T is for Text

14 12 2009

…specifically, using texts for grammar presentation.

In the A-Z there’s no mention of the value of using texts as a means for presenting grammar, neither under the entry for text nor for grammar teaching, an oversight I feel I should correct – especially in the light of the following exchange.

Just a week or so ago, I received this email, from a woman I’ll call Irena. (The text is reproduced with Irena’s permission):

I am a third-year English Language and Literature student at the Faculty of Philology in XXX,  and one of my elective courses this year is Methodology of ELT. We are using your book ( How to Teach Grammar) as our core book and, while it has been extremely useful so far, I do find myself in need of assistance.

Namely, I was supposed to micro-teach last Thursday in front of my class, but, no matter how hard I had tried, I could not prepare myself. My task was (and still is) to teach grammar from texts. Now I will have to do it this Thursday and I still have a hard time trying to prepare the lesson plan…

My idea is to teach Past Simple Tense because it is most easily demonstrated with the help of texts, but I am not sure how to actually put my ideas to work. Do I find a text and read it aloud and then ask my students if they can notice past tense verbs? Do I give them handouts? I know the text should not be long, so should I ask them to read it out loud? Which text should I choose? What kind of activity would be best to engage my students? What are the best exercises? And should I teach Past Simple Tense at all? I am really confused and, quite frankly, terrified of doing it. Not to mention I am still planless, and the micro-teaching has to occur in less than 2 days.

So I would appreciate any sort of help you can offer …

What advice would you give Irena?



68 responses

14 12 2009

Hi Scott (and Irena),

I find it a bit difficult to make any suggestions because Irena forgot to tell us what level she’s addressing in her lesson on Thursday, whether she’s teaching ESL or EFL, primary school pupils, high school students or adults, using ICT or Dogme…
I for one need to know these details so as to be able to make specific suggestions. On the other hand, when I know what level we’re talking about, the activities I might suggest are more focused and, IMHO more useful for the teacher in need of advice…


14 12 2009
Nathan Keeves

Dear Irena and Scott,

Here is an idea that I love but must admit it would not work everywhere or with everyone.

Hand out the following on a card (or sing):

Last Christmas
I give you my heart
But the very next day you give it away
This year
To save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special…

Ask students how it sounded and I am sure they’ll have noticed the lack of your target language, then ask them to think of other examples. They should then take out the past simple and get their fellow students to put it back in.

Looking forward to hearing many other ideas.

All the best,

15 12 2009

Nice idea, Nathan. The idea of leading the learners to a better understanding of the target grammar by positioning them as “proof-readers” is a neat one. But – one question – what happens if they don’t notice the error?

15 12 2009
Nathan Keeves

Dear Scott,
Thanks for asking!

If the learners live within earshot of a radio and within a culture that still glorifies the 1984 Wham! hit, as my learners do (current count this year 34 and that is only radio play), then the chances are very high that give will stand out a mile.

Of course this idea could also be used with other popular songs or stories or quotes.

Have a great day,

11 05 2016
William Farquharson

Ask them to find it. They can discuss it together if necessary. You can also tell them to identify how many times it occurs.

19 04 2015

I agree with Nathan’s idea since I think it is the best way of teaching tenses by using songs for any level of students. Irina could choose a simple song and a difficult one according to their proficiency level. Irina may ask them to listen to the song and sing together while reading the lyrics provided and also they need to fill in the blanks as enrichment.

22 04 2015

I think learning through songs is a great idea, especially the catchy ones. I myself enjoy these kind of activities too. Furthermore, filling in the blanks makes them more focused and could sharpen their listening skills as well.

22 04 2015

I agree with Nathan’s idea for using songs to teach tenses as it is interesting to attract Year Three kids involvement to participate in the activity. At the same time, I love Liyana’s idea to let the students fill in the blanks (the simple past tense verbs) while listening to the songs. So we can kill two birds with one stone. Teacher will test the students on listening skills as well as their knowledge about Simple Past Tense. I would like to suggest to you to make it a competition in which the first student to finish filling in the blanks with correct verbs (and correct spelling) will be the winner!

22 04 2015

I agree with you Liyana. I also liked to teach simple past tense through song. I am teaching primary school. I use this song ‘This is The Way’ . I changed the lyrics to ‘ Yesterday, I ………..’. Pupils listen to the song. Then they sing the song with the actions. After that,they need to fill in the blanks with the correct words based on the lyrics.They love it very much.

19 04 2015
Siti Fazira

..I would to share my ideas with you. To make this acivity more interesting..you can ask them to rearrange words in a line to form correct sentences. This can help the students to memorise the rules in past simple tense. Another activity is a group activity where they can put the word / sentences that are related to past simple tense in a chart then do some discussion in the class. I think this could be fun.

21 04 2015

It is an absolutely fantastic idea..Students love singing and it will surely arouse students’ interest.The lesson will be more fun and students will enjoy it very much. Maybe Irena can provide song lyrics with some with missing tenses and ask students to listen to the song and fill in the blanks with the correct answers and then let them then sing it together.

14 12 2009

Fair point, Melania.

As far as I understood Irena’s email, and her reference to ‘micro-teaching’, she’s teaching her fellow trainees as part of her methodology course. So the lesson is a kind of walk-through of a generic “teaching from text” approach, irrespective of age-group or level.

