How Grammar Can Help to Maintain Motivation of Advanced Learners
by Greg Gobel


Teachers often feel challenged to think of ways to motivate themselves and their learners to want to learn grammar, i.e., as Rinvolucri points out, how to get ‘the “game” locomotive [to pull] the grammar train along.’(1) Fair enough, as a certain scariness or insecurity seems to be associated with grammar. I have heard it called the ‘Grammar Monster’; Batstone calls it a ‘beast.’(2) Perhaps these worries are sometimes in the wrong place, though, judging by two surveys I have recently done to compare teachers’ and learners’ attitudes to teaching/learning grammar. The results showed an interesting contrast in attitude regarding grammar in relation to motivation. Learners expressed a much more optimistic view of grammar as a motivating tool than did the teachers. ‘Somehow or other, teachers (or “the system”) fail to capitalise on the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm.’(3)

Grammar teaching and learning has traditionally been very form-focused. As a result, it then went through a phase in the 80’s on the periphery or not focused on at all. From both perspectives, focusing on grammar would not motivate learners. This paper, however, is written with two assumptions about grammar in the classroom, as suggested by Thompson:

  • ‘Although…it is now fully accepted that an appropriate amount of class time should be devoted to grammar, this has not meant a simple return to a traditional treatment of grammar rules.’(4)
  • ‘…the focus has now moved away from the teacher covering grammar to the learners discovering grammar.’(5)

With these assumptions in mind, this paper explores how we can exploit methodologically progressive ideas for dealing with grammar to help maintain advanced learners’ motivation. In doing so, we also help our learners improve their overall communicative competence by increasing their grammatical proficiency.

Why is maintaining motivation of advanced learners important?

Dornyei highlights the importance of maintaining and protecting learners’ motivation, saying it ‘needs to be actively nurtured.’(6) Maintaining advanced learners’ motivation can be difficult at times to the point where at least one activity book has been written specifically for this purpose.(7) Advanced learners, I have noticed, have reached a stage where they are highly efficient in using the language, their learning curve is not as immediately evident as with lower-level learners so they may perceive they are not improving, and some even feel that they have learned enough. These conditions can easily lead to lethargy. In my experience, even having a goal such as passing the CAE does not always maintain their motivation.

The surveys: what advanced learners tend to think about grammar

The teacher survey(8) was completed by colleagues at work and other teachers that I know. The learner survey(9) was completed by CAE and CPE level learners through paired discussion followed by individually writing notes to summarize their opinions. The surveys were not scientific, but give me a good indication of general beliefs. One survey item asked what some good reasons to teach/learn grammar are, with one of the choices being to motivate the learners. Of the learners, 82% were positive, 12% were not sure, and only one said increasing motivation would not be a good use of grammar. In contrast, only one teacher thought that grammar could be a tool for motivation. This informative difference shows learners seem to view the potential effects of focusing on grammar quite differently – more positively – than many teachers. For me, this is rather alarming because it means that teachers, including myself, may not be aware enough of what actually helps their learners want to learn.

Exploiting grammar to motivate advanced learners

According to Skehan, grammatical instruction can ‘make initial change more likely’ and ‘…mark for learners that they have not succeeded in mastering the interlanguage system of the language they are learning.’(10) This leads learners to be motivated to close the gap between their own interlanguage and the target language. ‘This signaling of incompletion is important for learners since it is likely to preserve openness in the language system being developed, and it induces learners to persist at a difficult task.’(11) Thus, awareness of one’s incomplete interlanguage is the key for grammar to be motivational. The teacher, then, needs to implement tasks that encourage the learner to recognize her own incompletion and then noticeably close the gap. Below are six progressive ideas in grammar teaching/learning that I think can help this process along.

As Choice

Close says, ‘…the element of choice and of subtle distinction…’ is one that learners ‘…may fail to appreciate or even to see.’(12) Batstone says, ‘Central to the whole enterprise, then, is the issue of learner choice, and the grammatical consequences of the choices the learner makes.’(13) ‘The objective is to allow a measure of choice in what the learner produces, while at the same time regulating or guiding these choices down particular pathways.’(14) The job of the teacher, then, is to help learners both to see and then appreciate the choices they are presented with. By explicitly guiding learners to realize choices they have, learners can take more personal control over their English usage. As one of my CAE learners responded, ‘It’s a good motivating target to know [you’re] nearer to [controlling] the language.’ McCarthy and Carter also emphasize choice: ‘learners need to be given more grammatical choices if they are to operate flexibly in a range of spoken and written contexts.’(15) Nunan, however, rightly implies that without awareness and clearly identifying the purpose of grammatical choice, focusing on grammar could be de-motivating: ‘If the communicative value of alternative grammatical forms is not made clear to learners, they come away with the impression that the alternative forms exist merely to make things difficult for them.’(16) So for the choice to be motivating, the teacher can help her learners realize that the use of grammar is a ‘communicative resource,’(17) ‘not as an end in itself.’(18)

One practical way of giving learners choice is through grammaticization tasks, which reflect the process of calling ‘on grammar to make our meanings clear, and the less knowledge is shared, the more likely it is that grammar will become a necessary resource for both parties.’(19) Some practical activities include re-grammaring a de-grammared text and then comparing the two,(20) giving learners words and pictures and asking them to add the grammar so that learners ‘formulate their own interpretation of the story,’(21) expanding headlines,(22) changing informal (often de-grammared language) into more formal language,(23) and the reconstruction stage in dictogloss.(24)

Spoken Grammar (SG)

Based on their spoken English corpus studies, McCarthy and Carter say ‘…certain grammatical forms…enable a greater degree of interpersonal and interactive language uses…’(25) In my experience, most learners, especially advanced learners, want to improve their speaking and conversational skills, so using corpus-based elements of SG feeds naturally into their intrinsic motivation. High-level learners have probably learned most of their grammar based on written English so it is high time to include SG, which ‘has its own constructional principles; it is organised differently from writing.’(26)

Teaching elements of SG could also be motivating because it can help advanced learners to develop more natural usage and to realize for themselves that this is used language that, although extremely common, they have not focused on previously. McCarthy and Carter suggest several useful SG features(27):

  • ellipsis,
  • left-fronting of topics,
  • tails,
  • reporting verbs,
  • tend to,
  • tags,
  • will/be going to.

