Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

In this post I’m sharing with you TubeQuizarda new free Youtube-based service that makes it possible to (1) find Youtube videos that contain a large number of examples of target grammar and vocabulary and (2) automatically create listening quizzes that allow learners to practice catching this language in authentic speech. It also features a collection of over 80 ready-made Grammar for listeners and Pronunciation for listeners quizzes.

I’ll also

  • briefly explain the rationale behind the service and explain why I think listening practice belongs in grammar lessons
  • explain how to look for videos using the service and share some tips how to consistently incorporate receptive grammar practice into your course
  • share six key questions that I ask myself when deciding if a video that I found through this service will provide good input for my learners.

What are listening decoding skills and what do they have to do with grammar?

So to start with, if the term ‘listening decoding skills’ doesn’t sound familiar, here’s a quick recap. Listen to this short extract from an interview with Daniel Radcliffe (2 min 16 seconds to 2 min 39 seconds) and notice the way the words highlighted in the transcript are pronounced:

I’d rather know eight reason why you’re a terrible boyfriend.
Okay, I can do…
We don’t have to do eight.
I was going to say eight is like… I want to give myself somewhere to go in the public’s
estimation like… I can come up with a few.

You could notice that can was pronounced very close to /kn/, was to /wz/ and don’t lost the /t/ at the end. According to research, these and other features or real life pronunciation (very weak pronunciation of the schwa in functional words, the loss of /t/ at the end of a word, etc) tend to make it very difficult for the learners to catch –decode – the words that contain them. I myself discovered well past reaching C2 level of English that what I wasn’t catching in British and American series were very ‘basic’ words like ‘cn’ (can) and ‘thz’ (there’s), ‘ut’ (out) and ‘dosy’ (does he). What is more, not only are these features challenging, they’re extremely frequent – for example, it is difficult to think of a grammar topic at A2 – B2 levels that isn’t associated with one of these features. For instance, regular verbs in 2nd and 3rd form lose ‘-ed’ ending, past continuous contains weakly pronounced ‘was’ and ‘were’, and so on and so forth.

How to make sure the learners can catch these words despite their pronunciation? Awareness raising is one important step, but it’s not enough because decoding these pronunciation features in real time is a skill that needs to be practiced. The books on teaching listening (notably, Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field and the Real Lives Real Listening series by Sheila Thorn) make a strong point that learners need intensive decoding practice, i.e. short exercises during which they transcribe decontextualized phrases that contain the same feature. My own and my learners’ experience convinced me that intensive practice is indeed extremely efficient – the learners report that they feel progress after decoding about a dozen instances.

This is why I feel rather strongly that whenever we cover a grammar feature with my learners, I really ought to give them a chance to listen to this grammar feature in authentic speech, focus on the way it’s pronounced and then practice decoding this feature.

Basic functionality of TubeQuizard

Now, what material can I use to give my learners listening decoding exercises targeting features of grammar? John Field recommends simply reading out sentences for the learners to transcribe, but that doesn’t really work with my learners because they generally understand my accent too well. Also, the coursebooks that I use don’t feature any listening decoding tasks (although there’s at least one coursebook that does – check out Nagivate!) This is why about three years ago I started creating intensive listening decoding quizzes from scratch using free audio editing tools like Audacity to locate and cut out 2-5 second extracts with target language. As you can imagine, those first listening decoding exercises took me ages to create.

Around that time Kirill Sukhomlin, a software developer at my company, offered to help me automate this work. What followed was almost three years of collaboration that resulted in a service that we dubbed TubeQuizard. Below is a video demonstrating its basic functionality: looking for words and expressions in Youtube subs. You’ll notice that our service is similar in concept to a variety of other services out there:

  • Ted Corpus Search engine, which searches for words and expressions in TED videos (both on TED.com and on TED youtube channel);
  • YouGlish, which searches for words and expressions in Youtube subs;
  • PlayPhrase.me, which  searches for words and expressions in popular TV series.

What I am lacking in all those services is the ability to exploit them for listening work by looking more than one word / expression at a time and creating listening gap-fills.