14 12 2009

I have a few comments/tips:

-Do try to not get too nervous about micro-teaching. You’re there to learn and, therefore, to make mistakes. I remember the first time I had to do micro-teaching. It wasn’t very good I assure you, but the feedback was invaluable.

-The Past Simple is a big subject, what are you going to tackle in your lesson? What do verbs look like in the Past Simple (are you going to include regular as well as irregular verbs)? When to use the Past Simple? Past Simple vs Present Perfect? Are you going to deal with negative sentences and questions? there’s quite a lot of ground to cover so you’ll have to make choices. Which leads me to my next point..

-Let the text guide you. Why not select a short, interesting text that is suited to the proficiency level of your target audience and see which interesting grammatical features it contains? Maybe there are a few structures that are repeated a few times in the text? Those would be a good place to start. Make sure the text is engaging even though the contents of the text may not be your focus for this lesson. Interesting stuff actually interests pupils!

-Easy activities could include, finding examples of similar structures in a text, deducing a rule for when to use a particular grammar feature etc. Do make sure that your students actually use the grammar productively. This would be a good opportunity to do some pairwork (eg. a brief speaking exercise using the grammar). You could use the text you use as a model for student writing (with a focus on the grammar feature).

It is difficult to get very specific without knowing the intended audience for your micro-teaching. Age, context (efl or esl? part of a broader curriculum?), level, interests etc. My best advice, however, is to have fun and try and create a lesson that you would enjoy!

15 12 2009

Let the text guide you. Great advice! (And it reminds me of the title of one of the late John Sinclair’s last books: Trust the Text – admittedly, not about methodology but more about corpus linguistics as a tool for discourse analysis – but highly recommendable, nevertheless!)

And this seems to be eminently good advice: Make sure the text is engaging even though the contents of the text may not be your focus for this lesson.

Which raises the question, though – how do you judge a text’s ‘engageability’? Obviously, knowing your students, and their interests, helps – which is why it must be so hard for coursebook writers to choose texts, apart from on narrow linguistic grounds. Human interest stories are likely to be more engaging than, say, factual writing – but if the students are exposed only to a diet of human interest stories, isn’t there a risk that they will be under-equipped for real language use, including the capacity to handle a sufficently broad range of (sometime rather mundane) genres? Hmmm.

15 12 2009

You’re right that it is hard to choose texts, speaking as a coursebook writer. I’ve found myself getting quite tired of the human interest story, which can often be laden with cultural values (middle class, white, British or American).

However, certain factual writing can be fascinating. If original authorship and context is cited (e.g. This article came from the magazine Scientific American in 2009, the year of the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of the Species) then there is some more space for interaction and speculation. Incidentally, factual texts are full of past simple and present simple.

Two other sources for texts jump to mind: one is literature and the other is the semi-factual, opinion pieces out there in the blogosphere. I’ve found both of these to be a great treasure trove of material both for my teaching and my writing. Much more so than Cosmopolitan, Hello Magazine or the Sunday Life Supplement (I exaggerate, but you get the point).

Of course any material writer writing for an audience of more than his/her class will have to deal with the fact that not every text will reach every student in the same way.

22 04 2015

Yes, I agree with you JeroenR. Let the text guide you. It is recommended to choose a simple text to teach Simple Past Tense if Irena is dealing with ESL beginning learners. You can use a big book to teach a grammar item. You can highlight the past tense form of the verb or simply paste another paper on the page to make it stand out from other words. Next, you read it aloud to them. After you finish reading it, ask the learners to look at the highlighted words and make them guess the sentences. Like what Scott has mentioned, probably a few structures are repeated in the text. It will be easier for them to have a clear understanding of it. Then, you can move on to presenting how to construct Simple Past Tense. You can give them another story with few blanks on the verb and ask them to change it into past tense form.

14 12 2009
Eoin Higgins

With these kinds of activities the text is always the crucial element. Think of a good text first and that makes the rest of the lesson esaier. I would say it should be an interesting story – it could be a minor accident, something that happened on a trip somewhere, a spooky tale. It’s always best if it’s something that happened to you – students love hearing stories about their teachers (not all the details have to be true). Tell the story and ask them to listen and take notes. Then small goups to reconstruct the story.
Show them the story and do some ‘noticing’ activites. How many verbs are there in the past tense? How many of them are regular/irregular? How many of them are negative? How many are questions? Then get into focussing on form. Give them the verbs and tell them to adapt/correct/elaborate on their previous reconstructions.
I always try to end up with some kind of activity where they have to tell their own story – though I usually have to feed them with lots of ideas.
Hope this helps.

15 12 2009

Thanks for your advice, Eoin – all very sound (not surprising, perhaps, for someone who has worked in publishing!).

I like the sequence: exposure – noticing – (re-)production. Not least, because it includes an explicit noticing phase. I think we need to be wary of over-relying – not only on exposure alone – but on the hands-off exposure – (re-)production model (i.e. where there is no explicit focus-on-form) as there are always some learners (the ‘field-dependent’ ones?) who simply don’t notice language features in a text, however frequent or salient, unless they are given deliberate guidance.

