TESOL – 2010 – Grammar Highlights

Yes, there’s still more to write about last week’s TESOL Convention in Boston. How could there not be when each day was full of workshops, presentations, demonstrations, planned meetings, and – my favorite – chance meetings.

I love learning about grammar and ways of teaching grammar, so I made certain I caught a few sessions in this subject area. I’ll share some ideas, impressions, and gratitude below.

  • Kudos to Nancy Schoenfeld of Kuwait University for her successful presentation titled Alice: Using Animation Software to Teach Grammar. She demonstrated to a large audience of peers that simple and modest efforts can lead to great results. Her down-to-earth humor powered her message that you don’t have to be a tech guru to bring technology into the classroom. Having discovered software called Alice, which is made available online by Carnegie Mellon University, Nancy learned to use computer animation to illustrate grammar concepts, in particular verb tenses. She professed her love for traditional grammar books like Betty Azar’s series (a love I share!), but pointed out that black-and-white instruction on paper sometimes needs a visual boost and a personal touch. The short animations Nancy demonstrated (much to our delight – Can you imagine a cow answering a cell phone or placing a chicken in outer space?) certainly would inject a component in a grammar presentation that would be engaging and memorable.


  • Three cheers for Hong Wang of Mount Saint Vincent University for fitting in so many suggestions for teaching conditional statements within the terribly short period of 20-minutes. TESOL created Teaching Tip sessions this year with the best intentions, but I personally felt that 20-minutes wasn’t enough. It didn’t allow sufficient time for questions and discussion.  Even so, everyone walked out with at least one new idea for communicative practice. Hong outlined a “Mingle” activity in which each student gets the “if” statement of a third conditional. [Example: If I had been born in Australia…] By mingling and showing their cards to one another, they prompt classmates to complete the statement by supplying the result clause. I like the idea, but I might modify it to make this Step 2 of a 2-phase activity. Step 1 = controlled practice. Step 2 = communicative practice. Step 1 would be similar, but it wouldn’t be open-ended. The idea would be to reinforce the structure and meaning before requiring student production. In Step 1, beginnings and endings would be distributed, and students would have to find the most logical matches.  To make it more challenging, each student could have both a beginning and an ending, but no student would start off with two cards that created a complete and logical sentence. They’d have to “mingle” to find two matches to make two separate statements.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ciciolina says:

    I really like the journalist, so this info is very useful for me in running my interest in the field of journalism ..
    Much obliged.

  2. randallleague says:

    I completely agree with Nancy, I think that educators are usually the last to start using new technology in their lessons. I, like Jennifer enjoy making youtube instructional videos and flash “edutainment”. I truly believe that the future of language education lies very close to the realms of entertainment.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Edutainment is a topic worth discussing! I strive to be engaging when I teach, but I’ve certainly been called boring before. Not every lesson I’ve taught (either in the classrooom or on video) was a big hit. I should hope that the majority of times I’ve taught, the particular lesson was interesting as well as useful. And yet, my main goal is to teach, not entertain. I’ll make the effort to gain learner’s interest, but I do have my limits. I can’t compete with professional acts in Vegas or the big talent on shows like American Idol. I’m thinking now of one teacher who wrote about how a student didn’t like class because the teacher didn’t play the guitar like a previous instructor had. That student had unrealistic expectations, I think. (I suggested that the teacher find out what music the student liked and work that music into a lesson plan. That’s certainly easier to do than take guitar lessons!) As long as a class has realistic expectations, I think the teacher does have the obligation to make use of his/ her particular skills set and talents to reach learners. Few if any would disagree that getting learners excited, keeping them engaged, and choosing memorable contexts all help in achieving a positive learning outcome.

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