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It’s different, spoken grammar

Word grammar spelt in scrabble lettersJon Hird teaches English at the University of Oxford, writes ELT materials and gives teacher-training talks and workshops both in the UK and overseas.  He has written and contributed to a number of ELT publications including Oxford Learner’s Pocket Verbs and Tenses. 

In terms of basic syntax, much of the grammar that we teach tends to be based on subject-verb-object word order. While more formal English tends to adhere to this conventional word order, the grammar of more informal and conversational spoken English can be in a number of ways quite different. For example, by putting the object, complement or adverbial at the beginning of the sentence or clause (fronting) or by putting the subject at the end (tailing), we can shift the focus and emphasis in an utterance. This also occurs in conversational written English in online social media. In this blog, we look at some common patterns of this spoken and ‘online’ grammar and, as much of it is relatively straightforward in terms of form and use, we will also consider simple awareness-raising and practice activities that can be incorporated into our teaching.

Fronting in its simplest form is when we put what conventionally comes at or towards the end of the clause (e.g. object, complement, adverbial, question-word clause) in front of it. We do this to put focus and emphasis on the object, complement etc. It can also enhance cohesion. This kind of fronting is relatively straightforward in that there are no other changes apart from the change in word order. For example, in the following extract, taken from a biography of the British band The Kinks, the song ‘See My Friends’ is fronted.

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God Save the Kinks, Aurum Press, 2013

Here are some more examples of simple fronting, some of them from written online conversations.

Fifty pounds that cost me!         This one I’ve had for ages.         What it’s based on, I don’t know.             

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Another pattern of fronting (also sometimes known as using a head or header) is when we move the object to before the main clause and use a pronoun for the object as well, e.g. my keys and them in the first example below. We use fronting in this way as an orienting device to put the ‘topic’ at the beginning of the sentence.

My keys, I can’t find them anywhere.                     The tickets, how much were they?

That bag over there, is it yours?             That book I lent you, have you read it yet?          

Tailing (or using a tail) is when we put the subject after the main clause and use a pronoun for this subject at the beginning of it, e.g. He …this man in the example below. Restating the full subject after the clause puts extra focus on it and emphasizes, amplifies or clarifies it.

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God Save the Kinks, Aurum Press, 2013

Here are some more examples.

It’s always pretty good, the food here.            He’s a great drummer, Brian Downey.

It’s a great place, Sheffield, don’t you think?                       She’s American, isn’t she, Suzy?

Another common pattern is It … that or this.

It’s a great film, that.         It was fun, that.          It’s a nice place, this.

The various patterns described above are often used in conjunction with ellipsis, where unstressed words such as the pronoun, the verb be and/or the article are omitted. The examples below are all from online conversations and some are quite typical of this genre in that there is possibly a higher degree of ellipsis than would occur in spoken conversation. For example, in speaking, we are perhaps more likely to hear the ‘near ellipsis’ s’great song, that and s’lovely little town, that.

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In class, one way we can look at fronting and tailing is by presenting the students with examples such as those above and asking them to notice and identify the difference in syntax compared to the more conventional word order. Such activities can focus on just one of the grammar patterns described above or a combination. Once the patterns have been established, the learners can also do simple exercises in which they rephrase sentences with more conventional word order using fronting and tailing. This could include sentences in isolation or in more contextualized short exchanges or dialogues, which can then be practised in pairs. The slide below, from a recent presentation on spoken grammar, shows an example of a simple awareness-raising/practice exercise (answers at the end of the blog).

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This syntactic aspect of spoken grammar is something that learners of English are very likely to come across outside the classroom. And it seems to be a feature that some tend to pick up on and use with relative ease. So, whether we actively teach this aspect of spoken grammar or maybe just deal with it if and when it crops up, it is useful to have some straightforward explanations at the ready and a few simple examples and activities that can help illustrate, explain and practise the language.

 

Answers:

(It was a) Really good lecture, that. / (It was) Really good, that lecture.

Four As! (It’s) Pretty good going, that.