14 12 2009

There are some great past tense texts and activities in coursebooks… 🙂

However, in the spirit of dogme, might I suggest that Irene create her own oral text in the form of a story about her? The Past simple is the easiest of all tenses to do this with. Here are six oral text ideas using the teacher’s own experience:

1 How I met (my husband, best friend …)
2 The last/first time I (did an interesting sport, visited a neighbouring country…)
3 One of the most important days in my life (preferably for good reasons)
4 Did you know that I once (met the President, was stuck in an elevator with Robert Redford, surfed through a hurricane)
5 How I got my (first job, latest job, degree)
6 One of the most frustrating (trips, jobs, holidays) I ever had was…

These are just ideas. For what to do with the text once you’ve got it ready, I’d suggest Eoin’s ideas above.

15 12 2009

Thanks Lindsay – do you have a genetic predisposition which allows you to think only in groups of six? 😉

But that’s a great list of (culturally non-specific) topics that are likely both to engage learners and to provide a natural context for the past simple.

14 12 2009
Steph Wimmer

Newspapers are a rich source of narrative tenses – the classic language pattern being opening paragraph in present perfect as an overview of the whole story/end result and the rest of the article quite often filling in the details (using past tenses)

I would choose an interesting topic – there are plenty out there – one I quite liked was about a man in the states who was arrested for going naked in his own kitchen!

So start very generally – activate schemata – discuss the headline – a visual or a related anecdote. Elicit some predictions – use them as prompts to scan the text. Maybe spend some more time on text comprehension. I would always use this approach – warm up – discuss and personalise the topic – even though ultimately your aim is to work at the level of language. Interactive processing of texts (going from top down – bottom up – top down -etc – ) seems to be the way to go.

So – then perhaps take 10 key verbs from the text but write them in bare infinitive form (of course they are used in the past tense in the text) Ask the students to turn over their texts and using the verbs try to retell the stories. Circulate and listen for correct/incorrect examples of the verbs. Then hand out a new version of the text with the key verbs blanked out – students collaborate to fill in the gaps correctly.

Finally ask them to compare between their version and the original and notice any differences – at this point you might want to set some “guided discovery” type questions which would highlight form and meaning. Especially to draw attention to the differences between written and spoken forms of the language. (contractions, etc)

A follow up might be to give pairs/groups thought provoking headlines – and perhaps some verbs (again bare infinitive form) and ask them to co-construct their own reports. They can then re-tell their stories to other pairs or groups and write them up at home – or if you would rather there be more focus on writing they could jointly construct their stories in class and then put them on the wall – everyone reads.

15 12 2009

A brilliant sequence, Steph – if you haven’t already, you should submit it to your DELTA tutors – it’s worth a distinction! 😉

I particularly like the work you do on the text in advance of the language focus. While it sounds a bit dull, working on text comprehension would seem to be an essential prerequisite for any follow-up language work: unless the learners are comfortable with the text (or in a state approaching what Frank Smith termed ‘zero uncertainty’) the language work will be a lot harder. After all, understanding how a language item works in context assumes an understanding of the context!

I also like the idea of the learners attempting to (collaboratively) reconstruct the text from prompts. This might seem like hard work, but it is time well spent – the value of the ‘language related incidents’ (LREs) that emerge when learners are attempting to reconstruct texts from memory, and when – effectively – they are teaching one another – has become a rich seam in recent research into second language acquisition.

22 04 2015
shahrunnizam binti hussein

I agree with your opinion about using newspapers to teach a lesson in the classroom.There are lots of information and sources which are suitable for the pupils .They can choose an interesting article or news story which are related to the topic taught by the teacher.Then they will discuss with their friends according to their selected articles.

14 12 2009
Nick Bilbrough

Lots of great ideas so far. Here’s a very simple (but very rushed!) one. Tell a story like one of the personal ones suggested by Lindsay, or a Nasreddin story or a joke -something that the class will find interesting and that you can pitch to their level.

If appropriate ask them to retell the story to each other in pairs.

Give out some blank slips of paper. Dictate six or seven key sentences from the text in past simple form, but in a differnet order. The learners write one on each bit of paper.

Ask the learners to check with each other and with you what they’ve written for spelling etc.

Learners put the pieces of paper in order according to the text they heard.

Now ask everyone to write a translation on the back of each piece of paper into L1.

Learners now work in pairs and, looking at the L1 version only, try to recall the English version. They turn over and check when they’ve had a go.


15 12 2009

Great sequence, Nick. Like Steph’s (above), you include a text reconstruction phase, but yours is mediated by translation – i.e. the learners have to reconstruct the original L2 text using the L1 translations they have written. Except it’s less translation than ‘recall’ as you quite rightly put it, with the L1 version being a mere prompt.

But do you think that – by calling it ‘recall’ – you will have assuaged the fears of those teachers who worry that translation will tempt learners into a word-for-word rendering that might reinforce interference errors?

15 12 2009
Nick Bilbrough

Probably not Scott;-)

As you say though, the focus is on accurate reproduction of the english, with the L1 version serving only as a memory trigger. In fact with multingual groups, which is how I’ve mostly used the retranslation technique, I usually don’t even know if their translation is accurate. What we hope however is that they have written something which captures the ‘pastness’ of the utterance. Of course this may not even be tied up to the verbs (if the learners are speakers of Mandarin for example where ‘pastness’ is indicated through other means).

