IATEFL Opening Plenary – David Crystal

David Crystal officially opens IATEFL Liverpool by first warning us not to trust Wikipedia, which has knighted him for a few days and stated that he has had different numbers of children and wives. He moves on to tell us about he went to school in Liverpool and proudly tells us to listen out to the Liverpudlian influences in his accent.

Introducing us to some popular songs and then focusing our attention on a well-known song by Paul McCartney and Wings, ‘Live and Let Die’, and the much-discussed lyrics ‘But if this ever changing world in which we live in’.

The tune needs two prepositions for it to work and when music calls, grammar blends.

Lexical blends like ‘brunch‘ become part of our everyday language quickly but syntactic blends do not get into our language as easily.

It is however important to note that blends are very common in speech

Here are some examples:

I don’t know to which hotel I’m going to.

For which party will you be voting for in the March 9th Election?

Mentors are for business people, mentors can help you and be your role models, couples to which we look up to.

From which country does a Lexus come from?

Syntactic blends arise when people are unsure of which to use and so they use both.

It raises because of the clash and choice that could come from formal and informal usage.

In the prescriptive tradition that dominated schools, teachers tend to try and eliminate the informal forms and therefore enforcing rules such as ‘Never end a sentence with a preposition’. Yet, Shakespeare uses end-place prepositions all the time. But the rule appealed to classically-inclined pedants. Winston Churchill even had rules ‘up with which he would not put‘.

So those who try to follow the rules taught to us and place the preposition at the beginning… but the natural pattern of the language takes over and the preposition is put after the verb where it feels most natural, forgetting that they’ve used a preposition already.

The further away the two prepositions, the more likely this is to happen.

e.g. For which of the five candidates in the forthcoming by-election will the people of Eastleigh be voting for?

But double prepositions aren’t the only Syntactic Blend that happens.

Here, Professor Crystal introduces another Beatles song with the lyrics

He won’t do nothing right just in sitting down and look so good‘ (as opposed to ‘looking so good’)


I been told when a boy kiss a girl‘ (as opposed to ‘a boy kisses a girl’)

When we leave music behind and listen to spoken English, such blends all the time.

We start sentences, change our minds and end sentences differently from how we intended when we started.

We usually do not notice this though, as we are paying attention to what is being said rather than how it is being said.

Prof. Crystal uses his own lectures as examples of the non-grammatical statements in spoken English:

Within how long did it take for an American English start to grow?

which is a blend of ‘Within what period of time did it take for an American English to start to grow?


How long did it take for an American English to start to grow?

Here’s an example embedded in a dialogue:

‘Well, we don’t speak it?’

‘Why don’t we speak it?’

‘Well, cos I was never taught it.’

‘Well, why weren’t I taught it?’

As a result of the constant use of the pronoun ‘we’ at the beginning, the last statement is a blend of ‘Well why weren’t we/you taught it?’ and ‘Why wasn’t I taught it?

These blends of course appear a lot less in written material due to gatekeeping by editors and publishers. Thus, a lot of what is considered ‘standard English’ corresponds to what is published. Yet, with the advent of the internet, these gatekeepers might not be there and most people do not revise and re-read what they write in emails and blogs (especially if they’re blogging simultaneously during a conference plenary).

Here, Prof David Crystal uses examples from the most popular blogs in the UK with blended constructions.

Comprehension is governed by the distribution of weight in a sentence. English is governed by end weight, and speakers tend to put the  most important information at the end, after the main verb, rather than in the beginning. Most sentences use a single pronoun and verb followed by a concentration of content after the verb. One can of course use long adverbials at the beginning of the sentence, but this makes comprehension more difficult and the sentence is more difficult to process…therefore naturally, in spoken English, this does not happen as often.

Note these two sentences:

It was nice of John and Mary to visit us the other day.


For John and Mary to visit us the other day was nice.

We tend to get irritated with the second sentence, thinking ‘Where’s the verb? Get on with it!”

Here, Prof. Crystal uses a random ELT coursebook to make a point.

In a chapter on relative clauses, long noun phrases are featured:

e.g. Salesman who sell books at your door are a  nuisance. The books they sell are often expensive’

A lot of information needs to be processed before getting to the verb, while trying to learn a new piece of English grammar.

This could make it more difficult for students and perhaps coursebooks should use relative clauses with shorter subjects when introducing the grammar point, and leave such long noun phrases for more advanced levels.

e.g I don’t like salesmen who sells books at the door.

It’s often expensive to buy the books they sell.

In ELT, we come across blends often in students’ writing.

e.g. ‘Does it not worry you that the man to whom you will marry might be cruel to you?

It is important to realise that errors such as these blends are signs of growth and not be condemned.

Teachers should try to understand the origin and source of the blend. To condemn them as mistakes would result in students not daring to try out new constructions in the future.

Blends tend to occur more often when the speaker/writer is under pressure and has to complete the sentence quickly, and the grammar finds it harder to keep pace with the thought  e.g. football commentaries, family rows, etc.

Blends are nothing to feel guilty. In writing, we try to eliminate them for being labelled as careless and sloppy by readers who have more time to examine our sentences.

Here, Prof. Crystal clarifies that he is not advocating that we teach blends, but more that we not condemn blends in speech when we are likely to use them ourselves.

Ending his plenary with a piece of titbit about his days as a saxophone player, he muses that Paul MacCartney may have earned much more than him, Paul MacCartney never quite had the honour of ending up as the patron of IATEFL.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Why are you so distant?

Looking at verbs and language in terms of the kind of distance it conveys is not exactly a new concept, but is definitely one that not that many teachers know about.


I have always found it extremely useful to discuss this with my learners as it seems to help them ‘feel’ the language, rather than memorise a list of grammar rules that they might find hard to put into practice.


And I’m certainly glad to read that my trainee Güven, like me, has found the concept quite thrilling and helpful (only a grammar geek like me would use the word ‘thrilling’ with grammar!) and from his post, he seems to have really understood what I was trying to get across to the class perfectly well…so well that it makes me proud, and I can only hope to add some value to his post.


But let me try.



Have a look at the following sentences.

Label the verbs used and identify the meaning they convey.


(a)          Can I go with you? (Taylor Swift)

(b)          Could I have this kiss forever? (Enrique Iglesias)

(c)           If I could turn back time (Cher)

(d)          It could happen to you (Diana Krall)

(e)          If I was a rich girl, I’d have all the money in the world (Gwen Stefani)

(f)           She’s leaving on a midnight train to Georgia. (Human Nature)

(g)          I’m winning that race tomorrow! (My imaginary conversation with Usain Bolt)

(h)          Farah claims Gold Number 14 for Team GB (Evening Standard, 4th Aug 2012)

(i)            The Olympics finishes on the 12th August 2012 (Sandy Millin)


Photo by @sandymillin http://www.flickr.com/eltpics


Have you ever been stumped by students who ask you, “Is ‘could’ the past of ‘can’?”


Indeed, ‘could’ is the past of ‘can’ in sentences like ‘He couldn’t understand why”.


In the request seen in (a) and (b), some say that the use of ‘could’ in (b) makes it more polite or more formal than the use of ‘can’ in (a).


And in (c), ‘could’ signals an imaginary hypothetical situation in which the use of  ‘can’ would indicate that the situation was possible. (‘If I can turn back time’ would make no sense unless the speaker is Harry Potter or Superman)


The use of ‘could’ in (d) suggests that there is a probability of it happening, but not as probable as if ‘can’ was used.


In (e), the use of  the past tense ‘was’ in the first clause and ‘would’ in the second has nothing to do with past time. Instead they make the sentence seem improbable. We often label this the second conditional, which is often defined as indicating hypothetical or impossible situations.


In (f), the tense used is called the present continuous, but it is used to talk about future arrangements.


Yet in (g), the present continuous is used to show determination and certainty about the future.


In (h), the present simple is not used to talk about events that happen regularly, but in a newspaper headline to indicate a past event.


In (i), here the present simple is used again to talk about a future timetabled event.


So to sum up,

the past is sometimes used to be more polite,

but sometimes used to talk about imaginary or improbably situations.

Yet sometimes it’s used to talk about something probably, but not as probable as when we use a present tense.


And when we use the present continuous, we could be talking about the future.

And when we use the present simple, we could be talking about the past.

Or maybe the future.


How confusing was that?


Perhaps it’d help if we first knew this:


Long long ago, when the first English grammar book was first written, English was a language spoken by the poor and uneducated. The upper classes and the Royals spoke French, and the academics spoke Latin.


English grammar was first put down on paper most probably by a French/Latin-speaking academic. He therefore mapped Latin grammar rules onto the English language observed at that time. And the prevalence of Latin as the language of the educated over the years made it the standard by which grammar rules were formulated. Even today, rules like ‘Never split an infinitive’ originating from a strong influence of Latin grammar still exists today. (To boldly go where no one has gone before!)