So as you will see in the video, TubeQuizard allows one to look for and play

  • individual words, e.g. someone saying awesome
  • expressions, e.g. I’m not sure 
  • alternatives, e.g. someone saying awesome or amazing
  • any word using * as a wildcard, e.g. a * of will return a whole range of expressions, like ‘a lot of‘, ‘a bit of‘, etc.

You can also tick the ‘Create a quiz’ box to generate a listening gap-fill that will look something like this:

a-_-of

Looking for examples of grammar structures using TubeQuizard

Combining alternatives and wildcards one can find a variety of grammar structures. For example, the following search will return lots of examples of questions in present simple: (do|does) (you|they|I|he|she|it|we) (want|mean|know|think). However, in my experience new users find it quite difficult to formulate such searches, so we’ve been working on filters – click on ‘Grammar filters’ under the search field to pick a grammar structure you’d like to find. Just like in the example above with present simple questions, we use lists of top frequency vocabulary for the filters, so the resulting quizzes can be meaningfully attempted even by lower level learners (I normally start at A2).

filters

Incorporating focus on decoding grammar into your teaching using TubeQuizard

So now that I can look for examples of grammar features, what can I do with them? I think there are at least three options:

Option 1.

Supplement regular video-based activities (e.g. video-based discussions) with a focus on decoding skills (either in class or done for homework). In order to make this easier to do, we’ve created a feature that can be accessed under the Train with your video tab. If you have a subtitled Youtube video, insert a URL and we’ll automatically run it through all our filters and generate the quizzes for you. I always check one of the quizzes to make sure that the subs are in sync with the video. Below is a video that demonstrate this functionality – you can check out these quizzes here.

Just in case you don’t know how to look for subtitled videos on Youtube: run your search, then click on ‘Filters’ right above your search results, choose ‘Subtitles/CC’.

subtitled-videos

Option 2.

Provide the learners with fully decontextualized practice of target grammar – i.e. during a lesson on, say, past simple, get the learners to spend around five minutes doing a video-based gapfill without working with the videos in any other way. It’s true that one has to think twice before doing decontextualized work, but I think there’s a case for using this type of exercise provided that it’s kept brief and provided that the teacher uses it to encourage the learners to notice the features of pronunciation associated with the grammar structure – in this case, elision of the /d/ and /t/ sounds at the end of the verbs.

Option 3.

Find a video that contains a lot of instances of target grammar and build a whole lesson around the video. This is the most time-consuming option and it’s rather tricky because, as Chris Jones rightfully pointed out on twitter, a random video would not always engage the learners.

To make it less time-consuming to find the right video, we’ve implemented a few filters, accessible under the channel tub. You can specify the topic, e.g. Business / Entertainment / Films (trailers) / News, etc. You can also look for short videos and specify a minimum number of instances of the grammar structure in the video. For example, in the screen cast below I’m looking for videos that

  • contain at least five instances of modals (can|could|should|must) * and
  • are no longer than 3 minutes

Some key lessons I’ve learnt about choosing the videos and working them

A while ago I posted a lesson plan based around the video that I found in the screen cast above. I think it took me less than 5 minutes to find the video – although creating the lesson plan itself was a lot more time-consuming. The lesson was based on the following video of a speaker talking about the features of his favourite mobile browser. It went really well with my learners (and the follow-up which allowed them to talk about technology that they can’t stand worked even better :)).

Generally, I’ve been using a lot of video-based activities lately, now that I can easily find video snippets that exemplify the language that I want to target. Below are six key questions that I ask myself when planning a video-based lesson.

1. Does the video that I’ve found provide a useful model for a task? In other words, are the speakers doing something that my learners might want to do?

The video above was a useful model for my learners who sometimes need to explain why they like / chose to use a certain technology.

2. Would the challenge presented by the video lie in the features of pronunciation or in the language used in the video? In other words, would the learners have trouble reading the transcript?

If the video contains too much vocabulary and grammar structures above the learners’ level, it won’t be appropriate. Unfortunately, with lower levels this eliminates most Educational videos.