The interference issue is one worth debating though. If we do use translation in class are we encouraging more interference if we work on a word, sentence, or text level?

Must admit I’m having a bit of deja vu here. I seem to remember a massive debate about translation on the dogme site just before last Xmas. Dennis isn’t around is he :-)?


14 12 2009

Great ideas!
You have so much to choose from.
I’d like to add on something else if I may.
To my mind, what is going to make your lesson work is not the text you decide to use, but how you’re going to use it. Telling a story and getting students attention is crucial. Although there are great texts out there, if I were you, I’d try to pick up one where there’s plenty of the target language, maybe something a bit repetitive even (meaningful drilling). Then work from there: eliciting, retelling a story etc.

The best of luck.

15 12 2009

Thanks Sirley – and that’s a fair point, about the text being less important than the way it is used. When you say that “telling a story and getting students attention is crucial”, do you have any tips on ways to tell the story so as to maximise students’ attention?

15 12 2009

Well, first thing is to “learn” the story you want to tell beforehand.
Then, I’m not sure on whether this is a tip but I always give my students a task before telling the story. Of course the task will vary according to whatever you want to teach but It’s got to be something challenging and meaninful. You need to give the students a reason to listen to you.
When telling a story, one of the things that have worked for me was to change the tone (pitch) of my voice on certain occasions. I’ve also found out that students pay more attention when you tell them that they are going to hear something that has happened to you. Even if it is not true, they tend to really enjoy listening to their “teacher’s experiences”. Another point I’d like to add is the importance of having some pictures, flipcharts, flashcards or realia to help SS to follow you. Depending on the lesson you can then ask SS to work in groups reconstructing the story. You can give them some flashcards, for instance, and the group that finishes first has to retell the story to the whole goup.
I hope I have answered your question. I felt honoured and quite nervours to be honest when I saw your comment. You’re someone I really look up to and I didn’t want to seem stupid.
Thank you!


15 12 2009

Hi Sirley,

I really like your ideas for creating interest in the story – these mildly ‘theatrical’ devices can really enhance the delivery of a text. I might add the following tips: 1. it’s probably best to tell the story seated, and if possible, have learners sit with you in a ‘camp-fire’ style circle; 2. if you have any photos or other objects, let the students handle these and pass them round; 3. monitor the students’ comprehension – not by asking comprehension questions – but by using more ‘conversational’ checking devices, such as “Are you with me?” “Crazy, huh?” etc.

I remember some of my best lessons happened like this sort of spontaneously, during power-cuts when I was teaching in Egypt. We’d light candles and scare each other with ghost stories!

15 12 2009
Jason Renshaw

Some great ideas here so far! Scott, this IS rapidly turning into an wikiELTpedia…!

In terms of texts and grammar, I have only a few quick suggestions:

1. Using newspaper articles featuring current issues – I’ve had fun showing students more of the pragmatics side of things, like why these articles feature so much present continuous tense, present perfect and present perfect continuous (to create that sense of ‘happening right now – we’re on it, this is LIVE!’). It’s interesting to have students go through and decide which of the information could probably be accurately conveyed using simple past tense instead, to highlight that grammar is used to create a mood and effect as well as basic things like tense. Admittedly, this is usually more appropriate for higher levels.

2. For younger (and older, come to think of it) learners using novels or story books, one of my favourite activities was to – following reading, comprehension and general discussion – pick out some statements in dialogue-based parts of the story and personalise them in various ways to create a set of grammar patterns that now feature them or their preferences. This is interesting because the learners themselves begin to choose which grammar elements to play with, and this has always been more helpful to me as a teacher (letting the learners show me what they need help with or do or don’t understand, rather than me trying to pre-plan and pre-determine everything!).

3. For both of the above examples, another favourite of mine was to change the ‘reader time and place’ so that the learners have to pretend the text refers to something that is going to happen in the distant future or has already happened in the distant past, and then adjust the grammatical elements in the text accordingly so that it fits this new perspective.

Simple ideas, I know, and probably not worthy of a DELTA distinction, but I’ve had a lot of fun with them and found they maintain student interest in the text itself alongside any revealing aspects of the grammar used in it.

Another great thread – keep ’em coming, Scott!

~ Jason

15 12 2009

Thanks for your contribution, Jason. I agree – newspaper texts offer really interesting examples of tense and aspect in particular, as the writer shifts between different perspectives (such as latest news vs. back-story), trying to second-guess the reader’s questions: What happened next? What might’ve happened? Why will they do about it? etc.

Jason – if you have a moment, can you clarify what you meant by the following exactly? I’m a little unclear. (If not, no matter – it’s not as if I’m going to grade you!)

…pick out some statements in dialogue-based parts of the story and personalise them in various ways to create a set of grammar patterns that now feature them or their preferences.

16 12 2009
Jason Renshaw

Hi Scott – yes, a little hard to explain briefly. I’ll try to illustrate through an example.

If I had my students reading an excerpt from one of the Harry Potter books, I might get them to write down the following dialogue that appears:

A: “I don’t know whether the Malfoys own a house elf…”
B: “Well, whoever owns him will be an old wizarding family, and they’ll be rich.”

