Archive for Tag: grammar

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Should Students Use Word’s Spellchecker and Grammar Checker?

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Publisher, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

I’m old enough to have learned to type on a typewriter, not a word processor. Personal computers arrived as I was leaving college; I got my first Macintosh my senior year. Oh, the glory! Saving! Cutting and pasting! Spellcheck! Wonderful tools.

Of course, like all wonderful tools, these need to be used with some care; and there are other tools available to writers that are not wonderful at all.

A spellchecker is a writer’s friend. It catches your typing mistakes as well as the mistakes you make because you honestly don’t know how to spell a word. It can’t catch everything – if you mean you’re but write your, the mistake will not be fixed. To find that kind of mistake, you still need a good understanding of English, and to reread your papers carefully to make sure you wrote what you meant.

Still, though, spellcheckers catch a lot. I advise students to spellcheck every paper before turning it in; I also advise them to spellcheck emails sent to professors, staff, supervisors, coworkers, clients – in short, anyone with whom they have a formal relationship.

The grammar checker, though … ah, that is another story. It would be wonderful, I know, to have an automated way to fix your grammar, or even just to point out where things were wrong. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll get one. But we don’t have it yet. The grammar checker is one tool I advise students not to use. Ever. And I’m going to show you why.

The examples in this column, all screen shots from my grammar checker, come from novels written by Russell Blake, a well-known writer of thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. He’s a native English speaker and a good writer. Like most professional writers, after carefully checking his own work (he does three complete drafts on his own), he sends the manuscript to an editor (me).

I do some light fact-checking (if a man runs into the subway in Prague at 4:00 am to escape an assassin, I check to make sure that the subway is open and running then), I watch for words used too often, I make sure the love interest’s eye color doesn’t change between chapters, I make sure phrases in a foreign language and international place names are spelled correctly. And I check his grammar, for both accuracy and variety.

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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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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Flipping Your Grammar Classes with Azar-Hagen Grammar Series

tesh croppedGeneva 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.

The flipped classroom model is not a new concept for most ESL teachers. We’ve been flipping classes long before it became the latest trend in education, long before we even knew what to call it, understanding intuitively that students will not acquire a language by passively listening to an instructor’s lecture. Flipping the classroom happens naturally in conversation and reading classes, which lend themselves to class discussions or role-playing activities, or in writing classes, where students can spend valuable class time writing and peer editing.  But what about grammar classes? This seems to be where many teachers get trapped in the common pitfalls of providing lengthy explanations and reading through a list of rules, followed by reciting answers to fill-in-the-blank activities. How can grammar teachers apply the flipped model to create engaging, dynamic lessons?

Today’s flipped classroom typically requires students to watch online mini-lectures of instructional material, followed by interactive practice in the classroom, but it could just as easily require students to study from a textbook rather than watch videos. Most ESL textbooks are designed with this flipped model in mind, again not because of a conscientious decision to follow the latest trend but because of an understanding that language fluency is achieved through practice, not lengthy explanations.  The Azar-Hagen Grammar Series works especially well for a flipped class because it presents the grammar in small bursts of instruction without requiring students to wade through long contextualized reading passages. Take this chart from the first chapter of Understanding and Using English Grammar.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Teaching Grammar with Pop Songs: Ain’t No Reason Not To

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

Many teachers of grammar are reluctant to bring popular songs into the classroom, with good reason. Incorrect grammar is so rampant in popular music that one SAT prep guide actually has a section that gives test takers lines from pop songs and asks them to identify the grammatical mistakes. If you listen to popular music, maybe you’ve heard these lines in recent hit songs: “My mama don’t like you” (Justin Bieber); “You and me can make it anywhere” (Charlie Puth); and “It don’t matter” (Adele).

While there’s a lot that’s grammatically wrong in pop song lyrics, there’s a lot that’s grammatically right, too. Yes, Justin Bieber tells his ex, “My mama don’t like you,” but he also tells her, “You should go and love yourself.” Thank you for that reflexive pronoun, Justin! Charlie Puth assures a woman, “You and me can make it anywhere” and then vows, “I’ll be there to save the day.” Thank you, Charlie, for using the future tense with will to make a promise! And before she sings “It don’t matter,” Adele, bless her, sings, “I’m sorry for breaking your heart”—a perfect example of using a gerund as the object of a preposition.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Grammar Teacher’s Rant

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I had a disturbing conversation with another teacher a few days ago, and it’s been bouncing around in my head ever since. It’s been a bit frustrating because, at the time, I just couldn’t think of a diplomatic way of responding to her. So I just nodded and smiled like an idiot, while inside my head I was screaming and tearing out my hair. Maybe you’ve had a similar kind of experience?

