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Selection of Research Focus
Subject-verb agreement (SVA) can be defined as a type of grammatical
component that subject must agree with the verb. Singular subject is followed by
singular verbs whereas plural subjects take plural verbs (Siti Hamin Stapa &
Mohd Mustafa Izahar, 2010). This grammatical rule only applies in simple
present tense. However, the main verbs was and were are needed for
another consideration as these are used in simple past tense (Surina Nayan &
Kamaruzaman Jusoff, 2009). Hence, pupils writing without correct subject-verb
agreement is unable to transmit their messages effectively to the recipients
(significance). It is because the recipients (teachers) may confuse and
misinterpret the meaning of the messages being received by the sender (pupils).
For example, John and Ali goes to school every morning. From this sentence,
the recipients may confuse with the meaning of the messages on whether the
senders want to tell him that John and Ali go to school or John goes to school or
Ali goes to school. Dorn (2000) stated that in order to communicate clearly
especially through writing, we should be able to match singular subjects with
singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. He stated that every word
and phrase in the sentence plays important roles in construction of meaningful
sentences. Meaningful sentences can express the idea well. Hence, SVA plays
an important role in expressing idea especially in writing without any verbal

According to Gan (2012), SVA has become a problem for the students in
the schools and tertiary institutions all over the country. Hartsuiker and
Barkhuysen (2006) also stated that the majority of Malaysian pupils make a lot
of mistakes in SVA. Moreover, Holden and Singh (2001) stated that this
grammar rule has also become a general problem among the pupils. In a
nutshell, SVA is a major problem for the pupils and it indirectly causes the
confusion and misinterpretation of the sentences. Hence, Hand-Shape Coding
(HSC) was the strategy to be used to overcome this problem. According to Gan
(2012), this strategy possessed practicality as hands are parts of the body which
is easily available for the pupils to see. According to Ebbels (2007), shape
coding can be easily taught in the classroom through various types of teaching
materials such as mahjung papers, manila cards and powerpoint slides.
Moreover, this strategy is also relevant to the school as this strategy can be
used by other teachers who teach other English language skills (reading,
speaking, listening and writing) and other grammatical components such as
adjective, simple past tense and etc. For example, pupils can be taught to draw
different types of shape to differentiate conjunctions and adjectives in the
sentences such as triangle for adjectives and rectangle for conjunctions.

Initial Data Collection

Pupils previous work
I collected the pupils previous works such as their exercise books and
activity books to check exactly the number of pupils facing the problem of using
correct subject-verb agreement in sentence construction. The sample of the
pupils exercises is shown as the figure below.

From the data collected through pupils previous works such as activity
books, most of the pupils were able to construct complete simple sentences.
However, there were a few of pupils still unable to construct correct simple
sentences with correct subject-verb agreements. For example, a few of pupils
put s or es or ves behind the verbs after the plural subjects and this
circumstance is vice versa for the singular subjects. For example, (John watch
movie with his mother tonight. John and his friends watches movie tonight.)
Hence, this study was carried out to improve the pupils on constructing
sentences with correct subject-verb agreement so that they are able to know
when to use plural verbs or singular verbs based on the subjects in the sentence

Writing test
I carried out a small writing test during writing lesson. Pupils were
required to construct five simple sentences based on the pictures and words
given within 10 minutes. The purpose of carrying out this test was to check the
amount of pupils having the problems of using correct subject-verb agreement in
constructing the sentences. The test papers are prepared for the pupils to do.

After finished marking their test papers, I counted the number of sentences with
correct subject-verb agreement and then transcribed them into scores (100%).
Then, I listed down the scores of the pupils in the table words (Appendix B).
From here, I was able to discover there were 10 pupils who had problems
in constructing the sentences with correct subject-verb agreements.