There are actually loads of ways to manipulate this for grammar noticing and practice, but here are a few quick examples:

1. Ask the students to underline “I don’t know whether” in the first sentence, and “they’ll be rich” in the second. Ask the students to recreate this dialogue in pairs, as if they are the characters, but they can only retain the underlined parts and the two sentences still need to work together in a cohesive, sensible way. In other words, they need to reapply these two particular constructions but with new content – hopefully relevant to themselves. Students may try to mirror the original text in terms of other grammatical elements, or they may get quite creative. The struggle to work with the grammar to create a new communicative exchange will really highlight it, strengthen understanding of the original use in the text, and demonstrate to students the potential to apply it for their own communication.

2. Underline “the Malfoys” and “a house elf” in the first sentence, and “an old wizarding family” in the second. As per above, students get together in pairs and recreate this dialogue, re-using only the underlined elements. In this case they are going to be bringing brand new constructions to the text, either to achieve the same sort of message, or a completely new one.

As the teacher, I would roam around, sit with students and help them figure out what they were trying to do or say. After each adapted dialogue was presented to the class, I might demonstrate on the whiteboard a new pattern or rule based on the students’ production.

I used this sort of approach a lot with all age and proficiency levels, because it took the predictability (“the learners are going to learn this pattern”) and conformism (“all the learners will be learning the exact same pattern today”) out of grammar learning. The learners bring their own awareness and experimentation to the process, work very “hands on” and creatively with grammar, and when they share the results of their work with the rest of the class, a rich smorgasbord of possibilities emerge. As a teacher, it also showed me awareness and problems (from the learners’ perspective) that I usually couldn’t predict beforehand, and the ‘grammar syllabus’ as such was a free-flowing and constantly metamorphisizing set of phenomena. I actually ran some classes completely from storybooks, with all the vocabulary and grammar (as well as speaking, listening and writing activities) flowing out of the text in this way. I’ve often said during teacher training courses that if you have a good text, potentially you have a whole language course ready to happen – just don’t try to plan it out or predict it all in advance!

Above and beyond anything else, by working with richly context-based language in a text the students were enjoying, it made grammar fun and relevant. It also made a hugely welcome departure from coursebook-style grammar instruction!

[Please send your grade to me privately: I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of my peers :-)]

16 12 2009

Thanks Jason – that’s more than I bargained for – both in terms of quantity and quality. I think you get your A+, without a doubt. Anyone object?

15 12 2009
Nick Jaworski

Wow, so many good ideas here. I’m not sure mine is as good as some of the above, but I like to do songs or listenings in general and have students do an FIB where the past tense verbs are. This gets their attention focused on the tense I’m working on. It’s important to choose a listening that has some past tense time markers in it as well, so when you finish the listening, you can analyze the language with your students and they can easily figure out why the grammar is different.

If you do a story, or a song that is a story, learners can then imitate and reuse it to produce something along similar lines. I don’t actually have a good song for past tense on this though, so I can’t point you in the right direction. Perhaps someone else knows an appropriate song? As others mentioned above, it’s quite easy to do a short story about your life instead.

You can even just do simple Q & As with the text. Did the teacher/the singer do X?

That’s my contribution.

15 12 2009

Nick, the idea of using a fill-in-the-blanks activity (if I understand FIB correctly) with texts, as a consciousness-raising tool, is perfectly legitimate AND I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet, so your idea is every bit as good! One way of helping learners notice something in a text is simply to take it out! This acts as an excellent attention-focusing device. It also suggests at least three different management options:

1. They attempt to fill in the gaps in the written text in advance of hearing it, and then check their answers as they listen – this being an excellent incentive to listen;
2. They do the gap-fill AS they listen – quite tricky unless the gaps are well spaced, and there’s always the risk that – in focusing solely on the gaps – they’ll ignore the rest of the text. But a good challenge for more advanced learners perhaps;
3. They listen first and THEN do the gap-fill, from memory – maybe listening again to check.

All three approaches seem to have their merits, and a lot will depend on the level of the learners.

15 12 2009
Nick Jaworski

Yes, FIB meant fill in the blank.

Great additions Scott. Are you perhaps looking for a teaching job in Turkey? lol

15 12 2009

Hi Nick – when do I start?

21 04 2015
Brother Hafiz

I totally agree with Nick Jaworski. FIB is so much more effective and interesting for my students. Songs are great as they are stories as well (like prepared texts etc). For example; “Season In The Sun” by Westlife. We can use this song to teach past tense verbs, past participles etc.

They don’t have to FIB only but we can ask them to change the verbs; regular and irregular, to past tense.

They can even write their own lyrics; a simple story using past tense verbs!

16 12 2009

All great thoughts and questions!

I’ll avoid all the fancy terminology and just try and stroke an arrow into the heart of the target Scott.

First, if it is past simple. Don’t get complex with newspaper reports etc… (Jason – this is VERY high level stuff). Second – go with THEIR LIVES. Use a text they understand and which reflects their context.

