Monday, November 5, 2018

We Interrupt This Lesson…

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas.

What do you do when you are teaching a grammar concept only to find that your students don’t understand a vital underlying idea? This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was teaching level 1 students where to place adverbs of frequency in a sentence.

As you recall, AoF go before an action verb and after a “be” verb. As I was demonstrating this with sentences on the board, students seemed confused. Though we had covered the two types of verbs in a previous lesson, and then followed that lesson with other lessons practicing verbs, students seemed unsure of themselves when it came to identifying types of verbs. In order to proceed with my lesson, a small detour was required.

However, this unexpected side trip could have easily morphed into an adventure across the grammar galaxy. Verbs are their own wormhole within a wormhole. You have the 12 tenses, which can become confusing in their patterns and usage and nuances, but when you add on gerunds and infinitives, it’s almost like you’ve stepped into another dimension. Verbs acting like nouns and adjectives?

I quickly decided that the idea students really needed to know was “be” verbs (only three in present tense, which is what we were focusing on) and the seemingly endless list of action verbs. Later, I could go back and address verbs in more depth as needed. But to steer us back in the right direction, I improvised.

I made a T-chart on the board and labeled each side as “Be Verbs” and “Action Verbs.” Then I listed the three simple present “be” verbs on the board and then asked students to tell me things they do every day, like “go to work,” and “drive home.” I wrote the verbs from their phrases on the board under “Action Verbs.” (Asking students to tell me about their routines was handy because our topic for the day was “Daily Routines.”)

Then I told students we were going to play a game. I was going to say a verb. If I said a “be” verb, students should raise their right hands. If I said an “action” verb, students should snap. I did a short demonstration, and then we played.

After ten successful responses from students, I asked students to listen for the verb in a sentence and respond with a raised hand or a snap. For example, “I am a student” would elicit a raised hand. “Bob runs every day” would receive a snap. After ten successful responses from students, I added an adverb of frequency to each subsequent sentence without telling students I was going to.

Finally, after ten successful responses, I ended the game by writing the last four sentences on the board. I asked students to identify the verb in each sentence, then classify each as either a “be” verb or an action verb.

Then I asked students to identify the adverb of frequency from the list that was already on the board from the beginning of the lesson. Once students did this, we discussed the placement of each AoF.

From here, we continued with our lesson. This “interruption” took about ten minutes, but it quickly clarified a confusing idea (“Why does English have different types of verbs and different tenses and how do they work with adverbs of frequency?”). Students felt successful because they had participated in an activity that showed them they could identify types of verbs.

On a side note, like most classes, my class has high and low level students. To keep the high students from zoning out, I created interesting sentences. For example, I started out with “I am a student,” but moved to “I am an amazing student from New York,” or “Bob usually eats pineapple with potato chips and mustard.”

As my class progresses through other verb tenses and their negative forms, I will incorporate a review of AoF and placement.

As a deeper expansion lesson, we could explore verbs that belong to different categories but are often used the same way, such as “I feel sick” and “I am sick.” This would give students yet another chance to identify action and “be” verbs while learning a little bit about verb nuances.

As teachers, we can plan each lesson meticulously, but we can’t predict hiccups or detours. Sometimes we just have to improvise, and that doesn’t mean we have been any less successful. If we stray from our lesson plan to benefit students, then we have achieved our objective.


Comment from Bill Johnstone
December 22, 2018 at 6:23 am

Did I read you correctly when you said “you have the twelve tenses”? Surely, that was a slip on your part since English has only two tenses, present and preterite.

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