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.

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The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 4 – Emergent Teaching & Clarifying Meaning

This post is in response to Güven’s CELTA Diaries Day 4.

It is important that the input sessions of the first week starts exposing trainees to how they can focus on and clarify language in the classroom, whether that language be included in their lesson aims or emergent.

This also sets the groundwork for trainees to start including a Language Analysis sheet in their lesson plan (from TP 3 onwards), and gives them a basis from which to work on Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.

With this in mind, I timetabled a session on Clarifying Meaning on Day 4, with a focus on lexis. But before that, I scheduled for the second tutor to conduct a session on giving instructions and language grading with a focus on the use of ICQs (Instruction Checking Questions) and examples/demos to clarify instructions to tasks.

What was that instruction checking question again? Did she just ask ‘Should we read in alone or in pairs’? How on earth can anyone read in pairs?
Photo by Mike Hogan http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh/

Some tutors prefer to timetable the session on instruction-giving and language grading on the first day of the CELTA, but I have noticed that such a session often could be meaningless to trainees with no experience of classroom management, and have found trainees tend to understand and take on the suggestions given when they have had the experience of setting up tasks and not being fully understood.

Not unlike the belief that students would better understand and be more motivated to learn the lexis/grammar that have emerged from their use of the language and the gaps in their knowledge, it is perhaps easier for trainees to notice the gap once they have actually tried to teach and encountered problems with that particular area.

It is also in this spirit that the session on Clarifying Meaning (of lexis) was timetabled for Day 4 and another session on Focusing on language (grammar and then lexis) for Day 5, and not any earlier.

On Day 4, the session started with me writing up ‘to binge’, ‘to defeat’, and ‘langoustine vs crab’ on the board. I then asked trainees to discuss with their partners how they would clarify meaning of these lexical items.

In open class feedback, we came up with these different ways of clarifying lexis:

  • Using pictures/drawings/flashcards
  • Using photos/Google images
  • Using mime/Acting it out
  • Using realia
  • Giving examples
  • Giving an example situation
  • Using CCQs (Concept Checking Questions, e.g. ‘to binge’ – ‘Do I drink/eat a lot?’ ‘Do I drink/eat a lot in a short time?’)
  • And a combination of 2 or more of the above.
If you draw as badly as I do, perhaps it’s best to prepare some flashcards or use Google images… : (

I then gave trainees a handout with a list of the following words and they had to decide with their partners how they would go about clarifying them.
How would you clarify these words?

  1. to pay a fine
  2. to throw a tantrum
  3. to steal  vs  to rob
  4. frustrated (adj)
  5. to go on strike
  6. to sip a cup of coffee
  7. credit card (n)
  8. to fidget
  9. suntan  vs  sunburn
  10. heavy rain
  11. heavy bag

In open class feedback, I then pretended to be a student (and a particularly daft one at that) and nominated different trainees to clarify each of these lexical items for me. ‘To pay a fine’ was an especially good one to start on as it forces some of these issues to emerge:

(a) Spending too long setting the scene

‘I was driving a car. And I needed to stop. So I needed to find a parking space. I couldn’t find one. So I decided to park on the side of the road. This is not allowed and is illegal. I did it anyway. A policeman saw this. So he came up to me and gave me a ticket. I had to pay a fine.’

Such wordy and unnecessary scenario-setting could confuse students, introduce more unfamiliar new words (e.g. parking space, came up to somebody, illegal, give a ticket) and increase unnecessary teacher talking time.

Instead, this would suffice:

‘I was driving too quickly. The policeman stopped me. I had to pay a fine.’

(b) Explaining Explaining Explaining

‘So, ‘to pay a fine’ means to give the policeman money because you have done something wrong, like in this case, you parked in the wrong place and it is not allowed. And so you have to pay a penalty. In English, we call this penalty a fine.’

Like the wordy scenario-setting, wordy explanations often means students are not involved cognitively in the clarification process and might either get confused or simply tune out. And there’s no way of checking if they really understand what you have just said.

Instead, try asking CCQs (see below).

(c) Not nailing the meaning of the language item or asking irrelevant CCQs

‘Does this mean I give the policeman money?’ (Yes)

‘Why did I give him money?’ (Because I parked in the wrong place)

At this point, I feign stupidity and say, “Ah! So teacher, ‘to pay a fine’ is same as ‘give coffee money to policeman’?”

Indeed, those CCQs could easily lead one to misconstrue that paying a fine means to give the policeman a bribe.

One extra CCQ is needed to ensure learners do not misunderstand the lexical item.

Who receives the money? Does the policeman keep it? Or the government?’ (Technically, the government)

As for irrelevant CCQs, here’s one of my favourites:

Lexical item: Season (Level: Elementary)

CCQ: What seasons are there? (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter)

Okay that was a good CCQ…wait till you hear the next one…

CCQ: Does this mean I put salt and vinegar on something? (DOH!!!)

Colourful Egyptian spices to season your food with…
Did you just get it? ; )
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

On Day 5, I look at the clarification of meaning for grammatical structures, and look at how to systematically focus on MFP (Meaning, Form and Pronunciation).

But I’ll leave that for my next post…