Using Quantifiers Correctly Most of the Time

Quantifiers can cause confusion for a few reasons. 1. First, students have to recall which expressions go with which nouns – countable or uncountable. We say a good number of students but a great deal of difficulty. 2. Second, there’s the matter of register. Many is more suitable for formal English than a bunch of. 3. Third, meanings overlap and can…

What You Can Count On: Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns seem even trickier at the more advanced levels. That’s when students encounter a good number of words that have both meanings. Take truth, for example. We often use it abstractly, but it’s possible to talk about the truths that are self-evident, right? The best thing to hold on to is a set of guidelines….

Using Grammar: Putting the Pieces Together

I’ve been stumped by some pretty good questions over the years. The inquiries in my Student Stumper category usually target some aspect of the language that I need to consider further before responding. But lately the questions I’ve been asked by learners aren’t specific. In fact, they’re extremely broad. These questions challenge me in a different way….

Too Much Terminology?

I love grammar, so I obviously fall into the camp of those teachers who take the time to give direct attention to grammar structures. I believe in a balanced approach: A certain amount of language can be picked up through regular exposure, but there are times when explicit instruction clarifies doubts. In other words, communication…

The Benefits of Talking about Art

  You may be teaching working professionals in the business world or even a group of teens with more interest in this summer’s blockbusters than what’s on exhibit at a local art gallery. You might be teaching undergrads, but there isn’t a single art major among them. So why talk about art in the ESL…

Too Passive about the Passive Voice?

So I know I need to be concise when I write, and they say it’s better to use dynamic language. Does that mean I should avoid the passive?  What about in spoken English? Students’ questions about the passive voice reveal common confusion over when to use it. The easy way out is not to use it….

How Could I Do That?

Some months ago I was asked to distinguish between How could I have missed that? and How could I miss that? Reading over my explanation, I’m not completely satisfied with the answer I gave. So, can I express my regret by saying, “How could I have been so unclear?” I initially wrote that the perfect form…

Down a Less Traveled Path: Less common uses of prepositions

It’s challenging enough to address common uses of prepositions because there are so many of them, so why seek more hurdles? Because our students will come across other uses, and it may be helpful to give some exposure and practice within a supportive classroom setting. After I published a video that explained the common uses…

Word Jugglers: Learning the Uses of -er

A learner asked me why we add the suffix -er to existing prepositions to form words like insider and inner. What a wonderfully curious question! I love how this person’s mind works. Talk about a teachable moment. I responded with an explanation about the versatility of -er and called attention to the parts of speech we can build…

Full of Holiday Cheer (and Grammar, too!)

Celebrate the diversity of December! Whether your students are all from a similar cultural background or not, the different December holidays can be a single topic for the ESL classroom. Articles, videos, and blog posts about different celebrations are shared widely over the Internet, so chances are students already have some familiarity with traditions from around the world….