So I’d go with routines. What did you do yesterday? You could zap up my Mr. X’s amazing yesterday http://api.ning.com/files/CsEpeKTN2lCNcJDkZxbQLmiZzyQ0m4WZdo3fkVmGYQc-2MwseZmoYEGN82449xfRNKXyAyIJB18ySBJGY*P3ev*oZ6nWqS8C/Mr.XsAmazingDay.ppt and then show it. Get students to list the past verbs. Then show the text with blanks and have them fill it in. Then do the disappearing thing and show the pictures http://setiteachers.ning.com/forum/attachment/download?id=2025691%3AUploadedFi58%3A6030 and have them write in the sentences. They are learning the “grammar” in an inductive fashion. That’s the proper way. They know it was yesterday…..

Read the text again as a review and have the students knock , every time they hear a “past’ verb. Or do the same with this Mr. Morton video…. It’s my number 1 video for teens. http://languagelink.ning.com/video/mr-morton-is-the-subject-of-my

That’s my two cents, without getting into aspect, cohesion, interference, density etc…


16 12 2009
Jason Renshaw

Great ideas, Dave (as usual!) – but just quickly in my own humble defense…

I shouldn’t have said (necessarily) newspaper articles. For low level and younger classes, I’ve often found the BBC Newsround articles on the Internet really approachable. So, news stories would be a better category, bearing in mind that these can be level-appropriate (especially if a teacher is willing to do some re-writing).

Also, the approach I described at length above worked just as well (with some more scaffolding and teacher guidance perhaps) for very simple graded readers as well. So long as the story has some people saying things in it, dialogues can be lifted out and the grammar ‘played around with’.

Admittedly, I didn’t focus specifically on the ‘past tense’ issue, but neither did I think a discussion of this sort needed to. 🙂

So not necessarily very high level stuff, Dave!

~ J

18 12 2009

Going off on a tangent slightly – but David I have to disagree with you with what you say about saving authentic newspaper texts for higher level students.

I’ve worked in several colleges in Australia – one of which had a task based methodology – where authentic news items and text were used with great success with lower levels.

As I learner of German I started reading authentic newspapers from day one here in Switzerland

And recently in the UK I used a newspaper article with an elementary group of learners it was an assessed DELTA lesson – and it worked well.

It all depends on our aims and what kind of tasks we set to achieve those aims. There are many compelling reasons to encourage lower level students to start interacting with authentic texts – in particular when they are in the position of wanting to settle as quickly as possible into an English speaking country.

I’d be happy to “debate” on this – perhaps in a different thread!

19 12 2009

Steph – I’m a big one for authentic texts! I just think that our definition of “low level” is different. Also, yes, I’m speaking from an EFL context and that makes a difference too. (one of my fav. texts for teaching ESL in Canada was the “Metro” magazine!).

And as you clearly note – it all depends on the objectives. However, I’d caution that the overriding objective of any text should be “meaning based” and that’s difficult with low levels and authentic newspaper reports/articles. The register is really demanding.

But yeah, let’s debate elsewhere and not take Scott’s fine discussion onto the plains of Marathon 🙂


16 12 2009

Oh I agree Jason – news is really powerful and “real”. And yeah, it isn’t easy to plan/suggest lesson content even knowing a level – there is so much else important that even the term “low level” or “beginner” is quite broad and ambiguous.

Isn’t it a pity that they eliminated the video podcasts of cbbc newsround? I still have a bunch I saved and since they aren’t “date” specific, I use them with young learners. Play and they list the 5 stories. Play again, they answer the 5 Ws for each story. It was great listening material.

One comment on this subject that I think is appropriate: I believe 90% of all ELTs, use too high material in their lessons and it makes scaffolding difficult. I really believe in stressing that we KISS when teaching. Mostly because language isn’t really “taught” but “learned” and if we give our students a lot of success – they will be much more motivated in their own learning. (but this is my own bias and in my own defense 🙂


20 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

[A bit of housekeeping – I’m re-posting this comment where it belongs: In the T is for Text thread]

First of all, thanks to the contributors for the impressive collection of ideas for using texts as vehicles for grammar presentation. These ideas alone would flesh out a sizeable chapter in any respectable methodology book.

Secondly, I did myself a disservice by saying that there was no reference to text-based grammar teaching in an A-Z. The fact is, it’s buried in the entry on lesson design. Here’s what I say:

text-based lesson: learners listen to, or read, a text; the teacher asks comprehension questions; selected features of the text then become the focus of some kind of language analysis; these features are practised in isolation; learners then write their own texts, incorporating the targeted features.

Thirdly: remember Irena, and her email to me that I used in order to initiate this thread? (See T is for Text (1)). Well, you might be interested in what I actually wrote to her… and her reply.

Here’s my email to her (again, reproduced with her permission):

Dear Irena,

Thanks for your message. I appreciate your concern. Very briefly, here are my answers to your questions:

Do I find a text and read it aloud and then ask my students if they can notice past tense verbs? I don’t think there’s much mileage in reading the text aloud – students will find it difficult to process – better if they can silently read the text before you use it for language analysis.

Do I give them handouts? The text could be on a handout, followed by some general comprehension check questions – it’s absolutely vital that the students have a general understanding of the text before you use it for language analysis. For this reason, you might also want to pre-teach any unfamiliar vocabulary.

I know the text should not be long, so should I ask them to read it out loud? Again, there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing this – reading a text aloud is no guarantee of understanding – and their understanding of the text is your first priority.