Evidently, when one maps the grammar of one language onto another, it could never really match. And hence the misnomers we see above.


So let’s forget those labels for a moment.

Let’s forget that ‘teach’ is ‘present’ and ‘taught’ is ‘past’.


Let’s say that ‘teach’ is ‘near’ and ‘taught’ is ‘remote/far’.


(1) Temporal Distance

Photo by Chia Suan Chong


When I say ‘I teach English’, it is something that happens all the time and therefore ‘close’ to me.

When I say ‘I taught Julio in January’, it is a story that I tell, and in order to tell it, I have to transpose my mind to being in January; I have to model myself into the past. That is because the event is far away from my reality.


(2) Social Distance

Photo by @jinotaj http://www.flickr.com/eltpics


As with the example in (a) and (b), ‘could’, as opposed to ‘can’ is often used to indicate social distance.

This could be due to the fact that ‘could’ be more morphologically inflected than ‘can’.





Lend me £10.

Can you lend me £10?

Could you lend me £10?

Do you mind lending me £10?

Would you mind lending me £10?

I don’t suppose you could lend me £10?

I was wondering if you could possibly lend me £10?

Hmm…I was sure I had £10 in my pocket. Where did it go? I really need it… *hint hint*


It is clear that the more grammar there is and the more lexis is needed, the further the social distance.


So is that the same as saying it’s more polite or more formal?


Consider the following situation:


A husband says to his wife whom he has been married to for 50 years, ‘I was wondering if you could possibly tell whether I should turn left or right at that junction?’


More polite?

Or simply sarcastic?


How did we know it was sarcastic?


Perhaps the fact that they have been married for 50 years suggests that there shouldn’t be much of a social distance between them. The creation of social distance through such use of language is therefore seen as inappropriate and in fact, impolite.


It is therefore important that teachers and coursebook writers do not oversimplify and label what is socially remote as polite, considering the fact that politeness is a construct dependent on multiple factors.


(3) Psychological Distance

Why the long face?


The most interesting of the four, the use of verbs to indicate psychological distance can be seen everywhere around us.


  • In example (h), the ‘near’ tense is used in newspaper headlines to create excitement and to make the reader feel like the breaking story is more eminent in some way or other. However, when one continues to read the story, one is moved into the ‘remote’ tense.


Farah added a 14th gold medal to Team GB’s impressive haul.’

(Evening Standard, 4th Aug 2012)



  • When talking about an ex-boyfriend, I might use the ‘remote’ tense and say ‘He was a very jealous person’ despite the fact that he is still alive.

The use of the ‘near’ tense might indicate that he is still ‘close’ to my heart and that I might still be in love with him… (God forbid)


  • When telling jokes, we often say ‘A horse walks into a pub. The bartender says, “Why the long face?”’ in order to make the joke more exciting.


  • When reporting a conversation, we sometimes use the ‘near’ tense to create a feeling like the story is unfolding before the listener’s eyes.


There was this woman sitting on three seats.

So I say to her, “Can I sit down?”

And she goes, “No”

And I go, “Come on. I paid for a ticket too.”

And she goes, “I’m taking these seats.”

And I go, “Are you serious?”

And she goes, “Of course I am.”

And I go, “Shut up.”


(If this was a conversation in US English, substiture ‘I go’ for ‘I am like’ and ‘She goes’ with ‘She is like’.)


  • A football commentator chooses to create feelings of exhilaration by saying, ‘Rooney scores a goal!!!’ instead of ‘Rooney is scoring a goal right now’ or ‘Rooney just scored a goal.’


(4) Hypothetical Distance


If I were a rich man…Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
http://www.flickr.com/eltpics Photo by @mk_elt

A familiar use of the ‘remote tense’, this is seen not only in the so-called 2nd conditional – Example (e)



If only I could keep up with Güven’s blogging everyday.

I wish I didn’t have to do my day job and blog at the same time…


The use of the ‘remote tense’ in the 2nd Conditional and the two sentences above signals a reduced likelihood and a hypothetical situation that is further from reality.


After having read the above, what kind of distance do you think the following is creating?


Give me a 20% discount, I’ll take 500.

If you give me a 20% discount, I’ll take 500.

If you gave me a 20% discount, I’d take 500.

If you were to give me a 20% discount, I might take 500.

Say, let’s just suppose you were to give me a 20% discount, I might consider taking 500.


The instinctive reaction is to identify with the so-called 2nd conditional and say that hypothetical distance is being created…


But is it really so?


Are we not manipulating psychological distance by playing hard-to-get?


Maybe just like everything is life, ‘near’ and ‘far’ aren’t always separate and exclusive, dichotomous constructs, but positions on a continuum…


And maybe the 1st and the 2nd conditional aren’t always that easily distinguishable either…


Or who was it that said that there were actually 32 conditionals in English?


For more about Distance and verbs, see:

R. Batstone, Grammar, OUP, 1994.

M. Lewis, The English Verb : An exploration in structure and meaning, Language Teaching Publications, 1986.

D. Willis, Rules, Patterns and Words : Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching, CUP, 2003.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 5 – Clarifying Meaning of Grammatical Structures

On Day 5 of the CELTA, we looked at how we can focus on language in a systematic fashion through looking at Meaning, Form and Pronunciation (and Usage too).

In and amongst some genuine interaction happening between me and the trainees about the forthcoming weekend, I got them using the present continuous to talk about their weekend plans, and added a few of my own.

I then boarded,

“My friend is coming from Manchester on Saturday.”

“I’m staying home this weekend.”

“I’m finishing Season 7 of Desperate Housewives”

I asked,

Am I talking about the present, past or future?” (future)

Am I talking about something I have already arranged? Or something I have just thought of doing right now?” (arranged)

“What tense am I using to convey this meaning of an arranged future?” (present continuous)

Future arrangements…
Photo by @sandymillin http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

After writing the form of the present continuous (to be + -ing) on the board, we then established that we had covered the meaning and then the form of the language item. I elicited that we still had pronunciation to look at, and asked what the trainees thought might be pronunciation issues for the learners.

We looked at the pronunciation of the contractions and the pronunciation of the ‘-ing’.

We then agreed that although many people seem to be obsessed with form when dealing with grammar, it was the meaning that was the most important.

I then gave trainees a handout with a dialogue containing the following grammatical structures:

(a) I wish we hadn’t argued.

(b) She’s always complaining.

(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).

(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.


Several sample CCQs were given with structure (a) and trainees had to decide whether they were useful CCQs or not. Here’s a taster.

Structure: I wish we hadn’t argued


CCQs: (1) Who did he argue with?

            (2) Why did they argue?

            (3) What does wish mean?

            (4) Did they argue?

            (5) Did he want them to argue?


I wish we hadn’t argued…

And here are the answers:

Questions (1) and (2) are more like reading comprehension questions than CCQs. They do not clarify the concept of the use of ‘I wish + past perfect’ and therefore are irrelevant.

Question (3) features one of the ‘taboo questions’ ‘What does ~mean?

Taboo questions fall into two categories.

One includes questions like Do you understand? and Do you know ~?

Unhelpful because many students would simply nod their heads when asked  perhaps because they are afraid of seeming stupid in front of other classmates, or because they think they have understood but actually haven’t, such questions do not really check for understanding of concepts.

The second category of ‘taboo questions’ include questions like ‘What does ~mean?’ and ‘Can you explain ~to the rest of the class?’

Perhaps more student-centred than the previous category of ‘taboo questions’, these questions show a recognition for the fact that it is better for the answers to come from students than have the teacher get into wordy explanations.

If so, then why are these ‘taboo questions’?

I once saw a trainee ask a pre-intermediate learner to explain the word ‘irony’ to his classmates. The learner froze and looked confused. The trainee assumed it was because he didn’t understand the word.

There is a difference between understanding a language item and being able to explain it. Most expert users and native speakers would struggle to explain a word comprehensively and satisfactorily enough for a class of learners without some teaching experience. They end up feeling put on the spot.

At the end of the day, don’t get your learners to do your job for you.

Instead, use guided CCQs, examples, and step-by-step inductive/scaffolded questions to get learners to the final destination.

(see yesterday’s post regarding CCQs for lexical items)

For more about these ‘taboo questions’, see Anthony Gaughan’s very interesting post: Is asking ‘Do you know what ~means?’ a waste of time?

Questions (4) and (5) get to the meaning and usage of the structure ‘I wish + Past Perfect’ and are the most appropriate CCQs to ask.


Trainees now have to look at structures (b), (c) and (d), and formulate CCQs to clarify the concepts.


Here are some suggestions:

(Please note: I have included the meaning sections for the trainees and am in no way suggesting that we give our students the lengthy explanation within those sections. CCQs coupled with a few contextualized examples should suffice to clarify meaning and usage to learners.)

(b) She’s always complaining.