(He) Always reminds me of Alex, that guy.

(It) Takes me right back, that album.

(It) Made my day, that.

That, I can do.

That laptop, is it yours?  / Is it yours, that laptop?


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Using tablets in the EFL classroom: Why & How

tablet e-book english language classroomVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, joins us today to explore the benefits of using tablets in the language learning classroom.`

Whenever someone mentions using technology in the classroom, my first reaction is “Why?” And that was my recent reaction to using tablets. Why should students use tablets in the EFL classroom? How does it help them learn better? For me, the key is not the technology, it is learning.

Many teachers already use technology in the classroom. Many also use technology to take learning beyond the classroom. In this environment, I was curious about the role of the tablet in the EFL classroom. So, being a teacher trainer with Oxford University Press, I got some e-books, downloaded them onto my tablet and sat down to answer my own question: How do tablets help students learn better?

A few days and many hours later I had an answer; using a tablet can make learning more personal. The teacher can better appeal to the individual learner, to individual interests, individual learning styles, and individual difficulties.

So, knowing why, the next obvious question is “How?” There are many different activities. Here are two to introduce the use of tablets to your students:

  1. Writing their own notes

Students can add their own personal notes to different parts of the coursebook or the lesson. For vocabulary or grammar, each student can write their own sentence relating the language to their lives. 25 students in the classroom will have 25 different sentences. This will make the language relevant to each one, expanding on the work done in class. For a reading or listening text, students can write comments or ask questions, individually interacting with the text.

Classroom activity:

After reading a text, ask your students to use the note and write 5 – 10 important words from the text. One week later, ask them to look at the words in the note. Do they remember how the words relate to the topic? If they do, it confirms their reading ability (and memory). If not, they can go back to the text. They may choose to change some of the words, keeping the total to no more than 10.

Equally, students can write 5 – 10 questions about the text, or 5-10 True/False statements. One week later they can use these as a comprehension exercise as they re-read the text. For me, what is important here is that using a tablet, each student is focusing on their own words, their own sentences, their own questions. They are interacting with the language at their own level, based on their individual needs.

Students can also record comments. Instead of writing 5-10 words or sentences related to a text, students can record the words or sentences related to a picture. Later, they look at the picture and listen to their words/sentences. Since the picture is connected to the topic of a lesson, students learn when they choose the words or sentences, when they record them, and when they listen to them later.

  1. Using the pen tools

Students can use the pen tools to circle, underline, or highlight. In this way, they can focus on specific aspects of a text or language exercise. Again, 25 different students would focus on different words and sentences, personalising their work. For me, the pen tools help students bring out language patterns. Let me give you an example:

Students circle the subject and relate it to the verb, “George and I are”. By highlighting “going to”, students reinforce the “to”, which is something my students easily forget. They can then use another colour to highlight the verb, “throw”. Some students will use the pen to draw an arrow from the subject to the verb.

Classroom activity:

Ask students to do this with the grammatical structures they are learning. This will get them used to using the pen tools. Then, ask them to write sentences about themselves and their life using the structure they are learning. Having highlighted the form of the structure, students will probably make fewer mistakes.

Then, ask them to highlight the different parts in their sentences. This will lead students to notice any mistakes they have made and to be able to correct them.

Conclusion

These are only two activities to get you and your students started. There are many more you can explore as you and your students get used to using tablets in the classroom.

As your students use their tablets, they are personalizing their learning, adding to their lessons. Each student begins from the same starting point, but develops individually, adding their own content, and thus meeting their individual needs and learning preferences.

The key is to focus on learning, to help your students learn better with their


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A very brief history of ELT Journal

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachersRichard Smith is a Reader in ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, where he founded and has continued to develop the Warwick ELT Archive, a unique collection of materials connected with the history of English Language Teaching. He also edits the ‘Key concepts’ feature in ELT Journal, whose seventy-year history he writes about here.

