form-structure

6. Correct errors compassionately

DO gather errors during class activities, games and tasks where they are using the targeted grammar. Then get the most common/important errors on the board in full sentences and have the students fix them with you, using guided questions, without saying who made the error.

Also, recasting is a wonderful relaxing way to display correct form without upsetting students. It is not as immediate an changing behaviors, but its subtlety is its strength and multiple exposures is not a bad thing. Consider, if directly correcting, subtle signals, hand gestures or having a DO?DOES card to hold up or using the rods to practice problematic grammar you are hearing. Choral work in general is more comfortable as is peer correction.

DON’T embarrass, humiliate or put students on the spot with corrections! What is the point? OK, I hear you saying that you never do that. Really? Do you have students stand up and recite? Go to the board and write sentences that you then correct before all? Do you students AS they are trying to communicate with you? Like your mom did?! Stop that and relax. Mistakes in grammar are rarely fatal. One need not correct every error right away, and never at the expense of real communication! Finally, DON”T correct everything ! If you are working on one grammar point, it is OK to ignore peripheral errors. Finally, when you do correct directly, if you must, do so gently with a smile AFTER you have let the student try to self-correct and ,finally, let them practice the corrected sentence.

7. Model model model!

DO: No matter what the grammar activity, do the first few examples yourself with authentic information. In other words, take the role of the student so that the students can SEE what you want. They will follow your model and, even if they don’t fully grasp the nuances of the grammar yet, they will as things progress. For example, I might begin a lesson on present perfect by having students interview each other and Ill model two students.

Teacher: “OK, I’m two students, watch me.”
(Using different voice) “Hey, what countries have you been to?”
(In normal voice, shifting position) “Well, friend, I have been to Morocco. I have traveled to Egypt. I have seen Peru.”

Then I write these on the board. I put them into pairs, and let them go at it. THEN I’ll write their answers on the board before eliciting the form from them. By giving three examples, they see the pattern, even if they don’t fully grasp the grammar yet. THEN we can discuss meaning and why I used present perfect instead of simple past.

If you want your students to do something, DO IT with the same materials and in the same way they will do it. Begin by saying, “OK, I’m a student now.” It seems odd but students get it right away and it saves a lot of time.

DON’T: Give instructions about (ABOUT!) how to do the activity. SHOW. Don’t elicit examples from students before they know what you want. SHOW. Don’t race through modeling or use one tossed-off example, take time and do a minimum of three examples. Grammar is about patterns. If you have explained and the students are confused, you did not model.

8. Realia blues

DO: Use authentic real examples of the grammar point. Hello!? What is the point of learning grammar if it isn’t to apply to real situations using real things in a real world? Hint, the grammar book has little to do with the real world. When teaching beginners count/non-count nouns, bring unto class real labels, boxes, cartons and a lot of real stuff like a bag of real groceries! Then pull each item out and ask them what it is. Someone will know; carrots, water, pop, bananas, rice and so on. As you pull them out, write them on the board under C or NC. Like THREE APPLES and SOME RICE. Answer questions! Later, focus on determiners!

DON’T: Teach words, groups or lists of words and so on when teaching this grammar point. The word ‘rice’ is not the same as a bag of rice. It is an abstract concept. The bag is real, and much more memorable. And you can eat it. Even photos are not real, but they are better. Stock your class with lots of REAL things!

9. Get students to use grammar outside of class

DO: Teaching present continuous? Have students go to a park and write down what people ARE DOING at that time. They will come back with sentences like ‘A man is walking. A child is playing. A woman is sitting with her baby.’ All these are real and authentic and interesting!

DON’T: Please let us avoid worksheets and (shudder!) Fill In the Blank cloze exercises! They are merely cookie-cutters and mostly a waste of time except for some rote practice and reinforcement. But even then, students either detest them, thus negating their purpose, or think that filling them in equals competency. It doesn’t. Ask yourself, when and where is this grammar used? Get them to go online and read advice columns for modals of suggestion or watch a sitcom for present perfect or find intensifiers in greeting cards. Have them use and find real grammar, it’s fun! Speaking of which….

10. Have fun!

DO: Make every activity or task fun, even if it is repetition, it doesn’t have to SEEM like repetition. Drilling past participle forms? Make it a competition or relay race. Practicing simple tense? Do a ‘chore I do every day’ ball toss, or use small cards and play memory with chore pictures and students can say, for example, ‘I take out the garbage every day’ or ‘I don’t take out the garbage every day.’ Somehow get students to buy in and enjoy the process!

DON’T: Make things abstract! Don’t ask for or give five unrelated vowels or gerunds and have students construct unreal sentences or give them (horrors) yet ANOTHER fill-in-the-dumb-blank exercise with no context or purpose.

Ask yourself in the middle of every grammar class: Am I having a good time? Are the students (mostly) having fun? Chances are that if YOU are bored, so are they, and vice versa. We have all had boring teachers, DON’T be ‘that’ teacher. Have fun!

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M.A. History (Cross-Cultural Studies), Western Washington University; TESOL Certificate, The School of Teaching ESL. Denny is a teacher educator at S-TESL and delivers most of the 4-Week Intensives each year. Denny has taught ESL at ELS Language Center in Seattle and in Japan at Sundai Junior College. He worked at American Cultural Exchange in Seattle as Center Director and as Director of Marketing.