Meaning: The present continuous is used here not to signify an action that is happening now, but an action that happens with regularity. However, the choice to use the present continuous and not the present simple suggests that the speaker wants to show annoyance and irritation at the action.

Look at the difference between ‘He always gives me money’ and ‘He’s always giving me money’. Can you sense the irritation?

CCQs: Does she complain all the time? (Yes)

Is she complaining right now? (Not necessarily)

Is the speaker annoyed that she complains a lot? (Yes)

Would you like some cheese with that whine?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong; Food by Highlife.ie


(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).

Meaning: The tendency for some teachers is to look at this structure as a 2nd conditional. However, considering the function of the phrase, perhaps it is best to teach ‘If I were you, I’d + bare infinitive’ as a formulaic chunk used for giving advice.

CCQsIs the speaker giving advice? (Yes)

Is the speaker going to call her? (No) (Note: Students might see the ‘I’d call her’ and think it is the speaker who is going to call her.)

Who does the speaker think should call her? (The person that the speaker is speaking to…in the dialogue, this is Person B)

Who ya gonna call?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.


Meaning: The ‘If only + subject + past simple’ is a structure used to show a wish for something that isn’t happening and might even be difficult to happen right now. Despite the use of the past tense, the structure is used to talk about the present e.g. ‘If only you were here right now’. This is one of the examples of how the ‘past simple’ is used to indicate psychological and hypothetical distance.

CCQs: Do we argue all the time? (Yes) (Note: Students might see the negative in that sentence and think the answer to this question is ‘no’)

Does the speaker want to argue all the time? (No)

Is this sentence talking about the past, present or future? (Present)

If only we didn’t argue…

After looking at the meaning, trainees then had to work in pairs noting down the form of the structures:

(b) – to be + -ing;

(c) – If I were you, + I’d + bare infinitive;

(d) – If only + subject + past simple)

…and the pronunciation:

Focus on the stressed syllables and prominence of each structure;

and also note the catenation happening with ‘If + I’ and ‘If + only’.

Now they are ready for Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.

The Teach-Off – The Twist Part 1

As some of you might know, I used to work at Callan School of English following the Callan Method strictly, which involved reading a script from the Callan books 8 hours a day.

Now, I’m in no way dissing Callan or any behaviourist methodologies, because I learnt a lot from them. If you don’t believe me, read this.

I then went on to work for a school that basically gave me free rein to do anything I wanted with the students as long as I did the Callan 25% of the time.

I spent 75% of the time exploring coursebooks the school had and trying them out, sometimes just doing exercise after exercise, page after page, without fully understanding what I was meant to be doing.

By the time I did my CELTA at International House London, I had already been teaching for 2 years.

The CELTA completely changed my life.

It opened my eyes to the communicative approach of teaching and really helped me to make sense of my own language learning experiences with Japanese and Spanish, and showed me how to better help my students to learn English.

The CELTA also showed me the range of materials that were out there.

I was thrilled to find books like English Phrasal Verbs in Use, English Idioms in Use, The Anti-Grammar Book, Recipes for Tired Teachers, Mark Fletcher’s Visual Grammar, Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons, Mark Hancock’s Pronunciation Games, Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games, Vocabulary Games and Grammar Games, etc., on top of the wonderful coursebooks like Cutting Edge and Inside Out that I was introduced to.

I was in ELT materials heaven.

Back then, when IH London was in Piccadilly, we had a bookshop in the school, and on the last day of my CELTA, I went to the bookshop and bought a whole stack of books (and a set of cuisennaire rods) as I kicked off my reinvigorated teaching career.

For more than a year after the CELTA, I was the materials girl.

Colleagues in the staffroom would tease me about constantly cutting bits of photocopied cards and pictures every single morning before lessons began.

Some colleagues even started to use me as a reference and would ask me questions such as ‘Look at this photocopy? Which book does it come from?’, to which I would immediately reply, ‘That’s from Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons Chapter 2’.

And I was proud of it. Why should I not be?

The experts wrote the books, and I knew them all.

We would be given, say 9 units of a coursebook to play with in a month-long course, and one day, a student said to me on the last day of his course, ‘You are the first teacher at IH that actually did every single exercise and every single page of the 9 units, and finished the coursebook! I have never finished a coursebook before!’

And he meant it as a compliment.

Since my DELTA, I have not used a coursebook.

I sometimes start to try and use one but never get past the lead-in.

It’s been 5 years since I have used a coursebook.

Today, I feel like I have come full circle.

Today, I did Varinder’s class. With a coursebook.

Below is my account of it.

Boardwork 1

Lesson aims:

  • To give students opportunities to practise reading for detailed understanding in the context of famous doctored photographs.
  • To enable students to better understand four pieces of lexis used in the reading text after processing the text for meaning.
  • To raise students’ awareness of object nouns that collocate with the verb ‘take’ and to offer controlled practice of these collocations by using sentences beginning with ‘The last exam I took…’, ‘The last train I took…’, ‘The last time I took a long walk…’, etc.
  • To enable students to notice the meaning and form of the passive voice used in the reading text about doctored photographs, and practising the use of the passive in a controlled practice about another doctored photograph, and another in the context of the writing of a formal letter.
  • To offer students opportunities for speaking practice in the context of cameras, photographs and the doctoring of photos.

Materials: Global Intermediate Pg 66 & 67.

The lesson started with me walking into the classroom and greeting the students, asking them if they knew I was taking the class today. Those that had been in my 2 weeks of Dogme classes already knew of the experiment and said that they had been informed that I was teaching today. The new students, however, didn’t quite understand who I was and why I was there, and so, I briefly explained to them the nature of the experiment and who I was.

I then revealed that I was going to be using the coursebook today.


(Stage aim: To contextualize the lesson, generate interest, engage the students and activate schemata)

As a lead-in to the lesson, I asked the students if they all had a mobile phone and asked what they normally did with the phone, aside from making calls.

Students were put in pairs as they discussed their favourite apps and games, and language like ‘to do list’, ‘address book’, ‘navigation’ and ‘online banking’ naturally emerged. I couldn’t resist and the language was begging to be fed in, and then clarified. I then elicited that one could also take photos on their mobile phones and asked if they owned a separate digital camera or if they used their mobiles for that purpose.

Using the lead-in questions in the book, I then asked, ‘Do you remember your first camera? What was it like?’

I described my first camera and told students that it was a disposable one, but I noticed that my example was not quite enough to prompt them to say more. Some said they couldn’t remember, while others didn’t think their first camera was that significant and couldn’t be bothered to describe it.

So, instinctively, I got them to close their eyes and do a visualization exercise.

Using questions and prompts, I asked, ‘What did it look like? What colour was it? Who gave it to you? What photographs did you take with it?’.

When they opened their eyes, they were put in groups to share what they had visualized.

One or two of the students of my generation had stories to tell of the days when cameras that had separate disposable flash cubes that had to be purchased, but most of the younger students didn’t seem to have many remarkable tales to relate, and so I moved on to the next question in the book – ‘Have you ever manipulated a photo? Why?’ while clarifying the question with an example.

This question definitely needed more prompting because most of the students’ first reactions were either ‘No’ or ‘Yes, just to change the colour or for red eye reduction’. It wasn’t a topic they seemed to have much to say about. One of the students asked what kind of changes we were talking about.

Pre-Reading Prediction Task

(Stage Aim: To activate schemata and generate interest in the text)

This, I thought was a nice segue into the prediction task of the reading text, so I asked students to look at the two pictures given (one of a doctored Abraham Lincoln photo and one of a doctored Stalin photo) and asked the following questions.

‘What do you notice about them? What has happened?’

Quick pairwork showed that the only things that could be said as answers to those questions were, ‘They are different’, ‘This guy’s head was changed to Abraham Lincoln’s’ and ‘They deleted these people from Stalin’s photo’.

Some students, while doing the task, instinctively tried to read the text to find the answers, and my classroom management skills took over as I said, ‘Wait, don’t read the text yet. Just look at the photo.’

I suddenly felt kind of silly doing that. Students were appropriately motivated to read the text to find out more…and here was I telling them to wait till the next stage…was I frustrating them?

So, I prompted further, ‘Do you know of any other pictures that have been doctored?

As students spoke in pairs, one talked about a very old Brazilian celebrity who had her legs photoshopped so severely that it looked ridiculously smooth. Another spoke of Belusconi and how he always has his photos touched up. She added that he liked to be positioned in such a way where he looked taller, and I jokingly mentioned Tom Cruise. The class laughed and there seemed to be more to be said about the topic. But I could see Varinder from the corner looking at me with the ‘80% coursebook!’ eyes and thought I shouldn’t let my Dogmetician side take over…

I then asked students why they think the pictures in the coursebook were doctored and they suggested that in the first picture, they might have wanted Abraham Lincoln to look taller or have a better body for propaganda purposes, while in the second picture, they have removed the people around Stalin perhaps because they don’t want to be seen with him.

