Tag: Grammar

The Expression of Present Time: Grammar Worksheet for Teachers / advanced EFL learners

The Expression of Present Time: Grammar Worksheet for Teachers / advanced EFL learners

 

This worksheet provides a systematic re-cap of the functions/uses of the simple present and present progressive.

Completing the exercises will lead to a list of functions/uses, with easily memorable and adaptable examples comparing the two verb forms, as well as time-lines to illustrate their meanings, and notes on differences in their implications. It is designed for EFL teachers /teacher trainees looking for a reminder or practice of explaining the functions/uses of these two verb forms explicitly, though no linguistic terminology is required – which also makes it useable with EFL learners in contexts where explicit grammar teaching is conducted.

The topics covered in the examples and exercises reflect everyday language usage and conversation topics, also including topics that are likely to be of interest to language learners or teachers, such as novels, or free-time language practice activities.

According to a CEFR profile analysis on http://www.vocabkitchen.com, the vocabulary in all of the examples and tasks is very straightforward; mostly of them are below B1 on the CEFR, with a number of B2 words, and a minimal number of C1 words in the blurb of the novel (Task 4). This basic vocabulary allows full focus on the verb structures and grammar.

Click here for the worksheet: Present Time

Click here for the answers: Present Time ANSWERS

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Students’ worksheet: click here. .

Teacher’s notes: click here..

Summary:

A speaking warm-up activity that allows learners to speak about themselves provides the input for them to start analysing the difference between facts, opinions and stances. The analysis is prompted by guiding questions, which avoid a too theoretical approach. The three terms are then introduced explicitly and students asked to match then up with their own analysis of different types of information.  In the following task, this understanding is applied to a reading text – an authentic excerpt from an academic paper on English as a Lingua Franca, an interesting and relevant topic to most ESOL learners – where learners seek out facts and stance in a demonstration of their understanding of the terms and their critical reading ability.

As extension tasks, students are guided to decide which reporting verbs would be appropriate for reporting facts and stance information, and then find and correct mistakes with citing information from the English as a Lingua Franca text. (Note: These mistakes are taken from actual students’ work in my classes.) Finally, they are asked to paraphrase facts and stance statements from the ELF text, using reporting verbs appropriately.

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Student worksheet: click here.

Teacher’s notes: click here.
AIMS: By working through this worksheet, which can be done independently or in class, students will be guided to notice some key features of definitions, in terms of content and language, and be able to replicate these in producing their own definitions.  Through the specific examples in focus, students will also practise talking about prejudices in a neutral manner and further develop their intercultural communication skills.

 

RATIONALE:

1 – Particularly in EAP, students often need to define terms used in their field of study, usually in order to clarify the term’s meaning to non-experts or to indicate which definition they are working with, and sometimes also to demonstrate understanding to an examiner.

2 – Because prejudices and biases are controversies often discussed, and perhaps even faced, in academic contexts, the focus here has been consciously placed on defining and discussing potentially controversial/taboo topics, in order to increase intercultural communication competences.

 

LANGUAGE FOCUS: defining relative clauses, some vocabulary for prejudices with -ism, some vocabulary for definitions.

 

LEVEL: B1 upwards.  According to www.vocabkitchen.com profiling, the texts of the definitions should be easily understandable for learners at/above the B2 level on the CEFR; I would suggest they could also be used with B1-level learners if vocabulary support is given or dictionaries allowed. (Words above B1 level: belief, treatment, wealth, social standing, superior, arising.)

Explicit Grammar Teaching: The what and how

Planting seeds may not guarantee that they will grow; but not planting them is scarcely a superior strategy. (Swan, M., 2006)

