The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

I am just this minute about to jump into a lesson but before I do I wanted to post this article which popped up on my Facebook feed just now.

I haven’t had a chance to go through it myself yet but if I post it here on my blog I might actually remember to read it!


The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar

No more diagramming sentences: Students learn more from simply writing and reading.

A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

This finding—confirmed in 19842007, and 2012 through reviews of over 250 studies—is consistent among students of all ages, from elementary school through college. For example, one well-regarded study followed three groups of students from 9th to 11th grade where one group had traditional rule-bound lessons, a second received an alternative approach to grammar instruction, and a third received no grammar lessons at all, just more literature and creative writing. The result: No significant differences among the three groups—except that both grammar groups emerged with a strong antipathy to English.

There is a real cost to ignoring such findings. In my work with adults who dropped out of school before earning a college degree, I have found over and over again that they over-edit themselves from the moment they sit down to write. They report thoughts like “Is this right? Is that right?” and “Oh my god, if I write a contraction, I’m going to flunk.” Focused on being correct, they never give themselves a chance to explore their ideas or ways of expressing those ideas. Significantly, this sometimes-debilitating focus on “the rules” can be found in students who attended elite private institutions as well as those from resource-strapped public schools.

Read the rest of the article here.


WTF are phrasal verbs?

I’m not a huge fan of using the somewhat vulgar and attention seeking using of ‘WTF’ but this is good video with clear and concise explanations of practical commonly spoken phrasal verbs used by English speakers such as myself. Enjoy.

…and as ever the British Council website also makes for some impressive reading.

Some verbs are two part verbs (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases). They consist of a verb and a particle:

  • grow + up
    >> The children are growing up.

Often this gives the verb a new meaning:

  • take + after
    >> She takes after her mother
    = She looks like her mother, or She behaves like her mother.
  • count + on
    >> I know I can count on you
    = I know I can trust you, or I know I can believe you.

Some transitive two part verbs (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases) have only one pattern:

N (subject) + V + p + N (object)

[Note: N = noun; V = verb; p = particle]

N (Subject)  Verb Particle  N (Object)
My father
can count
her mother

Test your Level of English for Free

What is your level of English? Which exam should you study for?

Check your level with these two level tests:

Grammar & vocabulary level test

Listening level test

At the end of each test your level will be assessed at a CEF level (A2 to C2). You can choose to have the results sent to your email address.

Questions get easier or harder according to how well you do. If your English is very good you will answer more difficult questions than someone whose English is not as good.

You will not be able to see the correct answers to the questions.

You should complete the grammar / vocabulary test in about 10 minutes.

You should complete the listening test in about 10 minutes.

What do the levels mean?
Click here to see a table matching the most important international English exams to the CEF levels.
Click for a full description of each level: A2, B1, B2, C1, C2

The Future Of Online Education And The Best Online Schools

Learning online can take many forms. From blended classrooms to entirely online degree programs to one off courses for fun or for credit, online learning is still in a huge expansion phase. The handy infographic below takes a look at this change in learning from in class to online from its beginning to taking a look at the future. Keep reading to learn more about this potentially revolutionary learning trend.

Read the rest of the article here.


5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have in 2014

Oxford University Press

Mobile apps Image courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr

Sarah Fudin, Community Outreach Coordinator for USC Rossier Online, shares 5 mobile apps that every teacher should be using in 2014.

2014 brings a new year and many changes in education nationwide. As innovative technology is developed, new and updated apps are making it easier for teachers and students to integrate technology in the classroom.

Here’s a list of the five apps every teacher should have in 2014:

1. Evernote

Evernote app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Evernote is a great platform for organizing notes, pictures, and voice memos. For teachers, it can be a great tool for collecting media. Evernote allows a person to take a photo and add a note. All information is stored in easy-to-organize tabs for simple retrieval. How can this app be used? A math teacher might catch sight of some great buildings downtown to use as examples in his…

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My Grandfather’s Eulogy

On August 20th, 2013 my beloved grandfather died at the age of 89. A staunch atheist and one time communist he spent much of his life putting other people’s needs before his own. For fifteen years he worked voluntarily for the NHS and was one of the key figures responsible for the commissioning and naming of Boston Pilgrim Hospital. Below is his eulogy.

‘David Meredith Thomas was born in Dartford, Kent, in 1924. He went to school in Loughborough, served with the Fleet Air Arm during the war, and then studied law at Cambridge. ln 1952 he qualified as a solicitor, married his wife of 60 years Joyce, and joined the Jebb and Tunnard legal practice in Boston, Lincolnshire.

