Archive for the ‘Grammar’ category

Beyond Prepositions of Place 101

November 25, 2015

We teach in, at, and on to beginners. Of course, the study of prepositions of place doesn’t end there. Students move on to words like near and next to. This is when confusion can grow. What’s the difference between near and nearby? What about beside and besides? Is it correct to say near to?

9733520035_5284cdb08c_zIf you’d like to review and practice prepositions of place with intermediate students, please take a look at my Near and Far_handout. I hope it increases their confidence when expressing location. The topic is one most people enjoy discussing: best places to live.

Photo credit:

On a Country Road by Carl Shinoda. (March 2012.) Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Back to the Basics (2)

November 5, 2015

Recent questions from students have prompted me to consider additional opportunities for review. Basic level students have asked me about the verb form after people and the reason for using helping verbs in questions. From subject-verb agreement to question formation, students need more practice with grammar. Comments and email sent to me reveal further doubts over similar words like it’s and its as well as the use of negative words.

I realize that a single exercise isn’t enough to master a grammar point. Whether it’s a beginner or an advanced student, multiple encounters with a particular grammar pattern are necessary, and the student needs the chance to put the target grammar into use. Along with the chance to have a meaningful exchange with the grammar, I believe in the benefits of controlled exercises. They can call attention to a single language structure that the student needs to consciously build. Through the process of error correction, for instance, a student may finally understand the rule. Additional practice will reinforce that understanding.

A few years back, I offered my first Back the Basics post with a handout on a few basic grammar points, including demonstratives and the difference between pronouns and possessive adjectives. Now I’d like to offer my Back to the basics 2_handout. I hope the exercises will facilitate learning for basic level students. The short tasks focus on it’s vs. its, subject-verb agreement, question formation, and negative statements.

Teaching Adverb Phrases with More Support

October 15, 2015

Previous posts on reducing adverb clauses to phrases assume that study and focused practice have been done to some extent already. One of my activities involves text manipulation and pushes students toward creative writing. A second activity also uses storytelling and offers practice with more types of adverb clauses. In connection with that second post, I discussed the variation we sometimes see with the negative adverbs not and never.

I think what’s needed now is a handout with more scaffolding. Before asking students to manipulate and generate text, we should allow them more opportunities to identify patterns when changing adverb clauses to shorter phrases. With this goal in mind, I’d like to offer my Before Going to Sleep_handout. I limit the types of clauses to time and reason. I hope it helps your learners master this grammar point.

From Day to Day: Learning Prepositions of Time

October 7, 2015

As I slowly build my playlist of videos on prepositions, I continue to reflect on use and meaning. What points cause confusion? Very often simple grammar structures turn out to be not so simple because the nature of language always allows for variations and exceptions. From…to… is a good example. It’s such a simple structure that we use to define a range, and yet we also use from…till, from…until, and from…through. We also have the phrases from day to day and from time to time, and those aren’t really marking any specific period of time, are they? I decided to discuss these kinds of prepositional phrases in my most recent lesson.

To add to my other post on prepositions of time, I’d like to offer this activity: From time to time_handout. You may choose to use it as is, or perhaps it will inspire your own activities for review and practice. I also have an interactive quiz on my website to review the use of from, to, till, until, and through.

How Are You? How Ya Doin’? How Does One Understand Verb Tense Consistency?

September 2, 2015

A student sent a series of questions to me regarding verb tense consistency. She had heard an exchange in a TV series where one character apologized for his strange behavior recently. The listener responded by saying, “I didn’t notice.” In similar situations, this attentive language learner had heard other verb forms used. Wouldn’t it also be possible to say, “I haven’t noticed” or even “I hadn’t noticed”? Indeed, sometimes more than one answer is possible because it depends on the speaker’s perspective:

  • I didn’t notice. = Nothing strange caught my attention in your past behavior.
  • I haven’t noticed. = Up to this point, there has been nothing strange about your behavior.
  • I hadn’t noticed. = I hadn’t even thought about this until you mentioned it.

We teach general rules of thumb about verb tense consistency. One is to respond with the same verb form used in a question. For example, the short answers to Did you notice? are Yes, I did and No, I didn’t. But there are exceptions, especially once we go beyond yes-no questions. Just how many responses can you think of to How are you? That question itself can become How are you doing? In either case, one can say I’m fine or I’m doing just fine.

16666579868_76a5b2cb26_mIf you’d like to have a productive discussion about verb tense consistency and give your upper level students practice using different verb forms in the same situation, please consider my Verb Tense Consistency_handout. Hopefully, the topic of fairy tales will amuse your learners. Enjoy!

Photo credit:

Cinderella’s Castle by Luis Brizzante. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Pondering the Placement of Prepositions

August 12, 2015

In my discussion of prepositions on YouTube, I’ve given a lot of attention to the choice of prepositions. Very often learners question whether we are surprised by something or at something. They ask if we can be happy about or with something.

Another point of confusion is the placement of a preposition or a prepositional phrase within a sentence. Students may not be familiar with the term stranded preposition, but they probably have asked questions like Who are you talking about? or voiced complaints such as I have no one to talk with. It might be helpful to tell them these structures are completely acceptable in everyday English and follow up with practice.

Please consider my Placement of Prepositions_handout. It invites upper level students to examine the position of prepositions and consider when it’s okay to separate a preposition from its object. There’s the extra challenge of identifying these small function words in context and deciding where a whole prepositional phrase is best placed.

Source on stranded prepositions:

Greenbaum S. and Quirk R. (1995). A student’s grammar of the English language. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.

Couldn’t Be Better: Understanding the Modal Verb ‘Could’

July 28, 2015

After exploring the forms and uses of could in my previous post, I feel it’s a good time to offer an activity for upper level students who need to strengthen their mastery of this particular modal verb. Please consider my Couldn’t Be Better_handout. The activity tests students’ ability to understand the different meanings of could. Students are not only exposed to this modal verb in meaningful contexts, but they are prompted to respond in a variety of ways to demonstrate their comprehension. Enjoy.


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