Introduction – A sense of relief

At the weekend, I attended a talk by Michael Swan entitled “Some things that matter in grammar teaching… and some that don’t” at an event hosted by ELTA Rhine in Cologne. The talk was not just interesting and informative, but gave me an enormous sense of relief. Basically because he argued in favour of explicit grammar teaching. I realise that this will not bring a sense of relief to all EFL teachers, and in some it may even incite mild panic! But let me explain. For a long time (for me it seems a long time, in actual terms its been a few decades), the explicit teaching of grammar has (had) been out of fashion, as other aspects of language have come into the focus of ELT writers and teachers. Particularly Task-Based Learning and the Lexical Approach are largely against the presentation of grammar rules. Many teachers also understand Communicative Language Teaching to have little place for the explicit teaching of grammar. In my teaching context (in the English Department at a German university), we actually teach a whole separate module called “Grammar”, more recently called “Advanced Grammar”. Yes, it’s been pretty standard in Germany for the whole time that other ELT fashions have come and gone. For most of the seven years that I’ve been working here, I’d been led to feel almost a sense of shame that we were teaching this class – seeing the horror on colleagues’ faces when I’ve mentioned it at conferences and the like. Most of their responses began with ‘but’: But what about Krashen’s theories? But that’s not very communicative! But lexis is what helps learners to create meaning! But fluency is more important!

At the start of my teaching career, I was, I suppose understandably, rather unsure of myself. Actually, a few times I probably agreed, embarrassed, with the criticisms, and extracted myself from responsibility by blaming this ‘poor’ syllabus decision on the institution; putting myself in the role of dutiful pawn in the great game of ELT. Over the years, though, I’ve grown and developed as a teacher, and my sense of confidence in my teaching decisions and practices has matured. This has occasionally meant having to defend my explicit grammar teaching to a few, what I would call, hard-core TBL, Lexical Approach or extreme Communicative Approach advocates. That’s OK: I can handle it better now than I could in my early twenties when I started teaching. Nonetheless, you can imagine my relief to hear from Michael Swan, and indeed whole host of other researchers in this area, that teaching grammar is OK: Not only OK, but actually rather effective. (See published research evidence below.) Phew! Of course I’m not, and I don’t suppose anyone is, claiming that explicit grammar teaching without any communicative practice is a good idea, nor that teaching grammar rules openly always ‘works’ 100% of the time (but then, honestly, can we really expect that of any method/approach?!). But, I wholeheartedly agree with the quote above from Michael Swan.

So that explains my sense of relief. But ‘teaching grammar’ is still a very broad term that barely brings us any closer to knowing what exactly to do in the classroom. I’m also aware that some teachers, maybe mostly the native English-speakers that have ‘fallen’ into a teaching job, may not be so relieved to hear that grammar is back on the menu. Maybe because they themselves have little formal grasp on English grammar (for this there is a simple cure; read a grammar book! See below for my recommendations), or maybe because they are unsure how to translate ‘teaching grammar’ into practical classroom activities. The rest of this post will therefore deal with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of grammar teaching; in a bid to remove any impending sense of panic from other teachers who are less used to and less comfortable with the explicit teaching of grammar rules in the ELT (or any modern language) classroom.

What? ~ It depends.

Of course, teaching ‘all’ the rules of English grammar would, for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post, be an impossible task; and anyway a rather ineffective approach. And so we need to select which aspects of English grammar to include in our syllabi. I believe there is no fits-all answer to the question of what to teach; it will unavoidably depend on the learners and their needs and goals. It depends. I actually don’t like this answer to questions, and I’m sure many learners don’t either. Alas all EFL classrooms and learners are different, and so it depends. But what does it depend on? Well Michael Swan suggests the following selection criteria, which do fit to my experience and understanding of our profession:

– comprehensibility

– acceptability

– frequency and scope

– teachability/learnability

Just a brief clarification here, to ensure we all understand the same things when reading these criteria. ‘Comprehensibility’ refers to the question of whether not having mastered this language point could lead to misunderstanding or lack of understanding. For example, the sentence *I start school last week* does not follow standard English grammar patterns, but is clearly comprehensible. In contrast (and I’m borrowing this example from Michael Swan), *John didn’t told about the meeting* is more difficult to de-code, as it could mean either that John WASN’T told about the meeting, or that he didn’t TELL us about it. As this mistake could lead to a lack of comprehension, it would be advisable to teach/revise the points of the passive, or the simple past in negative statements. ‘Acceptability’ looks at other people’s reactions to what a learner says. How negatively will a learner be judged who says *I start school last week*? Phrased more positively, how accepted would this non-standard form be? (Again, the answer I suggest is ‘it depends’ – on your learners’ context, goals, etc; so individual answers all around, I’m afraid!) Note that I’ve used the same example twice here, in order to highlight the discrepancies that may occur between the comprehensibility and acceptability criteria – more on that later.