Reading for Detailed Understanding

(Stage aim: To offer practice of reading for detailed understanding)

At this point, I asked students to read the text to check their predictions, and to do the reading for detailed understanding task: ‘How and why was each photo changed?’

This was a rather odd question to be asking them, to be honest, because the paragraph on the doctored photo of Abraham Lincoln simply did not state the reason for doctoring the photo, and after realizing this, students could only guess that their prediction that it might be due to propaganda might have been true.

Post-Reading Lexis

(Stage aim: To exploit the text by pulling out and clarifying some useful lexis for both receptive and productive use)

Some paircheck and feedback later, we moved swiftly on to the 4 pieces of lexis that were pulled out from the text: ‘sophisticated’, ‘fallen out with’, ‘regarded’ and exaggerated’.

The page of the coursebook provides a multiple choice exercise where students have to deduce the meaning of the lexis by looking at the co-text.

After a paircheck stage, in the open class stage, I started to further supplement the clarification of meaning with additional CCQs, highlighted the form and drew attention to certain pronunciation features and drilled the words or phrases.

At certain points, I felt that I had to supplement a lot more so as to fully exploit the four pieces of lexis and enable students to better understand their use. Here are two examples.

1. ‘We regarded that afterwards as a mistake’

Nobody in class go this one right. Many thought regarded meant ‘apologised’ (one of the multiple choice options) perhaps due to the co-text.

So, I wrote on the above sentence on the board, and then added,

‘Please regard my house as your own house’

‘You can regard me as your friend’

I then had the students in pairs discuss what they now thought ‘regard’ meant.

They all agreed it meant ‘to see things a certain way’ (one of the multiple choice options).

When we were happy with the meaning, I elicited that ‘regard’  (in this meaning) is usually followed by an object and then the preposition ‘as’ and another object.

i.e. ‘to regard somebody/something as somebody/something’

2. People who the Soviet leader Stalin had fallen out with or no longer trusted were often eliminated from pictures.

After establishing that the multiple choice answer had a disagreement with’ was the correct answer, a student then asked, ‘Can I say “I had fallen out with the newspaper or the concept or opinion?if I disagree with it?

What a brilliant question! Further concept checking was clearly needed.

So I went on to clarify that the phrasal verb could only be used when you fall out with somebody e.g. a friend, a partner, a family member, and this happens when you have a argument with them and stop talking to them.

I elicited (then fed in) that after you fall out with someone, you then say sorry and you ‘make up with someone’.

Once meaning was clarified, I wrote on the board, ‘I fell out with my friend’ and then elicited that it was a transitive phrasal verb that took the object ‘my friend’.

(Most of the students were from my 2-week Dogme class where we had previously dealt with transitive and intransitive verbs, and this was a good chance to revise this with them. The 2 new students spoke Portuguese and Italian and seemed familiar with the concept of transitivity from study of their own L1s)

I did the same for ‘make up with my friend’ before asking them how I could make this intransitive.

I started the sentence with ‘My friend and I…’ and elicited ‘fell out’ and the fact that we drop ‘with’ and the object when making this phrasal verb intransitive.

I then elicited the same for ‘make up’.

It was now time to move on to the vocabulary section.

Vocabulary and Collocations

(Stage aim: To raise awareness of collocations with ‘take’ and to provide controlled practice of given collocations)

‘Chesting’ the book, I showed students the table on the page that showed 5 categories of collocations with the verb ‘take’.

Transport                   take a taxi…

Food or medicine        take sugar…

Activities                     take a shower…

Exams                         take an exam…

Control                        take control…

Images                        take a photo…

Students now had to put the following nouns into the categories above to make collocations with ‘take’:

the bus,      drugs,       the metro,      milk,      nap,      a picture,      a pill,      power,         responsibility,      a test,       a train,      a walk.

To be honest, I found this activity quite frustrating as the collocations were out of context and the only thing they had in common was the word ‘take’… but hey, I was using the coursebook, and I was going to put my heart and soul into it.

After open class feedback, and clarifying the difference the use of ‘to walk’ and ‘to take a walk’ (where I also asked learners if they were two different words in their L1s), we moved on to the controlled practice exercise.

Learners had to complete the following sentences:

The last exam I took…

The last train I took…

The last photo I took…

The last time I took a long walk…

The last time I took responsibility for something…


This example sentence was given in the coursebook:

The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt. The temples were incredible.


This was a complex structure, especially for the large number of Far East Asian students in the class, and so I felt the need to scaffold the practice for them.

I wrote,

‘The last exam I took was very difficult’

and asked students what the subject of the sentence was.

Some said ‘exam’ and others said ‘I’ and they clearly had difficulty with this (and considering that all the phrases given to the learners to complete were noun phrases that were acting as subjects, I thought it important to guide them through this).

I elicited that the main verb was ‘was’ and then guided them towards realizing that the subject was ‘the last exam I took’.

The last exam I took


very difficult.




Some students then cleverly asked if we could replace the adjective slot with adverbials like ‘last week’ or ‘with my friend’ or ‘at school’, and I sent them off in pairs to complete the exercise.

However, if you look at the example sentence given (The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt.), you would notice that the scaffolding was still in progress at this point.

After completing the sentences with adjectives and adverbials, checking with their partners and sharing with the class, I then pushed them to see that

‘The last exam I took was when I first came to London’ was also possible, with ‘when I first came to London’ acting as the object.

This time, students made sentences with ‘when’ phrases as the object.

But the most amusing thing was when I tried to expand on the sentences students made in open class feedback.

One student said, ‘The last exam I took was last month’.

I asked, ‘Oh? Which exam was that?

He replied, ‘Oh, it’s not true. I was only doing the exercise.’


As I went round the class, I realized that more than half the class did the same. None of them were able to tell me more about their ‘experience’ because those sentences were simply not true.

It was a practice exercise, and that’s how they saw it.

Watching them in paircheck and open class feedback stages, it was also obvious that they did not see those stages as speaking practice or chances for interaction in English.

The goal for them was the practice exercise and trying to get the answers for it.

And they certainly didn’t see the point in expanding much on their answers.

If I had told them to complete the sentences with ‘real’ answers from their lives, would it have made a difference?

Or are the sentences so random and devoid of context that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway?

Does it matter that they weren’t giving real answers and were just drilling the use of ‘the last time I…was…when I …’ and collocations with ‘take’?

We took a break at this point and I promised to look at the passive voice when we came back.

Boardwork 2

Grammar: The passive (Present stage)

(Stage aim: To help students better understand the use of the passive, the reasons for its use, and the different tenses the passive can take)

The top of the grammar section had three sentences from the previous reading text featuring verbs in the passive voice.

This photo was taken in 1862.

Parts of the photo have been changed.

Photos are being manipulated more than ever now.

This was followed by the following rules

  • We form the passive with ‘be’ and a past participle.
  • We use the passive when we don’t know who did the action, the action isn’t important or the action is more important than the person or thing who did it (the agent).


I had students look at the example sentences and read the grammar rules.

It was a moment that I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable with.

I would have much preferred to give them as chance to notice the structure themselves, and to read the text and speculate reasons why they think the author has chosen to use the passive instead of the active voice in each case that the passive was used.

Of course, some might argue that giving students the ‘rules’ would save time and can be just as efficient.

Anyway, after eliciting that the tense changes in the passive happens on the verb ‘to be’ and not the past participle, I then proceeded to ask students to find 7 examples of the passive voice from the reading text.

I then expanded on the task on my own by asking students to change those passive sentences to active ones.

Students ended up with sentences like :

‘Somebody put Lincoln’s head onto the body of Southern politician’

‘Somebody eliminated the people from pictures.’

‘Somebody squeezed together the Pyramids of Giza’, etc.

Students started to say, ‘Sounds strange. They all start with “somebody”


So I asked them what was wrong with that, and together we agreed that it was boring, and not deserving of subject position because it was the theme of the sentence and because we didn’t know who that somebody was.

This time round, I felt as if they understood the reasons for the passive much better.

Controlled Practice 1 (Practice Stage)

(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the use of the passive by allowing students to choose between the active and the passive in the context of a text about another doctored picture)

As controlled practice to the passive voice, students then had to fill in the gaps of a text with the correct form of the verbs in the brackets, putting them in the active or passive voice.

The text was about a Chinese photographer Liu Weiqiang, who had doctored a photo with a high-speed train and a herd of antelopes and was given an award.
The photo was not on the page, and so while students were completing the gap-fill, I took the initiative of looking for the photo in question on the internet and on my iPad.

After students finished checking their answers with their partners, I asked, ‘Would you like to see that photo?

To my surprise, the answer from most of the students was, ‘Which photo?’

I said, ‘The one in the text you have just read!

The students said, ‘It was about a photo? We were not reading it! We were only doing the grammar exercise!

Is it my fault for not doing a gist reading task before the gap-fill?

Even if I did, would the students be so focused on the grammar task that they wouldn’t really care about the text?