Which text should I choose? Choose a text that has a representative number of examples of the target structure (e.g. past simple) and that is not too long (you want to get to the language analysis as quickly as possible) and that is not too difficult (you don’t want to have the lesson side-tracked by explaining a lot of new vocabulary, for example)

What kind of activity would be best to engage my students? What are the best exercises?After you have checked their understanding of the text (see above), you can then focus on the language you want to highlight. One way might be to identify an example of the past simple yourself – e.g. the first example – and then ask them to find other examples in the text, working individually and then checking in pairs. You can then elicit these on to the board, and perhaps ask them to sort them into two groups: regular and irregular.

And should I teach Past Simple Tense at all?Not before they read but afterwards, in the manner I’ve just outlined.

Let me know how it goes!!!! Good luck!!!

Three days later, I got the following message from Irena, in which she described what she in fact had done:

…I managed to find an anecdote about Alexander the Great titled ‘Why Alexander Wept’, which was suitable for past tense revision. Firstly I engaged my students by asking what they knew about Alexander the Great and whether they had seen the film. Then I distributed the handouts with the short anecdote and while they were reading the text, I wrote ‘regular verbs’ and ‘irregular verbs’ on the blackboard, just like you suggested I do. I saw that they liked the text because they chuckled as they reached the end. Then I asked random students to choose some verbs in past tense from the text and tell me whether they were regular or irregular verbs and to give me the basic forms/infinitives. Then I wrote the correct forms on the blackboard, all the while feeling really relaxed and actually quite amused. I also prepared a crossword where they were supposed to write the correct irregular verbs and they seemed to find it fun and entertaining. People who observed me seemed to think it was a successful instance of micro-teaching.

Well done, Irena! (And thanks for letting me share this little story of a teaching challenge and its successful outcome).

19 04 2015
Lynette Rose

It would be rather arduous to teach the students the Simple Past Tense by merely utilising texts.Indeed, a prodigious method of teaching this form would be to ascertain that the students are given a list of root verbs along with their respective Simple Past form. Later the students ought to be given an easy text to complete.They will have to write down the root verbs of the verbs found in the Simple Past Tense.At the end of the lesson ,the students will be given another more difficult exercise that requires them to give the Simple Past form of the verbs in brackets.

19 04 2015

Hi everybody,
I agree with Eoin Higgins that good text is always a crucial element in teaching Grammar. Here I will give you a suggestion to teach Grammar for primary school students using a text (because I am a primary school teacher). First, I will provide the pupils a text with the verb written in bold. The bold word will be put in a table and I will ask the pupils to guess or find the root word for each of the verbs. Pupils will be asked whether the story is told in present or past. Then teacher will explain what Simple Past Tense is, and give a few examples of Simple Past Tense.

22 04 2015
zazila zainal

Hi Wizana,
I am also a primary school teacher. I am using the same way you used in teaching grammar using text. Identifying root words for the Simple Past form words will help the pupils to recognize different form of action words and their functions according to the timelines of tenses.

19 04 2015
Hasnah Ali

I agree with Lynette Rose as practice makes perfect.Without actually going through the rigours of memorising a list that depicts the Simple Past form of the verbs ,the students would never be able to do the given exercises. Hence, the teacher should make sure that the students know their Simple Past form before exposing them to the textual exercises.

19 04 2015

Dear Irena , I will try to give you. some ideas. First you give them a list of words in simple present and past tense. Then ask them to read them out with your guidance. Then you explain that the past tense words are verbs that have happened previously. You can then read a passage. and ask them to list out the verbs in past tense found in the passage. Secondly you . give a passage .with the verbs in present tense ,and get the pupils to.change the verbs into the past tense and ]fill in the blanks.on the worksheet provided..I hope you can find the steps I teach you will be use useful.

19 04 2015
seng mylie

Dear Irena,
While teaching Past Simple Tense , we have to make the pupils clear that all the events are begin and end in the past. They ,too have to know the irregular verbs that they have learnt.
Please choose an interesting story or folk tale to begin your lesson. Read with the pupils and write down all the Past Tenses. Divide the Past Tenses into two columns – regular verbs and irregular verbs. Besides , teacher introduces some more irregular verbs which are not found in the text. Ask the pupils in group of five to make five sentences in the past.

19 04 2015
Bob Ramli

Congratulations to Irena for your success and thank you to all that have left beautiful ideas and suggestions. Not forgetting Scott who really gives inspiration by having these very interesting blogs.

I think that Irena has done a good job presenting her micro-teaching and used very interesting methods in delivering the task. I might use it in future for my class.

What i am going to share here is that I am actually teaching in a country that are not using English as their mother tongue language and possibly not their actual second language either.

So I must rely on the pupils level of understanding English before I use any methods in teaching. Or it might end up as me talking to myself. This the real challenge in promoting English as the universal language in my country.

I must do something that is really fun and exciting and play more with technology by using audio and visual things to attract them. There’s a lot of useful applications nowadays we can find on the internet such as Hot Potatoes and many others.These applications really helps me to gain interest of my students and make them really excited to be in my class.

My point is whenever you can create interest for your pupils, they will always want more from you. Lets make English interesting language to learn.

