Archive for May, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Grammar Terminology in the ESL Classroom

GenevaGeneva Tesh is an ESL teacher, materials writer, Azar-Hagen Grammar Series contributor, and grammar enthusiast. She teaches in the Intensive English Program at Houston Community College.

Someone recently challenged me with a question. How would I define the past perfect for students if class were about to end and I had only a few minutes to jot down a definition on the board? I wrestled with the question, not because I couldn’t think of a definition, but because I couldn’t imagine writing a definition of a grammatical term on the board in an ESL classroom. What I would do instead is write a few sentences with past perfect verbs. I might write a couple more with the simple past and present perfect to illustrate how the past perfect differs from other past forms. Is it useful for students to know grammar terminology? To some extent I think it is, but in other ways I wonder if it hinders language learning.

When I think about this question, my former student Sasha comes to mind. Sasha was upset because she couldn’t understand the difference between adjective clauses and noun clauses. Oh, well that’s easy. An adjective clause describes something, whereas a noun clause acts as a noun. She shook her head in frustration, still not getting it. I carefully defined clauses, nouns, and adjectives. By this point she was exasperated, insisting that she understood the difference between a noun and an adjective, but not between a noun clause and an adjective clause. I finally came to this conclusion: it didn’t matter whether or not she could understand the terminology. She knew how to use both clauses very well in both speech and writing. We were wasting time parsing sentences and focusing on meta-language. To further illustrate my point, I asked Sasha to walk around campus and ask ten students, ideally native speakers, to explain the difference between an adjective clause and a noun clause. I suspected she would find only one or two who could do it. In fact, she found none. She talked to over a dozen native speakers, but not one could explain what adjective clauses and noun clauses were.  And yet these were native speakers who can, we assume, use a variety of complex clauses with perfect accuracy.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How Jay Leno Made me Think

TamaraJonesTamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is silly comedies, like the ones written and directed by Judd Apatow. You might remember such classics as Trainwreck and This is 40 as well as others with titles that probably would make some blog readers uncomfortable. So, anyway, he came out with a book called Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy that contained a series of interviews with comedians who’d had the biggest impact on his own career. As I was reading it, I found, much to my surprise, that it caused me to reflect on my own career as a teacher.

In his book. Apatow talked a lot about comedians, such as Jay Leno, who shared advice and feedback as he developed as a professional standup comic and writer. This made me think about people I have had the privilege of working with and how they have impacted the trajectory of my career and my teaching practice.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Going Beyond the Grammar Textbook: Connecting Grammar to Real Life

Jenny FettersJenny Fetters is an ESL instructor at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.

I often help register students for classes at my language school, and when I ask prospective students, “So why do you want to take English classes?”, the answer I receive 99% of the time is, “Because I need to learn English!”. Once I get under the question and tease out the real reason, those answers become, “I need a job”, “I need a better job”, or “I want to go to college.” It becomes abundantly clear to me that one important factor that drives students’ need for English is economic. So why don’t our textbooks do a better job of speaking to that need?

Open up any intermediate or advanced grammar textbook and you’ll find a wide variety of themes around which grammar lessons are organized:  Style and Fashion, Natural Wonders, Controversial Issues, or Inventions, to name a few. Don’t get me wrong:  discussing cutting-edge technology, the environment, or even the latest fashion trends is fun. These topics lend themselves to very lively conversation in the classroom and integrate nicely with many grammatical functions.

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