ELT Journal celebrates its 70th birthday in 2016. It has been published since 1961 by Oxford University Press, but the first issue was produced in October 1946 by the British Council and distributed worldwide from its offices in Hanover Street, London. The journal was the brainchild of A.S. Hornby (1898-1978), and the idea for it came from his pre-war experience editing the Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching in Japan (see Smith 2007 and/or listen to this  interview with A.S. Hornby for more on the journal’s origins). Hornby edited the new journal for four years until he left the Council to devote himself full-time to dictionary- and materials-writing. His best-known work is undoubtedly the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (which has sold more copies than any other OUP publication apart from the Bible) but his single-handed creation of ELT Journal was an equally influential achievement. The journal rapidly became a focal point for the nascent ELT profession and industry. Indeed, it is a little-known fact that ‘ELT’ is itself an abbreviation of the original title of the journal, English Language Teaching. A look at this sequence of covers will show how the title has evolved over the years, with ‘Journal’ being added in 1973 to prevent confusion of ELT, the journal, with ELT, the wider profession.

For a long period of twenty-three years, 1958 to 1981, which saw the transformation of ELT – the profession and industry – from a relatively small-scale operation into something more akin to the level of activity we see today, the journal was edited by W.R. (‘Bill’) Lee (1911–1996). Lee’s other major claim to fame was that in 1967 he founded ATEFL, now known as IATEFL – the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The journal continues to enjoy a particularly close relationship with IATEFL, as with the British Council, and both of these organizations are represented on the journal’s Advisory Board, while the ELTJ editor is also on IATEFL’s Advisory Council.

In 1981, exactly 35 years after the journal’s foundation, its format was modernized, and a new editor, Richard Rossner, was appointed. The journal also became more open to applied linguistic insights and to an influx of ‘communicative’ ideas (see Hunter and Smith 2012). Since then, a succession of editors – all of them also well-known in the ELT profession for other achievements – have ensured that ‘ELTJ’, as the journal now tends to be known, remains at the forefront of developments in English language teaching theory and practice. 1981 also saw the introduction of an Editorial (Advisory) Panel, on which almost all of the ‘names’ in ELT have at one time or another served. This has been responsible for reviewing submissions and ensuring that the journal maintains its leading reputation. Special mention needs to be made, too, of Cristina Whitecross, who, from the 1980s until her retirement as Chair of the journal’s Board of Management  in 2009, was its mainstay and consistent ‘champion’ on the OUP side.

After Lee, the editor with the longest period in office was Keith Morrow, who edited the journal for 17 years, from 1995 to 2012. Philip Prowse took over from Morrow as Reviews editor and remained in this role for the same long period. This was a time when many previous certainties were overturned, with a large number of articles being accepted for publication which were critical of over-privileging native speaker teachers’ linguistic, cultural and methodological norms. Under Morrow and Prowse an increasingly wide variety of voices began to be heard, both in the journal itself and within the Editorial Panel, which became more international and diverse.

Bringing this very brief account up to date, innovative features under the present editor, Graham Hall, have included making one article per issue open access (as an ‘editor’s choice’ article), associating this with a short  video presentation by the authors, and encouraging themed issues. Alessia Cogo, the Reviews editor, has introduced new ‘Review Forum’ and ‘Authors respond’ features.

The past 70 years – and especially the last three decades — have witnessed an explosion of interest in ELT around the world.  Throughout, ELT Journal has remained a major focal point for interested professionals and practitioners, maintaining and nurturing a continuous tradition of principled exploration, in which theorization relating to practical experience, much more than top-down application of background research or theory, has been at the centre of concern. Over the years, alongside the British Council and IATEFL, ELTJ has contributed immensely to the professional image of teaching English as a second or foreign language, providing a space for the serious reflection and, above all, the maintenance of quality on which any profession depends.

