Tag Archives: Inductive Grammar

Websites to Get Your Students onto Immediately!

Recently I did a guest post on Alan Tait’s excellent blog about various favourite websites of mine.  This has started something much bigger – I’m still going through my unsorted bookmarks!*  As I go through and sort out my many bookmarks, I try to post the really good stuff on this blog so keep coming back for more great links!

Anyway this all got me thinking about websites for students.  We talk about learner autonomy all the time and one area where students can quickly enjoy autonomy is the Internet.  So here are a few suggestions about websites to introduce to your students as quickly as possible.  Websites that will challenge, engage and entertain them.

One important thing – all of these websites have one thing in common.  What they offer is bitesize and doesn’t take any more than 10 minutes.  I’ve made 6 suggestions here so I’d suggest that introducing these would make for a very rewarding first hour of class with a new group of students – their homework: go and do two of them at home and report back tomorrow.

Lyrics Trainings

I’ve posted about this already on Alan’s blog and here on my own.  Recently, one of students has started contributing to the site!  Enough said I think.

As Catherine Walker has mentioned in a couple of her seminars (British Council, London, 2010; IATEFL, Brighton, 2011), coming up with explanations of grammar rules and examples for the various uses of specific words on the spot is very difficult, nigh on impossible for even an experienced teacher.  I’m a great proponent of inductive grammar learning and to this end I’m trying to introduce the British National Corpus to as many of my students as possible.

As with all things, this won’t be embraced by all students but a simple little exercise like “Look up “if” and “whether” and let’s discuss the patterns of use in the next class”, will give you a little more time to check up on your grammar and, more importantly, may also empower one or two students to figure it out for themselves and feel the satisfaction of teaching their peers.  Often the students will also have other ways of explaining it that might be more effective than the teacher’s.  Many hands make light work!

Phrase Mix

Again, this is another site I mentioned on Alan’s blog.  Get the students on to this site as quickly as possible and this may give you an interesting discussion topic as a warmer for each and every class you have with them.

6 Minute English

A BBC gem with a glossary of specific words and an active listening question.  Simplicity and autonomy wrapped up in one little bundle.  Brilliant.

Quizcon (100 Most Common English Words)

This doesn’t have much communicative value (unless you use it in class) but at the very least it can challenge your learners and get them to focus on words they should be seeing and using in their every-day English.

Free Rice

It’s strangely addictive and while the learning might be very passive, it is certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  I remember showing this at the beginning of a class once; I caught one of the students playing it on his iPhone a couple of times over the next hour!  There are much worse distractions if you ask me.

*Small Request

Can anybody help?  As far as I know, there isn’t yet an unobtrusive program or application for me to store and neatly arrange everything I’ve bookmarked over the months and years.  I’m sorry but I just don’t like the look/interface of I’m using Xmarks Synchronizer to keep all my bookmarks together over my various browsers but if anyone knows of a better way to do this, please comment below!

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Recommendations


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The Never-Ending Sentence (a.k.a. Cheddar Gorge)

Why the game is called Cheddar Gorge, no one knows.

I’m sure most of us have done this activity in class and it is certainly not original but it is fun, there are lots of possible variations and I want to share something I did with my classes this week which really seemed to work quite well – yes, this might be the first time I’m posting about a positive classroom experience!  Don’t worry, I’m sure I can find something in the activity that can be improved. 😉

So this is inspired by the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue game, Cheddar Gorge.

Part 1

Put the students under the clock!

The students get into groups of four or five.  One student is nominated as a “writer” for the activity.  The class is then given 5 minutes, timed.  The objective is for each student to contribute a word to the sentence and the aim is to make the longest sentence possible without it finishing.  While the speakers are contributing words to the sentence, the writer is recording the sentence on paper.

Example of spoken dialogue:

  1. Amelia:  We
  2. Barry:  are
  3. Carlos:  all
  4. Deanna:  very
  5. Amelia:  happy
  6. Barry:  and…

You get the idea.

Part 2 (My numbers refer to the corresponding slides)

2.  After the five minutes are up, the students have a couple of minutes to review what they said and make any corrections to spelling or word choice (they have probably already been doing this during the original five minutes already).  They also have to do a word count.  Meanwhile, the teacher writes this up a table on the board.