Does it matter that they didn’t read the content of the text?

If not, then why have the text? What would then be the difference between that and having random practice sentences a la Murphy?

Controlled Practice 2 (Practice Stage)

(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the passive by having students convert sentences in the active to the passive while using different tenses in the context of a letter)

Deviating from the context of doctored photos (but still having some connection to photos in there), the text given to students to convert was as follows:

We’re sorry, we have lost your photographs. We usually keep them in a box on the table. The other day somebody was cleaning the shop. They moved the box. I’m afraid we can’t find the photos now. We will send you a new set of photographs to your home address.

After a paircheck and open class feedback stage, I asked students whether they felt that the original text or the one with the passive sentences were more formal.

Looking at the content of the text,  and with some eliciting and prompting, we then established that the passive voice made the writer seem more distant, less personal and therefore allowed the writer to take less responsibility for the loss of the photos.

The activities of this unit then ends at this point, and I had students look at all the emergent words on the board and do a quick recall with their partners as to what they meant. Thanks, Varinder, for this! It worked really well!

There was one thing, however, that I didn’t quite expect to feel, but consistently did throughout the coursebook lesson I taught today.

I felt distinctly more authoritative, more in control, and more of a teacher.

I felt in charge with the coursebook.

And the way I acted started to tend towards those roles too as the lesson progressed.

I felt my rapport-building jokes and conversations not as genuine and certainly not able to run its course.

I felt like I wasn’t really listening to all the students had to say, and not asking the natural questions that led on from their utterances.

I felt teacher-centred.

I felt like a performer. A performer with a script.

I felt like I’ve come full circle.


It’s an Anniversary!

Some of you might be wondering why I have suddenly changed the layout of my blog.

Well, it’s been a year.

Courtesy of #ELTpics. Photo by @mkofab

April 30th 2011.

The day I started blogging. The day I started this blog.

I started this blog because I love writing.

Through writing, I am able to organise my thoughts because I am given the opportunity to articulate them.

Through the banter you provide me with, I am able to decide on what I believe in because I am allowed the chance to challenge the attitudes and views that I encounter.

Through the support of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I am able to find the courage to say the things that are not necessarily popular or cool, to write about issues I really care about, and to express a part of me.

I would like to thank all the people who have viewed these pages and watched the videos, the people who have read, commented and like the posts, the people who have tweeted, shared, and used the ideas and articles here.

Thank you all for your support.

Courtesy of #ELTpics


To celebrate, here are some facts and figures to help recap the year:

Total hits: 62,950

Views on Busiest Day: 976 (25th April, 2012)


The Top 5 Most Commented on Posts are:

1.    The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebooks and Uncount nouns  (51)

2.   Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly?  (50)

3.   10 Things Teachers Should Never Forget  (48)

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF  (42)

5.   The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1  (36)


Aside from myself, the Top 5 Commenters (and their respective twitter handles) are:

1. Phil Wade @phil3wade                 (53)

2. Chiew Pang @acliltoclimb                      (27)

3. Varinder Unlu @varinderunlu             (26)

4. Dale Coulter @dalecoulter             (23)

5. Mike Hogan @irishmikeh                (20)

Thank you so much for taking time to comment. You have contributed more than you can ever imagine!


Excluding the Home Page, The Top 10 Posts (according to hits) are:

1.   Intercultural Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

3.   Why I brought back the foreign language lesson to the CELTA

4.   Learning English Through a TV Series

5.   Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes

6.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 1)

7.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 3 – The Experiential Metafunction)

8.   10 Things I do with my mini-whiteboards

9.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 2 – The Interpersonal Metafunction)

10.   What is Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 4 – The Textual Metafunction & Conclusion)


The Most Watched Videos (according to hits) are:

1.   IATEFL 2010 Presentation on Dogme

2.   BESIG 2010 Interview on SFG

3.   BESIG 2012 Interview on Politeness and Pragmatics

4.   Chiew’s 2011 interview with me on IaskU

5.   IH DOS Conference 2012 Presentation on ELF


My top 5 personal favourites are:

1.   In defence of Callan (and other behaviourist methodologies)

2.   Making student-centred Dogme student-friendly

3.   11 things I learnt in London – a pseudo-ethnographic exploration of British vs Singaporean culture

4.   Gaellic – To save or not to save?

5.   Cringing at Cheese this Christmas?


There has been 4 series on this blog thus far.

The first was a series inspired by a conversation with Mike Hogan, and still continues till today.

Devil’s Advocate is now at its 6th instalment and they are:

1.   Devil’s Advocate versus Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training

2.   Devil’s Advocate versus Dale Coulter on Dogme for Newly Qualified Teachers

3.   Devil’s Advocate versus Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

4.   Devil’s Advocate versus Anthony Gaughan on Lesson Aims & Plans in Teacher Training

5.   Devil’s Advocate versus Vicki Hollett on ELF

6.   Devil’s Advocate versus Rakesh Bhanot on Non-Native Speaker Teachers of English

There will be more Devil’s Advocate instalments to come right after the Teach-Off is over!


The second was a series of posts about my Pre-Advanced Dogme classes:

1.   MLearning, Mini-Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

2.   Only in a Dogme Class

3.   All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You

4.   I left my head and heart on the dance floor

5.   Wham! Vroom! And things that jet setters do…

6.   And then my students said…


The third was a series of posts about the IATEFL Glasgow conference 2012:

1.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 1

2.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2 – PCEs

3.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 3 – Adrian Underhill’s Plenary

4.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

5.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

6.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

7.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 7 – 52 Subversive Activities & lots of parties

8.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

9.   My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama and the Passive Voice

10.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

11.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 11 – Steven Thorne’s Plenary  THE ONE THAT GOT ME MY BRITISH COUNCIL AWARD!

12.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 12 – Digital Devices, Digital Storytelling, and the NNS Teacher

13.  My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 13 – Pecha Kucha Evening


And the fourth, as many of you might know, is the Teach-Off that is taking place as we speak:

1.   The Teach-Off – The Premise

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1

2.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 2

3.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3

4.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 4 

5.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 5

6.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 6

7.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 7

8.   The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 8

9.   The Teach-Off – The Dogme Observer’s POV

10. The Teach-Off – Introducing the Coursebook Round

11.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

12.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 2

13.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 3

14.  The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 4

15.  The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebks and Uncount Nouns

15.  The Teach-Off – Coursebook Day 5


Thank you so much for reading and for being a part of this blog…even during times when I was unable to blog regularly.

Thank you for an amazing year.

And here’s to the next!


Now, pardon me while I go off and sing Happy Birthday to myself…

The Teach-Off – My reaction to coursebooks & Uncount Nouns

The following was originally my response to Varinder’s account of Coursebook Day 4 of the Teach-Off.

I had observed the second half of the class where Varinder was focusing on Countable and Uncountable nouns from the coursebook Global Intermediate, and was very honoured to be privy to the wonderful rapport she had with the students and the enthusiasm with which she taught the class.

After the lesson, Varinder and I had a discussion regarding the relevance of that particular grammar point and the way it was dealt with in the coursebook. Varinder mentions this discussion in her post, and this was my response.

As the response grew longer, and I grew more passionate about what I had to say,

I decided that perhaps this deserves a blogpost of its own after all.

Here is my response:

How on earth can money be uncountable???

First of all, let me first clarify a couple of things.

The issue at hand has nothing to do with being a Dogmetician or any teaching methodology for that matter.
It is about attitudes and views on grammar, on how languages are learnt (SLA), and on what is learnable and what is useful/relevant for the learners.

Taking the Dogmetician hat off and putting on my Grammar-fanatic linguist hat…

Over time, as we move from grammar translation through into the communicative approach, there has been more and more focus on communicative competence and the communication skills that enable such competence.

Meanwhile, on the SLA front, research started to show that presenting lists of discrete items of language in a linear fashion simply does not coincide with how the brain learns languages.

Language learning is emergent, feedback sensitive and non-linear (see e.g. Michael Long, Vygotsky, Krashen, etc.)

Moreover, spending an hour on generalised rules about countable and uncountable nouns when there are just so many exceptions to the rule might not be the best use of classroom time. As you said in class, ‘A lot of it can be used in both.’

In fact, many coursebook writers are now trying to get away from labelling them countable and uncountable nouns as the labels are a misnomer in themselves.
Some writers now use the terms ‘count’ and ‘mass’, while others choose to use ‘count’ and ‘uncount’ nouns, preferring to deal with how the noun in question is referring to an idea of an abstract mass, or an individual single entity.

Moreover, the design of the task in the coursebook had students filling in the gaps as follows:

Fill in the gaps with ‘countable’, ‘uncountable’, or ‘countable and uncountable’.

1. ________ can have the plural form.
2. ________ cannot go with ‘a’ or ‘an’.
3. ________ can go with ‘the’.
4. ________ can go with ‘some’ and ‘any’.