21 04 2015

Dear Irina,

Whatever activities that you have designed for your target learners, you must always think of your learners’ needs. You can use authentic reading materials and try to adapt and adopt accordingly. You can simplify the text, as that is what I always try to do. You can put words that are wrongly used in the text. Next, they need to underline the grammar mistakes. After they have a full grasp of the text they have read, I will show them the real text. Later, they have to find the differences between both texts. Just my tuppence worth…


21 04 2015

Dear Irena,

I carried out a lesson on Past Simple Tense with my high school students. I prepared a short passage for each student. I asked the students to cut out Past Simple Tense sentences and paste them on the whiteboard. Then, I checked the sentences pasted and rewarded the best answers.

21 04 2015

Dear Irena,
This was what I did with my lower primary pupils. I made them fill in the blanks with the simple past tense verbs. First, I pasted the texts with blank spaces for the pupils to fill in. Beforehand, I prepared the answers which were written on coloured cards. Pupils were divided into groups. Each group would then need to complete the texts by pasting the answer cards on the text.

21 04 2015

Dear Irena,
I guess you should try this: Based on a simple text that students had read earlier ,delete the verbs. Students fill in the blanks with the correct past simple tense. Discuss and explain to them how to form the past simple tense.At the end of the lesson introduce a simple song and sing happily.

21 04 2015

I love your idea of writing a song lyric on a card. The song has to be a well known song, everyone knows how to sing it and it will automatically enhance the students interest because in my opinion everyone loves songs no matter what level they are. They will enjoy the lesson and will learn whatever target grammar we wish them to learn, easier. After that, maybe we can provide two sets of exercises,one is for the less advanced pupils and one is for the more advanced pupils. For the less advanced pupils, maybe we can ask them to fill in the blanks with the missing tenses on the lyric. For the advanced pupils, we maybe can ask them to change the tenses in the lyric and rewrite again.

All the best!

22 04 2015
syahmie a.shah

Dear Wong,
I must say that I’m in agreement with your opinion that everyone loves songs. However, I want to add that a teacher should choose song wisely. These days, there are many songs that use dirty words. This kind of songs could corrupt minds especially to the young learners. We do not want that for our future generation right?

22 04 2015

Dear Wong,
I agree with your idea. The students will surely enjoy the lesson as well as learning the grammar item. The usage of song in teaching grammar is very effective for the students in helping them to memorise and relate the lyrics to the grammar item.

22 04 2015

I totally agree with Jason Renshaw. There are lots of interesting materials that you can consider as the text to teach Simple Past Tense. What I like most are songs and stories. You can ask the pupils to listen to the song and fill in the blanks with the correct past tense words. The pupils can rewrite the fables into past tense form and read the story once again to their friends.
Good luck!

22 04 2015
safinas ahmad

In my opinion, playing a song is a very interesting activity. You can ask the students to listen to the song and ask them to identify the simple past tense verbs in the song lyrics orally. Then, let them see the lyrics and check the answers. Make them practice further by asking them to make their own sentences using the simple past tense verbs.

22 04 2015
Rahayu J1D

Dear Irena,
l agree with Nathan’s idea that using songs make it quicker for students to comprehend learning grammar. In my experience students enjoy the lesson and their retention skills are better.

Good luck!

22 04 2015

Dear Irina,
I love to sing with my pupils in class as a set induction. Basically, I will introduce to them the song with the lyrics without telling them that it is a song. I drill the song and sing to them and then ask them to sing the song along with me.

22 04 2015
Ganesan Veerappan

Dear Irena, I would like to share mu ideas on how to learn grammar easier. First of all you should explain the grammar rules to your pupils by using power point. You have to teach them regular and irregular verbs by using a substitution table. This table will help you to teach grammar in better way. Other than that you may expose the pupils by drilling grammar activities in the classroom with grammar games. You should lead the pupils by doing a lot of grammar exercises. I’m using many kinds of activities while teaching grammar in the classroom. Here i would like to share the activities. Fill in the blanks, peer task, songs, grammar games, short story and etc.

22 04 2015
Malar Valli Velloo

Dear Irena, it is not clearly stated which level of students are invoved in this shortcoming activity. Lets say this activity meant for lower primary, where direct method or translation method doesn’t really work. So, it is suggested to have easy songs that consist of past tense (verbs) and this songs should be related to the pupils’ environment which will make them happy. I suggest to play a video or video clips for a better view. After listening and watching, pass around the lyrics handouts to fill in the blanks. Later explain to them that those words indicate past tense (verb).

22 04 2015

Dear Irena,
Lots of great ideas so far. I guess you should try this: Based on a short story that students had read earlier. Underline the verbs (in present simple). Students change the words into past simple verbs. Discuss and explain how to form the past simple tense. At the end of the lesson, pupils complete a short story with past simple verbs based on the present simple in brackets.

22 04 2015

Irena,yes you should give handouts,a related text or show pictures of the past actions. For the text, you may ask them to look for and identify the verbs.For the the pictures, use the WH-questions. For L & S, you can ask them to listen and say the words(Verb) after you and state which one is the Past Simple tense .

22 04 2015
Yuslizan Yahaya

Dear Irena,

I agree with Norah to fill in the blanks with the verbs that you want to emphasize. Pupils read the text aloud. Pupils sing a song that contain the verbs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: