Participles in boxes

26 09 2012

Yesterday I was standing in for a colleague who’s gone to Disney with her kids, and so I was teaching an Upper Intermediate 2 class (they’re preparing for FCE in december).  The previous class they’d read a text about Pompeii and the other teacher had left me with the remit of continuing on into the language focus that followed on from the reading – participle clauses!

While I can imagine some of you might think participle clauses aren’t for the faint hearted, I was actually quite excited at the prospect, since it gave me the opportunity to try out a game I designed for the IHWO Games Bank, which I’ve never actually had the chance to use in a class before.  And since the class was a group of teens from 13 to 16, a game of boxes was just what I needed to keep their attention on the target language and get some intense practice in.

We quickly looked at the example sentences form the text and explored together what participle clauses actually were.  Normally I’d do this as a guided discovery, but the downside to GD is the prep needed and when substituting I like to keep that to a minimum.  So old fashioned teacher-at-the-board presentation it was, although I elicited all of the info from the students, of course!

Then it was straight into the game.  Hopefully you all know how to play boxes?  It’s basically joining up dots to complete the four sides of a square.  The strategy comes in because it’s the team that completes the fourth side of the square that wins the box for their team – and the team with the most boxes wins the game.  In our class version of the game, the teams have to correctly add a participle clause into short sentences in order to win the opportunity to draw a line and start building up squares.  Here’s the game and rules for you to try with your students:

Level 7 Lower Advanced Participles in Boxes

I knew the success of the game would hinge on keeping the pace high, so I set the game up very carefully.  They had to use a new verb in their clause each time.  They had ten seconds to answer, once I’d said the initial participle-clause-less sentence.  I simply counted down the ten seconds on my fingers, ensuring I didn’t distract them from thinking up their clauses, but also keeping the pressure on and the pace high.  Indeed, if they could think of both an active and passive participle clause for the same sentence they got two goes at box-making.

The game actually worked even better than I thought it would.  The students were motivated to be playing a game they play anyway amongst themselves and they were motivated to try and solve the challenge of creating sentences that would win points but also try and entertain me at the same time.  I think the topics of the original sentences also helped here.  The momentum of the game and the ten second rule also helped to keep the game flowing and the two point rule also allowed us to actually make some boxes in the time we played for (about twenty minutes).

The game also helped the students to see how participle clauses can make their sentences more interesting and informative and they also were challenged to make logical sense with their clauses – there were quite a few non-sequiturs to start with which I didn’t allow, leading to some interesting arguments about the logic of what they were coming up with.

In the end the game was so successful that I’m very tempted to continue playing it at the beginning of the next lesson to revise the use of participle clauses, but only if everyone’s done their homework of course!  I hope you and your students enjoy playing Participles in a box too – let us know how you get on!


Olympics Use of English

5 08 2012

Olympics Proficiency Use of English

Here are an Open Cloze and a Word Formation exercise based on texts from the BBC about Bradley Wiggins winning gold in the Cycling Time Trial and the Royal Mail issuing stamps for each British Gold Medal winner.  I love the way they’re painting the post boxes gold in the towns of the winners!

Bradley Wiggins Gold Medal Winner Stamp

These exercises were extremely challenging for my prof students this week, but they’re designed to really get them thinking about how to train themselves to guess the right expression.  They need some very clear and supportive feedback on the tasks.

There are also a couple of speaking tasks thrown in for good measure – a class discussion and a couple of two minute speeches.  You could also get them to roleplay interviewing Bradley and trying to use the expressions that are tested in the exercises at the same time.

As always, I hope you and your students enjoy and do let us know how you get on.  I’m sure there are many other fab texts out there to use this week too!

Surviving Through Song – The Sixties: It’s My Party by Lesley Gore / Part One for Students

5 06 2012

This is the first of a series of blogposts focusing on some of the best songs of the last fifty years and looking at how we can use them in the classroom and how they can help us as teachers to remember how we can survive in the classroom and reflect on our practice.

You can read the introduction to this series here.

One of my fave songs of the sixties (just as International House Teacher Training was getting in to the swing of things) was ‘It’s My Party’ by Leslie Gore.

First of all, let’s have a look at how we can use this song with students.

It’s My Party by Lesley Gore

I suggest a straightforward Text-Based Guided Discovery lesson in order to compare and contrast real and unreal conditionals, which both come up in the chorus.  This means you can use the song as a straightforward listening lesson and then come back and do the language lesson another time (or not at all) if you want to.