Teachers could supplement their coursebooks by integrating these into their syllabuses. A starting point is Yule’s example of reported discourse: ‘there is a strong likelihood that when speakers report previous conversations, they do not produce a verbatim record, but instead construct dialogue for the participants.’(28) That is, there is a mismatch between the mechanical reporting in coursebooks and what may actually happen. It could be motivating for learners to discover this mismatch and improve their output accordingly.

Practical ways of dealing with SG include text-based activities such as analyzing transcripts, transforming coursebook dialogues into more authentic spoken dialogues by employing spoken grammar elements, transforming spoken grammar into more writerly language, or vice-versa. Learners can also discuss the differences between the SG element and the written grammar element. Role play, real play and simulation are classic activities in which learners could try to activate the spoken grammar elements.

Consciousness-raising (C-R)

C-R tasks are ‘designed to make students aware of features of the language – to notice them…’(29) Batstone asserts that learners ‘need to notice grammar, because if they do not, they will never learn it very effectively.’(30) There are at least two key aspects of noticing(31):

  • ‘1. Learners must attend to linguistic features of the input…
  • ‘2. Learners must “notice the gap”, i.e., make comparisons between the current state of their developing linguistic system, as realized by their output, and the target language system, available as input.’

Batstone cautions that learners ‘often manage to complete a presentation task without attending to the target form at all.’(32) Because of this we need to make sure task design does, in fact, prompt noticing and requires them ‘…to process grammar in order to complete the task successfully.’(33)

Practical noticing activities include reformulation and reconstruction tasks. Reformulation tasks progress from fluency to accuracy and involve learners encoding meaning and then the teacher re-encoding the meaning for the learners to notice the difference.(34) For this, Johnson proposes a test-teach-test (‘mistake occurrence – corrective action – retrial’) sequence(35), which I have found quite helpful, especially for advanced learners. This is motivating because learners tangibly see an improvement in their output. Reconstruction tasks progress from learners reading/hearing the teacher’s text to remaking the text, then matching the two.(36) Thornbury says reconstruction is valuable because the noticing done in the matching ‘provides…positive evidence of yet-to-be-acquired language features.’(37)

Another goal of C-R is described by James: ‘…we have to show learners that large parts of the FL grammars are already theirs, and they its.’(38) Although, in my experience, this is easier at lower levels, it is still possible with advanced learners, especially regarding elements of spoken grammar. I think this can be quite motivating for advanced learners, because if we can present, or they can find, similarities that they had not known before, it opens up new ways of communicating in a way that is fairly immediate to access and use. One example is using present simple for oral narrative. For example, in both Czech and Spanish, the equivalent of the present simple can be used for telling jokes or anecdotes to make the story more immediate and engaging, just like in English. Practical classroom ideas to focus on similarities include using translation tasks or tasks where learners consciously find language expressed in the same way as in their own language.

Language Awareness (LA)

Thornbury defines LA as ‘…knowledge that teachers have of the underlying systems of the language that enables them to teach effectively.’(39) I think teachers can draw on aspects of LA meant for training teachers and apply them to advanced learners because in my experience doing both teacher training and EFL teaching, I have found that advanced EFL learners often have more awareness and ability to clearly explain grammatical concepts than inexperienced teachers, and given the opportunity, can productively supplement experienced teachers’ knowledge about language. Edge proposes three major roles of a language teacher(40):

  • language user,
  • language analyst, and
  • language teacher.

I see no reason why these roles cannot be transferred to high-level learners participating in classroom settings. If teachers draw explicit attention to these roles, who they were originally meant for (EL teachers), and encourage their learners to approach grammar from these three perspectives, the learners will likely feel they have more control over their own learning, will be more likely to help each other to discover grammar, and perhaps more willing to risk attempting newly discovered forms and meanings, all of which can be intrinsically motivating. This directly links to Dornyei’s strategies 28, 29, and 30, which encourage teachers to increase

  • ‘student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners,’(41)
  • ‘student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy,’(42) and
  • ‘the student’s self-motivating capacity.’(43)

In practice, the role of the learner-teacher may describe learners from short instances of teaching themselves and helping each other through self-discovery to preparing and peer-teaching specific language points they have determined would be useful. Wright and Bolitho propose other practical LA processes and tasks which I believe are transferable to C-R: (44)

  • analyzing texts,
  • comparing data with previous knowledge,
  • identifying specific features of the language point,
  • negotiating joint responses,
  • guessing,
  • hypothesizing,
  • brainstorming,
  • reflecting,
  • comparing with a grammar reference,
  • evaluating exercises, and
  • writing a language learning exercise.
All of these are highly cognitive tasks demanding a lot from learners while keeping them thoroughly involved in the discovery process of learning grammar and are thus likely to be highly motivating. Dornyei’s strategies 18 and 19 suggest that making tasks challenging can increase their attractiveness while requiring the learners’ mental effort ‘by enlisting them as active task participants.’(45)


From experience, advanced learners much prefer using authentic texts/language than the ones from the coursebook. Wright and Bolitho say authentic texts provide these advantages: ‘…a discoursal perspective on language, …an example of everyday contemporary use of English, comparison with other data sources, [and]…explanation.’(46) With authentic sources, there is the advantage of ‘linguistic heterogeneity’(47) – as Nunan points out, learners get to ‘encounter target language items…in interaction with other closely related grammatical and discoursal elements.’(48) My experience shows advanced learners find intergrated language more motivating than isolated, de-contextualized language. As one of my CAE learners recently observed, ‘When we use real articles, we are in the real world with real language.’


