Teaching Tips 69
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
3. If you don't tow the line your
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:
to stick grocer's apostrophe
John Ezard, arts correspondent
Thursday July 8, 2004 The
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But it has been replaced by misuse of "diffuse"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",
"He spent his evenings pouring over western
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
"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
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
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
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 >>
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
- 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.....
- 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.
to the contents
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
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?
- note down the patterns you use. Were these valid &
what changes would make the lesson more effective?
- 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?
- 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
to the contents
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!