So the lesson starts with a lead-in about parties you can find some suggested speaking tasks here in the first handout:

IHTOC50 NM HO Lesley Gore – It’s My Party Handout 1

Then we have a gist listening about why the singer is crying and then more detailed listening about the facts of the party and the situation the singer finds herself in.   You could just follow this up with a speaking task about when people cry, the last time they cried or perhaps write a letter from the singer to Johnny breaking up with him or form Johnny to the singer asking for forgiveness.  However, both of these writing tasks might also include conditions and results, so why not have a look at the language of the song first?

IHTOC50 NM HO Lesley Gore – It’s My Party Handout 2

Our guided discovery focuses on the meaning of the two structures in the chorus which are made up of conditions and results:

‘I’ll cry if I want to’


‘You would cry too if it happened to you’.

What I really like about this song is the context gives us a clear difference between real conditions and results in the present and unreal conditions and results in the present.

The singer is clearly singing about now (rather than the past) when she imposes her condition ‘if I want to’ and her result is also clearly

It’s My Party by Lesley Gore

in the present ‘I’ll cry’.  The context also makes it crystal clear that it is very likely that the singer is in the crying mood and tears are on the way.

Which contrasts really nicely with the second condition she puts when she addresses her listener ‘…if it happened to you’.  This is clearly again based in the now but this time is an unreal (imaginary or hypothetical) event.  And once more, the same clarity goes for the result of this condition and the fact that it is unlikely to happen.

All of this clarity can be used to let the students discover for themselves the different forms used to express the conditions and results by asking them the questions in the guided discovery handout.  There’s no overt pronunciation discovery here though, so don’t forget to drill the structures and other similar ones before you feedback on the form-focused questions (which begin with In real present conditions we use…).  And then of course it’s time to practice!

IHTOC50 NM HO Lesley Gore – It’s My Party Handout 3

These two practice activities are fun, challenging and involve lots of personalisation.  They also challenge the students to use the correct conditions and the correct results in the correct contexts.  The learners always have a choice between real and unreal and that’s where the success of a practice activity and its focus on meaning and use as well as form really lies.  I particularly like the freer practice since it’s simply a little different to what students are used to and at the same time clearly shows then how and when they might use conditions and results in their own lives.  It also isn;t so free that they can avoid the structures all together.   Just beware that the students might need lots of examples to understand how to arrive at conditions they are under (hence my multiple examples!).

I really hope your students enjoy the song, the guided discovery and the practice activities.  If you do use the song with your classes, please do let us know how it went down and whether you added anything or your students had any trouble with anything.  And if you have any questions about how I’ve presented the language and created the guided discovery do let me know and I’ll get straight back to you.

Next time out we’ll look at the message Lesley has for us as teachers and how we can look at our teaching through the message of the song.  See you there!

A Short Guide to Guided Discovery

26 04 2012

The other week I was reading Adam Beale’s fab blog ‘Five against one‘ rather than doing what I was supposed to be doing and yet again I found myself chastising myself for not going to #eltchat anymore (it’s actually the fault of doing CELTA at the times that the chat is held rather than of my own choosing), since Adam had blogged a summary of the latest chat, that just happened to be on one of my pet topics and favourite ways of teaching – guided discovery.

And so I was rather surprised with Adam’s concluding paragraph and this post is my own humble attempt at helping Adam address the balance.  Here’s what he had to say:

ELTchat may not have answered my question or provided me with the plethora of examples I was hoping for, but it certainly highlighted the need for some further hands on research and investigation. Now, I may be looking in the wrong places or typing the wrong words into my search engine. So please tell me if you know of any great resources. I know that there must be research papers out there, but for teachers what we really need is examples and people writing or talking about their experiences with it. So if you do use Guided Discovery and have some ideas get them out there, blog them or put it out on twitter. 

And so my response is to share my latest foray into Guided Discovery world on Wednesday morning.  I was teaching the CELTA TP students and being watched by my CELTA candidates – having to put my money where my mouth was since we’d had a session on conditionals the afternoon before where I had espoused Guided Discovery worksheets – time to show them the power of student-centred text-based step-by-step language clarification (i.e. Guided Discovery).

K had taken the students above-standardly through the text (Global Intermediate Page 95), so I simply started with the worksheet, which you can download here:

Unreal Past Conditions Guided Discovery Worksheet

The students anwered the questions about meaning alone, checked them with a partner and then we fed back on them.  The main sticking point was the question ‘Is this staement real or unreal’, since they mostly saw it as real.  I think I need to rephrase this question to something like ‘Is the speaker describing a situation in the real world or imagining an unreal situation in their head?’, although that seems too wordy to me.