3. Is the speakers’ accent clear enough for my learners to cope with it?

This is based entirely on intuition and experience. As a rough pointer, in my experience Pre-Intermediate learners need a video like the one above: one speaker talking extremely clearly, preferably filmed in a studio. B1-B1+ learners will need something a bit less well-articulated, but still something that generally sounds very clear to me, like this video. I feel that the majority of talks on channels like Talks at Google and TED Talks fall under this category. For levels B2 and higher, it actually becomes rather difficult to find videos that will be challenging for them to transcribe because most talks and interviews are too clear. The video in this post and this interview with Elon Musk are good examples of the level that was right for my B2 – C1 students. Also, the videos in the Entertainment and Films categories tend to be quite challenging.

4. Is the grammar feature that I want to explore through the video essential for the task that is suggested by the video?

For the video in the example above, the answer was yes, modals are key to talking about the features of the browser.

5. What other language features in the video are key to the task?

The video above contains a lot of expressions for listing – key to enumerating a number features, so we focused on this language too.

6. What scaffolding will the learners need?

Here are my top tips here.

First, the beginning of the video is crucial. Often that’s where the speakers set the context and explain what the video is about, and if the learners don’t get these few sentences, they will be lost and won’t cope with the gist task. Unfortunately, the first sentences are also the most challenging, because the learners haven’t got used to the speaker’s accent yet. Possible task types:

  • give the learners the print-out of the first few sentences with gaps, to listen and fill in before watching the video
  • scramble the sentences – the learners unscramble and then listen and check. To make it less challenging, don’t scramble into individual words – keep chunks, e.g. 
    hi / one of the / I’m / my name is Leland / user experience designers on Android
  • get the learners to transcribe the sentence

Second, what comprehension tasks can I give to the learners? I normally try to replicate the real life experience – i.e. I don’t give the learners any questions in advance. Instead, they watch the beginning, predict what they will see and then check their predictions.

Third, what scaffolding do they need with the meaning, form and pronunciation of target grammar? I won’t go into meaning and form here, but I’d like to comment on pronunciation. As I pointed out before, I feel that these authentic videos provide me with a crucial opportunity to get the learners to notice what sounds are missing from the natural pronunciation of target grammar and train catching them in real life. On the other hand, I’ve observed a good number of lessons and I notice that a lot of teachers tend to scrap pronunciation work altogether. So my top tip is to make sure that there is focus on pronunciation, and also that the learners do a listening decoding quiz during which they tell you what target language sounds like in authentic speech. I also focus on pronunciation of any other useful language that we explore. In this lesson, we were looking at expressions for listing, like one of the things I like / another thing I like / the last thing I like this language naturally prompted focus on sentence stress.

———–

Phew, I wonder if this was the longest post on this blog? I do hope that other teachers and learners of English find this service useful. Let me know what you think I myself can play with it for hours on end and have learnt an incredible lot about English discourse, the use of lexis, pronunciation and what not. And I can’t express how grateful I am to Kirill who has invested hundreds of hours of his free time into creating this tool.

I might write more posts about how I’ve been using the service in the next few weeks. I’ll also be doing a workshop for IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group on 10 December about the ways I’ve used it with Business English learners. If you’re interested, you’re very welcome to join!

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Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes

Materials:

  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.

 

Today I’m sharing a lesson based on four video snippets with Google employees describing their career paths and how they got to Google. Although this topic is covered extensively in every Business English course, I wanted to give my group (which is a very strong Pre-Intermediate group about to finish the course) exposure to authentic speech, and this material seemed both interesting linguistically and not too challenging. The learners revise past simple and present perfect (time adverbials used with those tenses), practice listening decoding skills (listening to verbs in past simple and present perfect), focus on vocabulary to talk about educational background and career paths, and finish the lesson by speaking about their own career paths.

I must admit I was very unsure that the learners would cope well with the listening tasks, because my previous attempts to introduce (tiny bits of) authentic listening in that group had caused a lot of frustration. But this time they did all right. Apart from Task 2, all they needed to do was to discriminate between Past Simple and Present Perfect – the ‘secret reason’ for the task was to get them to notice how Past Simple is pronounced (very often it sounds very close to Present Simple, as the ending /t/ is barely pronounced, which might be confusing for the learners). NB For the tasks in which the students listen to sentences one by one to check their answers, it’s better to open the videos on youtube and use the interactive transcript feature to replay sentences.