Wright and Bolitho also suggest introspecting and sharing perceptions.(49) Rinvolucri supports exploiting these processes: ‘Meeting and interiorizing the grammar of a foreign language is not simply an intelligent, cognitive act. It is a highly affective one too…it helps to make students more conscious of what is going on inside them if you ask them to introspect from time to time during a course as to which structure they like in the target language and which they dislike, and why.’(50) Dealing with grammar in this personalized way can motivate because it encourages learners to express their opinions about grammar, i.e., making grammar the topic for discussion rather than just for study. The learners interact personally with the grammar rather than just using it to help interact. This fits Dornyei’s strategy 18, which includes personalization.(51)


Consciously implementing a balance of these ideas allows for grammar to become not only a tool for communicating, but also a tool for maintaining learners’ motivation. Approaching grammar in these ways puts learners in challenging roles including primary language analyst and decision-maker. In my experience, that is often what advanced learners need in order to want to continue learning. It must be noted, however, that combining all of these in one lesson seems unrealistic, but exploiting a variety of combinations throughout a course would be achievable.

1. Rinvolucri, 1984: 4
2. Batstone, 1994b: 235
3. Lewis and Hill, 1992: 86
4. Thompson, 1996: 11
5. bid: 11
6. Dornyei, 2001: 71
7. Cranmer, 1996.
8. See Appendix A for a sample of teacher surveys
9. See Appendix B for a sample of learner surveys
10. Skehan, 1994: 189
11. bid: 189
12. Close, 1992: 2
13. Batstone, 1994b: 233
14. bid: 233
15. McCarthy and Carter, 1995: 207
16. Nunan, 1998: 103
17. Batstone, 1994a: 71
18. Ur, 1988: 5
19. Batstone, 1994a: 32
20. Thornbury, 2001: 12
21. Batstone, 1994a: 106-107
22. Thornbury, 2001: 81-82
23. bid: 90-91
24. Wajnryb, 1990: 8-9, 12
25. McCarthy and Carter, 1995: 207
26. Harmer, 2001: 14 (summarizing Biber, et al, 1996: 1066-1108)
27. McCarthy and Carter, 1995: 208-214
28. Yule, 1992: 248
29. Thornbury, 2001: 36
30. Batstone, 1994a: 101
31. Thornbury, 1997b: 326
32. Batstone, 1996: 273
33. Batstone, 1994a: 100
34. Thornbury, 1997b: 328
35. Johnson, 1988: 94
36. Thornbury, 1997b: 330
37. bid: 330
38. James, 1994: 213
39. Thornbury, 1997a: x
40. Edge, 1988: 10
41. Dornyei, 2001: 102
42. bid: 108
43. bid: 116
44. Wright and Bolitho, 1993: 294-297
45. Dornyei, 2001: 77-78
46. Wright and Bolitho, 1993: 294
47. Thornbury, 1997b: 331
48. Nunan, 1998: 105
49. Wright and Bolitho, 1993: 294
50. Rinvolucri, 1984: 5
51.Dornyei, 2001: 76-77


Batstone, Rob. 1994a. Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Batstone, Rob. 1994b. Product and Process: Grammar in the Second Language Classroom. Grammar and the Language Teacher, 1994. Edited by Martin Bygate, Alan Tonkyn and Eddie Williams. Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd.

Batstone, Rob. 1996. Key concepts in ELT: Noticing. ELT Journal. 50/3 July 1996. Oxford University Press.

Close, R.A. 1992. A Teacher’s Grammar. Language Teaching Publications.

Cranmer, David. 1996. Motivating High Level Learners. Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Dornyei, Zolta . 2001. Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Edge, Julian. 1988. Applying Linguistics in English language teacher training for speakers of other languages. ELT Journal, 42/1, January 1988.

Harmer, Jeremy. 2001. The Practice of English Language Teaching: Third Edition. Pearson Education Limited.

James, Carl. 1994. Explaining Grammar to its Learners. Grammar and the Language Teacher, 1994. Edited by Martin Bygate, Alan Tonkyn and Eddie Williams. Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd.

Johnson, Keith. 1988. Mistake correction. ELT Journal, 42/2, April 1988. Osford University Press.

Lewis, Michael and Jimmie Hil . 1992 (1999). Practical Techniques For Language Teachers. Language Teaching Publications.

McCarthy, Michael and Ronald Carter. 1995. Spoken Grammar: what is it and how can we teach it? ELT Journal. 49/3 July 1995. Oxford University Press.

Nunan, David. 1998. Teaching grammar in context. ELT Journal. 52/2 April 1998. Oxford University Press.

Rinvolucri, Mario. 1984. Grammar Games. Cambridge University Press.

Skehan, Peter. 1994. Second Language Acquisition Strategies, Interlanguage Development and Task-based Learning. Grammar and the Language Teacher, 1994. Edited by Martin Bygate, Alan Tonkyn and Eddie Williams. Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd.

Thompson, Geoff. 1996. Some misconceptions about communicative language teaching. ELT Journal. 50/1 January 1996. Oxford University Press.

Thornbury, Scott. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.

Thornbury, Scott. 1997a (2004). About Language: Tasks for teachers of English. Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, Scott. 1997b. Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote ‘noticing’. ELT Journal. 51/4 October 1997. Oxford University Press.

Ur, Penny. 1988. Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge University Press.

Wajnryb, Ruth. 1990. Grammar Dictation. Oxford University Press.

Wright, Tony and Rod Bolitho. 1993. Language awareness: a missing link in language teacher education? ELT Journal. 47/3 July 1993. Oxford University Press.

Yule, George, Terrie Mathis, and Mary Frances Hopkins . 1992. On reporting what was said. ELT Journal. Volume 46/3 July 1992. Oxford University Press.

Also referenced

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., and Finegan, E . 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson Education Limited.