Scores (%)
Scores (%)
Table 1:
Pupils Results of the Writing Test
In order to overcome the problems of
use of subject-verb agreements in
constructing the sentences among
pupils in Year 4M, I decided to use
technique HSC. HSC consisted of
hand technique and shape coding
*The name
the pupils who have
Both of these techniques
31 in constructing sentences
with correct subject-verb
complement with each other to form

According to Ebbels (2007), shape coding is originally created to help the

children with language impairments to overcome their problem of language. The
use of this technique shows remarkable results in that most of the children with
language impairments are able to master the language learning easily (Ebbels,
2013). Shape coding is a type of technique using different types of shapes such
as circle, rectangle, oval, triangle and others or arrows to code the structures of
a sentence such as identifying subjects, verbs and the predicates. Shapes are
also used to code the phrases and objects such as line up in the sentences
(Ebbels, 2007). The visual feature possessed by the shapes easily attracts the
attention of pupils who have stronger visual ability and this indirectly cause them
to identify the subjects, verbs and predicates in the sentences easily (Richards
& Rodgers, 2001). There are two advantages of using shape coding: the shapes
can be moved around easily which help the pupils to identify the subjects, verbs
and predicate as well as how to form sentences and form questions; the shapes
are placed along the words which easily show the hierarchical structure of the
sentences. The examples of shape coding technique in teaching the subjectverb agreements in the sentences are shown below:



to school.

Figure 1: Examples of singular subject with singular verb (walks)

Ali and John


to school.
Figure 2: Examples of plural subjects with plural verbs (walk)
Hence, based on the examples above, I fix the shape circles for subjects and
triangles for verbs in order to teach the pupils on how to identify the subjects
and verbs as well as to teach them how to put correct singular or plural verbs
which agree with the singular or plural subjects in the sentences. Two circles
surrounding the subject represent plural subject and it should be followed by
verb end without s, es or ves. The condition is vice versa for one circle
surrounding singular subject. As a result, the pupils will understand easily on
how to put suitable singular or plural verbs which agree with the subjects. The
shape coding technique can be taught to the pupils through different types of
materials such as flash cards and ICT (PowerPoint slides or ICT games).
Moreover, shape coding can be applied in the subjects with personal pronouns
such as I, we, she, they and others. However, personal pronouns I and you
are excluded because these two pronouns are special pronouns which mean
they are singular subject followed by verb with no s, es and ves. As a result,
the pupils always confuse with the sentences started with subject I and you as
they do not know whether to put the verbs end with s, es or ves or not.
Hence, hand technique can be used to complement the shape coding technique
to help the pupils to overcome the problem of remembering the subjects as
personal pronouns especially I and you in the sentences. This is the reason
why hand techniques combined with shape coding technique to complement

with each other to form Hand-Shape Coding. According to Gan (2012), hands
are a type of unconventional technique being used in teaching the students
regarding to the use of subject-verb agreements in writing sentences and there
is remarkable results for the research findings.

Left hand

right hand

Figure 3: Hand Coding

Based on the figure above, two hands with seven fingertips show the seven
different personal pronouns. The three fingertips of left hand show three different
personal pronouns: it, she, he and another four fingertips of right hand show four
different personal pronouns: I, you, we and they. Right hand signifies the plural
subjects whereas left hand signifies singular subject. This means the verbs after
he, she and it should be ended with s, ves or es. The verbs after I, you, they
and we should be ended with original verbs. I used this technique in order to
help the pupils to remember which personal pronouns are singular subjects or
plural subjects by looking at their hands if they forget which personal pronouns
are of singular subjects or plural subjects. Moreover, the application of this
technique can also help the pupils to remember which personal pronouns are
singular subjects or plural subjects as the hands are a part of our body. Hence,
pupils can easily remember the personal pronouns through their hands. This

strategy would be carried out during four weeks of writing lesson. The use of this
strategy was further strengthened by the theory of behaviourism by Ivan Pavlov
(Rotfeld, 2007). According to Ivan Pavlov, the situation of unconditioned stimulus
(construction of sentences with SVA) combined with neutral stimulus (HSC
strategy) to form conditioned stimulus (pupils automatically construct sentences
with correct SVA) was repeated over four weeks of lesson would help them to
easily remember how to construct the sentences with correct SVA.

