Tag Archives: grammar activities

The Power of Listening Input for Language Learners

Cover pt lover revised

(True story.) It’s the September of 1985, the year that Stevie Wonder released an international hit song. I’m on campus in Japan and happen to run into a couple of my students from spring term, Yuki and Hana.

“How was your summer?” I ask.

“Wonderful! I went to Europe with my family,” Yuki says.

“That’s great! How about you Hana?”

“Interesting. I had a part-time lover,” Hana answers.

Both Yuki and I look astonished and laughingly ask simultaneously, “You had a what?!!”

“I had a part-time lover. … Oh, no, I mean I had a part-time job!” Hana replies with some embarrassment when she realizes what she had said.

She then explains how she had often heard Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover” during the summer.

Hana’s automatic response to my question demonstrated the power of listening input. Since then, I’ve found ways to tap into it’s potential in helping student internalize grammar concepts and new vocabulary, and even how to write paragraphs and essays.

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• Common Grammar Mistake: “She hopes him to get a haircut.”

Questions

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

I recently put my students in small groups, gave them a list of sentences and asked them to identify which were incorrect and to correct those. Several of the groups either thought that this sentence was correct or believed that there was something wrong with it but couldn’t correct it:

  • She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.

Surprisingly, these were advanced-level students who were stymied by this. In fact, when they asked me to explain the problem, some of them asked me, “Are you sure it’s wrong? It sounds right to me.” I imagine that the reason for their confusion is because they are familiar with the pattern of Subject + Verb + Object:

Actually, this is not a difficult grammar structure for students to learn, even lower level students. Basically, I tell them that after certain verbs, they should write “that” + subject + verb.  (Technically, the word “that” is optional, but to keep it simple, I tell them to write “that.”)  Although the formal term of this structure is “noun clauses, I don’t expect them to remember that. If they can remember which verbs are followed by this structure, they’ll be fine.

These are some examples of this kind of mistake:

Mistake: She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.
Correct: She doubted that he would go to the party on Friday.

Mistake: His parents worry their kids to get into an accident.
Correct: His parents worry that their kids will get into an accident.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated explanations (and handout exercises)

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• Mistake: He SURPRISED to see it snowing. (Adjectives that look like verbs.)

Questions

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

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.)

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• “Finally I now Understand What Nouns, Subjects and Verbs are.” (And it took only 30 minutes to learn inductively.)

Is beautiful today.

We the soccer match on TV.

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

Here in the U.S., Ami has a good job in family counseling, but in order to be promoted, she needs to improve her writing skills, so she enrolled in an adult education class.  Unfortunately, the “direct” approach the instructors took of presenting rules and assigning exercises was not effective for her.  After months of studying, she became frustrated and embarrassed when she couldn’t even identify mistakes with subjects and verbs.

When she entered my academic ESL class, she demonstrated an advanced style of writing and vocabulary but had some breakdowns with basic grammar and struggled to fix these.  For example, she once started a paragraph with this sentence:

            People are social beings who has a need to be connected to other beings.

To help her edit her paragraph, I told her that there was a verb mistake in the first sentence.  She looked embarrassed and uncomfortable and after about 20 seconds of starring at the paper asked me to remind her of what a verb was.  In her next two sentences, she wrote:

            Individuals cannot be isolated for too long.  Through our brains, have the ability to connect with other’s emotions and develop empathy.

I pointed out that in the last sentence, she was missing a subject.  Again, with a pained look on her face she said she couldn’t remember was subjects were.

I realized that for me to be able to lead her to her mistakes and not just tell her what they were and how to change them, she needed to first be able to identify subjects and verbs.  So I gave her these three worksheets :

The results

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