A little bit of elicitation and refining the context by asking this question helped me convince them the statement was unreal.  And this elicitation of the fact that we’re talking about the past and we¡re talking about an unreal situation made eliciting the name of the structure to the top of the handout easy peasy – Unreal Past Conditions.

Then we drilled the statement aplenty.  First lots of choral drilling of each clause, backchaining the phrases ‘If he hadn’t noticed’ and ‘this wouldn’t have been’, and they had quite a bit of trouble at first reproducing /w@d@n@bIn/ (the @ are supposed to be schwas but I can’t get them to come out) but they got there after lots of laughs and backchains:





Then they completed the pronunciation section by themselves, in pairs and we fed back to the whiteboard.

Unreal past conditions pronunciation

Unreal Past Result Pronunciation

I did a bit more drilling to consolidate it with the written phonemes, which seemed to help them a bit and then they headed on to completing the form section by themselves which they found pretty straightforward.

Unreal Past Condition Form

Unreal Past Result Form

What really pleased me is they were able to come up with different possible modals for the result clause, they weren’t limited by the ‘third conditional’ misnomer to would, they quickly proferred could and might and may and must and should as well, although lots of credit must also go to K here who had brought out this point when guided discovering Unreal Present conditions on Monday.

So they had been guided and they had discovered.  Time to practice.  Turn over the worksheet and consider the other inventions mentioned in the global text and discovered by accident.  What would have happened if their accidents hadn’t happened.  Off the students went to try and complete their own conditional sentences.  It was a very challenging exercise since they had to go back to the text to remind themselves of the accidents that had led to the discoveries.  But they were able to have a good go at it, although there were plenty of forms errors in their work.  Have was being missed out regularly, one or two weren’t using past participles and one was using the past simple and so talking about the present.  But with a few points back at my boardwork and the odd return to my CCQs – are we in the past? – they were able to self correct or at least peer correct when they got together to confirm answers.  By the time they got to the group feedback they had the correct structures between them and I elicited them to the board (after some more focused drilling) to consolidate the structure for these very visual learners.

Unreal Past Conditions Controlled Practice

Unreal Past Results Controlled Practice

Unfortunately the 40minute lesson was drawing to a close, so there was just time for a quick discussion of the inventions in Practice 2 and how things would have changed if they hadn’t been invented.  Not surprisingly, some of them had unreal present results rather than past ones, but this was a good thing as they were able to form them correctly on the back of K’s Monday lesson and they were all happy to accept these as correct answers.  No time for discussing the difference or for personalisation, but the practice activities will live to fight another day.

If I’d had more time, I’d’ve done more personalisation. 

We’d’ve discussed real and unreal results of unreal past conditions, if the lesson had been longer.  

They’d’ve practised more freely and probably have made even more mistakes if we’d gone any further. 

But they wouldn’t have felt such a sense of achievement if they hadn’t discovered the rules for themselves. 

There was no accident about their discoveries.

Hope that helps Adam and any other Guided Discovery newbies out there.  Let us know how you get on if you try using the worksheet yourself or adapting it to another piece of language.  Go discover!

The Total Process – ‘verb+ing or infinitive?’ – once and for all.

18 03 2012

I was asked this week by @easyteach, when they should use propose + infinitive and when they should use propose + verb+ing.   Well, let’s look first at the general meaning of infinitives and verb+ing  and then see if it holds up for proposing. 

The whole debate between verb+ing and infinitive use is one that has raged for years, with most course book stating there is no rule and we need to learn each possibility as a collocation.  In the same way, many argue that I like playing and I like to play mean the same thing – well, if they did, why do we have two ways of saying it?  They mean similar things, but there is a difference and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone explain it satisfactorily (see G is for Gerund for many valiant but unsatisfactory attempts).  So @easyteach has given me the excuse to give it a go myself.   This is the way I teach the difference and my students have no trouble understanding it and have never found an exception to the rules – can you?

For me the infinitive is the unmarked form – like the simple aspect – and is used when there is no specific need to use another form.  The infinitive / simple aspect describes a state or action in its totality and can be seen as atomic (in so much as it cannot be divided up into smaller states or actions), which is the main reason why I prefer to denote the simple as a circle on timelines rather than a cross, as seems to be commonly accepted, since a circle seems to depict better the totality or non-divisibility of the event.  So we use the infinitive when we are talking about the simple fact of an action in its totality.