One thing that I noticed while working on this worksheet that I had never noticed before was that speakers tend to use vague language with periods of time (‘a little over a year ago’, ‘for about four and a half years’, ‘for a bit’ – other examples that didn’t make it into the worksheet were ‘for quite a number of years’, ‘for close to six years’). This definitely sounds a lot more natural, but I’d never thought to teach this little trick to my students who were preparing for exams.

Anyway, here’s the worksheet – let me know if you use it or if you see how it could be improved.

career-247299_1280

Level: Intermediate (B1)
Time: 90 minutes
Materials: a worksheet (feel free to edit and adapt).

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Extract 1:

Extract 2:

Extract 3:

Extract 4:

NB These videos come from Google Developers Youtube channel.

I’m enjoying a Saturday lie-in with Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis, a great new book which arrived in my mail just yesterday. It made me think of a quick exercise that can be used as a follow-up to any reading or listening activity. 2015-07-18 17.52.12It’s really simple, but since it takes a bit of technology to create it quickly, I thought I’d write a quick post.

The book overviews the insights into language achieved by corpus linguistics and discusses their implications for the ELT classroom. I’m currently reading the chapter called Corpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a number of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

I’m thinking of giving my students an occasional gap-fill exercise based on the reading and listening texts that we are working on, with these verbs gapped out (their frequency is said to be higher in conversation than fiction, news and academic texts, so probably the task will work best with listening transcripts and informal writing, e.g. forum posts).

Finding and replacing the various forms of these verbs could be time-consuming, but there are tools in which one can make such a gap-fill exercise in one click. The first one is a free nifty little text editor called Notepad++.

notepadThe trick is that the editor uses so-called ‘regular expressions’ to allow you to search for more than one expression at once. So, if you open your text file in Notepad++ and type in (some|any) in the search box, you’ll see all occurrences of both words in your file and will be able to replace them with gaps in one click. The following search will find all verb forms of the 12 verbs mentioned above:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

(If you want to know why this expression matches all forms of those verbs, scroll to the bottom of the post).

Here’s how to create a gap-fill using Notepad++ in a bit more detail:

  1. Insert your text into Notepad++, select the text (on my system, by pressing CTRL+A),  and open the search window by pressing CTRL+H.
  2. In the search window, click the ‘Mark’ tab. Ensure that Search mode is set to ‘Regular expressions’ and that the ‘in selection’ check box is checked. Insert this into the ‘Find what’ box:

    \b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b
    Click ‘Mark all’ to highlight all occurrences of these words, so that you can look through them and check how many there are and how they’re used, and that nothing unrelated was accidentally found. In the example below there are 14 matches.

  3. Go to the ‘Replace’ tab, type in ‘________’ into the ‘Replace with’ box and click ‘Replace all’.
    Replace_Youtube
  4. Finally, insert the gap-filled text alongside the initial text into a word document. Voilà!

As an alternative to installing Notepad++, use the web-based Find and Replace tool – thanks to Mura Nava for the heads up! It’s even quicker and you don’t have to install it on your computer (one possible drawback is that you can’t highlight and check what you’re going to replace).

Find-and-Replace

I’ve tried this activity with a few transcripts from youtube, and I found it doable and enjoyable. I think I want to try to use it on a regular basis with my Upper-Intermediate students, encouraging them to note down interesting chunks with those verbs.

Let me know what you think.

References

Biber, D. and Reppern, R. (2002) What does frequency have to do with grammar teaching? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24/2: 199-208

Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice. Routledge

A bit on regular expressions

If you want to create your own regular expression searches, you might like to figure out how the one in this post works.

  • | stands for ‘or’. So (say|said) will return all present/past/past participle forms of ‘say’.
  • ? stands for ‘this part is optional’. So, (say|said)(s|ing)? will return all the forms from the previous example, plus ‘says’, ‘saying’, ‘saids’, and ‘saiding’. Only the first two words exist, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Some instances might be ‘false positives’. For example, ‘essays’ contains ‘say’, but that’s clearly not what we need. So, we need a way to show the tool that we’re only looking for full words. This is done by wrapping the search expression into ‘\b’ tags (they stand for ‘word boundary’).