These are the ‘facts’ – However, David being David, life was rather more exciting.

When he was three, his father left with the nanny, and they took David with them. His mother and her friend Lottie stole David back.  David was immensely proud of having been “kidnapped” by his mother, who then brought him up. He attended Loughborough Grammar school, and became a keen member of the Air Training Corps, achieving outstanding athletic success at the Area Sports by winning the 100 yards and the long jump. His testimonial reads “he was really keen, smart and efficient, and has made his mark in the squadron with his ability, and his powers of leadership”. His proficiency was rated “superior” and, aged 17, he was considered suitable for training as an airforce pilot. He wanted to be a naval pilot and so would be in the Fleet Air Arm. ln pursuit of this he studied aeronautical engineering for a year at Loughborough College. In 1941. Aged 18  David began his pilot training at the United States naval air station in Michigan on the Great Lakes. After further training in Florida and Ontario, he received his “wings” in December 1943.

l asked him if he was frightened when landing a plane on an aircraft carrier for the first time. He just said “Yes, but when you are young you think you can do anything.

On the back of this photograph is reads 'Dave' Thomas

Training at the airfield.

After further training in Scotland and the Solent, he joined HMS indefatigable in the Mediterranean, in November 1944. This, newest and largest aircraft carrier, was part of the newly formed British Pacific Fleet. In January 1945 David took part in strikes against oil production in Sumatra. These raids, conducted in bad weather, reduced the oil supply of the Japanese Navy. 48 out of 500 Fleet Air Arm aircraft were lost. 30 Japanese planes were destroyed in dogfights, and another 38 were destroyed on the ground. In March 1945 the British Pacific fleet supported the invasion of Okinawa, an island about 1200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The fleet’s role was to suppress Japanese Kamikaze attacks on American Navy vessels invading Okinawa.

The British carriers were subjected to heavy and repeated kamikaze attacks, but their armoured flight decks proved highly resistant.David told me that he was lying in his bunk, and a doctor was standing in the cabin, when a Kamikaze struck the Indefatigable. The doctor was killed by the blast. He wrote, on the back of a photo of the damage to the deck, ‘damage due to “suic-sod”’.

HMS Indefatigable - My grandfather's ship.

HMS Indefatigable – My grandfather’s ship.

He had crashed his Avenger, while landing on the Indefatigable, and had gone overboard. l asked him what happened next. He said “l had a little swim!” He was rescued, uninjured, by the Quiberon, an Australian destroyer, and was returned to the Indefatigable by Breeches buoy. He was ordered to fly another Avenger immediately, to prevent loss of confidence.

At the end of the war David’s mother, whom he adored, was dying of cancer. He wished he could have returned home sooner, but he was able to be with her during her last 2 months. She died in his arms.

He studied law at Selwyn College Cambridge from 1946 gaining his BA in 1948. One day Joyce (his wife) was with friends at a bar and, hearing an attractive voice behind her, looked round. David saw her and they got chatting. He invited himself to lunch the next day, at her flat. Punting on the Cam, etc followed. ‘

My grandmother and father with 'aunty' Judy.

My grandmother and father with ‘aunty’ Judy.

David was considering a career with the colonial service in Uganda. Joyce said “you had better talk to my ‘father about that”. He changed his mind, and settled on being a solicitor in England. He became articled to a law finn in Loughborough. In 1952 he qualified as a solicitor, married Joyce, and moved to Boston.

David’s legal practice at Jebb and Tunnard included conveyancing, and plenty of work representing petty criminals in court.

In 1965 aged 41 David became chairman of the Boston Group Hospital Management Committee. Three years later, in June 1968, Pilgrim Hospital was inaugurated by the Lord Lieutenant of the County. David played a considerable role in the planning process, and in ‘making it happen’, and was always very proud of the hospital. He went on to become chairman of the Lincolnshire Area Health Authority.

ln 1976 the main ward block of the hospital was completed, and in 1977 the hospital was opened by Princess Anne. Joyce has a glamorous photograph of Princess Anne with David at the ceremony.

He tried hard to ensure that Lincolnshire Hospitals received their fair share of resources and, while he was chairman, active planning of the new hospital at Lincoln was resumed. Joyce accompanied David on visits to various hospitals and wards. The committee work and visits must have taken ages, but his 15 years in NHS management was all voluntary.