The continuous form, on the other hand, and the continuous aspect generally, focus on the progress of the action and the speaker is emphasizing the fact that the event or the state (although much less often) can be broken down into the constituent parts that make up that progress.

And so we tend to choose to say I like watching football, because we want to emphasise that we enjoy most of the aspects that watching football entails – the trip to the stadium, the dodgy pre-match burger, the anticipation of the event, the singing along, the celebration of the goals etc. all of the match day rituals need to be and are emphasized in the simple choice of -ing form over infinitive. 

Watching football?

When we are focused on another aspect of the statement however, we want to take away the importance of the nuts and bolts of the event and just treat it as a uniform totality, and so we use the infinitive (or the simple aspect when we need to conjugate).  And so we would say I like to watch football, perhaps, in answer to the question ‘What do you watch most on television?’ since the speaker is not focused on the beauties and intricacies of the ritual that is watching football, but is thinking much more about the watching of television and the events he watches when he has it switched on.

The ‘rule’ holds up when we consider the verbs which change their meaning depending on the following verb being an infinitive or -ing form.  We remember posting the letter because we can remember the whole process – we went to the post office, we stood in the queue, we bought the stamps, we gave them a good licking, we popped the envelopes in the box….but when we say we need to remember to post the letter, we don’t care about the process of posting a letter, we just care about the totality of the event – we want the letter to be posted, whether or not the process involves a good licking. 

To post or not posting?

So what about proposing?  I wasn’t given any examples, so let’s stringnet the phrases and see what comes up:

1 So where do you propose to send her?’Here the important information is the ‘Where?’, we’re not interested in the process of sending her, just the destination, so therefore we use the unmarked form.
2 She said,‘ Well, when do you propose to go and see her?’Again, the ‘When?’ is important, not the process of the going.
3 ‘Oh,’ Harrison’s voice was tinged with sarcasm,‘and how do you propose to do that?’This is more interesting, since it’s possible to ask, if we ask ‘How?’ aren’t we interested in the process?  Well, according to the speaker’s choice of to do, no, we’re not (yet) interested in the process, we’re not expecting the answerer to launch into a detailed explanation of the process of doing it, just an overall summary – perhaps, outlining the main action to be done.   This is also true for example 4 below, and 5 is like 2, so let’s jump to example 6, our first example of propose + verb+ing
4 ‘ If Kinsella steals from the IRB fund, how do you propose to blazon the news abroad?’
5 ‘ When do you propose to arrest him, sir?’
6 How do you propose correcting errors identified in 7.1.2:Here we are interested in the process of correcting the errors, particularly since we seem to be emphasising that it’s going to be a difficult process or that we expect different techniques to be used for different errors and we’re interested in knowing which ones for which errors.  We are expecting a detailed account of the process of correcting and so we use correcting in oreder to signal this.  The next example of a verb+ing is example 16, so let’s jump there:
16 ‘ When do you propose calling on Eddie Brady?’Again, an interesting example, since we’ve previously said when we ask ‘When?’, we aren’t interested in the process of what happens but the timeframe and so we expect the infinitive. But here the speaker chooses to use the verb+ing – why?  They must be interested in the process of calling on Eddie Brady.  Perhaps it’s more difficult to call on Eddie than it is the other people that have to be called on (and so the difficulty of this process is emphasised) or the speaker is suggesting the listener simply doesn’t have the time to call on Eddie and so is emphasising just what process is involved, reminding the listener of how long this will take, to challenge the listener to explain how they will complete this process within the timeframe known to both conversants. 

Saying yes or to say yes, he’s popped the question!

You might find propose + verb+ing sounds strange, but that’s simply because it’s less common.  We don’t tend to choose to emphasise the process of something when we talk about proposing it.  The details of the process come later.  But there are times, such as in examples 6 & 16 above, when we do want to do so and the choice is there for us to do so when we need it. 

Why not give your students that choice by teaching them about the fundamental meanings of the infinitive form and the verb+ing form, rather than give them rules that don’t work in practice, or suggest they learn infinite lists of verb + verb ‘collocations’?

And while you’re at it, have a go at applying other uses of the -ing form or infinitive to my theory and see if you can come up with examples that except my rule – I’d love to hear about them….