So, in order to find all verb forms, I list all present and irregular forms, separating them by ‘or’, add possible endings (ed|ing|s)?, account for the fact that (e) will disappear before ing (hence, mak(e)?) and add \b at the beginning and the end:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

It’s summer and it seems that this blog has gone into a light mode. 🙂 Here’s another short game that we enjoyed playing with a pre-intermediate group a few days ago in order to revise some grammar (past and present simple, future for plans and hopes, second conditional).

Level: strong Pre-Intermediate (for End-of-Course revision) or Intermediate (B1).
Time:
 10 minutes for the warmer, 20-30 minutes for the game.
Materials: One class set of quotes for the warmer, a board game for each pair (Worksheet page 1), a grammar task for each student (Worksheet page 2), playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suite – for each pair). If you teach Business English, check out this version of the worksheet.

Procedure

Warmer

Print out a set of quotes (if there are more than eight students, print two sets). Display the quotes around the classroom. Ask the students to get up, look around, pick a quote that they like and get back to their seat with their quote. (Circulate and be prepared to give a bit of help with some of the vocabulary.) Get the students to share their quotes in groups of three, reading them out and explaining why they like them – also invite them to share as a whole group. Finally, ask the students whose quote is about the past. The present? The future? A dream?

Game
First, the students revise questions for past, present simple, future (will or going to for distant plans) and hypothetical questions (Worksheet page 2). After that, hand out, to each pair

  • the board (Worksheet page 1),
  • a counter (e.g. a coin) and
  • playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suit – to each pair).

The students place the counter at the bottom of the ladder. Each turn, a student whose turn it is to ask a question moves one step up the ladder, draws a card and asks their partner a question of the corresponding type. Encourage the students to ask follow-up questions and chat for a few minutes before moving on to the next question.

Acknowledgement 

The idea behind this game comes from an activity in Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, and the inspiration comes from Anna Zernova, who mentioned the activity during one of our chats about teaching.

The grid for the board comes from a fantastic post on turning tests into games by Svetlana Kandybovich and Tekhnologic.

Finally, I’m very grateful to Adi Rajan for the idea to use playing cards, and to my colleague Eleonora Popova for the beautiful England-styled pack of cards she gave me.

Happy teaching everyone – and enjoy your summer, if it’s summer where you are! 🙂

grammar-389907_640

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.

Example:

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.

Level: pre-intermediate

Time: 15 mins

Materials:

  • 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:

References

Ellis, R. et al. (2009) Implicit and Explicit Knowledge in Second Language Learning, Testing and Teaching. Multilingual Matters

Levels: B1 and higher (some activities are suitable for pre-intermediate students)
Type of course: General English/Business English; some activities suitable for IELTS students
Length: Depending on what activities you choose – altogether, there’s material for around two 90-minute classes.
Materials: all activities and pictures are  available in a Microsoft Word document (shared under attribution sharealike licence, so feel free to adapt them); you’ll need a projector to project the infographic.

This is a language point that I decided to introduce at all levels I’m teaching this semester: the elementary group studied it at the same time as they studied comparatives (adding a modifier seemed like a very teachable point, and now, two weeks later, they are actually using the modifiers very confidently! I also noticed that at least some of the times they say something like ‘more cheaper’ they actually mean a lot cheaper, so seeing that they’re trying to convey this meaning anyway, why not teach it immediately?) My Upper-Intermediate+ group, on the other hand, was still not using any modifiers with comparatives, as the warm-up activity below revealed.

Comparatives Edited (8)

I like presenting the four ways to compare (-er/more/less/exceptions) with ‘circles’ – the visual ‘mnemonics’ is that the circles do not intersect, so you never use two ways at the same time, and thus ‘less cheaper’ or ‘more better’ is not allowed.

Stage one: Intro. In order to introduce this grammar point to B1 groups and higher, I asked my students whether they’d ever bough a gadget to replace an older one (e.g. a smart phone to replace a mobile phone) and asked them to chat about

  • in what ways the new gadget was different and
  • whether the old one was still better in some respects.

