Student Stumper 47: Can’t Have and Couldn’t Have

How could I have thought there wouldn’t be another tricky question about perfect modal verbs? Modals and their many meanings stump us teachers from time to time. It’s easy enough to explain the basics, but part of the challenge is understanding where there’s overlap and where there isn’t. I addressed one question regarding perfect modals…

Perfecting Use of the Past Perfect

The truth about most grammar lessons is that one lesson is never enough. One lesson may be enough for a language learner to start trying out a new structure, but accuracy only comes with time…and feedback. Advanced students in particular might have reached a level of fluency where very few situations challenge their ability to communicate,…

If We Could Turn Back Time

Oops! Look at all those broken eggs! …Well, if they hadn’t stacked the cartons so high, this wouldn’t have happened. Right? And if shoppers didn’t have to open each carton to check for broken eggs, they could just take a carton from the top. A good photo can prompt a number of conditional sentences, especially…

As If We Had Covered Everything!

Perhaps you thought that after Student Stumper 46, I’d have nothing else to say about as if and as though. On the contrary, I’m still thinking about this grammar structure! First of all, some of you might appreciate a short worksheet to review the grammar with students. Check out the as-if-as-though_handout. It’s formatted to work in…

Student Stumper 46: “As if” and “As though” Revisited

I initially addressed this topic a few years ago in Student Stumper 35. However, some recent questions opened the can back up, and out came some worms  that I couldn’t ignore. Not having clear answers to grammar questions makes me squirm in my seat! QUESTION: Can I use the present tense after as if and…

6 Sets of Seemingly Similar Words

What kinds of questions test you as a language teacher? Grammar-related questions usually generate the most challenging Student Stumpers for me, but that doesn’t mean other queries don’t give me pause. Synonyms or words that appear to be very similar test my knowledge about register and collocations. I respond to the best of my ability…

8 Election-related Activties

In the final weeks before the U.S. presidential elections, ELLs will likely find it hard to avoid hearing or reading about the candidates and their campaigns. Whether students are in the U.S. or not, having the opportunity to engage in election-related activities will bolster their understanding of current events and make them feel more connected to the…

The Verb Tense Dilemma: Is There Any Future?

It’s much simpler to introduce three verb tenses (past, present, and future) than two (past and present). If you acknowledge only two, then you need to explain that will is not a tense, but a modal verb. That opens up a whole new can of worms. I’m not saying we should avoid the more complex path — after…

Talking Politics in ESL

In my latest YT video I attempted to talk about politics without really talking politics. Hopefully, I succeeded. I gave a brief overview of the two major political parties. ELLs who have watched the lesson report that they picked up some vocabulary and gained a better understanding of U.S. political parties. But in addition to…

5 Ways to Make Feedback on Writing a Positive Experience

Online teaching is not always done in real time. Some of my private instruction is now given through written assignments. Students submit drafts and I provide feedback. We don’t schedule live lessons, so that mainly leaves us with written communication: email, comments, and track changes on documents. You may wonder how effective this instruction can be and…

Getting a Handle on a Common Verb

How many meanings does the verb get have? Hmm. Quite a lot, right? I had to consult a dictionary to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any. A student on Facebook asked me about the many uses of this verb. Actually, first he asked about the different meanings and then he asked about usage. If the verb…

Tricky eVocabulary

While correcting a student’s text yesterday, my attention was drawn to how vocabulary has developed around computers and the Internet. Words like cookies and sleep have new meanings. Also, today we need to be clear about our request for an address; we may need a street address, an email address, or a web address, depending on the…