P.S. Here is a game I’ve used in class for verb pattern development / revision, which can easily be used to explore the above rule with your students.  The examples I chose for the sentence race bring up some interesting uses which prove the rule, for example:

Neil would love to run a marathon is the intended answer (we’re not interested in the marathon running process, we’re interested in Neil’s yearning to run one) but one might say Neil would love running a marathon, it’s right up his street, if we were thinking of all the things involved in the process of running a marathon and that Neil would enjoy them.  This use might be more common (or colligate) with comparatives – Neil would love running a marathon more than he’d love cycling 100km

Level 2 Elementary Verb Patterns Sentence Race

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Some food for thought…any takers?

15 07 2011

And so it’s time to kick off the last section of my blog to get going and in fact the one I’m most excited about.  I’ve always loved language and I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts on those language conundrums that have defeated countless course books over the years, misleading teachers and ending up in unlearning. 

Some and any came up today on our current CELTA course and of course the candidate simply followed the rule in the book:

some is usually used for positive sentences

any is usually used in negatives and questions

Now, we all know you can use some in questions and negative statements and you can use any in positive statements – presumably Phillip Kerr does too (the author of Straightforward Pre-Intermediate – by far one of the better books on the market and universally loved by CELTA trainees and this CELTA trainer) which is why he says usually.  But is chucking that usually in to cover his back helpful?  Not really.  Students need to know when they can and can’t use language and why they can and can’t use language and so this usually is simply unusually unsatisfactory. 

So when do we always use some and when do we always use any? 

Well, let’s do what we encourage learners to do and look at some examples.  Herein lies a random brainstorm which I promise is happening now and is not preplanned:

Can I have / Would you like some more? 

Have you got some glue?

Some people wouldn’t agree. 

Some of us are going…

I remember some things he said.

Don’t you have some information about…

Is there some cheese left? 

Is there not some cheese left?

Some people aren’t going to like it. 

Aren’t some of those a bit odd? 

So hopefully we agree we can use some with positives, negatives and questions and the questions are not just limited to offering a cuppa.  What about any:

He’ll be here at any moment.

Come round any time you like. 

Have you got any sugar?

I haven’t got any friends. 

Isn’t there any cheese?

Again we can use any with all three (positive, negative, question).  So that usually rule isn’t helpful enough to allow our students to make discerning choices when using language.  So how can we help them?

It’s actually pretty straightforward – some and any are used in the same way as the articles – definite and indefinite.  Hopefully you can see which is which? Let’s look at all those random (I promise) examples again:  

Can I have / Would you like some more? (of the specific coffee, tea, beer, whatever that you’ve already had some of)

Have you got some glue? (i.e. the specific type(s) of glue that will do the sticking job you can see I’m trying to accomplish)

Some people wouldn’t agree. (e.g. those that want to smoke wherever they want)

He’ll be here at some point. (i.e. between 1pm and 3pm)

Some of us are going… (from the group of friends / workmates that is obvious to both of us)

I remember some things he said. (for instance, that some is definite and any is indefinite)

Don’t you have some information about… (i.e. prices, addresses, of the hotels available)

Is there some cheese left? (of that tasty cheddar you bought last week – I don’t know if there is, just asking))

Is there not some cheese left? (of that tasty cheddar – I thought there was and am surprised I can’t find it)

Aren’t some of those a bit odd? (Those (sentences, people, whatevers) there that we both know what we mean by)

So do you agree that some is a definite quantifier, talking about something defined that both speaker and listener are clear about – in exactly the same way the defines.  And what about any:

He’ll be here at any moment. (Not within specific times such as 1pm and 3pm, it really could be whenever)

Have you got any sugar? (doesn’t matter if it’s granulated or caster or old)

I haven’t got any friends. (I’ll be friends with anybody, doesn’t matter what they’re like or what they do or who they are. 

Isn’t there any cheese? (don’t care which type, cheddar, Gouda, red Leicester, I just need some cheese)

So would you agree they’re all indefinite uses of any? Without any exceptions?  If you come across any, please do chuck them in a comment below – I’m sure someone will.  

Which reminds me, is this rule useful to students?  Yes, it is, because they already know it (for the and a/an) and it holds true, not just for some examples, but any examples.  

And does it hold true for the compound words like somebody, somewhere, anytime, anyhow, etc. ?

Well, I’ve done some of the work, you check out the above and try and find some exceptions, any will do.  I bet you’ll have some fun trying…

And when you’ve finished here are some materials you can use to practice some and any using the above meanings:

Level 2 Elementary Some & Any Connect Three 

Level 4 Some and Any Dialogue

Loving Language

10 07 2011

IH Belgrano 2008

Loving Language is where I discuss my views of language and how it could be taught in the classroom.