Continuing the Conversation about Count and Noncount Nouns

Is a noun countable or uncountable? Students still have doubts even after a number of explanations. I find a balance between explanations and practice helps build comfort with this topic. Students need to develop awareness of the meaning differences in order to use nouns accurately. Success with subject-verb agreement depends heavily on whether students understand…

From pictures to words: How was your summer vacation?

My most recent YouTube lesson about summer vacation could be a springboard for different age groups at different levels of proficiency. Would you like your students to talk about their summer vacations? Do you want to share some common ways to ask how a vacation was spent? This could also include a review of question…

Time Out: Let’s practice correlative conjunctions!

Just as in sports, we need time-outs in language learning. Students can learn a lot by playing the game, so to speak, but circumstances can call for a brief pause. The teacher observes the performance on the “field” and recognizes when explicit instructions are called for. I recently understood that a private student has never…

Simplifying Complex Prepositions

A quick task on Facebook revealed some confusion over complex prepositions, meaning prepositions that are more than one word. Not all students were able to identify “due to” and “other than” as a single unit that functioned as a preposition. Instead, they identified only the more common simple prepositions “to” and “than.” This is a…

Two Important Guidelines for Choosing Writing Topics

  Students usually tell me their goal is to speak better English. I like to emphasize how skills can develop together, and if I have the chance to work with a student privately, then I encourage some form of writing. Even the student who wants to improve pronunciation can benefit from writing a short assignment…

Understanding Uses of Reflexive Pronouns

My Student Stumper category began on this blog back in 2009, and my first post was about reflexive pronouns. A private student recently asked about the different uses of these pronouns, and I felt it was best to create some practice activities to illustrate the different meanings of these words. If your upper level students…

From Student to Master: Learning how to learn

For a good number of reasons, I think it’s important for adults to open themselves up to new learning experiences. Learning boosts both personal and professional growth. Even something that seems completely unrelated to your field can lead to interesting parallels and insights. In the past, I shared my thoughts when I returned to roller-skating…

Getting Fired Up for the Fourth of July!

If you find yourself teaching in the month of July, you may wish to highlight the celebration of U.S. Independence Day. Here are some ideas to consider. 1. Write an acrostic poem about freedom. Templates like this one are available online. You can start with a model based on another word, or you can show…

4 Important Questions to Ask When Sharing a Documentary with Students

If you’re in a position to select authentic materials for upper level students, you’ve likely shared videos of various kinds. Have you worked with any documentaries? Good documentaries are designed not only to inform, but also to provoke thought. Prompting language production is what we want, but of course it must be done with care,…

Teaching Syntax: Helpful or Hellish?

Seeing some students struggle to build clear sentences has made me reflect on what information might help to guide them. I’ve posted videos on types of sentences according to purpose and structure. But understanding the difference between a statement and a question or the difference between a compound and complex sentence doesn’t always eliminate doubts…

5 Common Mistakes with Adjective Clauses

I like to create short grammar reviews for upper level students. As a private instructor, I have the luxury of designing each lesson based on the student’s current needs. For example, we might have covered conditionals a few months ago, but review and reinforcement is necessary from time to time. The same may be true…

7 Poems That Build Proficiency

Every so often I work poetry into my instruction. Since poems are meant to be read aloud, they lend themselves to listening and pronunciation practice. They can help students grow accustomed to reduced sounds in the flow of speech, and they can help students improve linking and rhythm. Although we don’t speak like poets in everyday…