I listened in and boarded some comparative structures they’d used – some examples that came up were ‘longer battery life’, ‘more durable’, etc. I then told my students that they weren’t using a bit of language I’d hoped to hear, showed them the first part of the infographic above and asked them what information is present in the pictures but missing from the sentences (How much more expensive?); I then elicited a few examples of how to modify the sentence to say how much more expensive the present was (my students came up with ‘much’ and ‘a (little) bit); I boarded the remaining adverbs, i.e. a lot, somewhat, way, and asked them to rank the adverbs (with my Upper-Intermediate group, we also focused on infinitely, marginally and far). I then pointed out the samples of  their language on the board in which they didn’t qualify the comparatives.

Stage Two. Focus on form. After that, in order to encourage the students to study the infographic closely, I handed out sentences with typical mistakes for them to correct (page 2 of the .docx worksheet) – show only the middle part of the infographic at this stage, hiding the examples.

Level: Elementary/pre-intermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online lot more convenient.
  2. I like this laptop a lot less.
  3. My new laptop has more better design.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. This trip is more cheaper.
  7. My day just got a lot better!
  8. My new phone is a bit easier to use then my old phone.
Key:   1 a lot more convenient
2. OK
3. Has better design
4. two weeks longer than5. OK
6. is cheaper
7. OK
8. than
Level: Intermediate/Upper-IntermediateSome of these sentences contain mistakes. Find and correct them.

  1. I find shopping online a way more convenient.
  2. Men generally find easier to read maps.
  3. I like this laptop a lot less.
  4. This trip lasts two weeks more longer then that one.
  5. The box of chocolates costs 50 per cent less.
  6. My day just got a lot better!
 1. way more2. find it easier3. OK4. longer than5. OK6. OK

Having checked the answers, we used the correct sentences to model/drill sentence stress and intonation.

Stage 3. Refined production After that, the students went back to their conversations about gadgets (in new pairs), to find out how much longer the battery life was/how much more durable the new gadget was and so on.

We then briefly revised the rules how the comparative forms of adjectives are formed (alternatively, you could cut up a worksheet with adjectives – there are some in the .docx file – for the students to sort them into four groups) and went on to play a couple of games.

Further stages – games (pick and choose). 

Game 1 (drill) – adapted from Intermediate Communication Games by Jill Hadfield, Pearson P T R (2000) – worked like a spell in all groups!
Course type: any
Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate
Materials
: a set of cut-up cards for each pair/group of 3 (download a .pdf file from here or use the corresponding pages from the word document linked to at the beginning of the post); ideally, a dice for each pair
Time: 15-25 minutes
comp_drill2

Every player takes 6 cards. The first player places one card on the desk and ‘boasts’ (‘my robot is very smart‘). After that, each turn players place one of their cards on the board, comparing the new object to the previous one (e.g. ‘my cat is way friendlier than your robot‘) and then takes one more card from the stack.

Rules: (a) They have to use a modifier – I drew 6 facets of a dice on the board, each one with a corresponding modifier, and each time a player boasted, they had to roll the dice to determine what modifier should be used
(b) Adjectives can’t be reused

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who's a white board magician. =)

Image courtesy: my colleague Eleonora Popova, who’s a white board magician. =)

Variation 1: players draw the cards directly from the stack and have to find a way to compare the last two objects
Variation 2: each turn, each player in the pair puts one of their cards on the desk; after that each player comments in what way their object is better than the other player’s object

Game 2 A board game in which students share opinions on a range of topics


Target structure:
find [sth] [modifier] [comparative] (I find it a lot easier to… than to …)

Levels: Pre-Intermediate – Upper-Intermediate

Course type: General English or Business English (can be used with exam students, but does not replicate exam format)

Materials: a board with adjectives, for Variation 1 a cut-up set of discussion propts (see below)

Time: 30-40 minutes (more time with higher level students, as they launch into discussions, especially if discussion prompts are used)

Rules: The students work in pairs. Each turn, a player throws a coin (heads = one step forward, tails = two steps forward) and states a true opinion using a modified comparative form of the adjective on the field (possibly giving a reason – again, a dice could determine the number of reasons); their partner either agrees or disagrees (providing reasons) and/or asks follow-up questions – again, this could be decided by a roll of a dice. I made two board games for this game, one for pre-intermediate students, another for higher levels.

