Archive for Tag: grammar

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A-MAZE-ing Activities are a BALL

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

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.


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

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

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


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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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 5: Fossilization

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

I love the visual that the word fossilization prompts, even though I hate the idea that students might be making the same mistakes in 10 years that they are making now. It’s almost as though these mistakes are frozen in time; the speaker keeps making them even though other aspects of his/her English have improved. According to Jack Richards, in his fantastic book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, fossilization refers to “errors that appear to be entrenched and difficult to eradicate, despite the teacher’s [and I would argue the student’s] best efforts.” (Richards, 2008) He further points out that a great deal of the research regarding fossilization put a large part of the blame on the communicative classroom in which fluency is valued over accuracy. In other words, students are encouraged to make meaning when they speak and write rather than focusing on being grammatically correct.

Irregular Verbs or Respiration Vocabulary?

In fact, reading this made me feel a bit worried. In my teaching context, I deal with students whose goal is to get out of EAL and into their mainstream Secondary classes as soon as possible. They matriculate gradually, as their English develops, but clearly, for me and them, the focus is on academic vocabulary at the expense of grammatical accuracy. To my great shame, I have long argued that students in Year 8 Science need to be able to talk about the Respiratory System in order to pass their classes rather than waste time memorizing irregular past participles. I think I even wrote it in an earlier post in this very series! After all, no one ever failed a Science test because they wrote “breaked” instead or “broke.”

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I often ask students whether they have any problem understanding “small” English words like “a,” “the,” “it,” “at,” and “in.” They invariably reply that they do. Luckily, I have some great advice for them:

“There’s no point in worrying about them. You’re never going to understand them properly anyway, so you might as well just give up.”

I want to stress that I am not being facetious when I say this – I genuinely mean it. As I have mentioned before, I really struggled with Japanese when I started to learn it, and it was the small words that caused me the biggest problems. Actually, if someone asked me to choose the most difficult part of Japanese, I would have to say not a word, but two single letters. Japanese has something called “particles,” and the difference between two of themwa and ga—(these are single letters in the Japanese alphabet) is completely mystifying to speakers of languages like English that don’t use the same system. Of course, this is not something that is unique to Japanese. I have observed the same phenomenon with speakers of Asian languages trying to learn English articles.

Whilst it is true to say that wa and ga are mystifying for non-Japanese, it is also true to say that they are pretty mystifying for Japanese speakers too! Of course, Japanese people can use these particles correctly, but very few could explain the rules that govern their usage.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 6

More Trends in the Language

Richard Firsten

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

Well, here we are at the end of my series on observations I’ve made about changes that I see happening in English. Some of them will probably become permanent and end up being taught as either the grammatically correct forms or acceptable alternatives to traditional forms. A few, in fact, are already considered acceptable alternatives in some dictionaries and grammar books. Perhaps I should have titled this “The Heads-Up Series” since my goal has been to give you, our intrepid English teachers, a heads-up on what you may be teaching in the not-too-distant future. At any rate, let’s take a look at a few more changes I’ve observed.

·        Lay and Lie

Okay, my hardliners, in case you’re not aware of it, these days it’s considered acceptable to use either  lay or lie as the intransitive verb meaning to be in a horizontal or reclined position. The traditional distinction between the two, with lay being transitive (When I set the table, I lay a napkin on top of each dinner plate) and lie being intransitive (They got sunburned because they were lying on the beach too long) is a thing of the past, for all intents and purposes. So you can lay a napkin on a plate and lay on the beach to sunbathe. It’s interesting, though, that this change is a one-way street; it doesn’t work in reverse. You won’t hear people say A mason lies bricks or chickens lie eggs, will you?

·        The Illogic of Less

I’m sure that everybody has heard all sorts of native English speakers say phrases like less calories and less accidents. Traditionally, of course, we’re supposed to use less with uncountable nouns (and adverbs, too, for that matter). As for countable nouns, we should say fewer calories and fewer accidents. Well, more and more I hear and read phrases in which less is used with countable nouns instead of fewer.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning to Listen

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

For years (and years and years), whenever I had to teach “listening”, I just popped the CD into the machine, pressed play and hoped for the best while the students scrambled to fill in the gaps, answer the questions or match the cards. I always had the sneaking suspicion that I could, and in fact, should, be doing a lot more to support my students’ listening development, but aside from listening practice and more listening practice, I was not sure what else to do. In spite of my many years of teaching and the confidence I feel helping students with speaking and pronunciation, I felt like a neophyte when it came to teaching listening. So, imagine my relief when, as the Speech, Listening and Pronunciation Chair elect, I was tasked with organizing an Academic Session at TESOL on teaching listening for the 2013 TESOL Conference in Dallas. It was actually Helen Solorzano who organized the session, and all I had to do was show up, take credit, and learn!

Top Down Strategies – Check!

So, here’s what I learned: it turns out that what I have been doing for all these years was, in fact, “testing” listening and not teaching it at all. I needed to back up a bit and think about listening as speech processing. Dr. Steve Brown spoke about how listening is a combination of top down and bottom up strategies. Stronger listeners make more use of top down strategies, which means they pull from their general knowledge about the context and the topic to make inferences about the listening. Happily, a lot of texts on the market encourage students to do this by including pictures and warm up questions designed to activate students’ prior knowledge about the topic. As a result, even in my very primitive approach to teaching listening, I did occasionally manage to expose my students to top down listening strategies.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

How __________ (Much/Many) Practice do Students Need to Learn Quantifiers?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

Even though many grammar series, including grammar guru Betty Azar’s, cover quantifiers from the beginning (Basic English Grammar) to the end (Understanding and Using English Grammar), my students seem to continuously struggle with using them correctly. They moan when we review them and moan when they get them wrong in their writing. Even my most advanced students appear to be mystified by the idiosyncrasies of English quantifiers.

Students Face Several __________ (Challenge/Challenges)

The problem, in my mind, seems to be twofold. First, students have to think about count and non-count nouns. At first glance, this distinction appears totally arbitrary when you consider that money is non-count, though clearly it is something we count all the time. Throw in irregular plurals (Seriously, person/people but fish/fish? How is that at all logical?) and you can have a frustrated class on your hands.

In addition to the perils of the count and non-count divide, students also have to choose from a confusing list of quantifiers full of linguistic booby traps. For example, consider the difference in meaning between “a little” and “little”. That tiny letter can mean the difference between being able to afford to buy a coffee and going thirsty. Another hidden quantifier trap lies in what Azar calls the “singular expressions of quantity”. There is almost nothing satisfactory a teacher can say to a student who asks why we say “each student” but “each of the students” when the meaning is essentially the same. It’s enough to turn a lovely group of students into a mob of pitchfork waving villagers!

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