IATEFL 2015 | Paul Davis: Grammar: deixis – pointing this way and that | Workshop summary

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Conferences
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Abstract. Learners make loads of mistakes with the basic guts of English – this, that, the, a, one, some, any. These little pointing words are (mis)used every time they speak or write. I’ll offer some practical exercises to deal with this early on or to ‘re-teach’ at higher levels. An experiential workshop, although brief reference will be made to research and corpus data.


NB deixis is pronounced /ˈdaɪksɪs/!

At one point Paul Davis marked some students’ writing and more than 60% of mistakes were in the following areas:


Fun facts: ‘that’ is 2% of English. So 2% of our lessons should be on ‘that’. Top 20 words of English (e.g. according to this source) cover a huge proportion of language – up to 40% of English and the students never get that right.

A typical example:

I love it when we when we do what we do ’cause we do what we do till it’s done

Time for a dictation!

When I was coming up
it was a dangerous world
and you knew exactly who they were.
It was us versus them.
And it was clear who the ‘them’ was.
Today we’re not so sure who the ‘they’ are,
but we know they’re there.
(George Bush)

[practice] Underline all examples of deixis in that text.

Paul Davis’s marking advice on marking writing:

  • He has never met a student who likes correction code.
  • if they’re making a lot of grammar mistakes – ignore it, but do a lesson on tenses
  • if they make vocabulary mistakes – ignore, but review vocabulary in a later lesson
  • What will improve their writing is  ‘psychological sandwich’: sth positive, sth negative, sth positive about their writing.

Activities for practicing deixis:

Problems: there’s no way to explain those. Demonstrate them concretely.

1. Cuisenaire rods. 

  • [stage one] T gives instructions to students .Take a green one. Take another green one. Take the blue one. Take the other one. Take the rest.
    [stage two] Now tell me what to do. If they make a mistake, indicate that by not carrying out the instruction.
    [stage three] Students do the same in pairs.
  • With higher level students explore more advanced expressions. Take the one nearest to the blue one. Take the one on the right.

2. Jokes that depend on those words. 

Englishman comes home walking up his garden path and he sees a snail. He picks up the snail and throws it away.
Eight months later there’s a knock on the floor. He opens the door and there’s the snake. And the snake says: what was that about?

3. Translation focusing on ‘that’.

Translate these exercises into a language you’re comfortable with.

[stage 1] Translate ‘that’ into your L1
[stage 2] Translate the following sentences idiomatically. Analyse equivalents of ‘that’.
What did you do at the weekend? This and that >>> Dieses and jenes.
That’s the stuff! (= that’s great) >>> Das ist das!
Not that again! >>> Nicht schon wieder
das! Nicht das schon wieder!
Don’t give me that! (= don’t give me any more rubbish) >>> Hör damit auf!
That gets them that! (= the thing that always works – there’s one dish your family love, etc) >>> Das geht gut!
That’s it! >>> Das war’s.


  • good to collect such examples
  • translation is great for approaching certain types of grammar


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

  1. paul says:

    Hi there. Thanks for that! Paul Davis

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Thank YOU Paul! Got a great deal out of your session (and my Cuisenaire rods are now out of their very dusty cupboard).

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