Now, I don’t have that much of an issue with numbers 1 or 2. They are fairly straightforward rules (aside from the fact that we can all think of many exceptions of nouns that are always in the plural but not necessarily countable e.g. ‘news’, ‘studies’).

But my gripe is with questions 3 and 4, to which the answers are ‘countable and uncountable’.

By making students fill in those gaps, the task is misleading the students into thinking that either ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’ can go into the gap.
Although the answer at the end is ‘both’, by flagging this up, the students is made to sit up and take note of how ‘some’ and ‘any’ is used with countable and uncountable nouns.

Now, memory works in strange ways.
It is known that students will not remember all that is in the grammar exercise.
But what they will remember is that there was some issue with ‘some’ or ‘any’ used with countable or uncountable nouns.
This creates doubt in their minds when they are choosing to use nouns with ‘some’ or ‘any’.
Voila, we’ve created a problem where there wasn’t one before!

Now, we could argue that some students might have a problem with ‘some’ and ‘any’ before the exercise, and therefore the exercise serves to clarify the issue for those students.

Sure, but if these are only a portion of students, why not wait for the problem to arise in conversation, and then through the use of correction and scaffolding, the teacher can bring attention to this, solving it quickly, in context? This makes it more relevant and definitely more memorable to the student.

Taking the grammar-fanatic hat off, and putting my sociolinguist hat on…
ELF (English as a lingua franca) is not a methodology or approach. ELF is a global phenomenon that is happening all around us, a phenomenon that changes the reasons and the purpose for learning English. This is turn affects what and how we teach.

Apart from the very important fact that the misuse of countable and uncountable nouns is not going to alter meaning drastically in most cases, their use have also taken on special meaning with ELF research into NNS-NNS (non-native speaker to non-native speaker) communication.

Here’s an example:
The material in Global today said,
We don’t use ‘the’ with abstract nouns when we’re talking in general.
e.g. Love is important.
NOT The love is important.

But in extensive analysis of ELF use, it has been found that expert speakers of English as a lingua franca are using the articles ‘the’ with abstract nouns in order to give it emphasis.
e.g. The love is important; The life is good in Italy.

Whichever hat I choose to put on, at the end of the day, my point is this:
Using countable and uncountable nouns wrongly is not going to affect the meaning of what the speaker is saying. At an intermediate level of English (which these learners are at), there are lots of other skills and language (lexico-grammar) that would make a huge difference to their communicative abilities and their communicative competence.
This grammar area is certainly not one of them.

And if learners think they want it because that’s what their past learning experiences have taught them, then I think it is time to have an informed discussion with our learners with regards to how language are learnt, and the relevance of what they are learning.

Perhaps therein lies my issue with course books.

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 4

Due to popular demand, here’s a picture of my boardwork to start with.

See if you can guess how the lesson unfolded!

This Monday started off like many other Mondays. Everyone had a lie-in on Sunday, everyone couldn’t get to sleep on Sunday night, and everyone feels fatigued on Monday morning.

I walked into a class of quiet and tired-looking students and started the day by asking them what they did over the weekend. One student revealed that he had gone to Bournemouth, while another said she went shopping in Westfield. Sensing that the students were indeed keen on talking about what they did over the weekend (and not just groaning because yet another teacher is asking them the same question), I handed it over to them and had them telling each other about their weekends in groups of three.

Ranging from walks in the park to dinner with mates, many of the students seemed to have had an interesting weekend. One student then said he stayed home over the weekend and read books in English…everyone was quite impressed. Scaffolding the language output, I fed in the phrasal verb ‘stay in’, as in ‘I stayed in all weekend’, and then realized I needed to clarify the grammar of the phrasal verb.

In the tradition of guided discovery/ consciousness-raising, I wrote the following up on the board.

I looked after my cat. 

He switched on the light.


TESCO drove the small businesses out.


I stayed in. 

We ate in.


My boyfriend and I broke up.


I then asked to students to note the similarities and differences between the two categories. In pairs, students decide that both categories contain phrasal verbs, and define phrasal verbs to each other. They then figure out that the first group of sentences took an object while the second group does not.

In order to introduce the grammatical labels for these phrasal verbs, I elicit from students words starting with ‘trans’.

Students come up with ‘transport’, ‘transmit’, ‘transgender’ (yes, a student did say this), ‘translate’, etc.

I then asked students what they thought ‘trans’ means.

They suggest ‘change’ and ‘movement’.

I then tell students that the group of phrasal above that take an object are called ‘transitive phrasal verbs’ because the action moves/transfers from the verb to an object.

I then elicit that the groups of phrasal verbs that do not take any object are ‘intransitive’.

To ensure, that they were clear, I asked the following concept questions:

Can I say, ‘We stayed in on Saturday night’? (yes)

If I say, ‘I ate in a restaurant’, is ‘ate in’ a phrasal verb?’ (no)

I had thought it would be harder for the students, but they unanimously said ‘no’ to the second question and seemed clear that ‘in a restaurant’ was an adverbial of place, and that ‘in’ did not belong to the verb ‘ate’, as in ‘ate in’.

I then drew attention to the group of transitive phrasal verbs, and asked for the difference between the first two and the last sentence of that group.

After discussing with their partner, they decided that the phrasal verb in the last sentence was separated and the object was what separated the two verbs.

I asked which of the first two phrasal verbs could also be separated, and students very quickly decide on the second, after realizing ‘I looked the cat after’ simply sounded wrong.

I asked, ‘What about the second group? The intransitive verbs? Which of them are separable?’

This was obviously a trick question, and as students began discussing with their groups, some of them started laughing, and in open class feedback exclaimed, ‘If there is no object, how can the object separate the phrasal verbs?


Seeing that chance to check up on the students’ dictionary skills has presented itself so neatly, I asked the students, ‘So, if you see a phrasal verb like ‘eat in’, how do you normally check for meaning and usage?’

I got students to show me what they could find and so students fished out their digital translators and/or activated their iPhone apps. Many admitted to using bilingual dictionaries, but many were not able to find a satisfactory example sentence or tips to its usage. Some were even not able to find the phrasal verb ‘eat in’ and were simply given the definition of ‘eat’.

We discussed the pros of using a monolingual dictionary at the level of their studies, and the crucial features a dictionary should contain, and I showed them the 4 possible ways a dictionary might attempt to indicate if a verb is transitive or intransitive.


switch the light on

switch sthg on

swtich   ~   on

Making a mental note to bring some dictionaries into class tomorrow to practice their dictionary and note-taking skills, I move the topic on to lexical notebooks and highlighted the usefulness of students having a separate lexical notebook at home which is categorized by topics or by alphabetical order.

Spending 10 minutes everyday transferring the lexis one learns in class into their lexical notebook at home is not only a great way to organise new lexis in an easily retrievable way, but is also a great tool for students to revise and consolidate the day’s learning, while raising questions about language items that students either had forgotten or are not sure about, so that they can ask the teacher in class the next day.

As I brought back the example sentence ‘Student C stayed in all weekend’, another student started asking, ‘Is that the same as “to have a lie-in”?’

We first clarified the difference in meaning between the two, but as we moved to form, we quickly realized that ‘a lie-in’ is a phrasal verb that has been made a noun (with the use of the hyphen) and that the phrasal verb ‘to lie in’ is not as often used.

We looked at the example ‘My boyfriend and I broke up’ and created the noun ‘a breakup’, as in ‘She was very upset about the horrible breakup’, before I reminded them of a phrasal verb they learnt last week that was made into a noun (I put my ‘leftovers’ in the fridge).

We then looked at other things that students did over the weekend, and Student A said that she was washing clothes. I elicited the expression ‘to do the laundry’, and then asked if any other students did any housework this weekend.  Several lexis regarding household chores started to appear, and after a short list was compiled, I decided to get students using the lexical items regarding the details of their weekend.

Putting the chairs in a circle, but deliberately leaving my own out, I stood in the middle of the circle and said, ‘If you did the laundry this weekend, please change seats’.

If you are reading this, you are most likely a TEFL teacher.

And if you are a TEFL teacher, you know how this goes. (groan, sign, mutter…)

But the students weren’t TEFL teachers, and found this activity utterly new and amusing, and we went on for about a good 10 to 15 minutes doing this amidst lots of giggles and laughter.

Hurrah for good ol’ TEFL games!

After our 15-minute break, we came back for a revision of the entire week. I gave the class about 10 minutes to review their notes and recall the week in pairs, and then distributed the mini-whiteboards, one per group.

I then proceeded to describe, explain or use the word in context, and students could negotiate with their partners before writing the lexical item on the board.

Through the revision process, several phrases and structures that students had doubts about were clarified, and I occasionally allowed students to fill the gaps with more than one answer, giving a point to each correct answer.

e.g. Chewing gum is _________________ in Singapore.

I accepted the answers ‘banned’, ‘prohibited’, ‘forbidden’ and ‘not allowed’.