 

References

Hunter, D and Smith, R. 2012. ‘Unpackaging the past: “CLT” through ELTJ keywords’. ELT Journal 66/4: 430-439.  Online: http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/4/430.full

Smith, R.C. 2007. ‘The origins of ELT Journal’. Online (Oxford University Press website): http://www.oxfordjournals.org/eltj/about.html

 


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How teachers can give students the confidence to succeed at university

teenagers celebratingAs a teacher, one of my greatest pleasures is seeing my students finish their course of study at school and move on to bigger and better things. For many of them, this means going on to university – an opportunity to study their area of special interest, pursue their dreams and gain the qualifications they need for a successful career. I am proud to say that many of my students have done just that, gaining desirable jobs in finance, marketing, aeronautics, design and tourism to name a few. The key to success is confidence.

Making that initial leap from school to university education in your own language is challenging enough, even more so when you are doing it in a second language. Not one of my former students has said that it was easy, but they all agree that it was worthwhile. You want your students – so packed with potential – to walk into their first university seminar brimming with confidence and enthusiasm, ready to engage, question and share their views. So how can you help them achieve that?

Can you teach confidence?

Of course some people have more confidence than others when it comes to putting their opinions forward. At university, your students will be expected to contribute to seminar discussions, workshops and debates, discuss ideas and theories with their peers and respond appropriately to their contributions. This is something that you can encourage your students to do in every lesson, building their confidence gradually as they move through their course of study.

Take every possible opportunity to engage and involve the students personally in the lesson content:

  • Raise their ‘schema’ (knowledge and interest) on a topic by asking them questions, e.g. Do you know anything about this topic? Have you ever read/heard about this? What do you know about it?
  • Ask them whether the content of a text or listening relates to their own experiences and to give their personal responses – do they agree/disagree with the writer/speaker and why?
  • To promote independence, put them into pairs to have mini-discussions on these points and then report back to the class.

Every opportunity you give your students to engage personally with a topic will fire their imagination and enhance their motivation.

More than words

A challenge for non-native students at university is understanding the underlying (hidden) meaning in academic texts whether they are written or spoken – in lecture or discussion form. In English, so much meaning is conveyed through how something is written or said (or in some cases not written or said).

Where possible, draw your students’ attention to the more subtle discourse features such as:

  • understanding the writer’s intention or purpose
  • inferring meaning from context
  • considering whether a source is valid or biased
  • encourage them to be curious, to delve deeper to find hidden meaning and intentions.

At first, your students may not be used to questioning or constructively criticising the work of a published academic. However, this is acceptable and even encouraged in at university level in many countries. Your students may need time and practice to come around to this way of working, but that’s OK, these things take time.

Say it right

That first university seminar is a great milestone in academia for native and non-native speakers alike. When to speak? What to say? Who to say it to? How to respond if someone speaks to me? Will I say the right thing? What will my tutor/lecturer/peers think of me and my opinions? That brings us back to confidence again.

To help your students get it right first time you can:
  • Draw attention to how they should give and respond to opinions appropriately.
  • Remind them that it isn’t just what you say, it’s the way you say it – being too direct might cause offence while being indirect could lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Encourage them to watch debates, current affairs programmes, podcasts and lectures on TV or online.
  • Teach useful phrases for softening responses, e.g. That’s a valid point but I’m afraid I disagree. / I’m inclined to disagree with you because …
  • Highlight hedging phrases such as tend to / seem to to avoid making generalisations.
  • Remind your students that conversations are a two-way thing – you don’t just wait for your turn to speak – you listen and respond both verbally and physically – with appropriate body language such as a nod of the head or politely indicating another speaker to go ahead if you accidentally interrupt them
  • Give students plenty of opportunities for collaboration and interaction during lessons in order to help them practise and hone these essential conversation skills.
  • Most importantly, encourage them to have a go and say what they want to say because their contributions are as valuable as any other person in the room.

The leap to university is only the beginning but at least with your help they will have started on the right foot.


Lara Storton has seventeen years of experience in ESL, teaching English for Academic Purposes and teacher training, and has written the Milestones in English Student’s Book and Teacher’s Book at B1+ level.

Please note that not all titles are available in every country. Please check with your local office about local title availability.


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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.