Archive for Tag: grammar

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning to Listen

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

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
jonestamara@hotmail.com

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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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 5

More Items in English that May Stick. Only Time will Tell.

Richard Firsten

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

In Part 4 of this series, I presented some quirky things that are happening in English these days, things which I have a hunch may become standard parts of the language or accepted alternative forms in the language as time goes by simply because they’re so commonly spoken, heard, and read by educated native users of English. These quirky things may just be aberrations, but if they’re not, we English teachers may have to accept that they will very likely be taught at some point in the future. Here are some more of these oddities that perhaps won’t be considered so odd down the road.

  • An interesting observation I’ve made is that even though they’re referring to time, many native speakers use where – which signifies a location, of course – instead of using when, which signifies a time. To me it’s a very odd occurrence, and I can’t figure out why it’s so common. Here are a number of examples:
  • There was a moment where I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own.
  • There were instances where she just seemed to drift off into a daydream
  • Did there come a time where you believed he had done it?
  • It happened about ten years ago where I found myself wondering why …
  • One test is called a hand drop. It’s where a neurologist takes the patient’s hand and …
  • I’m lucky to be in a time where more people champion human rights than ever before.

In each and every example above, it’s clear that when is the appropriate word to use since it deals with time as do all the words preceding where in these sentences. I don’t know if this use of where will ever be considered okay, but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue to be commonly heard.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kneading your Way into the Passive Voice

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

Don’t you just love it when inspiration strikes in the middle of an activity and turns a so-so lesson into a great one? It doesn’t happen that often to me, actually. My “great” lessons are almost always the result of careful planning and hours spent cutting out little bits of paper, but once in a great while, it all comes together in a moment of glorious on-the-spot quick thinking.

My job at the British School of Brussels is to prepare and support my students for survival and success in their mainstream classes. I have had my eyes opened to the joys of content-based language learning, and, as a result, my lesson plans often veer away from pure grammar activities. For most of my students, the vocabulary they need for their chapter on Atoms and Elements in their Science classes supersedes their need to properly use the past perfect. However, I am always on the lookout for that perfect lesson that seamlessly blends grammar with content.

How to Make Bread

So, anyway, my “grammar and content unite” moment happened after several of my students had just begun their cooking classes. We’d done all the kitchen utensils and verbs associated with cooking to death, and I was trolling the internet for an idea that would allow me to revisit cooking in a new way. I came across a great video called How It’s Made: Bread. Now, the title alone might have got many of you thinking, “Aha! The passive!” Sadly, this did not happen to me. Not right away. After watching the video, I typed up several sentences that described the process step by step.

  • The ingredients are ground in a mill.
  • The ingredients are mixed together.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 3 of 6

Silly and Illogical – but still Commonly Used – Bits and Pieces

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

 In Part 2 we took a look at some things in English which, although considered ungrammatical by conservative language users, have nevertheless become commonly used features nowadays. At least they aren’t silly or illogical in a common-sense way of looking at things.

Now, however, let’s take a little time to check out some elements of English that really are silly or illogical if you step back and think about them objectively, even though they, too, have become standard features in the language. Here are examples of things that educated speakers say and write.

  • They say they’ll try and get here before sunset.
    I know you try and save some money every month for your kid’s college fund.

Try and is a very commonly used phrase that goes way, way back to who knows how long ago. But if you dissect it, you can see on different levels why it’s really very silly and illogical. In the two examples I’ve cited, they’ll try and get here and you try and save money, my question is, try WHAT? If it’s “getting here,” shouldn’t the speaker just say they’ll try to get here or they’ll try getting here? And in the other case, shouldn’t the speaker just say he or she knows that the other person tries to save or tries saving some money every month? In these versions I’ve suggested, we clearly see what those people will try: “to get here” and “to save some money.” But that try and get here and try and save money really throw me for a loop. It seems that they’re trying to accomplish two things, with the first of those things simply not mentioned.. For me it just doesn’t work, it’s illogical, it’s silly – but for many, many native speakers, it’s fine. Go figure.

To add to this silliness, can you use this phrase try and with he, she,or it?

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 4

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

Welcome back once more! In Part 3 we took a look at sentences, most of which show subtle but important differences or changes in meaning. In the first section below, I asked you to explain the differences in meaning between pairs of sentences. In the second section, I asked you to make any corrections you felt necessary and then, most importantly, think about how you would explain the corrections to your students in a clear, simple fashion. So here are my explanations and changes. Let’s see once again how similar our work is.

Section 1. What’s the difference between . . .

a. Mr. Spock is a character on Star Trek.

    Mr. Spock is a character in Star Trek.