3.  The teacher then gets the word counts from all the teams (I’ve put A, B and C, you could engage the learners more by getting them to make up their own team names).  After this, the students have to pass around their written sentence to another group.  With another team’s sentence they can get more points by finding errors.  I am quite open with what makes a mistake and this can include handwriting if the students are having problems reading it (this is an issue that learners need to be aware of just like any other).

So now the learners have all their points though you could get them to pass the writing round again for a second ‘proof-read’ by another group.

4.  For every error they found in other groups’ sentences they get 5 points.

5.  For every error they made in their own sentence they get 5 points off.

6.  Once they have gone through all of these, the teacher reads out each sentence to the class.  Any extra errors that the teacher finds will get deducted from final score.

Part 3

Once the students get the idea they then play the game again.  The 2nd round scores will be added to the 1st round (so teams have a lead to protect or have another chance to gain the lead).  This time you will notice that the learners are far more focused on not making mistakes that will hurt their points later.

So Why Did I Do It?

I’ll be honest, I initially thought of it as a fun little activity for the end of a class and mostly as a time-filler more than anything else but after seeing the reaction and studying the activity while it was happening I noticed that it can be so much more than that.

Students are involved in a highly communicative exercise where, after getting to grips with the activity, they quickly negotiate meaning and peer-correct as they “cheat” and help each other out.  The person who is writing soon understands that poor handwriting will lead to poor marks (illegible handwriting will lose points) and this helps put them in the same sort of mindset they need to various exams, like Cambridge ones.  Self-correction also improves as the students are eager not to lose and give away points for silly mistakes.

For the teacher this is a wonderful way to see what errors are being missed by all the students and therefore what correction will be of universal value.  For the other errors that are caught by the learners themselves, the students become each other’s teachers.

This is a wonderful activity and I highly recommend it.  It can be tailored be about a specific topic or to include specific vocabulary and right off the bat it forces increased use of relative clauses.

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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Activities


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FCE Essay Reformulation for Teenagers, pt 2

So here’s what I did:

The students looked at their original drafts of their essays and my reformulations of these drafts side by side.  Taking only one as an example to work on, they had to read them both, compare them and make any notes on changes that they noticed and thought would be useful, i.e. chunks of vocabulary, use of specific grammar, passives, etc.

From that I divided the class into pairs (6 in the class in total).  Two had to look for and write a list (in order) of all the nouns they could find (even if they were the same noun again).  The next pair the verbs, the last pair the adjectives and adverbs.  Once they had their lists, they changed groups so that there were now two groups, each with a “noun”, a “verb” and an “adjective/adverb”.  Their job was now to rewrite the essay with only their notes and their word lists to help them.

So here’s why I did:

The students are reluctant note takers so they have to be put in situations where they rely on their notes (noticed grammar, for example).  By having the lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in order, they have a good way to start putting the essay back together.  They will force them try to put meaningful sentences together without the problem of not having adequate vocabulary.

So where did it go wrong?

Nowhere major really.  One student didn’t really work particularly hard, just gave her list of words to the other two and let them work while she ‘twiddled her thumbs’.  However, this didn’t hinder learning for the other two learners in her group nor did it disrupt the lesson in general, thankfully.

Continued behaviour like this can become demotivating for other students so I will have to keep an eye on this.  Any suggestions?  I don’t think this would work, though I could try. 🙂

And what was the outcome?

The students successfully took notes about chunked phrases where they got prepositions wrong or missing.  They had some sense of achievement putting the text back together again and seeing how close they got.  I hope this has also gone some way to building up their understanding of structure in their writing; the position, the reasoning, the evidence.  We are still a long way off having independent writers of English, but it is a start.

So would I do this exercise again?


So what would I do differently next time?

I took a somewhat passive role in this exercise in an attempt to encourage learner independence and wean them off their constant need for input from the teacher.  I even went so far as to leave the classroom for a few minutes to let them get on with the work.  I believe this is a useful thing to do.  It nudges the learners out of their comfort zone – though some might call it passivity or even apathy!

However, I would probably get more involved next time, joining groups for a paragraph, observing how they work, who works, what the specific problems and confusions are.

I’m still thinking of ways to build off this structure.  Since the learners have spent time getting used to and understanding what to expect from this method, there is no reason to simply abandon it and never use it again.  If anything, I will probably use this method several times so that it becomes part of their comfort zone.  From experience as a learner (Tango classes in this case) I’ve observed that my ability to tolerate being outside my comfort zone doesn’t always last a full lesson and once I hit that point I tend to switch off to new things.  I’m assuming my students are the same.

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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in FCE Tasks


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