the advanced by Diane Hall & Mark Foley
is an adaptation of a workshop given at the IATEFL Conference in Brighton,
Teaching advanced students in any environment can be one of the most rewarding
experiences in language teaching, presenting as it does endless opportunities
for real language analysis, using real materials and having in-depth discussions.
However, it can equally be the most frustrating experience. Teachers new
to advanced-level classes often erroneously think that their students
will no longer have problems with grammar, but this is not the case. In
any advanced class there are as many language problems as there are students,
and often a lot more, so how do we counter these and 'advance the advanced'?
In this article, we are going to discuss the problems we have encountered
as teachers of advanced classes, and the way that we feel it is best to
approach teaching grammar to advanced-level students. In it we draw on
materials that we prepared and which are published in the Longman
Advanced Learners' Grammar.
2 Why advanced students experience problems with grammar
Many advanced classes have the problem of mixed levels, especially if
the students come from different schools or backgrounds. Students are
unlikely to have all mastered the same aspects of the language: students
will vary in their knowledge of the language and will have different strengths
and weaknesses. In addition, some advanced students may suffer from a
lack of motivation as they feel they already know most of the language
and are bored by having to go over the same things again.
advanced students there is often a disparity between what they understand
and their ability to produce language. The move to more objective, computer-marked
testing systems emphasises understanding more than production, and also
trains students in certain exercise techniques, e.g. use of elimination.
Another issue is the apparent disparity between the fact that we expect
students to produce coherent continuous text (written
or spoken) but we tend to teach by focusing on single-sentence, single-structure
exercises. Students need to work with language in context in order to
produce natural language.
of the problems with correcting students' work at advanced level is that
the grammar appears to be perfectly correct at the level of individual
items but it doesn't seem to work with the rest of the text. A key issue
is often the choice of structure and whether it is appropriate to the
narrative, in terms of time/tense, formality and discourse relations.
Students may produce language which appears correct on the surface, but
we know it isn't natural English. This is one of the most awkward things
to deal with as we first have to understand what the problem is, which
can be more difficult than correcting it!
Finding and dealing with specific problems
To see more clearly what we mean, have a look at this short section from
an advanced student's writing. Can you identify four errors in the English?
I entered to my room, I discovered that it was absolutely dirty. I complained
and the maid came, but she didn't clean it properly up. Also removed by
her but not returned were the towels and I had to go to reception later
errors here are as follows:
1 entered to: incorrect use of a dependent preposition
with a verb that does not require one - a 'lexical/grammar' error
2 absolutely dirty: incorrect use of an ungradable modifier
with a gradable adjective
3 didn't clean it properly up: incorrect position of
adverb in a phrasal verb
4 Also removed by her but not returned were the towels:
a number of problems and typical of the kind of 'layered' error that an
advanced student might produce, such as incorrect use of a fronted adverbial
phrase (removed by her) with inversion (were
the towels). This is only incorrect in terms of discourse, i.e.
lack of cohesion with the previous sentence, disobeying the information
principle of putting known information at the beginning of a sentence.
There is also incorrect use of an emphatic form (inversion) in a non-emphatic
context and incorrect use of the linker also. The use
of the passive is also inappropriate in this context.
first step in dealing with errors of the advanced student is to be able
to identify them, as is illustrated above. We now want to look at a particular
way of identifying problems that students have and ways of dealing with
can't help until you know what the specific problem is. This can be different
for each student, especially in mixed-level classes, and trying to identify
your students' problems through their written work can be extremely time-consuming
and arduous. Our solution is to use diagnostic testing. The use of diagnostic
tests can identify specific problems once you have identified the general
area, e.g. conditionals. Diagnostic tests also objectively demonstrate
to students who feel that they 'know everything' that they do indeed have
gaps in their understanding. The section below shows the kind of test
that can be used to look at gradable and ungradable adjectives:
tick the correct sentences and correct the errors.]
1 Casualties during the Crimean War were very enormous.
2 Steve's new girlfriend is very attractive.
3 Clients are advised that Miami tends to be more boiling than Los Angeles
during the winter months.
