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Grammar - how important is it?
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neverheardofem



Joined: 29 Feb 2012
Posts: 76

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 7:32 am    Post subject: Grammar - how important is it? Reply with quote

I'm not terribly confident at teaching grammar and I don't particularly like it. I'm qualified and have a few years experience so I can't blame it on being a newbie! I enjoy other aspects of teaching ESL, but when it comes to the more advanced grammar - I just get confused. I sometimes get questions I cannot answer, and have to check and come back to them later. Then I feel I have let the students down and they think I'm an idiot! I know all the structures and terminology but it doesn't seem to matter when I'm put on the spot! I am wondering if I am in the right job! Can anyone empathise or offer advice?
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Shroob



Joined: 02 Aug 2010
Posts: 1326

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 7:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Grammar is very important. Without grammar words are meaningless.

How are you teaching grammar?

You say, 'I know all the structures and terminology, but it doesn't seem to matter when I'm put on the spot!', perhaps planning how to teach the grammar feature would help? Note: I am not saying you are a bad planner!
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 7:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Grammar? Essential. Do we all know everything about it? No. Do we all have to check reference books from time to time, or more than that? Yes.

The fact you are checking up on areas you are unclear on is commendable. I cannot stand teachers who just pooh pooh student questions with rubbish like 'you don't need to know grammar/ English has no grammar/ it's old-fashioned 19th century structure/ or whatever line of nonsense they sputter to defend the indefensible.

Ahem! Sorry. Got carried away there. Most common strategy for your classroom situation is to defer the question politely, and tell the students that you'll check what the rule is exactly and then present it to them shortly. Nothing wrong with that, and most students accept this. No need to feel like an idiot. Letting them down would be to BS them with made up rubbish, or... see point above.

There is also the issue that we should not be diverted too much from our lesson aims by random questions, and there is nothing the matter with telling students that now is not the time to deal with such and such a grammar point.

You are not in the wrong job. Grammar IS confusing sometimes. But there is also a hidden beauty underlying its logic and function, and that for me is one of the chief joys of being a teacher - getting paid for research that is for myself as much as the students, and unlocking the secrets of the language, and reducing the confusion. Magical!

Grammar, glamour, grimoire!
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 3808
Location: Terra firma

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 8:58 am    Post subject: Re: Grammar - how important is it? Reply with quote

neverheardofem wrote:
I sometimes get questions I cannot answer, and have to check and come back to them later. Then I feel I have let the students down and they think I'm an idiot! I know all the structures and terminology but it doesn't seem to matter when I'm put on the spot! I am wondering if I am in the right job! Can anyone empathise or offer advice?

It's normal, unless your last name is Swan, Ur, Azar, Thornbury... Really, we're all human. Smile

When I start with a new class, I inform my students that I don't know all the English grammar rules just as they don't know the same in their native language. (Trust me, they don't.) That way, if, by chance, I really don't have an answer and have to get back to them, my credibility is a non-issue as long as I follow up with an explanation. Other times, I've turned the question into a homework assignment as a way to keep things moving and not use up valuable class time. But mostly, however, I simply respond to their question by turning to the class and eliciting an explanation from them; someone is usually able to give an appropriate response. I actually use this strategy even when the question is one I can answer because it generates class discussion and allows me to step back and stay in my facilitator (versus information-giver) role. I also rely on my past experience teaching certain grammar points with previous classes in order to anticipate possible questions my current students might ask.

Anyway, those are some strategies you might try. No need to continue beating yourself up or losing sleep over this. Wink

"Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing." -- Robert Benchley, American humorist (1889 – 1945)
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neverheardofem



Joined: 29 Feb 2012
Posts: 76

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you all for the extremely helpful replies and useful tips. What prompted my post was an upper intermediate class a couple of days ago using 'Outcomes' I don't normally teach this class - I was filling in for a teacher. Anyway, both the class and myself ended up quite confused with the third and mixed conditionals. It was a gap fill and a student 'helpfully' pointed out that they second conditional could be used to fill the gaps and the sentence would still be correct - so how were they to know which conditional to use! Both also worked in the context. I do plan grammar classes and clearly explain the structure of the board with examples. However, I don't always plan on how I will deal with anticipated difficulties or exceptions. This would probably help - especially when I am teaching a level I'm not used to. I might start bringing my Swan to class in case of emergency too!
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Conditionals are needlessly made complicated by so many course books - at least that is my take on them.

So, have a look at this reference book - 'The English Verb' by Lewis. A great little key to start the process of unlocking the secrets of form and meaning.

Ah, 'If he comes, I go' was the name of a TEFLy article I read years ago. Great little article, I seem to remember.

Hang on, here's a link.

http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/42/2/117.full.pdf

Think you need to sign up for it though...
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 3808
Location: Terra firma

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Conditionals rank high on my list of least favorite grammar to teach because they can be confusing. But keep in mind that grammar rules aren't written in stone in terms of context, so it didn't matter which conditional was being used as that student pointed out. In fact, some grammar classes focus on grammar usage in context in which the rules are downplayed while the meaning of the sentence is key. By the way, if you bring Swan to the class for emergencies, ask for a volunteer to look up the explanation to share with the class. Don't feel like you always have to be the information-giver. Cool
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 2:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Meaning is what conditionals are all about. Meaning in context. There is a system, and it is simple, and elegant.

Compare these two sentences:

'If a Roman liked you, he would tell you directly.'

'If I had any more vodka, I'd drink it all this moment.'

Which of them is what is referred to as a 2nd Conditional, and why? And what's the other one?
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 2:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Sasha,

"If I had any more vodka, I'd drink it all this moment." = 2nd conditional (present unreal). And sorry to hear that you're out of tipple, by the way.

"If a Roman liked you, he would tell you directly." = Assuming that "Roman" refers to an inhabitant of ancient Rome, this sentence describes a usual action in the past, not an unreal situation. The "If" here could be replaced by "Any time/Whenever."

Regards,
John
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 2:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Johnslat

Just got back from the kiosk on the corner. Am now fully stocked up with Khortytsa - ura!

And well done for successfully describing the two sentences. I raise a stopka to you!

I like these examples because they show one of the main principles in action. Past forms indicate 'distance' in time and likelihood. Hence the same form here, but with the seemingly contradictory use of a course book '2nd conditional'.

Ura!!! Hic!!!

With Communist greetings

Sasha
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grahamb



Joined: 30 Apr 2003
Posts: 1432

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 3:49 pm    Post subject: Out of stock Reply with quote

Yet another failure of communist planning! Quotas must be adhered to, especially alcoholic beverages.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 5:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pah! There are no failures. Just dizzying successes!

The vodka flows. Freely, like everything else in Paradise!
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grahamb



Joined: 30 Apr 2003
Posts: 1432

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 7:58 pm    Post subject: Optimism Reply with quote

I think there's a positive correlation between dizzying and the free-flowing vodka!
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9031
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 8:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Life has got better, life has got jollier!
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.

LXII. Terence, this is stupid stuff

‘TERENCE, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, 5
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow. 10
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.’

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be, 15
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse, 20
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot 25
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where, 30
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain, 35
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet, 40
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure 45
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale: 50
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head 55
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast, 60
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more, 65
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat; 70
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told. 75
Mithridates, he died old."

Regards,
John
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