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teaching function words to beginners

 
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marthajack



Joined: 28 Jan 2007
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:43 pm    Post subject: teaching function words to beginners Reply with quote

Hi colleagues,

I'm a relatively new (3 years) and untrained teacher of Adult Beginners.
I am pretty comfortable teaching vocabulary where I can use pictures or realia to make clear what the word is, but need some ideas how to teach or explain words that can't be taught visually!

The words that came up in our lesson this week were "also" and "too" and I really floundered trying to explain them. Here are the kinds of things I tried, to a sea of blank and confused faces: javascript:emoticon('Crying or Very sad')

I put items on the desk and said "There's a pencil on the desk, and there's a pen, too." I pantomimed "I like chocolate and I like apples, too!" I motioned to people in the class and said "Maria has a red shirt and Carlos has a red shirt, too," and all the same things for "also." Most of my students are Spanish speaking and I finally just translated the words for them into Spanish and saw immediate comprehension on their faces. The non-Spanish speakers continued to look completely blank and I felt terrible that I could help the Spanish speakers understand but not the others.

Does anyone have any advice about words that can't be explained by showing a picture (nor, apparently, by acting out sentences!)?

Thanks for any thoughts.

Martha
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 2993
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2009 12:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Martha!

I'm not sure that 'There's a pencil on the desk, and there's a pen, too' would be how I myself would go about contextualizing the word 'too' - the second 'there's' could be omitted for a start (and once that possibility has been realized, why not shunt 'a pen' up in the ordering, and join it with 'pencil' thus: 'There's a pencil and (a) pen on the desk'), and whilst the vocabulary is eminently comprehensible, the "communicative function" doesn't seem very vital.

My advice would be to try to make the language less "ostensive" and teacher-led (in a word, make it less purely 'display' language), and more "vital", concise, succinct, two-way, dialogic, and communicative.

For example:

A: I hate display language! (Or: I don't like display language!).
B: Me too! (Or: Easy: ?Me too! [Slightly harder: Me (n)?either! [Formalish: Nor do I]]).

You can easily perform short exchanges like these by yourself, by using your two hands like heads/mouths and altering your voice slightly to show when each different character is speaking.

Still, that's not to say that 'There's...(and ((there's) a)...(too))' isn't at all functional, it's just, does e.g. 'too' need to be necessarily married to 'There+BE' so? (That is, 'too' could find and possibly be happier in many other co-texts/contexts).

If ever your intuition's running low or you are short of time and thus looking for good examples, then a modern learner dictionary can prove very useful (especially if you have the accompanying CD-ROMs to search for every available example beyond the paper text's one entry point):
http://www.ldoceonline.com/
http://www.oup.com/elt/catalogue/teachersites/oald7/?cc=global
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
http://www.macmillandictionary.com/
http://www.learnersdictionary.com/
( http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/features/chref/chref.py/main )
http://corpus.byu.edu/

Then, Scott Thornbury has written a book called Natural Grammar, which provides functional practice exercises (and some potential seeds for activities or at least contextualizations) for around 200 high-frequency, essential function words.
http://www.oup.com/elt/catalogue/isbn/0-19-438624-4?cc=global
> http://www.oup.com/elt/catalogue/teachersites/naturalgrammar/?cc=global / http://www.oup.com/elt/global/products/naturalgrammar/?cc=global

Lastly, a few threads that might be of interest(?):
http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?p=725594#725594
http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?p=714675#714675
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marthajack



Joined: 28 Jan 2007
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:04 pm    Post subject: re: teaching function words to beginners Reply with quote

Hi Fluffy,

thanks for your thoughts on this. Reading your comments makes me see that my examples were not very good ones. I like your example of saying something and then saying "Me too!" much more. It's more common, more natural, and more useful for the students.

I'd never heard of "ostensive" before and your mention of it led me on an interesting round of research. I also had never heard of language corpora and appreciated your links to the threads on "that corpus thingy." My lack of formal teacher training really shows, I'm afraid. I am taking classes to get my TESL certificate now, and hope that will help.

Thank you very much for taking the time to give advice!

Martha
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 2993
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Nov 08, 2009 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Heh, you're welcome, Martha - glad I could be of some help!

The 'Me too!' example-context is good if only because it is probably the most natural way to express that meaning - as opposed to e.g. somebody suggesting that "There's a McDonald's too/also/as well" (or "There's also a McDonald's" in the case of an alternative word ordering with 'also'), in the context of trying to decide where to eat. (That is, the 'Me too' example-context has fewer apparently equal and overlapping exponents/means of essentially expressing it - it's short and sweet, and very to the point!). So although it isn't always to be recommended (and can't always be enforced anyway, when there are very able students chomping at the bit), it does help sometimes to "straightjacket" students into using the more frequent/useful (=obvious) means to express something, which then give you something solid to build on (and, if need be, refer back to).

I've just recalled a "statement" of 'empirically-informed ELT' that I wrote recently, that summarizes what's influenced and helped me in my development (such as it is, if it can be called that! thus far), and that might have some further resources and reading suggestions for you in it (maybe skip the first few paragraphs though!):
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=41198#41198
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