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Exploring English grammar

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This module looks at how we choose to represent ourselves and our world through choices of wording and grammar and will appeal to people who enjoy an analytical approach. You will explore applications of language analysis in different work contexts and address questions such as: What makes particular texts effective? How is English used differently in different contexts? You’ll also learn how to use computer software to deepen your understanding of the grammatical differences between texts. This module is not specifically aimed at speakers of English as a second language, but will enhance all students’ linguistic awareness.

What you will study

The module has four blocks, each of which includes study of a print book. Alongside these, you'll study a range of online, audiovisual material: each week you’ll have grammar activities and usually also corpus activities and sometimes grammar applications material. Occasionally you’ll also look at digital literacy material, assessment preparation and work with other students in your tutor group forum. One week at the end of each block is devoted to an area of grammar in applications, ranging from the use of computers to analysing texts in an English for Academic Purposes classroom, to how journalists write differently in tabloid and broadsheet and online newspapers, to doctor-patient interactions and how these can be made more effective. A further week per block is devoted to writing tutor-marked assignments with four weeks at the end of the module spent on a small-scale end-of-module assessment project in which you will be able to select your own area of interest to explore.

Block 1 aims to provide a gentle introduction to grammar – what is it and why is it worth studying? We will move from a review of structural terms in the early units, to unpacking the basics of the systemic functional linguistic approach adopted in this module. This is particularly useful if you have not studied a level 2 module, such as Worlds of English (U214) or its replacement, English in the world (L201).

Block 2 focuses on the way in which we use language to experience and have ideas about the world. Known as ideational meaning, this relates to who does what to whom, how, when, where and why. 

In Block 3 we look at how texts are formed. What makes a text cohesive and coherent? Have you ever felt that some of the text that you have produced could have been organised more effectively? This is known as textual meaning.

In the first part of Block 4 we will explore how interpersonal meaning is formed in texts. How do some people manage to persuade you to change your mind on an issue, while others have little influence? Why do some people – in works of fiction or news stories or in your own lives – appear dynamic, while others seem more passive? The rest of this block pulls together the three aspects of meaning making covered in the module: ideational, textual and interpersonal – and looks at how they work together.

Throughout all four blocks you will develop your capacity to analyse, interpret and evaluate texts from the perspective of their lexicogrammatical choices and patterns – within and beyond the clause. Similarly you will develop your capacity to apply your evolving knowledge and understanding of lexicogrammar to texts and contexts relevant to you. For example you will learn how to use the corpus tool to provide robust insights in text analysis.

You will learn

By studying this module you will develop:
  • an understanding of the major characteristics of English grammar;
  • skills in language analysis and interpretation;
  • skills in applying linguistic understanding in order to evaluate and improve the quality of your written texts.

Entry requirements

Most students will have already studied a level 2 module before beginning their OU level 3 study. If you have not, we recommend that you allow sufficient time at the start of E304 to thoroughly study the online Grammar Activities provided and also to work through the Linguistic Toolkit (this will be provided as an online resource).

A reasonable level of computer literacy is expected and a willingness to engage with a new learning tool, though you will be given step-by-step guidance on how to install software, unzip files, and so on.

This module provides a thorough grounding in the analysis of texts using traditional grammatical terms and a clear introduction to the influential approach to grammar known as Systemic Functional Linguistics. It is practically orientated, and will give you many opportunities to reflect on your own writing and how it can be improved.

The module is skills-based so it’s important that you keep up with your studies as the module content is cumulative.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

We’ve developed some optional activities and resources to help you prepare for studying Exploring English grammar (E304). They're not required reading, but are useful as additional preparation for this module.

If you have studied Worlds of English (U214), it may also be useful to refresh your memory of the concepts taught in the Linguistic Toolkit. This is provided for you as an online resource once you begin studying Exploring English grammar.

Activity 1
Grammar matters – Our free OpenLearn course explores how grammar and vocabulary choice create meaning.

Activity 2
English grammar in context – This free OpenLearn course looks at the way grammar can be used as a tool for adapting our written and spoken communications.

Activity 3
The following online resources examine structural grammar, and are useful background for this module. They illustrate how grammar analysis is useful in real-world contexts such as education.

  • Macmillan dictionary – This dictionaries site on 'Real Grammar' shows how corpora can be used to explore grammar and contains short quizzes and videos.
  • Englicious – Contains resources for English language teachers at primary and secondary level and is useful for anyone who needs to work with the UK National Curriculum.
  • International Systemic Functional Linguistics Association – Provides a clear overview of systemic functional grammar – the approach to grammar adopted in E304. Don’t worry if this seems a lot to understand – the module begins with the basics of grammar and builds up gradually.

Optional reading

You may also like to explore an introductory guide to systemic functional linguistics (SFL), such as one of the titles below:

  • Bartlett, T (2014) Analysing Power in Language: A practical guide, Routledge: London & New York.
  • Butt, D., Fahey,R., Feez,S., Spinks,S. Yallop,C. (2000) Using Functional Grammar - An explorer's guide, NCELTR, Maquarie University (Australia).
  • Coffin, C., Donohue, J. and North, S. (2009) Exploring English grammar: from formal to functional, Routledge: London & New York.
  • Eppler, E.D. (2012) English Words and Sentences: An Introduction, Cambridge Introductions to the English Language, Cambridge University Press.
  • Fontaine, L. M. (2012) Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic-Functional Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thompson, G. (2014) Introducing Functional Grammar (3rd edition), Routledge: London & New York.

The reference book on structural grammar, Biber, D., Conrad, S., and Leech, G. (1999) Longmans Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Pearson: Harlow, is also recommended.

What's included

You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • access to Corpus tool software
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access

You’ll also be provided with four printed module books, each covering one block of study, and a printed anthology.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (10.15 or higher).

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Your tutor will support you in online tutor group forums, face-to-face tutorials and synchronous online sessions.

We aim to provide face-to-face tutorials in a range of locations students can travel to, though we cannot guarantee availability close to where you live. Online alternatives may also be provided, and recordings of these will typically be made available to students.

Student numbers on the module, and where tutors are based, will affect the locations of where tutorials are held, and what online alternatives are provided. We cannot guarantee that face-to-face tutorials will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

For each tutorial session on E304, a recorded tutorial comprising audio and Powerpoint slides will be made available for all students.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying E304 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Exploring English grammar starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022, when we expect it to start for the last time.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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