I elicited that the sentence was in the passive voice and so the answer had to be a past participle.

However, seeing the negative in the option ‘not allowed’, I had a nagging feeling that students would not be too sure how that would work in the active voice.

So, I asked them to form the same sentence in the active, starting with the words, ‘The government _______________________ ,’ using the word ‘allow’.

Quite a few students wrote,

The government does not allow to have chewing gum in Singapore’,

and I realized that their difficulty was not the formation of the negative of the active verb ‘allow’, but the verb structure of ‘allow’ itself.

So I wrote,

The teacher didn’t allow me to smoke in class.

She doesn’t allow smoking.

She doesn’t allow students to eat in class.

I then had students discussing in pairs the structure of ‘allow’ in order to fill in the gap ‘The government doesn’t allow _________________’.

Students deduce that ‘allow’ is either followed by a noun, or by ‘sby + to-infinitive’, and so decide that the sentence should either read,

‘The government doesn’t allow smoking’


‘The government doesn’t allow us/the people to smoke’.

After our competitive bout of reviewing the week’s language items, we continued talking about the question students had last week about moving on the left of escalators in the London underground and driving on the left.

Some of the students had gone home to look up the reasons for driving on the left in the UK and had stories to tell. I put them in three groups of three (there were nine students in class today) and had those who had done some research telling the others. I then labelled the students of each group A, B and C, and had them sit with the others of with the same letter, thus changing their partnerships (yes, yes, you already know this because you are a TEFL teacher…), and then had the students recounting the stories that they had heard, all the time feeding in lexis and correcting students when necessary.

It was one of those days when you realize it’s 12 noon, but you really wish you had an extra half an hour with them…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama & the Passive Voice

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The post-lunchtime fun started with Hakan Senturk’s ‘Zooming into the Reading Class- Prezi’ which combined an introduction tutorial of the use of Prezi (which was priceless to someone like myself who has never heard of the tool) with ideas and suggestions as to how to make Prezi work for a reading class.

Using a text about Vikings, Hakan suggests activating the students’ schema by show a part of a picture of a Viking ship as a prediction task. Since Prezi offers a view not unlike the zooming function of a camera, it allows the user to control the way the objects/pictures are viewed by swiftly zooming into the part specified by the user. This works well not just for the prediction task, but also while reading, where Hakan shows the audience how to zoom into the text to show the embedded answers, definitions and pictures planted cleverly there.

Suggesting that we start by experimenting with blank prezi documents (and not the templates), Hakan shows us step by step how to work ‘the camera/view’ on Prezi, demonstrating how Prezi is like a canvas on which we can place anything (text, pics, embedded vids, etc) and move them around. It is easy to upload and insert anything.  To lighten the mood and illustrate his point, he shows us an embedded video of the Muppet Show’s Vikings singing In the Navy on Youtube.

Aside from the teacher using Prezi to present reading tasks to students, Prezi can also allow participants to edit documents together and therefore can be used for class projects. When the Prezi presentation is done, you can even download, or embed it on your blog. For iPad users, there’s also a Prezi app.

Well done, Hakan! A convincing presentation! I’m off to experiment on Prezi now!


After Hakan’s presentation, a few of us Tweeters made our way towards my IH London colleagues – Richard Chinn and Marie Willoughby’s session, ‘Making sense with  metaphor in language teaching training’.

Starting by dividing the audience into 2 groups of trainers and trainees, and then asking them to complete the following sentences in pairs – ‘A training course is like…’ and ‘Trainers are like…’, Richard and Rie immediately make their point about how metaphors can create a relaxed and personalized atmosphere by making a serious or unfamiliar topic area more accessible and less intimidating, when they get tongue-in-cheek answers like ‘Trainers are like gods’.

Quoting Lakoff and Johnson as saying that we seek out personal metaphors to make sense of our experience in life, they explain that metaphors can be used with trainees to process their feelings and experiences during what might be quite an intensive training course, while allowing time for playful work. Also, metaphors provide a way of accessing the subconscious and the feeling that are occurring below the surface.

Thus, getting trainees to voice their thoughts and feelings in metaphors can help us better understand how trainees feel and this can better provide us with a way of guiding them to seeing things in a different light. A clear example of this was when one of Richard’s trainees who initially said ‘A teacher is an instructor’ ended up saying ‘A teacher is a facilitator’ by the end of his Celta course.

In this way, the use of metaphors can develop awareness of teaching and learning and also help address the trainees’ previous learning experience and their expectations. It can also help trainees deal with complex concepts by relating them to things and concepts that they are more familiar with.  In TP feedback, metaphors can depersonalize the ‘criticisms’ and enable people to explore the issues with feeling the sting of the ‘attack’.

The audience had some fun working out and relating some metaphors to different areas of the CELTA course and…

Finally, some tips about using metaphors:

  • Metaphors need to connect (emotionally) with trainees. Just because they understand a metaphor intellectually does not mean they feel it.
  • ‘To make a difference, we to reach the gut and touch the hearts of our participants’ (Malderez and Wedell)
  • Get your trainees to make their own metaphors – ones that they can connect to.
  • We all understand the world differently, and cultural factors and personal interest can hinder our understanding of metaphors.
  • Use metaphors by all means, but don’t overegg the pudding!

Richard and Rie’s presentation balanced theory and practice in a non-threatening yet useful way that inspired the audience to try implementing some of their ideas while maintaining a level of audience participation that was perfect for that time of the conference where we were all just starting to feel the tiredness creep in.


Another session I attended that was also pitched well to the fatigued conference goer was Eugene Schaefer’s ‘Teaching with Spontaniety : Using PDL in the classroom. Allowing the audience to close their eyes and relax was certainly a welcomed exercise after a long conference day as we were guided into drifting away into tranquility. An expert in the techniques of Psychodramaturgie Linguistique, Eugene this time showed us how ‘mirroring’ and ‘doubling’ could help learners to explore the language and to put the vocabulary they already know into coherent sentences.

In ‘mirroring’, the teacher pretends to talk to an imaginary object and the students mirror his actions and his words (intonation included). In ‘doubling’, the teacher sits behind the blindfolded student, sometimes offering a mask for the student as a symbol of recognizing that speaking in a foreign language can sometimes be like putting on a different mask and taking on a different identity. The teacher then tells the students to think of any word they feel like saying in the foreign language (Eugene uses German as an example here). The teacher now says words in response to the students’ words and the students can choose to repeat them or not.  In what seemed to me as techniques reminiscent of Community Language Learning, PDL adds a significant element of taking the students’ state of mind and psychological and emotional relationship with the new language very seriously and accommodates it to create a learning advantage.


The final session of the day for me was my colleague Danny Norrington-Davis’s ‘Don’t tell the police – they are not important’, where I overheard someone saying that this is definitely up for a ‘Best title of the conference’ award. The talk was certainly one of the best grammar talks too.

Ok, let me first admit…I had previously given  talk at IATEFL Brighton on Systemic Functional Grammar, and when Danny mentioned that (and our multiple conversations following last year’s IATEFL) as being one of the reasons he embarked on looking into this topic, I was beaming…so I might be biased…

When Danny’s students were asked for reasons why the passive is used, they often give the same abstract descriptions that they are fed from the coursebooks. Descriptions and rules such as ‘Because the doer is unimportant’ (Is the title making more sense now?). Such rules are not only hard to apply and make sense of, but also largely inaccurate. Yet, coursebook audaciously use the ‘royal we’ and the present simple tense (suggesting it is a FACT) when giving these rules, e.g. ‘WE use the passive to…’

As Batstone states, ‘Broad classifications bring a sense of security but we are being economical with the truth’.

Mentioning Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics where ‘given and new’ and ‘theme and rheme’ (of the Textual Metafunction) is used to explain the use of the passive, Danny expounds on the clash between pedagogic grammars, descriptive grammars, and real texts and contexts.

In order to make his point, Danny gets the audience to read a newspaper article in which an animal smuggler has been caught by the police. He then divides the audience up into journalists, police officers, and suspects, so as to get us understanding the perspective from which the newspaper article was written. Using such awareness-raising and consciousness-raising activities, learners would be able to consider the writer/speaker and the intentions or interests behind their use of certain tenses or language features (in this case, the passive).  The use of texts can guide students towards noticing why certain language is being used and renders the provision of generalized rules unnecessary and even simplistic. Ending his session with the suggested reading ‘Holistic Grammar’ by Rob Bolitho (ETP Issue 75, July 2011), Danny wows the audience into pondering over the valid points that he made about grammar teaching.

The resounding message that keeps getting air time this IATEFL conference:

Move away from over generalisations!

Use the discourse and the context and raise students’ awareness of how language is really used!


…There’s one more important talk on Day 2 coming up…watch this space…

…to be continued…


My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.