Explanation: We say on Star Trek if we’re talking about the television series, but we say in Star Trek if we’re talking about the movies. It’s on a TV show, but in a movie.

b. Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

    A Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

Explanation: In the first sentence, the speaker knows the person who’s on the phone. But when the speaker doesn’t know the person on the phone, he/she communicates this to somebody else by placing the indefinite article before the title or the title and name. That’s what we see in the second sentence.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some Lessons are MORE DIFFICULT to Plan than Others

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

Maybe we all have the same problem: that one grammar point that has us pulling out our hair when it comes time to plan the lesson.  For me, it’s the comparative and superlative.  The actual teaching of it is not the difficult part, really.  They are not hard concepts to understand and many other languages have similar structures.  Students get them pretty quickly; they just need practice to be able to use the comparative and superlative effortlessly, lots and lots of practice.  That’s where my hair pulling comes in.

Most grammar books provide gap fills and conversation and writing prompts.  They are fine.  But, let’s face it, comparing a student’s home country with the target language country again and again can get stale.  So can describing the children in a family or even the students in the class.  This problem is compounded by the fact that comparing and contrasting are key skills, and students encounter them repeatedly as they progress through grammar levels.  So, they get to compare the weather in their country with the weather where they are studying multiple times.  This repetition led me to search out some more interesting practice activities that help reinforce the comparative and superlative.  Here are four of my favorites.

Which Animal Runs Faster?

Shenanigames: Grammar-Focused Interactive ESL/EFL Activities and Games, by James Kealey and Donna Inness (Prolingua) contains some great practice activities, one of which is perfect for practicing both comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs.  This photocopiable resource has instructions for how to play the game, but I have adapted it to use in my classes a little differently.  The book provides a sheet of little cards (which I don’t bother cutting out) each with a comparison. For example, which animal runs faster, a cheetah or an antelope?  I put students into pairs and, after I read out the comparison, students have 1 minute (or more or less) to write a sentence, such as ‘A cheetah is faster than an antelope’.  The groups all read their sentences and then I read the answer.  Pairs get 1 point for every right answer, meaning the sentence has to be both factually accurate and grammatically correct.  Many of the comparisons are really challenging, which adds to the excitement level.  Admittedly, some of the comparisons are a bit dated, so I have also added some of my own, like which car is more expensive, the Bugatti Veyron or the Ferrari Enzo?  Google it to find out!

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 3

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

Well, I’m back. Your inquisitor is at it again! I hope you enjoyed Parts 1 and 2  of my mini-crusade to help you, the English teacher, avoid “discomfort” when a student asks a question about grammar or usage and the answer doesn’t fall trippingly off your tongue. I also hope you learned a little something from the answers supplied in Part 2.

Now it’s time for Part 3. This time we’ll deal with sentences in which just one little word can change meaning tremendously, albeit subtly. So, without further ado, I’ll leave you to it. Please remember not to go running to a dictionary for help and not to google anything. If you can’t figure something out, that’s fine for now. Just have fun with these 16 items. The answers, of course, will appear in Part 4.

1. What’s the difference between . . .

a. Mr. Spock is a character on Star Trek.

    Mr. Spock is a character in Star Trek.

      b. Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

    A Mr. van Straten is on the phone.

      c. She’s going to have the baby.

    She’s going to have a baby.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Survey Review: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

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

I want to thank all of you who took the time and put in the effort to respond to my little survey. I really appreciate the help you gave me and the insights that I received from looking over your acceptances or rejections of certain items and your comments on things. By adding them to responses I’d gotten from others, some very interesting observations and conclusions emerged.

Let’s review the 15 items listed in the survey. I hope it’ll be interesting for you to compare what you decided to change or let stand as is and see what my thinking is about each item on the list. I’m sure you noticed that I deliberately placed the same kind of discrete point in different environments to see if you’d perceive a difference in accepting or rejecting it depending on where you came across it. That was very telling. In what follows, you’ll see that I’ve highlighted “grammatical issues” in red and put any changes I felt necessary in blue within brackets.

1. You never know what psychopaths look like. They can look like you or I [me].

It’s a standard rule of grammar that a noun phrase or personal pronoun following a preposition or verb is considered the object of that preposition

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Food isn’t Just for Eating

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

If you’re like I was in the classroom, you’re always looking for fun ways to teach something about English that your students need to recognize, understand, and internalize if they’re to master the language one of these fine days. It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching elementary school kids or adults; everybody wants to have fun while learning, just as we teachers want to have fun while teaching.

So let’s take a look at one of the most daunting items of English, the prepositions. “Oh, no! Not those!” you say with a shudder. “Anything but prepositions!” Yes, I know how confusing they can be and how exacting they can be.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there are indeed fun ways to introduce, demonstrate, and successfully teach English prepositions. The way I used to enjoy the most was teaching those little bugaboos with hands-on activities, one of which was preparing food. Sounds weird, eh? Well, not so weird. For the following lesson, the prepositions that I’m going to target are at, down, in, into, off, on top of, over, to, under, and up.

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