Say something nice

I don’t bring an electric keyboard and toys to class to teach grammar rules. That’s the job of the “formal” English teachers. My job is to help kids practice speaking so that they learn how to actually use all of those rules that sometimes even native speakers don’t fully understand. If you don’t know how important that is, look here, or search Google for “Lexical approach”. Since my job is also to teach them to enjoy English as a spoken language, I want that practice to be interesting, varied and meaningful while creating a pleasant, non-threatening environment for everyone.

It’s sometimes hard to relate to sentences written in a textbook. However, students often have trouble creating their own sentences using a specific format.

Recently I was helping a group of weak students practice (again) the different forms of “to be”, an essential English verb that has no Hebrew equivalent used in common speech. This time I tried something new. Each student had to compliment another student. To make sure we included he, she and you, they had to say the sentence to the student and then tell us the same thing. Example – “You are strong. She is strong.” Sometimes they had something to say about more than one student – “They are good at art”.

Not only did students leave class likely to make fewer mistakes, they also had more reasons to feel good about themselves.

Have you been teaching your students too much grammar?

After packing up my materials at the ETAI conference last week, I had time to hear some of Leo Selivan’s presentation on learning language, which emphasized mainly that language is produced in chunks and that grammar must be acquired rather than learned. Most of what he said matched my own experience and the methods I use, but it’s always nice to be backed up by a reputable authority. Speaking of methods, this is a good time to mention my book English is Fun in Rhythm.
“Speaking of methods” – How would a non-English speaker learn a phrase like that? “How would”? Why not “How could” or “How should”? I could keep going, but I shouldn’t so I won’t (not wouldn’t). Since English is my native language I know which word is correct even if I can’t explain why. I learned by being exposed to language in spoken and written form all around me from the day I was born.
Now let’s go back to our EFL students. They also learned their native languages by constant exposure, and probably speak correctly. Young children seem to be able to figure out the rules by themselves. So exposure to authentic language is the key to producing proper language structures. How can we provide this exposure to learners of a foreign language? Songs (back to my website), drama in the classroom and on stage, computer research, magazines, books, movies. Talk about subjects that interest them and they will learn vocabulary that interests them.
In our discussion after the presentation we tried to come up with songs with “can”. I had trouble thinking on the spot so I’m going to list a few now.
Dancing Queen (You can dance, you can jive..), ABBA
We Can Work It Out, The Beatles

I Can Be Your Hero, Enrique Iglesias

Any song you choose will have some useful language chunks. Teach them the language they need to communicate and learning becomes relevant.