Board game Comparatives More difficultBoard game Comparatives Easier (2)Example: I find it a lot less stressful to get to work by car than to use public transport, because I really dislike the underground. There are just too many people on the train in the morning. What about you?

Alternatively, the students can ask questions instead of stating their opinions (see Variation 1).

Setting the game up: 

It’s better to give the students patterns for questions and answers (I boarded a jumbled question and a jumbled answer and asked the students to unjumble them).  In a pre-intemediate group, it’s better just to teach the statements (I find it + modifier + comparative to … than to…), whereas higher levels will cope with questions too.

  • Board one scrambled question (examples here are for ‘would’):
    would what you to be find easier so working in a big team in a small team or?Allow students to unscramble individually and then check in pairs, elicit and board the correct question:
    So what would you find to be [easier], working in a big team or in a small team? 
  • Board the sentence frame under the unscrambled question:
    So what would you find to be
     [comparative structure], verb-ing or verb-ing?)
    (alternatively, make a few mistakes in the frame and ask the students to correct them)
  • Elicit and board a reply (first the structure, but then elicit the reason – I put ‘because’ on the board and circled it in red (Sample reply: I’d find it a lot easier to work in a small company because you always know who is doing what. )
  • Again, board the frame under the replyI’d find it [a comparative structure] to [verb] [than to verb] because..)

Game 2 Variation 1. A board game in which students talk about topics given on discussion prompts

Materials: one of the above boards, cut-up discussion questions (either General English or Business English – see below).

The players shuffle the cut-up discussion prompts and take 6 promtps each.  Having landed on a field, a player asks their partner a question using an adjective on the field and one of their cards (e.g. What would you find to be easier, working in a big company or in a small company?)

Non-cut alternative: Each pair gets the sheet with discussion prompts. Having landed on a field, a player picks a question that fits the adjective (possibly, crossing it over).

Discussion prompts for General English:

GE_differences1

Business English:

BE_differences1BE_differences2

Game 3 Students talk about topics given on discussion prompts using a wider range of adjectives provided on cards; the game is played in pairs or in groups of three.

Course type: General English, Business English or IELTS

Level: Intermediate and higher

Materials:

  • cut-up adjectives; an uncut worksheet with adjectives for each student

Time: up to 60 minutes as there are a lot of discussion questions

Procedure

  • check that the students know all the adjectives: hand out an uncut copy to each student and set a few simple tasks, e.g.
    >>> tick all adjectives you know; check with your partner – is there something you don’t know and they do? class feedback
    >>> in pairs, for each adjective brainstorm two people, things, places or activities that fit  this adjective (e.g. elicit examples for useful, e.g. reading news every day). Rules: 1) ask the pair to write their examples down 2) if they can’t come up with two examples in 10 seconds, they should move on (why not tell them you’re going to snap your fingers every 10 seconds?) 3) at the end of the activity, group the students into groups of four so that they ask the other pair for ideas for the examples they couldn’t come up with 4) finish with a group game in which one pair gives their examples and the group guesses the adjective
    >>> focus on grammar: the students go through the table and count how many comparatives in each row are formed with ‘er’ and not with ‘more’
  • The game. The students deal the adjectives (6-8 per player). Each turn, one student picks two questions, chooses one (discarding the other) and asks the other players which alternative they’d prefer (Would you rather [verb] or [verb]). All players in the group discuss the question using as many of their adjectives as they can. These are adjectives that are often used with the structure ‘I find it [modifier] [comparative], so they are fairly easy to use in this activity.

Adjectives for intermediate learners:

adjectives_B1

Adjectives for advanced learners (edit the Microsoft Word file to choose only those you’d like to focus on – alternatively, let the students choose!):

 

adj_advanced

As a follow-up, the students could pick a few of these questions and discuss them in new pairs/groups – this time without being forced to use any specific adjectives/structures. They could also choose a few cards and write about them for homework.

As I said at the start of the post, if you’d like to adapt these games, here’s a Microsoft Office document with all materials. Also, I’d be grateful if you let me know if you’ve got any suggestions how to improve this, ideas how to extend these activities or if you find typos.