After Adrian Underhill’s plenary, the thousands of TEFLers filtered out of the auditorium towards the different talks.
The first I went to was Dave Willis’s ‘Focus on Grammar: learning processes and teaching strategies’. Dave Willis had come to my IATEFL talk last year on Systemic Functional Grammar and through the Q & A session, it beame obvious that we had similar views on grammar (if I had read his book ‘Rules, Patterns and Words’, I really would have noticed that sooner…what kind of teacher am I?) and the way they are oversimplified and dealt with badly in most ELT coursebooks.

In his 2012 IATEFL talk, Dave Willis highlighted that current pedagogic methodology often focuses on ‘recognition’ but only touches lightly on ‘systems building’ and often even neglects the ‘exploration’ stage of the learning of patterns. With specific reference to the English verb system (tense, aspect, modality), Dave asserts that making contrasts, e.g. between the present continuous and the present simple, can lead to false generalisations. Using examples of the present continuous for daily routines and habits, e.g. ‘We are usually having breakfast around then’, he warns against the overgeneralization of grammar rules that gives rise to students saying ‘English has so many exceptions’.


Another issue contrastive teaching (What is the difference between the past simple and the past continuous?) is that it ignores the major useful generalisations and uses of the aspect, e.g. the interrupted-ness as a feature of all progressive aspects. Other useful generalisations about the progressive aspect might include: something temporary, something new, describing of something changing or developing.


Many coursebooks tend to look at specific tenses, but fail to look at the aspect as a whole. Dave then goes on to recommend that coursebooks start with the present continuous, avoid contrasting it with other tenses, but instead feed in slowly the different features of the aspect.  Here are some useful generalisations of the tense and aspect system.


Present tenses often used to :

Talk about the present and future;

Talk about the past when we are telling a story;


Past tenses often used to:

Talk about the past;

Talk about hypotheses;

Be polite.


Perfective Aspect often used to:

Look back

i.e. present perfect shows how something continued to the present,

past perfect shows how something continued to a particular point in the past.


Although general guidelines are worth giving to students, Dave Willis cautions against offering precise rules and tells us that successful pedagogic grammars are good at constructing examples (clearly contrived ones to boot) that fit the rule of the language they want to have. Instead he suggests that we get students to look at authentic texts and examine the choices made in real contexts, while considering the contextual features that are motivating that choice the speaker/writer makes.


Here is an example of a text that he uses. Notice how there are no correct answers and the options given can all be correct depending on the point of view of the speaker/writer, and the emphasis they want to give the different subjects and themes of the text.

Stating that we need to expose our learners to the different genres of texts in different registers, and get our learners to see how time is talked about with different tenses, Dave provides a viewpoint of language that seems to be continuously echoed throughout the rest of the conference, a viewpoint that I have expounded on in my talk about politeness and pragmatics as well, and that is:


Stop overgeneralizing and offering fake formulae to learners. Instead get them to discuss and notice the patterns of language use.


Raise their awareness of pragmatic/discourse issues and allow them to understand that it all depends on the context and the intentions of the interlocutor.


For more updates on the rest of Day 1 at the IATEFL Conference, watch this space…


…to be continued…

Systemic Functional Grammar – Part 4 (The Textual Metafunction & Conclusion)

This post is the final part of a series on Systemic Functional Grammar. Read the first part for an overview of SFG. The second part examined the Interpersonal Metafunction and the third part considered the Experiential Metafunction.

In this final part of my exploration of SFG, I look at the Textual Metafunction, a part of SFG that is used in EFL teaching more than the other metafunctions, and often related to cohesion and coherence. Following that, I will briefly outline my views on the implications that SFG should be having on our teaching and conclude this four-part thread on SFG.

This post is based on research from the following books

An Introduction to Functional Grammar

The Functional Analysis of English

Using Functional Grammar: An Explorer’s Guide

Aptly named ‘Clause as Message’ (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004), the textual metafunction helps organise the message within and between clauses, and is closely linked to theories of cohesion. I will only be looking at textual organisation within the clause.

Thematic Structure

The Theme is the departure point the speaker has chosen for his/her text. In English, the Theme, on which the clause depends for its orientation within the context (ibid), takes initial position in the clause. Theme^Rheme makes up the thematic structure of a clause.

Theme and Rheme

Chia bought some curry yesterday.
Theme Rheme…. 
Paul was bought some curry yesterday.
Theme Rheme…

Multiple Themes

Well, surely, Ken, grammar is your forte.
Textual Theme Interpersonal Theme Interpersonal Theme Topical Theme Rheme
Textual Adjunct Mood Adjunct Vocative Subject Finite Complement

Textual (discourse markers, conjunctives) or interpersonal (vocatives, Mood Adjuncts) Themes can combine to create multiple Themes, but it is the topical Theme, the first word carrying meaning in an experiential sense, realised by a Participant, Process or Circumstance, that is incorporated in every clause and anchors the starting point of the message (Bloor and Bloor, 2004). In an unmarked sentence, the topical Theme is the Subject of the interpersonal metafunction.

The most common marked Themes utilize adverbial groups or prepositional phrases serving as Circumstantial Adjuncts. More highly marked are Themes realized by nominal groups that are not Subjects, as seen in many informal spoken conversations e.g. ‘My reading, I’m done with it.’ Syntactical structures are highly neglected in EFL, as most grammar work focuses on tenses. Students use sentences like ‘Mario, yesterday, I gave the book to him,’ without intending to have a highly-marked Theme. It is perhaps useful to teach students basic unmarked structures, especially at lower levels.

Information structure

The Theme-and-Rheme theory was first conceived in The Prague School, where Themes were associated to the Given unit of information, and Rheme to the New (ibid). While ‘Given’ refers to the previously-mentioned, or the un-newsworthy, ‘New’ reveals new information or what is deemed newsworthy, and is often indicated by the placement of the tonic nucleus. Given+New makes up the information structure of the clause. I have chosen to use ‘+’ over ‘^’ because, for Halliday, Given units are not always thematized. In unmarked imperatives, the Theme is assumed to be ‘you’ (ibid). In marked declaratives, New could occur anywhere, especially in spoken English, where contrastive stress is shown through intonation change, e.g. ‘Derren has three brothers, not me.

Thematic and information structures occur across languages but may succumb to different rules. In Latin-based languages, the inflected nature of words allows positional flexibility, and results in interference errors such as ‘Today, happened something.’  In Japanese, Themes are signalled by the particle ‘wa’, while in Chinese, ‘ba’ is added to Complements when highlighting the Process as New (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). However, because we cannot say ‘I the food disposed’ in English, separable phrasal verbs have evolved to allow the Process to be the New, as in ‘I threw the food away’ (ibid). Information organisation through thematic and information structure principles can enable students to construct full texts with appropriate attention to the desired details and overall message.

Implications in Teaching

SFG attempts a ‘view from above’ (ibid), and the description of how each metafunction is realised in their systems and structures is best applied to the observation of authentic language use. Authentic texts can be analysed for structures related to the three metafunctions, encouraging students to spot patterns within the needed genres, e.g. the thematic progression of discursive essays tends to follow certain patterns (Bloor and Bloor, 2004), and EAP students or those preparing for language exams like IELTS can use this framework to develop their essay-writing skills.

Besides a deeper knowledge of how language is used to create meaning, teachers can gain a better understanding of how language use has affected its evolution, how English differs in its functional lexico-grammatical structures, and how to better enable students to use these structures effectively. The slot-filling approach of SFG allows students to practise recognising the types of words/groups that fit into different parts of sentences, making the task of sentence construction more manageable. Assessment of student production also becomes less arbitrary, and instead of vague feedback like ‘be clearer,’ or ‘wrong register’, teachers can analyse students’ use of structures within the three metafunctions in comparison to well-produced texts, and precisely identify how they can improve their communicative skills (ibid).

However, the use of SFG in the classroom is not without problems. Being a descriptive grammar, its extensiveness could intimidate both teachers and students, who might prefer simpler rules that are easily applicable. Thompson (2004) admits that analysis of authentic texts could prove tiring and may not be as feasible as it is useful. The huge number of technical terms needed to describe language in SFG is another obstacle. Butt et al (2000) claims that we can narrow the selection of terms to teach students, yet argues that such metalanguage is necessary in making the finer distinctions in language, and does not suggest which metalanguage to teach. Currently, many ESP coursebooks have taken to teaching cohesion and textual organisation in the spirit of SFG, but it remains to be seen if the rest of SFG would make it into EFL syllabuses.


SFG offers a view where the purpose of language is to mean, and meaning could refer to our stance regarding a proposition or proposal (interpersonal), the representation of our experience or consciousness (experiential) or the relevance of its organisation in the surrounding context (textual).  Each of these different dimensions offers choices within a system, where meaning is realised in a variety of potential structures. As language continues to evolve to cater to new meanings that need representation in communication, the application of SFG to the language classroom can help teachers and students understand the overall picture and enable them to become better communicators through an understanding of how language works.

%d bloggers like this: