. (2005). Genre, text, grammar: Technologies for teaching and assessing writing. Sydney: UNSW Press.
  2. Schleppegrell, M. (2004). The Language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  3. Thompson, G. (2004). Introduction to functional grammar (2nd edition). London: Arnold Publishers.
  4. Eggins, S. (2004). An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. NY: Continuum.
  5. Butt, D., Fahey, R., Feez, S., Spinks, S., & Yallop, C. (2000/2006). Using functional Grammar: An explorer’s guide. Sydney NSW: National Center for English Language Teaching and Research

Syllabus can be found here. Note that this is subject to change.

Slides on Functional Linguistics and Education are made available here.