Moving on, ‘frequency’ and ‘scope’ are rather self-explanatory. The frequency with which a learner is going to encounter or need to use a certain structure should help us judge whether to teach it or not. The ‘scope’ of a grammar rule describes how much of the language it helps to explain. A clear example here, again showing how these two criteria may also be in conflict, is the word ‘children’. ‘Children’ is a rather frequently used word. However, the rule of making irregular plurals with -ren does not cover many items (I can’t actually think of any other right now!), so teaching it as a rule would seem less worthwhile. And finally, teachability and learnability refer simply to how straightforward it is to teach or learn an aspect of English grammar. Again, it depends.

Clearly, if an item impairs comprehension, negatively affects acceptability, and has a high frequency and broad scope, as well as being fairly straightforward to teach, then we should go head an teach it. One thing Michael Swan didn’t touch on in his talk is how to make a decision based on these criteria when the details conflict, so I’d like to discuss that briefly here. We’ve seen that the same sentence may be perfectly comprehensible, but not particularly acceptable. And that the high frequency of an item may not mean that the rule has much scope. In this case, I would advice teachers to weight the criteria based on their knowledge of the learners’ context and goals. This will include considerations of who the learners are likely to interact with in English, what kinds of topics they are likely to speak/talk about, the format of the communication (formal written, informal spoken, etc), and the likely goals of that interaction (purely communicating information, making a high-stakes sale, etc). Teachers may also consider the kinds of input their learners are likely to be exposed to, and potential interference pitfalls caused by the learners’ L1. That said, I would say that comprehensibility has to be criteria numero uno in any case.

If we have, then, agreed that we are going to teach grammar, and have selected points of grammar to be taught, the next step is to think about what we are actually going to do in the classroom in order to teach these points.

How? ~ Just three Exes

Michael Swan said in his talk that he sees grammar teaching as consisting of “three exes”. Not to worry, he’s not talking about broken partnerships, but rather EXplanation, EXamples, and EXercises. Now, you may think this sounds suspiciously like a re-worded recipe for a PPP lesson (Presentation, Practice, Production – which was the standard lesson structure taught on most preparatory TEFL certification courses for a long time), but fear not – his clarification highlights the input of ‘examples’ and ‘explanation’ as less valuable in grammar teaching than the ‘output’ from exercises. Nonetheless, they are not unimportant, and so we should still make them as effective as possible. Note that I think the order of explanations and examples should be seen flexibly – in many cases a more inductive approach (examples first) may be more appropriate, though that is a subject for another post!

Explanations, according to Swan and I’m inclined to agree, should be economical, take one step at a time, be clear to the learner, use visual support, and possibly even the learners’ L1. I suppose only the last point there might cause discussion. To my mind, though, it is logical that a grammar explanation in English may make use of language that is above the learners’ current level and therefore be more confusing than it is helpful. If the teacher is able to speak the L1 of their learners, then this can be a simpler and more efficient way of explaining the rule. Of course, not all teachers have this luxury, but where appropriate I’d be all in favour of brief grammar explanations in the L1 for lower-level students.

There’s nothing really surprising in the characteristics Swan says good examples should have, although I find it good for us teachers to refresh these things in our minds, particularly just before embarking on a new term and a new “Advanced Grammar” course! Good examples should be realistic, memorable (perhaps through humour), in context, and taken from various topic areas/text genres. I don’t know about you, but I find looking for or inventing examples that fit all of these criteria actually rather time-consuming. And I sometimes feel that teachers neglect this part of their preparation, perhaps because of the time it takes, or perhaps other teachers are really able to spontaneously create realistic, memorable examples from various topic areas in context when they reach this point in their lesson. Lucky them! – I know I’m not! There are several potential sources of example sentences, but sometimes the examples they provide just do not fulfil these criteria satisfactorily (for example, corpora/concordances, dictionaries, grammar references or course books). I find the best examples by just going about my every day life attentively. Paying attention to the structures and language my colleagues and I use to talk to each other, to email, to make posters, to recount anecdotes, and so on – that’s realistic language in a context our students are familiar with, with a range of genres and topics, and often rather memorable due to our humour! Or what about news articles or websites you read, radio broadcasts you listen to, TV programmes you watch – all of these can be sources of interesting and effective example sentences. Maybe I can mention just a couple of lessons I’ve recently planned: A lesson on simple present/progressive – I used a blurb from a novel found on Amazon. A lesson on referring to the future – I used an episode of “Tomorrow’s Word” (BBC).

