“Teaching English Grammar”: Book Review


If you are like me and you feel apprehensive about introducing or presenting grammar for fear of a teacher centred lesson, I would recommend that you consider buying “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener.  It is a great book, published by Macmillan Books for Teachers, which breaks down the differing elements grammar in a ‘communicative’ methodology.

The grammar contained in the book breaks down grammar into sizeable chunks, what I like to refer to as ‘McGrammar Nuggets’.  It starts with the basic such as “singular and plural”, then moves on to more complicated grammar later in the book; “causatives”.  Once looking at a particular grammar point, it focuses on two important areas; presentation and practice.  The presentation of the grammar will make use of a context whilst the practice could include roleplay, pair work, mingling, etc to make use of a particular grammar point.  For example, section 43 looks at the present perfect progressive/continuous.  However, Thornbury, as mentioned in his “An A-Z of ELT“, suggests that the “present perfect is baffling for many learners”.  The book suggests presenting this grammar point by:

  1. Draw a picture of a cinema exterior.  A woman is waiting, looking unhappy.  Draw a clock showing 2.00.  Ask students why they think the woman is unhappy.  You could mime ‘waiting’ by tapping your foot and looking at your watch to help students if they are struggling.  Establish that she is waiting for her boyfriend.
  2. Change the clock to show 2.15.  Establish that she is still waiting.  Add in some rain starting to fall.  Mime the girl looking at her watch.  Ask students if they can guess what she is thinking (Where is he? Oh no! A trumpet!).  Elicit or model ‘I’ve been waiting since two o’clock.  I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes!  It’s been raining for 15 minutes!’

 The practice for students is interesting.  Scrivener suggests a number of different short role plays, prepare interviews, a desert island (Robinson Crusoe-esque role play between an islander and a visitor), etc.  Finally Scrivener highlights some particular problems that students could find themselves using as well as advising teachers to teach the present perfect progressive as a lexical item (i.e. – I’ve been; working, living, doing, looking, thinking, etc).  Furthermore, Thornbury also suggests uncovering the present perfect with typical contexts such as “talking about work and travel experiences, talking about things that have changed, and announcing news”.

One important point that is covered is the use of concept questions.  Within each grammar focus, there is suggested concept questions that can be used to ‘check understanding’.  For example;

Tony Blair is more interesting than Gordon Brown.
Can you make a sentence about Tony and Gordon using the word boring?
Who would have more friends?

I find this book more useful than the all too common and over-reliance of “English Grammar in Use” which is used by many EFL Teachers these days.  I find a few teachers, myself included during the first few years of my EFL career, opening up “English Grammar in Use” and photocopying exercises to fill time at the end of class.  It kills motivation immediately.  If you are a motivated teacher wishing to re-discover methods for uncovering grammar in lessons, using suitable contexts for classes, knowing what activities will provide a good ground for covering grammar and lexical areas, then “Teaching English Grammar” by Scrivener is for you.  It provides enough inspiration to enable confidence for EFL teachers and when combined with other grammar based books, you will provide a lesson that is grammar rich and more student centred.

Games in the Classroom: Workshop

I went to a workshop at LTC Eastbourne on Monday 19 July 2010 and it was about “Games in the Classroom”.  The idea behind this workshop was to introduce common games to assist with teaching and learning in the classroom.

The principal idea about games, particulary circle games, is that they “encourage the whole class to work together” as well as facilitate the learning experience and offer an opportunity for learners to practice using English in a friendly and informal setting.  When I teach children and teenagers, I find it particulary important to include a form of competitive game (or informal language practice) each day which is linked with the theme, topic or grammar point.

Anyhow, during the workshop teachers were encouraged to think about their favourite EFL games that they include in lesson.  Among teachers there were a list such as; Chinese Whispers, Stop the Bus, Hotseat, Circle Games as well as many others.

I decided to extend this list, as well as further ideas, for EFL Games:

Stop the Bus
Divide the class into groups of three or four people each. On the board, write five or more categories (foods, nouns with more than five letters, jobs, adjectives to describe people, animals, capitol cities). Give the students a letter (H); their task is to come up with one example of each category that begins with that letter (hot dog, hamburger, hotel receptionist, helpful, hyena, Havana). I usually do an example with the whole class before we start the real competition. When a group has one example for each category written down, they say “Stop the bus!” and you check. If their answers are good you can continue with the same categories but a different letter. Another version is giving them a time limit and seeing how many unique examples of each category they can come up with in that time (“unique” meaning no other group writes it).