Figure 4: Kemmis & McTaggarts model 1988

The figure above shows Kemmis & McTaggarts model 1988 which is my
action research model as this model is suitable to be used in my action research

(Creswell, 2008). This is because this model is easily to be carried out as it is

consisted of four stages namely planning stage, action stage, observing stage
and reflecting stage. The process of action research is carried out based on
these four stages of model.

The first stage is planning stage. Under this stage, teachers should plan
the ways to carry out their own action research by reflecting their pupils main
problems in the classroom and carrying out initial data collection by collecting
the pupils previous works such as exercise books or carrying out test such as
writing test to identify the number of pupils who have the problems. Moreover,
teachers should also search for a suitable strategy to overcome the problems
faced by the pupils in a classroom. Teachers then prepare teaching materials to
be used during the implementation of action research strategy during the lesson.

The next stage is action stage. Under this stage, teachers are able to
implement their own action research strategy in the lesson for certain duration
like one month or three weeks. The implementation of the strategy should be
carried out during the lesson instead of being carried out during recess time or
after dismissal time as the problems of the pupils are associated with the four
language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing skills) as well as
grammar and vocabulary components. Hence, teachers can implement their
own strategy during the lesson of four language skills or grammar and
vocabulary components. For example, teachers should implement the strategy

during reading lesson as the pupils problem is the difficulties to understand and
comprehend the reading text.

Observation stage is the stage to be carried out after action stage. Under
this stage, the role of teacher is to collect the data of the pupils behaviours and
their results during the implementation of the strategy in the lesson. There are
many types of data collection methods that can be carried out during the lesson
such as observation, pupils works, interview, reflective journal and etc. The
purpose of carrying collection of data is to verify the effectiveness of the strategy
carried out by the teachers by analysing and interpreting the data collected
during the implementation of the strategy in the lesson.

The last stage is reflection stage. This is the most important stage as this
stage requires the teachers to reflect back their strengths and weaknesses of
their implementation of the strategy to overcome the problems faced by pupils
during each lesson. Teachers are able to identify their weaknesses of the
strategy found at the end of each lesson and make some amendments to
overcome the weaknesses. For example, one of the weaknesses of the
implementation of strategy is the audio system of the laptop used in first lesson
is poor and cause the pupils are not able to listen to the video and audio clearly.
Hence, teachers make amendment by repairing the audio system of the laptop

so that the sound becomes more clear and loud. As a result, all the pupils in the
classroom are able to listen to the audio and video clearly. The problems faced
by pupils are able to be solved by the strategy carried out by the teachers if the
reflection is made at the end of each lesson.


This section contains research objectives and research questions.
According to Goh (2012), research objectives and research questions help the
researchers to decide the intent of their action to solve the problems which do
not have any answers yet.
Research Objectives

i. One of the research objectives is to find out whether the use of HSC technique
is able to improve the use of correct SVA in constructing the sentences among
Year Four pupils.
ii. One of the research objectives is to improve my teaching practices through
the use of HSC technique.

Research Questions
i. One of the research questions is does the use of HSC technique help Year
Four pupils to construct the sentences with correct SVA?
ii. One of the research questions is how does HSC technique able to improve
my teaching practices?


The research participants consisted of all the pupils who aged ten years old from
class Year 4M. There were 39 pupils in the classroom which consisted of four pupils
who had high level of English proficiency, 30 pupils who had intermediate level of
English proficiency and three pupils who have low level of English proficiency. All the
pupils are Chinese using Mandarin as their native language. Based on the initial data

collection, there were ten pupils who had the problems of constructing the sentences
with correct subject-verb agreement. I was the researcher who was involved in this
action research. The ten pupils consisted of five male pupils and five female pupils.
There were four pupils (three male and one female) who scored low mark (40%) in the
writing test that had been carried out for initial data collection. These four pupils also
made a lot mistakes in their exercise works especially constructing sentences with
correct SVA. The other six pupils scored average mark (60%) for the writing test and
had slightly higher level of English proficiency than these four pupils.