4 Milan Cathedral is slightly huge.
[from page 32, Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar]
the text would contain more items than this - ideally 20 or more. Students
check their answers (or the teacher goes through them) and in this way
the teacher can build up a picture of problems that the majority of students
have in the class, or students themselves can keep notes of the problems
they have. In the Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar, each item
in the test is cross-referred to the particular section in the Reference
part of the book that deals with that language area. The teacher can either
go through the relevant parts of the reference with all the students (then
have them do the relevant exercises) or have individual students read
the sections that they need and then do the exercises individually.
continue with the work on gradable and ungradable adjectives, it's best
to use examples that students might easily come across in the real world:
adjectives are not usually used in comparatives and superlatives and we
do not use very to make them stronger:
x Entrance to the museum is very free.x
Entrance to the museum is absolutely free.
xThe Ming vases are more priceless than the Egyptian mummies.x
xThe Ming vases are more valuable than the Egyptian mummies.x
[from page 233, Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar]
also desirable to practise language as much as possible at discourse rather
than sentence level. While sentence-level practice is useful at lower
levels and when learning rules of formation, it is often less appropriate
for advanced students. Typical examples of discourse-level practice are
multiple-choice exercises but based on a text (example 1 below), and error
correction in discourse (2):
... Muscarella's earlier claims have been (1) ... by some museum officials
who are (2) ... opposed to his arguments. But Muscarella has (3) ... good
scientific evidence for his claims, showing that over 40 per cent of the
objects examined by the Oxford Thermoluminescence laboratory are fakes.
1 A discussed B rejected C criticised
2 A bitterly B highly C rather
3 A perfectly B absolutely C somewhat
[from page 237, Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar]
[Students have to find the unsuitable adjectives and substitute suitable
We've seen most of the sights in the city. Karen was absolutely pleased
when we went to the 'Sagrada Familia' - she loves Gaudi's work. It's certainly
a totally rare building. And Steve was very ecstatic about going to the
Maritime Museum - he seems to find anything to do with boats utterly interesting.
I can't understand it myself. I was absolutely annoyed when he suggested
we stay there over lunchtime - especially as I was a bit famished at the
[from page 239, Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar]
to these extracts are given at the end of the article.
General tips for awareness raising
It is important when presenting grammar to provide contextualised examples
and information from the real world and actual environment, in order to
illustrate real language use more effectively. When checking understanding,
get students to go beyond the sentence level and put the target language
into a wider context, e.g. not It couldn't have been my mother
at the bus stop but The woman you saw at the bus stop
yesterday couldn't have been my mother, because my mother always drives
to the shops.
of the reasons that we find some errors difficult to classify is that
they are lexical rather than grammatical. Encourage students to recognise
the links between lexis and grammar, and to see patterns, so when they
learn new vocabulary they learn it in a grammatical context. We should
encourage students to learn, for example, phrasal verbs with an object
(put something down), verbs and adjectives with their
dependent prepositions (complain about something), adjectives
with their adverb collocates (deeply religious), or reporting
verbs with their patterns (thank somebody for doing something).
students use language naturally and fluently, encourage them to see the
structures that underlie everything they read and listen to. Make them
aware of authentic reading texts as a source of grammar and have them
analyse these in terms of grammar use as well as meaning. Cloze tests
and tasks involving the reassembling of cut-up texts are useful in helping
students understand the importance of discourse. When doing these sorts
of task it is important to talk about the clues (e.g. collocates, linkers)
that help us to fill the gaps or to put the text back together.
In this article, we have looked at reasons why it can be so difficult
to teach grammar to a class of advanced students, with reference to the
Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar. We have looked at a way of assessing
students' weaknesses, by using diagnostic tests, and we have looked at
how to analyse the kind of errors that advanced students make that are
not easily recognisable. We have then looked at ways of helping students
to 'see the bigger picture', i.e. to focus on larger chunks of text and
not just on sentences. In all of this, with students at advanced level,
the most important thing is to raise their awareness: their awareness
of their own weaknesses, or how to tackle and improve those areas of weakness,
and of how the English language works at text and discourse level, i.e.
the level at which advanced students should be working.
* Answers to exercise extracts:
x absolutely pleased >> absolutely delighted
x totally rare >> totally unique
x very ecstatic >> very pleased/happy
x utterly interesting >> utterly fascinating
x absolutely annoyed >> absolutely furious
x a bit famished >> a bit hungry
Hall has been involved in English language Teaching and Publishing
for over 25 years. She taught for several years in the UK and Germany
before moving into publishing and writing. She has written a number
of books, notably the Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar
and Distinction, a course for advanced learners (with Mark
Foley), and Pacesetter, an upper secondary course, with Derek
Strange. Diane has a teaching qualification in ELT and an MA in Second
Language Learning and Teaching from the University of London.
Foley has worked in English Language Teaching for over 23
years and has extensive experience in teaching (mostly in the UK and
Spain), teacher training, examining and materials writing. He is the
co-author of a number of publications, including the Longman ELT advanced
titles Distinction and Advanced Learners' Grammar.
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