Greg Gobel lives in Madrid both teaching at Chester School of English and as a freelance teacher trainer. He has been an English language teacher since 1997 and a teacher training since 2000. After more than 7 years in Prague, he moved to Madrid in autumn, 2004. You can contact Greg at


Lesson plan

Preliminary information

Main aims:
To raise learners awareness of a more authentic way of reporting in English. (S1,S2)
For learners to help each other work out patterns and types of reported speech (i.e., summary and approximation/constructed dialogue). (S2)

Subsidiary Aims:
For learners to interpret dialogue from television show segments and make somewhat successful attempts to report these to their peers by using summarizing and approximation/constructed dialogue style of reporting. (S3)

Timetable fit:
We are progressing through Unit 8 in the Advanced Gold coursebook, which includes a small section practicing reported speech in the typical way that grammar and coursebooks present it, which Yule calls ‘quite inadequate accounts of what…learners are likely to encounter…outside the classroom’ (Yule, 1992: 245). Two lessons prior to this one, we took a look at those activities because I wanted to find out what the learners already knew about reported speech. The downside to this is that perhaps it reinforced these mechanical rules. The upside, however, is that I know they are quite good with these mechanics. I elicited their opinions about these mechanical rules and they said they were quite hard and that it seemed unnatural to have to slow down fluency to make sure they change all the tenses correctly. I told them not to worry, and that we will investigate another way of approaching reported speech soon.

From 18:35 until 19:00 in today’s lesson, we will spend some time brainstorming and discussing types of ‘life change’ and any personal experiences the learners may have had or anticipate to help activate schemata and set the scene and topic for the rest of the lesson. Learners will also listen to the authentic taped segments that will be used in Stage 1 in the lesson plan below. The learners will listen for gist understanding of each segment by deciding who the speaker in each segment is and what ‘life change’ he or she is talking about. This way they will have a better chance at success in stage 1 and the weaker listeners will be more comfortable with the recorded material.

Homework: Learners will get a summarized version of the information that Yule presents about authentic ways of reporting. Their task will be to read it and come to the following class with any questions they may have. As in class we will be taking an inductive approach to the grammar area, I think it would be helpful for learners to get a clear description of what they discover in class for reinforcement and further clarification.

In part of a future lesson, the learners will take part in mock CAE speaking exams. They will take turns being candidates and examiners. In their role as examiners, they will have to report to other ‘examiners’ how the exam went and what their ‘candidates’ spoke about. This will give learners more practice and reinforcement with using summarizing and constructed dialogue types of reported speech.

Learners will appreciate and relate to the summary-type of reported speech as this is a natural way of reporting in Spanish.

Learners are capable of discovering the pertinent concepts of the focus language themselves (i.e., learners are capable of guided self-discovery).

Using authentic materials and real people’s voices (audio recordings and DVD) will help motivate learners.

Teaching and learning these styles of reporting are useful and helpful for learners at advanced level.

Anticipated Problems and Possible Solutions:
Learners may be intimidated by being asked to report what they hear from a real television show. Solution: Playing the DVD segments more than one time and letting learners take notes and consult peers to get ready to report should help reduce anxiety.

The room can get stuffy and hot. Solution: T will be aware of room temperature and open the door to let some fresh air in when needed.

Learners may not be that forthcoming with a personal life change in stage 5. Solution: Let them know that the life change could be a positive one and that it need not be that serious if they are not that comfortable with that.

One of the audio clips talks about a father dying from cancer. Some learners may be sensitive to this issue. The speaker speaks sensitively about the issue, so hopefully this will prevent possible problems. This class is mature, so I think they will see the audio clip for what it is and not let it affect them too much. Solution: That said, if a learner does become emotionally overwhelmed, he/she can step outside the class if needed.

Learners will be used to reporting mechanically and not automatically adjust to a more authentic style of reporting. Solution: This is to be expected, so in making attempts to report more naturally they are starting to solve this on their own; they cannot be expected to be able to do it perfectly in one lesson’s time.

Classroom aids-related:
The lesson is reliant on audio material. I must be ready for malfunctions with the machines or a power outage in the school (which has happened already this school year). Solution: I will also have the CD recordings on tape in case the CD player does not work well. Also, I will have batteries for the tape player in case there is a power outage. I will also have all the transcripts handy as a last resort. I will act out the Seinfeld dialogues for the learners if there is a power outage.

Learners may have trouble understanding some of the Seinfeld characters’ dialogue. Solution: Multiple playings of the cd to give learners enough opportunity to listen. They are encouraged to help each other understand it, so they do not have to understand every little bit. Also, as they do not need to report every word, they do not need to understand every word.

In previous lessons I have spent too much time in T-S feedback to activities and lost precious time in the lessons. Solution: Less time will be spent in T-S feedback than in prior lessons.

Number of learners:
An odd number of learners would mean that during the reporting sequence with the DVD there would be one group of three. Solution: Use a group of three and two learners would share the reporting.

Classroom Aids:

  • White board, board pens (S2, and as needed)
  • CD player (S1)
  • Remote control (S1/S3)
  • Homemade CD with ‘life changes’ audio extracts (S1, carry over from timetable fit)
  • Visuals of Kofi Annan, Elvis Presley, my sister, a work colleague, and Adam Clayton and Bono of U2. (S1, carry over from timetable fit)
  • Handout with reports (S1/S2)
  • Seinfeld DVD, episode ‘The Revenge’ (S3)
  • Hallway near receptionist’s desk (S3)
  • Prediction Task 1 worksheets (S3)
  • Prediction Task 2 worksheets (S3)
  • TV (S3)
  • DVD player (same as CD player) (S3)
  • Transcript handouts (5 audio extracts, Seinfeld extracts) for after the lesson (take-home)
  • Grammar summary sheet for after the lesson (take-home)

Learner Profiles:
The class – As a whole, the class has developed good rapport and a relaxed yet motivated and serious atmosphere that is conducive to learning English. They help each other and try their best on tasks in class. Overall, they are punctual and attend frequently; but over the last two weeks, there is a growing tendency for a bit more tardiness. Attendance is generally good. They are generally timely with their homework and understand that a lot of exam-focused homework is necessary and extremely helpful for CAE preparation. That said, this class tends to take a little longer with most classroom tasks than the other CAE class that I teach. They also score consistently 5-10% points lower on practice exams than the other class.

