Teaching about anaphora and reference

Why do pupils need to know about anaphora and reference?

The 1999 National Curriculum for English at KS 3& 4 says:


Language structure

  • Pupils should be taught the need for whole-text cohesion and use this knowledge in their writing. They should be taught the structure of whole texts, including cohesion, openings and conclusions in different types of writing [for example, through the use of verb tenses and reference chains]

The Key Stage 3 National Strategy Framework for teaching English: Years 7, 8 and 9 contains the following objectives:

Year 7: Sentence level

Sentence Construction & Punctuation

Pupils should be taught to recognise and remedy ambiguity in sentences, e.g. unclear use of pronouns

Year 8: Sentence level

Paragraphing and cohesion

Pupils should be taught to develop different ways of linking paragraphs, using a range of strategies to improve cohesion and coherence, e.g. choice of connectives, reference back, linking phrases;

Year 9: Sentence level

Paragraphing and cohesion

Pupils should be taught to compare and use different ways of opening, developing and completing paragraphs;

What are pupils quite good at and what do they need to develop in this area at KS3?

Good at …

  • They know that once ‘characters’ (in the broadest sense, including things and places as well as people) have been introduced, perhaps by means of a full noun phrase, they normally need only a pronoun on subsequent references. This principle is very well established in ordinary speech, and is usually applied to writing as well.
  • KS3 writers are very familiar with the full range of personal and possessive pronouns which this principle requires.

Need to develop

  • At KS3 pupils often have to discuss situations in which different characters, places or things have to be kept separate. This is not easy, and for weaker writers the result may be either ambiguity or repetition, or both.
  • Pronouns may refer to characters that have not been properly introduced.

The following extract from a typical KS3 text, a short commentary on a poem, illustrates some of these aspects which need developing. The KS3 pupil writer mentions no fewer than five people, each with its own reference chain (consisting of the words that refer to him or her). The probable references have been colour coded and highlighted, but many of them are unclear or ambiguous.

When his grandfather came they atmosphere was as if their was trees and planters in his bedroom. He made it sound as if it was out side and not in side. When I read it I felt as if he was farmer of some – sort. I thought that the boy wanted him to be their and not to be their. I think the poet wanted to wright about his grandfather because he was allways their for him. And mebyes his grandfather died recantly.

  • The writer of the essay, referred to consistently as I
  • the author of the poem: he, the poet, his, him
  • the poet’s grandfather: his grandfather, he
  • the boy in the poem: his, the boy
  • the boy’s grandfather: his grandfather, he, him

The main discussion of potential problems in this area gives other examples of KS3 writing.


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