Hot Seat
Divide the class into two teams, and have each team send one representative to the front of the class. Each representative sits on a chair with his/her back to the board.  You write a word behind each representative, and the team has to explain or define that word so that the representative can guess it. The first representative to correctly guess the word written behind him/her gets a point for the team and the round is over. Two new representatives come to the front. You may have to explicitly forbid pantomime or using any form of the word on the board (“Teacher”…a person who teaches) and of course any translation.

Chinese Whispers
A common and traditional game whereby two rows (or could be more) sit on chairs or perhaps stand.  You show a word to each person at the end of the row and they have to whisper to the person in front.  This game can be amended to include grammar points, questions, collocations, synonyms, etc.  It is a reliable and relaxing way to introduce new vocabulary.

False Information
This is a personal favourite GTKY (get to know you) game/activity.  You demonstrate this initially on the whiteboard by writing three personal sentences, for example:

1. I have been teaching since 2005.
2. I am 35 years old.
3. I can speak some Korean.

Students have to guess the sentence that is false.  By the way, it is number 2.  Once you get some feedback, get students to write three sentences about themselves.  Make sure you explain it can be about anything (family, friends, hobbies, etc) but it must include a sentence that is false.  Get students to mingle and they have to guess their partner’s true and false sentences.  This activity alone can last about 20 minutes.

Just a Minute
This activity is developed from the famous and long-running BBC Radio show.  Demonstrate the game by playing a recording or YouTube video from the Radio Show (such as below), and elicit from students the rules of the game.  Once rules are understood, you give students a topic to talk about for a minute.  If students make a grammar mistake, repeat themselves or think too much.  The teacher has to act as a mediator/chairperson.  This activity will allow students to practice speaking in an informal and competitive setting.

There were plenty other games included in the workshop but I have selected some that were discussed during the workshop.

Past Simple Reading Relay: Lesson Plan

I created a lesson plan yesterday for students so that they could practice the Past Simple form.  I found a bit more about Heath Ledger and then created a reading relay.  There are two parts to this lesson; first students have to re-create the past simple question forms and, secondly, students then have to look for the correct information.

You would be able to link this lesson to Superheroes.  Personally, I got students to create their own superheroes and then they look at popular superheroes and we brainstormed vocabulary (alias, superpowers, costume, arch enemy) which we linked to Batman and then finally to Heath Ledger.  It was a long context builder but the students enjoyed it.

Anyhow, please find below the lesson plan and please feel to share and provide feedback.  I hope your students enjoy this.

Question Formation
Heath Ledger Question Formation

Reading Relay
Heath Ledger Reading Relay  

Brighton IATEFL 45th Annual Conference

I have just received the information about the 2011 IATEFL Conference in Brighton in a form of a nice booklet.  I am planning to go to this conference next year and it will be my nice conference.  I have viewed the conference online but there is nothing like being there in person.  I am curious what to expect but I hope to meet likeminded teachers at this event.  It will be the year of my graduation from the MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Sussex.

World Cup 2010: Lesson Ideas

The World Cup is a great opportunity for many teachers to introduce songs, facts and information for the classroom but another possibility for teachers is to use pictures. However, why would a teacher wish to use pictures in the classroom?

Pictures can support creative thinking, encourage free-thought and allow students the opportunity to discuss ideas amongst themselves. For example, how could teachers use the picture below in the classroom?

Ideas for the picture above could include:
  • Make a headline
  • What is the player in the background thinking?
  • Do you know player number 10?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What is number 13/15 thinking?
  • Describe the picture to a partner and get them to draw it without them seeing the original.

I hope this sparks some ideas and if you have more, please feel free to comment.

Restaurants in London: Lesson Plan

I created a new lesson about food and restaurants in London the other week for the Chinese students that I am teaching at the moment.  I thought I would share this lesson for my followers.  The lesson is aimed at introducing UK food and restaurant culture in the form of a reading relay activity.  One activity that the students have to do is to complete a question formation prior to the reading relay.  However, before starting the class I would recommend teachers to put up the reading (available below) around the classroom or alternatively arrange eight chairs with the text on each chair.

Visit London – Restaurants

The question formation activity is also available to download and print.

Visit London – Restaurants (Questions)

If you wish to add or make any recommendations to the lesson, please feel free to comment.