David Meredith Thomas

Stone placard with my grandfather’s name toward the bottom corner of the image.

David loved Spain and became fluent in Spanish. He loved being with Joyce and the family in their apartment on the Costa del Sol which is in an oasis of beauty in the concrete jungle. He enjoyed going to bars, and chatting with the locals, especially in areas where only Spanish was spoken

.He was a keen walker, going off for a week most years to the Yorkshire Dales and elsewhere, with 3 of his ‘mates’. He also enjoyed drinking with them at their local, the Cowbridge Inn

He enjoyed sailing a Mirror dinghy with Joyce and the girls, Rutland water and Falmouth being favorite places.‘ He also sailed across the Bay of Biscay to Southern Spain, with Mike Harden and Denys Brackenridge, a voyage of about 2000 miles, which took 6 weeks. – i

The family enjoyed caravanning, and Joyce particularly remembers the Loire valley where they enjoyed excellent French cuisine in small cafes especially in Chinon. ln England Fineshade wood, near Stamford, was a favorite caravanning spot.

David loved painting in water colours and reading. He enjoyed pool and snooker, and played both well. One of David’s sayings was “You might as well as you had”. Years after telling me this he said “You know Jonathan that advice can get you into a lot of trouble.”

The last picture I ever took of my grandfather a few months before he died.

The last picture I ever took of my grandfather a few months before he died.

 He was a free spirit who enjoyed nature and natural places. We used to walk together in Spain and at Freiston Shore and he was kind enough to call me one of his ‘mates’. One of the things l wish l had done was go with David to the new nature reserve at Frampton, which l am sure would have delighted him.

David had a prodigious memory and could recall places in Spain, by name, with ease. Sadly he became ill this year, but showed great interest in, and knowledge of, all who cared for him.

He eventually died, at home, surrounded by his adored and loving family. He was a true gentleman and will be greatly missed.’

Does grammar matter? No, not really.

Inspired by an article I read recently in the Los Angeles Times I thought I might throw my tuppence worth into the seemingly neverending battle into the importance of good grammar.

Quite rightly the author of the piece – David L. Ulin – highlights, rather succinctly, that commas, punctuation, and good grammar are ‘precision tools, designed for clarity’ which is all very well but often the rules for these clarifiers are so deeply buried in myth that is can be hard to determine the correct usage.

Take the innocuous semicolon for example…you’ve a better chance discovering the lost city of Atlantis than fully understanding exactly when and where it should be used.

As an English language teacher I can not help read such articles from a student learner point of view. My current flock of students are, more or less all, Hungarians from Budapest. Now the Magyar are lovers of language, it is imperative to their cultural identity. To speak Hungarian is to be Hungarian.

Consequently most of my students are sticklers for accuracy and all too often beat themselves up at their lack of complexity and brevity when surmising the events of the day when dutifully ask ‘How’s tricks?’.

As a lad who grew up somewhere between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire I have a tendency to keep things simple and here is what I say to my language lamenting students…

‘Writing is for accuracy, speaking is for fluidity.’

When speaking in an informal setting it is unreasonable to expect an English learner to differentiate between the future simple and future perfect continuous and no-one really gives a damn if you say was when you really mean were.

Stumble over the grammar as best you can, focus on the message, use your hands, point at pictures or break into an impromptu dance routine for all I care just tell me what you want to say and I will figure out the rest.

Read on for more common grammar rules that you can completely and unashamedly ignore.


Walking With The Enemy

A new film set in war torn 1944 Budapest starring Ben Kingsley looks pretty harrowing the final few frames of the trailer really sent a shiver down my spine. Check it out.

TED Talk: Don’t kill your language

More and more, English is a global language; speaking it is perceived as a sign of being modern. But what do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues?

Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can. In Arabic with subtitles.

185 Powerful Verbs That Will Make Your Resume Awesome

Get one step closer to writing a kickass CV with this superb article from, an incredibly useful resource for any job hunters. There are nearly 200 verbs, neatly listed within the following categories:

  • You Led a Project
  • You Envisioned and Brought to Life a Project
  • You Saved the Company Time or Money
  • You Increased Efficiency, Sales, Revenue, or Customer Satisfaction
  • You Changed or Improved Something
  • You Managed a Team
  • You Brought in Partners, Funding, or Resources
  • You Supported Customers
  • You Were a Research Machine
  • You Wrote or Communicated
  • You Oversaw or Regulated

Get the list, follow this link and don’t forget to use a thesaurus to further improve your vocabulary.