Elena G.L. – Elena is taking English lessons primarily to improve her speaking ability. Elena will not be taking the CAE exam this year; she started the class not wanting to take it and has not changed her mind. This is a good decision as she needs to develop more. Last year she was at the pre-intermediate level, but after traveling in Britain for several months, she was strong enough to jump several levels. Because of this, at times she lacks a bit of confidence because her vocabulary is not as broad as most of the other students in class. As the school year goes on, I am becoming more and more convinced that, although Elena is able to manage some success at this level, she would probably gain more in a First Certificate class, and do quite well on that exam were she to take it. She feels the same way.

Elena O. -- Elena O. is an unassuming anchor in class. She does, however, have a tendency to come 15 to 30 minutes late sometimes due to outside circumstances. Her skills are quite solid but she surprisingly has done rather poorly on her practice CAE English in Use homework papers. Elena has been debating about taking the exam in either June or December. She has missed the last two classes, so I am not sure what she decided.

Theresa – Theresa is a pleasure to have in class. She is hard-working with a sense of humor and very willing to actively take part in tasks. Her German skills are also very good as she has been working for a German company and traveling to Germany for work. She was away in Germany for all of February but has just recently rejoined the class. She is a little bit older than most of the other students but this is never an issue.

Javier – Javier quietly and methodically does most things extremely well. He usually needs a little time to think and generate what he wants to say, so patience is very important with him. Javier scored above a 90% in June 2004 on the FCE, so is well grounded and confident. He is already scoring high marks on his CAE practice tests. For example, he has recently scored 79% on the English in Use paper and 80% on the Listening paper. Both of these are very solid marks for the CAE.

Javier -- Javier loves to take part in class and his favorite thing is to speak, albeit not as accurately as he would like and at times, creatively inventing new ‘words’ along the way, which sometime lead to confusion, but mostly lead to the corrected form that he was attempting to make. Although this means he takes part actively in group/pair work, it also means that at times he can dominate a little bit. Javier was a late addition to the class, joining us in the second week. He fit right in, though, without losing a beat. Like, Theresa, he is a little older than the others, but age difference is not a problem in any way

Belen -- Belen and Isabel are good friends from outside class and tend to work well together. Belen is confident, out-spoken when she wants to be, and very helpful with her peers. Her writing is very accurate but I think she could challenge herself a little bit more with the type of language she uses in her writing. She has decided not to take the CAE in June, putting it off until December, because she is more focused on the Selectividad exam, which is more important for her at this stage in her education.

Isabel – Isabel and Belen are good friends from outside class. Isabel is quieter and not as sure of herself, but an active participant nonetheless. She tends to make everything into one sentence in her writing, so as the course progresses she will need to work on punctuation and when to start and end sentences, and just how much to include in each. Sometimes Isabel will unnecessarily speak Spanish in class – not too much, but just enough to show that perhaps she is not as confident as some of the other learners at this level. This occurs most when she is seated next to her friend, Belen, so it is important to have a balance of Isabel working with Belen and other peers throughout lessons. Isabel needs another year at this level with more dedication to her own learning to properly prepare for the CAE.

David -- David works at the mint across the street from the school. While many of his colleagues take business English courses, David prefers to take the general courses with an exam focus. His smile is contagious. David is a little bit weaker grammatically than the rest of the class, but this does not generally impede his ability to maintain successful communication. He has recently been showing signs of increasing his effectiveness at self-monitoring and self-correcting which I feel will help his accuracy to start improving more. David is not interested in taking the CAE exam at all. But, I’ve been encouraging him to consider trying it next year. With a more focused goal, I think he will improve more.

Victor – Victor is of the ‘let’s talk and talk, and not worry about grammar so much’ attitude. So, he is quite fluent but makes seemingly more mistakes than his peers. With Victor, a little more than the others, more accuracy is a long-term goal. Victor really helped with the rapport of the class from the first day of classes, when he came in a few minutes early and smilingly started chatting in English to one of his new peers. This really helped to set the mood and atmosphere of the class. Victor is attempting to take more control of his learning. One example of that on a bi-weekly basis he checks out an advanced reader from the school’s library. I think this is great, but have even suggested that he could borrow some of my English novels if he wanted to attempt reading the original versions. Victor has been absent from the last three classes due to personal reasons.

Nacho – Nacho is newest learner in the class and rarely attends; he has only been to 9 classes since January, when he joined. He mentioned to me after the first class that it has been years since he needed to use English, but he is confident that with some time and effort he will be comfortable with it again. Because of this, his level of proficiency seems to be rather stagnant. He rarely speaks without being called on, but he shows no signs of being nervous or shy. Perhaps he lacks a bit of confidence or simply does not have the level to keep up with his peers. I feel he has made little improvement since joining the class. I think he should really have been placed in an FCE class instead, but there are the FCE class that is at the time he can attend is full.

Lesson Rationale

Much of the grammar included in Advanced Gold, the coursebook we are using, is revision and consolidation of grammar points from earlier levels. This is useful for learners, serving as a reminder and re-focusing their attention on what the CAE exam assumes they should know. However, based on past experience, I believe that high-level learners need more than just revision of grammar to sustain their motivation. Although this coursebook does include new grammar points as well, opportunities to make revised grammar points into new and exciting ones are often overlooked.