Ok, so once we’ve got our explanation neatly formulated, and our examples duly noted, we need to move on to the most important part of the lesson (I hope no disagreement here?): the output, or exercises. I have to say, Sorry Mr Swan, but I’m not keen on the term ‘exercises’ here – although it fits nicely in the “three exes” category. For me, and I checked with my colleagues that I’m not alone, the word ‘exercises’ is perhaps somewhat misleading, conjuring up images of monotonous gap-fill or sentence transformation worksheets, maybe some text-based or listening tasks if we’re lucky. This is all reminiscent of the second P in a PPP lesson; not particularly exciting, and not really the kind of thing I believe to be the most effective for learners to really make use of the new language. For me, the third P – Production – is more the output we should aim for, as it is most similar to the kinds of things learners will want and need to do in English in the future. Again, though, Michael Swan ‘saves himself’ so to speak, by describing his characteristics of a good ‘exercise’ – and if I understand correctly, he is actually using ‘exercises’ to capture both controlled practice tasks and, even more importantly, freer production and encouraged use of the target structure. His characteristics include the tasks being interesting, empowering, personalised, imaginative, and possibly involving physical activity, visual or audio elements. These tasks should also help learners to connect the grammar point to other aspects of langauge such as vocabulary, skills, pronunciation, and so on. Of course, whether a task is ‘interesting’ etc. will… you guessed it… depend on your learners!

 Conclusion – Is it worth the effort?

My assessment of all of this is that explicit grammar teaching is easier said than done. Doing it badly is probably quite straightforward, but then it’s probably not worth the effort. Bearing in mind all of the points and issues discussed here makes explicit grammar teaching a rather time-consuming and preparation-heavy thing to do. So is it worth the effort? I believe so. And I believe that there are plenty of academic studies which support this view. The way I see it, if we don’t bother with grammar teaching, then it definitely can’t work. If we give it a go, then at least it has a chance of working! As always, Michael Swan has expressed this thought slightly more eloquently than I can, so let’s close his words which I used as an opener to this post: Planting seeds may not guarantee that they will grow; but not planting them is scarcely a superior strategy. (Swan, M., 2006)

 

Sources

Swan, M., “Teaching Grammar – Does Grammar Teaching work?”, Modern English Teacher, 15/2, 2006.

Swan, M., “Some things that matter in grammar teaching… and some that don’t” Talk given at ELTA Rhine, Cologne, on 19th October 2014.

Recommended grammar references for teachers

Carter, R. et al, English Grammar Today: An A-Z of Spoken & Written Grammar (Cambridge: CUP, 2011)

Leech, G., Grammar and the English Verb (Longmann, 2004)

Swan, M., Practical English Usage. (Oxford: O.U.P., 2005)

Research publications on teaching grammar

Gass, S. & L. Selinker.  2008.  Second Language Acquisition: an Introductory Course (Third Edition).  New York: Routledge/Taylor.

Norris, J. M. & L. Ortega.  2000.  ‘Effectiveness of L2 instruction:  a research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis’.  Language Learning 50/3: 417-528.

Spada, N. & Y. Tomita.  2010.  ‘Interactions between type of instruction and type of language feature:  a meta-analysis’.  Language Learning 60/2: 1-46.

 

 

This blog post waas featured in “My TESOL Daily”: http://paper.li/Stephen_Hofstee/1327126879

Use of tenses

Quiz Time!

Please leave your answers in the comments box below. Each respondent should just make one point, so that lots of people can contribute!
Sadly, I’m not able to give a prize for correct answers to the quiz questions, but joining the fun will surely give you a certain amount of kudos! 🙂

2) What verb forms using the verb ‘do’ could fill the blank in this sentence, and what different meanings would they express/imply?

What ________ about next week’s meeting?

How to Mark Written Work Effectively – Preventing Future Errors

Most of the time when we mark pieces of written work by EFL learners, our aim is to provide feedback on their language usage which enables them to avoid repeating their errors in future writing. It is logical, then, that simply underlining and correcting errors, as is the most common marking method, may not be as effective at achieving this aim as we may hope. Here are a few different ways of marking written work and scaffolding students’ drafting, where the focus is clearly on preventing future errors.

