Omitting -s in Present Simple sentences (*My dad work at a factory) is one of those pesky mistakes that cause us English teachers lots of grief. The rule is extremely simple and it’s one of the first rules the learners learn when they start out studying English. Yet when it comes to speaking, the learners keep forgetting about it. All of us have heard it in the staff room: an exasperated teacher complaining that the students just won’t pay attention and get that simple grammar point right!
Unfortunately studies show that third person -s is acquired a lot later than it’s taught – not until at least intermediate level (Ellis, 2009, page 44). One reason that I’ve seen in the literature is that a lot of grammar gets acquired from reading and listening, and the third person -s, as a morphological feature that agrees with the subject and doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence, is a feature that is very easy for the adult brain, which is honed to processes information efficiently, not to notice in the input.
Here’s a simple game I created for my pre-intermediate teenage students to give them a chance to pay closer attention to this feature. In this game third person -s makes all the difference – the players choose who gains or loses points, based on the form of the verb.
|Slip:||The players can say:|
|??? get 5 points if *** can say five nouns that begin with ‘s’ in 30 seconds||Pete and Tanya get 5 points if they can say five nouns…|
|I get 5 points if I can…|
|??? loses 5 points if *** can’t say 5 verbs that begin with ‘i’ in 30 seconds||Mike loses 5 points if he can’t say 5 verbs…|
|Everyone loses 5 points if we can’t say…|
We played the game from time to time right before working on reading texts that featured lots of examples of the third person -s – my hope being that attention to the feature would linger and they’d start noticing it in the texts.
Time: 15 mins
- something to serve as points (I use colour paper cut into 1cm squares);
- a stop watch for each group of 4 students (my students used the ones on their mobile phones)
- an editable Worksheet (cut-up slips for each group of 4 students; the rules sheet for each student); if you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare:
Ellis, R. et al. (2009) Implicit and Explicit Knowledge in Second Language Learning, Testing and Teaching. Multilingual Matters