One such opportunity arises in unit 8 with reported speech. Like most published material focusing on reported speech, Advanced Gold (pages 96-97) takes a mechanical approach, asking learners to change tenses, perhaps change deictic markers (with no explanation of why, though), with brief attention to reporting verbs and dependant prepositions. Yule, however, rightly indicates that these areas of reporting could be broadened to include more authentic and natural approaches saying, ‘This situation is particularly problematic for those learners who have mastered the widely taught mechanics of converting direct to indirect speech forms, yet still need guidance in becoming familiar with the range of options used to present reported discourse…’ (Yule, et al., 1992: 245). It is this ‘guidance’ and some of this ‘range of options’ that this lesson seeks to help learners to discover and explore. Even though these are advanced learners, they will likely be surprised by these new possibilities of reporting, so I do not want to overload them by presenting all of the range Yule proposes. I have limited the focus to ‘summarized reports’ (see Yule, 1998: 275-276) and ‘constructed dialogues’ (see Yule, 1992: 248-249) because they seem very useful, common and achievable for learners.

This lesson draws heavily on authentic material (stages 1,2,3) from well-known personalities, real reports, and the American sit-com Seinfeld and takes a retrospective approach (see Thompson, 1996: 11) featuring guided self-discovery (stage 2) to aid awareness and comprehension of new language. The lesson, taking into account its place in the timetable fit, is an extended test-teach-test. The first test was in a previous lesson, taking a look at some of the coursebook’s brief revision of reporting, useful perhaps for the CAE English in Use paper, and working out whether the learners knew about Yule’s suggested possibilities of reporting. I felt it was important to discover how informed the learners were of more natural reporting techniques. The learners were clearly very confined to the mechanical reported speech of classic grammars. Based on this, stages 1 and 2 are the teach phase, giving learners opportunities to discover and discuss summarizing and constructing dialogues. Learners will have plenty of time to avoid feeling rushed through this discovery phase. Stages 3 and 4 are the second test phase, giving learners opportunities to report what they hear from the DVD and also from personal experience, thus catering to as many learners as possible through engaging tasks with both guided and freer speaking and active, participatory listening. Learners will have reason to listen out of curiosity: what they did not see in the DVD and to learn about their peer.


Acklam, Richard and Sally Burgress. 2001. Advanced Gold Coursebook. Pearson Education.
Thompson, Geoff. 1996. ‘Some misconceptions about communicative language teaching.’ ELT Journal, Volume 50/1 January 1996. Oxford University Press.
Yule, George, Terrie Mathis, and Mary Frances Hopkins. 1992. ‘On reporting what was said.’ ELT Journal, Volume 46/3 July 1992. Oxford University Press.
Yule, George. 1998. Explaining English Grammar. Oxford University Press.


Lesson procedure

Stage 1

Use of authentic listening recordings to promote interest, to engage the learners, and to use real reported language in class.
Use of closed pairs here so learners know they can help each other, even though listening can be considered a solitary task.
For learners to verify with each other and to prompt S-S interaction.
6 mins
1A. Awareness raising: Learners listen to 5 recorded segments of authentic spoken English. While they listen, they match bits of reported speech from a worksheet with each recorded segment. Learners may compare their answers with their partner as we progress through this stage. (Note: I think learners will only need to hear the segments one time here, I will play them more times as needed.)

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • Classroom aids: CD, CD player, remote control, worksheets
  • Time: 4 minutes

1B. Learners compare their matching from 1A with a partner to confirm. If learners have done this on their own throughout 1A, we can jump ahead to stage 2.

  • Interaction pattern: Closed pairs.
  • Classroom aids: worksheets from 1A.
  • Time: 1-2 minutes

Stage 2

For learners to be engaged in their own learning of these ways of reporting speech.
For learners to notice important features of the target language.
For grammar ‘presentation’ stage to be more learner-centred through guided self-discovery.
For verification and further clarification of the analysis task questions from 2A.
22 mins
2A. Self-discovery: Learners analyse and discuss the bits of reported speech from stage 1 based on some guiding questions. They try to notice the patterns and decide which ‘type’ of reported speech each one is (i.e., direct speech, traditional ‘grammar book’ reported speech, summarization, or constructed dialogue).

  • Interaction pattern: Closed pairs.
  • Classroom aids: worksheets from Stage 1, worksheet with guided questions to facilitate self-discovery.
  • Time: 5-minute time limit will be given, but this is flexible, as learners will be looking at reported speech in a way that they are not used to and have not really worked with in the past, if they need more time, I am very willing to cater to this need. This stage will probably take, realistically, about 8 minutes.

2B. Feedback to self-discovery: T asks questions and guides discussion about the target language that learners analysed in 2A. In addition to the 7 questions on the worksheet in 2A, T will also:

  • ask why present continuous is used with the reporting verbs in C and D
  • mention these are examples spoken by Americans
  • clarify ‘to whine’ if needbe, mention ‘moan’ and the possibililty of other verbs that we will look at in future lessons
  • warn learners about possible unnaturalness if they attempt to use ‘to be like’
  • ask what word can replace ‘how’ in D
  • Interaction pattern: T-learners lockstep
  • Classroom aids: whiteboard (see Board 1), board pens, worksheet from 2A.
  • Time: 13-15 minutes (Note: If learners seem clear about the language and we do not need to spend 13-15 minutes on this stage, we will move on to stage 3 earlier.)

Stage 3

For learners to help each other in the viewing of part of a video.
For learners to hear and view a segment of video and report what the characters say/talk about to a partner.
To simulate real-life when a person may miss a segment of a film, TV show, conversation, etc., and need to be told what was said to ‘catch up’.
25 mins
Stage 3 is a sequence of alternating two video stages with two reporting stages. Simultaneously, learners will be doing prediction tasks for what they will hear reported.

Lead-in: T shows Seinfeld visual. Quickly tells learners it is an American television comedy, and they will watch small segments and report to each other what the characters talk about.

3A. DVD Stage 1: Learners are split into two groups. One group stays in the classroom, the other group goes out into the hallway.

The group in the classroom watch a short segment from a video. They can take notes if they want. We will watch the segment a second time to help weaker learners and make sure everyone is comfortable with the material. They will have a chance to think about, with a partner, how they want to report the dialogue from the video.

