• Memorizing: Not the Optimal Approach to Learning ESL

Cover surprised shot

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*

This posting is an update of a post from September 2019: Mistake: He surprised to see it snowing. (Adjectives that look like verbs)

Back in my high school days, learning my first foreign language, French, I remember often hearing the teacher say, “You’ll just need to memorize this.”

Fortunately, the art of teaching foreign languages, including ESL, has come a long way from those “just memorizing” days. We understand the importance of comprehensible input and the effectiveness of engaging with new concepts and vocabulary in multiple contexts.

To illustrate this, I’d like to refer to a posting from 2019, in which I discussed a common mistake that ESL students make with adjectives that look like verbs. Instead of telling students that they need to memorize these words, we lead them to internalizing these though a series of four exercises. By the end of these, students tend to remember because the words“sound” right rather than wracking their brains searching for what they had been told.

When students see an –ed at the end of a word, they tend to automatically assume it’s a verb, and this assumption can lead them to grammar mistakes.

(* mistakes—These sentences are missing a verb.)
*Kai embarrassed during his speech.
* Rumi interested in horses.

To help students in the most efficient manner, I will sometimes paint with a broad brush.  So I simply tell my students that these words are adjectives: surprised, embarrassed, confused, interested and shocked. They need a verb with them.

(correct): Kai was (v) embarrassed (adj) during his speech.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated information

It’s true that those words can be can be used as verbs, for example:
– It embarrassed (v)  Kai that he forgot some of his speech.

But in all my years of teaching writing, I rarely see students use them that way. They almost always use them as adjectives, so I don’t waste their time/mental energy talking to them about using these as verbs. Instead, I just generalize and tell them that they are adjectives.

Four-step exercises to teach these to students (Handout included.)

After students have completed the following set of exercises, they tend to use those adjectives correctly in their writing.

Exercise 1: Listening.  I have found it most effective to start with a listening exercise.  This way, perhaps the correct form will sound right to them.

Exercise 2: Identify. Working with the listening passage in Exercise 1, students identify all the verbs.  This helps them internalize which words are adjectives and not verbs.

Exercise 3: Analyze. Students analyze a passage, find and correct the six verb/adjective mistakes.

Exercise 4: Apply. In this exercise, using nine adjectives that they had worked with in the previous exercises, they write sentences about a person or people.

Here is the complete set of exercise which you are welcome to try out with your students. Adjective or Verb Exercise HO 

Also, for a complete unit with handouts that you can use with your students, see Engaging Student-Centered Classification Writing Unit Using Inductive Approach

Also, for more handout-exercises that use this approach, see Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity and Writing Outstanding First Sentences on Essays (Applying Critical Think Techniques)

For a complete unit, see • Engaging Student-Centered Classification Writing Unit Using Inductive Approach

Also, see The Power of Listening Input for Language Learners

For more exercises that take a similar multi-step approach to teaching writing and grammar for writing, see Pro Lingua Learning–Write after Input

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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