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Teaching Tips 69

Where to stick grocer's apostrophe
Looking In
Noising it up

Where to stick grocer's apostrophe

Have a go at this:

Look at the following sentences. Which are grammatically correct, which are incorrect & correct the wrong ones.

1. He took Sallys car to the garage.

2. The street seller was pedalling his goods.

3. If you don't tow the line your fired.

4. It's wheels need changing.

5. Their books are over there.

6. They couldn't diffuse the bomb in time. It exploded.

7. He had an exam so he spent his time pouring over his books.

8. They gave him free reign of the office. He could do what he liked.

9. The Jones's house is up the street.

10. She complemented him on his work.

I came across the following article on the Guardian website the other day. Take a look:

Where to stick grocer's apostrophe

John Ezard, arts correspondent
Thursday July 8, 2004 The Guardian

We have finally got the hang of the grocer's apostrophe. But we still have little clue how to defuse, or diffuse, our other hang-ups about the correct use of words - and computer spellcheckers only make our task harder.

This is today's (not todays) verdict from Oxford University Press. It reports evidence from its 300m-word database of "a new kind of problem" among otherwise relatively literate people.

One of the epidemic errors of the past 30 years - unnecessary, misplaced or omitted apostrophes in the words "its"and "it's" - has dwindled to only about 8% of people, possibly because the mistake has drawn so much ridicule. It was dubbed "the grocer's apostrophe" because of its unnecessary use in plural words on shop signs or placards (Price's Slashed).

But it has been replaced by misuse of "diffuse" or "defuse" (as in "A coach can diffuse the situation by praising the players").

Research for the new Concise Oxford English Dictionary, published today, found that this word crime was committed in some 50% of examples on the database. It is now rated as the commonest in the language.

Second commonest is uncertainty over when to use "rein" or "reign", found in 26% of examples, as in "A taxi driver had free reign to charge whatever he likes".

Third most frequent (21%) is "tow" instead of "toe", as in "Some pointed to his refusal to tow the line under Tony Blair". Fourth (12%) is "pouring" instead of "poring", as in
"He spent his evenings pouring over western art magazines".

Other common confusions include pedal and peddle, draw and drawer, compliment and complement and their, there and they're.

Angus Stevenson, of OUP dictionaries, said yesterday: "This seems to be something of a new situation. These errors are occurring in texts that are otherwise quite well spelt, possibly because of the increasing use of spellcheckers. Spellcheckers can tell you whether a word is correctly spelt - but not whether it is properly used.

"Also, we find that people are picking up words and phrases from the media and bolting them together into fully formed sentences."

The OUP database contains mainly written word usages. To measure speech, it used to include recordings from radio but now takes examples from the internet instead.

"People are increasingly writing on the internet as if it was a spoken rather than a written medium, with all the mistakes which arise through doing that," Mr Stevenson said.

Newly coined, or revived, words and phrases printed for the first time in the latest Concise dictionary include metrosexual (used about David Beckham and others), sex up, congestion charge, health tourism, pole dancing, speed dating and threequel (a second sequel).

Interesting, no? As well as showing the more advanced student that native speakers have problems, it also makes a good introduction on teacher training courses to error analysis.

Here is a procedure to use in class:

1. Give the error analysis task above out. You could easily change it do suit the level.

2. Feedback >> you could then go on to look at the items you highlighted in the task, teaching the differences, or getting the students to research the differences themselves with grammar books & dictionaries. They then teach each other. Or leave it until after the article reading.
For some apostrophe rules:

3. Reading - tell them they are in good company with these kinds of problems as native speakers find them difficult. Give out the article & ask students to quickly find any examples in the error task in the article. Give a time limit.

4. Students compare >> feedback.

5. Comprehension check - students write 5-8 questions about the text, in pairs >> hand on their questions for others to answer >> hand them back to original writers for correction.

For lower levels, you might simply tell them what is in the article. Interesting teacher talk.

6. Language focus - some possible focuses:

- the discourse structure - get the students to trace how the article develops. Ask them to give a descriptive heading to each paragraph eg. introduction, resolved problem, newer problem, reasons for the problem, expert backing, conclusion etc..

- lexis; got the hang of, make our task harder, It reports evidence from, has dwindled to only about 8%, has drawn so much ridicule, bolting them together into fully formed sentences, Newly coined, or revived, words.....

- tense usage.....

7. Discussion
- you could see if the students know of any areas in their languages that suffer the same fate.
- a discussion of the following & any more that you can think of; metrosexual, sex up, congestion charge, health tourism, pole dancing, speed dating and threequel. And any new words in their own languages.

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Looking In

A great way of developing our teaching is by being observed by another teacher & getting feedback. Whilst teaching, it is difficult to step back & see the lesson objectively or our own prejudices get in the way of seeing how different options might work better. However, it is not always possible to be observed by others & we have to work on how we can help ourselves. In a past Tip we looked at Teacher Diaries

Another way would be to set different self-observation tasks. Before the lesson think about the kind of class it will be & choose a task that might fit with this. Here are a few observation tasks to be carried out when you have a quiet moment during the lesson, followed by some questions you might ask yourself after the lesson when reflecting on them:

Instructions & explanations - note down the stages where the students had difficulties with these. How would you carry these out again more successfully?

Timing - note down the stages that went on too long or finished sooner than predicted. Why did this happen & did it matter?

Classroom patterns - note down the patterns you use. Were these valid & what changes would make the lesson more effective?

Language focus - note down when language specifically focused on. Was this the right time in the lesson to be doing this? Was it clear? What follow up took place or will take place?

Skills work - note down when some sub-skill training took place or when skill testing took place. Was this the right aim for this group? How could it have been carried out differently?

These are to give an idea, invent your own to fit your teaching situation. You could also tape your lesson, or part of the lesson, & using one or two of the above, reflect on the lesson as you play it back. And it's a good idea not to just stick to the areas you are having problems with, take time to look at things you find easy too. You may well find you can improve & develop here as well.

And then there is involving the students in the process! You could give them similar mini-tasks to do during the lesson & then take them in at the end to use in your reflections.

You might say that you do this already, just thinking about the lesson afterwards. True but the noting down does help & it forces you to think more systematically about the lesson & focus on a particular area.

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Noising it up

A listening skills idea I came across recently. We usually use the listening texts as they come in coursebooks & supplementary materials. We might use the tasks in the books or design more appropriate ones to suit our students but it is rare to change the actual listening material. If it is too easy or too difficult or inappropriate in content then we discard it & look for something else. For the last two of these there might be no option but to find something else but with the first, that of a text being too easy, a nice way to bump up the challenge is to provide extra 'noise' to the text through the use of background noise.

What you need is a tape of five minutes of background noise from a bar, a station, the street etc.... somewhere there will be a lot of different noises. All this entails is going to one of these places with a tape recorder & making the recording. Then when you play the listening text, use another machine to play the background noise at the same time. This interference will automatically make the task more challenging. And you can alter the volume of the noise depending on how difficult you want it to be.

The only real practical problems are making the recording, which shouldn't really be a problem, & having two tape machines in the room at the same time. You could have different background noises on tape to choose from to provide variety & practice in these situations. And they are there to use time & again. Get out there & record your backgrounds!

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