Meanwhile, the group in the hallway has a sheet with prediction questions to prepare them to here the report from their peer in 3B.

  • Interaction pattern: 2 groups; group 1 in DVD-learner dynamic; group 2 works as a group to do prediction task
  • Classroom aids: DVD, TV, prediction task 1 worksheet. Seinfeld, ‘The Revenge’, from 1.06 to 1.29; and 3.05 to 3.31.
  • Time: 9 minutes

3B. Reporting Stage 1: The hallway group comes back into the room and pair up with someone who has seen the video segment. The viewer reports to the non-viewer what was said in the segment. This will give the non-viewer the information needed to watch the next segment (See 5C). For feedback, T will ask 1 listener about their partner’s reporting.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • Classroom aids: sheet of notes (optional)
  • Time: 4 minutes

3C. DVD Stage 2:
The original hallway group (from 3A) now stays in the classroom and watches the next video segment, taking notes if needed, watching a second time if needed; preparing to report what they have heard. Meanwhile, the original video group (from 3A) goes into the hallway and has a sheet with prediction questions to prepare them to here the report from their peer in 3D.

  • Interaction pattern: 2 groups; group 2 in dvd-learner dynamic; group 1 works as a group to do prediction task
  • Classroom aids: DVD, TV, remote, prediction task 2 worksheet, Seinfeld, ‘The Revenge’, from 5.05 to 6.37.
  • Time: 9 minutes

3D. Reporting Stage 2: The hallway group comes back into the room and each learner in that group pairs up with someone who has seen the video segment. The viewer reports to the non-viewer what was said in the segment. (Note: Learners will work with a different partner than in 3B.) For feedback, T will ask 1 listener about their partner’s reporting, time allowing.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • Classroom aids: sheet of notes (optional)
  • Time: 3 minutes

Stage 4

To help learners relate the target language to their own life.
To give learners freer speaking practice.
6 mins
4A. (optional based on time) Learners think about a time when they got advice for some sort of life change. T refers learners back to life change possibilities from scene setting brainstorm before stage 1 (see timetable fit)

  • Interaction pattern: learners think alone
  • Classroom aids: none
  • Time: 1 minute

4B. Personalized free communicative task: reporting a time when learners got advise for some sort of life change. Learners take turns. If time allows, they can report more than one experience.

  • Interaction pattern: closed pairs
  • Classroom aids: none; T has paper and pen for correction notes.
  • Time: 4 minutes

Stage 5

To reactivate learner’s focus on what they did in the lesson.
To encourage learner autonomy with homework tasks.
1 mins
5A. (Wrap-up/)Wind down stage:

(If time: T quickly elicits what learners did in the lesson today.)

T gives out summary sheet and homework task.

  • Interaction pattern: T-learners (lockstep)
  • Classroom aids: homework worksheets
  • Time: 1 minutes

Materials & tasks

‘Life Changes’ Transcripts:

Elvis: (12 seconds) -from ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

I had no cause to doubt you. But, I’d rather go on hearing your lies than to go on living without you.

Kofi Annan interview: (37 seconds) -from interview on BBC, 17/9/04

Kofi: Most of my adult life has been outside Ghana, yes.

Interviewer: So what do you want to do there?

Kofi: I…I…I…I…want to be a farmer. A farmer in the sense that, heh heh heh heh, you seem surprised.

Interviewer: Yes, that’s great, you’re going to go and farm.

Kofi: Well, I would…I would like to farm, and also in the broader sense, also that, I would want to do something that will help Africa feed itself.

Interviewer: What sort of farming? You’re goi…you’re…you’re…going to…what sort of farming do you want to do?

Kofi: Well, I haven’t decided what sort of farming I want to do, but one thing I know is that I would want to be, uh, try and get involved with improving African agricultural productivity.

Work colleague: (19 seconds) – 4/3/05

Emma: I suppose one of my life changing experiences was when I went to study in Granada. Uh, I was obviously studying Spanish at university and when I arrived there I suddenly realized that after (pause) so many years of study I couldn’t speak a word and I couldn’t understand anything they said.

Brother and Sister talking on the phone: (24 seconds) – 5/3/05

Kris: Well, I’m thinking of possibly going back to get my MBA. I’ve looked at the University of Arizona – they have a good program and it’s something I’ve been thinking

Greg: That’s sounds good.

Kris: about doing but there really hasn’t been time to do it.

Greg: Yeah, it’s been a while you’ve been thinking about that.

Adam Clayton interview: (51 seconds) –from DVD/Documentary ‘U2 and 3 Songs’ – 10/6/04

Adam Clayton: You know, it’s a song that Bono wrote the lyric, you know, when his father was, when it was obvious that his father was going to die from cancer, um, at, when we were recording the last record, and fortunately Bob actually kinda lived for quite a long time, and lived through to the tour and Bono was able to kinda spend a lot of time with him on the tour and then eventually passed away as people probably know before our Slain gig, so, you know, it’s an important song that point of view for him, you know, documents a..a very real moment for him, a continuing moment, so…


Listen and match these bits of authentic reported speech with the recordings.

The report Recording number
A: He was like, ‘Wow, I’m really surprised!’ and then he went ‘yeah, I wanna do something good for the people – the people where I come from, be a farmer, you know.’   
B: So she says, ‘I might do my MBA.’ Then he goes, ‘That’s a good idea. Haven’t you wanted to for a while?’   
C: He was talking about an important song about Bono’s dad dying, and how he lived longer than they thought but died of cancer in the end.   
D: She was saying how studying Spanish in school didn’t really help her when she got to Granada.   
E: I couldn’t believe it! She’s, ‘I’m not paying for that.’ And she’s like, ‘But I really need a car.’ And she goes, ‘That car’s too expensive.’ And she starts whining, ‘But you promised and blah blah blah.’   
F: He told her he loves her and can’t live without her.   


Language analysis: Use the examples above to discuss these questions with your partner.