1)      Search & Correct

–      In the margin of the line where an incorrect word/phrase has been used, an X is written by the tutor. The students are then asked to locate/identify the mistakes and correct them. This can also be done with correction symbols, which help to highlight the type of error, but no mistakes are underlined in the text, so students have to use their own judgment.Having to consider what they may have done wrong and finding a way to improve their own language helps means that learners are more likely to remember the correct version and the reasoning behind it, which should help them to avoid making the same mistake in future writing.

–      This method also saves the tutor’s time as they do not spend time correcting things that students actually are able to produce correctly but due to time pressure / lack of concentration have made mistakes with in this specific piece of work.

2)      References to Grammar Textbook or Dictionary

–      Mistakes are underlined in the text and numbered according to pages or passages in a grammar textbook or learners’ dictionary that the class is working with or the learners otherwise have access to. Students are then instructed to look up the explanations of the language structure or lexis they are attempting to use and are able to correct their own mistakes. They can then re-draft their writing, or simply use this information in their next piece of writing.

3)      Correction Table

–      The incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, with or without a correction symbol to denote the type of error. Students complete a table like the example below where they write out the underlined errors, and look up the correction themselves, inserting this and the related explanation into the column ‘reason & correction’, and noting the source of their information. These tables are useful for students in understanding their errors and for reference when in future writing assignments to avoid repeating mistakes. These tables allow each student to focus on their individual areas of difficulty. There’s no need for re-drafting.

Example extract from correction table:

Mistake Type of mistake Reason & Correction
Source
1)…get used to be Verb conjugation The expression ‘used to’ is either followed by a noun or by a gerund.Correct: get used to being OALD 7, key word ‘used’, p. 1689~ to sth/to doing sth

Grammar Translation Method

I’ve read several times that, in the “post-methods era”, a new direction in ELT is “principled eclecticism”. In order to be a principled eclectic, however, some understanding of various approaches and methods, and their principles, seems necessary. Also for those who are not that far in their ELT career, for example those who are currently on teacher training courses, some insight into various approaches and methods in ELT over the decades is useful, if not a requirement.  Thus I’ve decided to start a series of blog entries looking at various approaches and methods in detail. The aim is to provide a basic guide or overview of the backgrounds and main principles of various approaches and methods, without passing judgment.

I’m going to start with the Grammar Translation method, as many books and courses on this topic do.

If you feel that anything is unclear, or that I’ve missed any key points, please add your comments below!

Grammar Translation Method

History

–          In the 17th – 19th centuries and emerging belief was that language learning could/should be modeled on the study of classical Latin literature, and include an analysis of grammar and rhetoric.

–          The method advocates the rote learning of grammar, the study of declensions/conjugations, learning by translating, writing example sentences, and highlighting parallels in bilingual texts.

–          Studying Latin was said to develop intellect and was an end in itself, as it required ‘mental gymnastics’

–         In the 18th century, people began learning ‘modern’ languages  in schools. Contrary to what we know today, speaking was not the main goal and there was little relation between the language learnt and the  lang of ‘real’ communication.

–        In the  19th century, the standard way of learning languages was through grammar. Textbooks by Seidenstücker or Plötz, for example, aimed to codify languages into frozen rules of morphology and syntax to be explained and memorized. The immediate aim was the application of these rules in exercises invented for this purpose, which often mechanical translation.

–          This ‘method’ (and offspring of German scholarship) became  known as the Grammar Translation Method, and dominated language teaching from the 1840s to 1940s.

–          Some of the commonly known ‘excesses’ of the methods were introduced due to the desire to prove that learning modern foreign langauges was as intellectual as studying classics.

–          Despite being shunned by so many theorists and teachers, the method is still used today, especially where teachers wish to  focus in on reading skills for literature, though there seem to be very few strong advocates of the method nowadays.

Principles

–          The main goal is being able to erad literature in the foreign language, and this skill is trained through the analysis of grammar  and the translation of (mainly literary texts.

–          No systematic attention is paid to speaking / listening

–          The vocabulary taught is selected based on what occurs in the reading texts

–          Practice is highly controlled and is based on sentences – because translating an entire text would be too difficult for most learners.

–          Emphasis is placed on accuracy of the translations / sentences produced in the foreign language.

–          Grammar is taught deductively

–         Learners’ L1 is often the medium of instruction.