The Wind Blow or Blows?

Anyway, when this conversation happened, I was delivering a professional development session for some local teachers. In the session, I provided the participants with a variety of scenarios containing excessive teacher talk time (TTT) and asked them to come up with suggestions for reducing the TTT. (Incidentally, when I was doing research on reducing TTT, I came across some interesting theories and teaching tips that I hope to share in a future blog post. Stay tuned!)

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

A-MAZE-ing Activities are a BALL

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Don’t you just love those professional development sessions when great teachers sit around and share practical teaching ideas? I always walk away with ideas for fresh ways to prompt student practice. Even better, instructors often remind me of old activities I used to use but now lie moldering in a file somewhere, and they often suggest ways to tweak these old activities for use in other lessons. That happened to me recently when I was at a PD session for instructors at the English Language Center at Howard Community College, where I work, and I walked out with one new idea and one resurrected idea.

One of the teachers talked about a way she promotes class involvement when reviewing grammatical forms. Now, I have experimented with using a ball in class before, but her take on this practice was fresh, at least to me. She bought a big cheap ball (in my mind, this would work very well with an inflatable beach ball), which she wrote target grammar prompts all over. She was working on forming questions with her class, so she had written question words on the ball. In the lesson, she had the class stand up in a circle and she tossed the ball to a random student. When the student caught the ball, she had her make a question with the question word that her thumbs were touching or closest to. So, if a student caught the ball like this,

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Going “Retro” in Grammar Class

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Every few years, it seems, somebody comes up with a new approach to language teaching, a new methodology with certain strategies that will save the language-teaching world and make teaching and learning a language a total joy without anything laborious required to accomplish the goal. Well, during my 35 years plus of language teaching, I saw my fair share of these approaches and methodologies. None of them was perfect, of course. They all contained good strategies, but they had bad or impractical strategies as well. It didn’t take me too many years to realize that the best approach for me, at any rate, was to pick and choose, borrow and adapt strategies from all sorts of ways to teach and learn a language – in other words, to go eclectic. At the same time, when thinking about techniques I’d often used that got the job done, I always kept in mind that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So just because something was supposedly new, that didn’t mean I had to forego something tried and true and replace it with what was now in vogue. Unfortunately, I think that was what many teachers actually did.

There are two things I think worth discussing from the ELT “days of yore” that I hope many of you will keep in mind and use in your teaching approaches if you’re comfortable with them. For the most part, they’re oral/listening comprehension activities.

MMC

This approach was developed by Christina Bratt Paulston and Mary Newton, two early leaders in the field of ELT.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adjective Clause Lesson that was Really Great

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Being able to adeptly use adjective clauses in speaking and writing is useful for upper level English learners. According to Folse, “adjective clauses – whether ‘full’ or ‘reduced’ – are very common in English” (Folse, 2009, page 193), so students need to be able to understand them when they see them or hear them. Moreover, advanced ESL and EFL students often struggle to bring complexity to their speaking and writing, and adjective clauses can be a great way to do this.

However, students often make these common mistakes when using adjective clauses (Folse, 2009).

  • They may use the wrong relative pronoun. (The teacher which is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may leave out the relative pronoun entirely.  (The teacher is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may include an object pronoun after the verb (The teacher who I like her is from Canada.).
  • And they may forget they need to omit both the relative pronoun and the verb be in a reduction (The grammar book that written by Azar is great.).

Fortunately, there are some easy and fun ways to help students avoid these common adjective clause errors!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singing the Way to Paraphrasing Success

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

ARGH! Summarizing!

Students rarely find anything more difficult to do. There are just so many steps and potential pitfalls. First students have to understand the primary text. Then, they have to identify the key points. Finally, in order to avoid copying, they have to use synonyms to restate the main points and shift those words around to form grammatical constructions that differ from the original. Any one of these steps is difficult on its own. Doing them all together is enough to make even the coolest secondary school student break into a sweat.

Right now, some of my students at the British School of Brussels are studying for the IGCSE E2L exam, which they will take next year. One of the sections of the test is a summarizing component in which the students must read and summarize an academic passage. The students struggle with this part of the exam more than the other readings and writings they have to do. Having the vocabulary to understand and restate the key ideas from the passage is a huge challenge for them. But, more than anything, they have trouble transforming the structure of the original sentences.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Discussion about Communicative Language Teaching

David-Barker

By David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

In a comment on one of my previous posts, “Why I am not a fan of the Communicative Approach,” a reader very kindly posted a link to a video of a discussion between Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury about what we have gained and lost because of Communicative Language Teaching:

Two points in the discussion made a big impression on me; the first because I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement, and the second because I found myself shouting “No!” at my computer monitor.

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