1. Divide these reports into 2 categories based on the patterns you notice. What is the difference? How could you generally describe each category of report.

2. How are these reports different from the reported speech you have learnt and practiced in the past?

3. What are the advantages to reporting in these two ways?

4. What do you think the level of formality of these reports is?

5. What reporting verbs are used? What verb forms do you notice?

6. In F, why is present simple used when Elvis is, in fact, dead?

7. In E, why does the speaker say ‘blah, blah, blah’ at the end?


Prediction Task 1: Your classmates will watch a short segment of a television show, an American comedy called Seinfeld. Afterwards, they will report to you what the characters say. To help you get ready to listen to your classmate’s report, please discuss these questions with your classmates who are in the hallway with you now.

1. What are some reasons why people decide to quit their job?

2. When a person quits his/her job, how does he/she tell his/her boss?

3. What are typical things that people might do soon after quitting their job?

Prediction Task 2: Your classmates will watch another short segment from the same television show. They will watch a scene in which George, the man who quit his job, is discussing future job possibilities with his friend Jerry, the man he met at the laundromat. Your classmates will report to you what the characters discuss. To help you get ready to listen to you classmate’s report, please discuss these questions with your classmates who are in the hallway with you now.

1. What do you think the mood of the conversation will be?

2. What types of jobs do you think they discuss?

3. What sort of advice do you think Jerry gives to George?

4. Do you think they come to a solution? Why or why not?

Seinfeld transcripts from the episode called, ‘The Revenge’:


Segment 1: 1.06 to 1.29

George: (speaking to his boss at work) That’s it. This is it! I’m done! Through! It’s over! I’m gone! Finished! Over! I will never work for you again! Look at you! You think you’re an important man? Is that what you think? You are a laughing stock! You are a joke! These people are laughing at you! You’re nothing! You have no brains, no ability, nothing! I quit!

Segment 2: 3.05 to 3.31

George: Guess what?

Jerry: (pause) How did you know I was here?

George: Kramer. Guess what?

Jerry: I don’t know.

George: I quit my job.

Jerry: Get out of here!

George: I couldn’t take it any more.

Laundromat attendant: You can have this on Monday.

Jerry: What happened? Levetan?

George: I go in to use his private bathroom. Everybody uses it. And then I get a memo…A memo! telling me to use the men’s room in the hall. Well, I mean, we share it with Pace Electronics. It’s disgusting!

Jerry: You and your toilets.

Segment 3: 5.05 to 6.37

George: Okay. Sports. Movies. What about a talk show host?

Jerry: Talk show host, that’s good.

George: I think I’d be good at that. I talk to people all the time. Someone even told me once I’d be a good talk show host.

Jerry: Really?

George: Yeah, a couple of people. (pause) How do you get that? Where do you start?

Jerry: Well, that’s where it gets tricky.

George: Can’t just walk into a building and say, ‘I wanna be a talk show host.’

Jerry: I wouldn’t think so.

George: It’s all politics.

Jerry: Alright, okay. Sports, movies, talk show hosts. What else?

George: This could’ve been a huge mistake.

Jerry: Well, it doesn’t sound like you completely thought this through.

George: I guess not. What should I do?

Jerry: Maybe you can just go back.

George: Go back?

Jerry: Yeah, pretend like it never happened.

George: You mean, just walk into the staff meeting on Monday morning like it never happened?

Jerry: Sure. You’re an emotional person. People don’t take you seriously.

George: Just go back. Pretend the whole thing never happened.

Jerry: Never happened.

George: I was blowing off a little steam. So what?

Jerry: So what? You’re entitled.

George: I’m emotional!

Jerry: That’s right. You’re emotional!

George: Never happened!

Jerry: Never happened!


Board One (Stage 2B)

Two ‘natural’ ways of reporting speech:
summarizing Constructing/imagining
c d f a b e

Reporting Verbs

to be like
to go (She goes / He went)
to be (She’s)
to say
to talk about
to tell s.o.
to whine / to moan
AmE./ BrE.


Reporting speech in a more authentic and natural way.

Coursebooks traditionally tell you that reported speech involves back-shifting the tenses (e.g., from past simple to past perfect), changing pronouns (I, he), time references (yesterday, the day before) and place references (here, there). However, learning reported speech in this way may not prepare you for language they may hear outside of the classroom, away from your coursebook.

Here are some ‘natural’ ways of reporting what has been said:


Someone says:

‘I suppose one of my life changing experiences was when I went to study in Granada. Uh, I was obviously studying Spanish at university and when I arrived there I suddenly realized that after (pause) so many years of study I couldn’t speak a word and I couldn’t understand anything they said.’

This could be reported in by summarizing the main points:

‘She was saying how studying Spanish in school didn’t really help her when she got to Granada.’

The reporting verb can be in past continuous to show that the conversation being reported had more duration than the summary.

Constructing an imaginary dialogue

With this technique, the speaker also focuses on the important points, but recreates a dialogue with imaginary direct speech to report. Verbs such as be like, go, and be are very common as the the reporting verbs. Two people have the following conversation:

Kris: Well, I’m thinking of possibly going back to get my MBA. I’ve looked at the University of Arizona – they have a good program and it’s something I’ve been thinking

Greg: That’s sounds good.

Kris: about doing but there really hasn’t been time to do it.

Greg: Yeah, it’s been a while you’ve been thinking about that.

An overhearer could report it like this:

So she says, ‘I might do my MBA.’ Then he goes, ‘That’s a good idea. Haven’t you wanted to for a while?’

Mixing both ‘summarizing’ and ‘constructing an imaginary dialogue’

It is also possible to mix the two. Perhaps reporting a bit of summary first, and then presenting a constructed dialogue where you feel lit may be important to ‘bring the report to life’. An example, using the same dialogue from above, could be:

We were chatting about her plans, you know, what she wants to do. So she says, ‘I might do my MBA.’ Then I go, ‘That’s a good idea. Haven’t you wanted to for a while?’

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