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Teaching Tips 35

Writing for beginners
Sorting them out

Writing for beginners
When our learners begin English, the writing skill can seem very difficult & cumbersome. Added to which, most of our students want to speak & listen, & so relegate writing to the back burner. Teachers do the same. The writing skill is very useful at a beginner level as, among a variety of aims, it reinforces language & provides a medium through which they can reflect on their learning - as they write they are processing what they know & can use.

Here are a couple of ideas to think about when dealing with beginner-level writing:

The first type of writing your students do is copy from the board. If you don't check what your beginners are copying down already you'll be surprised at some of the differences between what you have on the board & what they have in their notebooks. As they copy, check what they are writing & correct when necessary.

Think about the type of writing your students do in their own language & how you could incorporate these genres into their English writing. These might include postcards, lists, short e-mails & informal letters & faxes, short notes, phone messages & official forms. It's also important to integrate the writing with the other skills, in particular the reading skill. A newspaper article could lead to a short 'e-mail to the editor', a holiday brochure to postcard, adverts to shopping lists etc..Keep the writing tasks short & manageable.

Gradual writing
Learner diaries, as in the Tip can be used from the beginning with the students writing in their own language & you responding in English & bit by bit the students are encouraged to add in vocabulary as they write the diaries until they are writing sentences. A gradual move into English writing.

For more on learner diaries..

The same idea can apply with any genre. As long as the students can write something in English, let them fill in the rest in their native language.

Student-produced charts can be useful sources of discussion. When looking at family relations, students write out their family trees for their partner to ask questions about the different people. A chart of the company hierarchy where they work can also be used in the same way.

So, be enthusiastic & supportive about the writing skill & convey the usefulness of it to the students.

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Multi-word verbs

Do you deal systematically with multi-word verbs from intermediate upwards? There are so many that you can't get away from them! Here are some issues to consider when dealing with them.

The types - some teachers introduce three types & others four. The four are:

1. verb + adverb (intransitive)
a phrasal verb

The plane took off

2. verb + adverb + object (transitive)
a phrasal verb - the particle can come after the object if it's not a pronoun

Ben put on his hat
Ben put his hat on
Ben put it on

- but not - Ben put on it - XX

3. verb + preposition + object
a prepositional verb - the particle cannot come after the object

Josh looked after the cat.

4. verb + adverb + preposition + object
a phrasal-prepositional verb

Helen's looking forward to the exam

To test yourself on these types, see the list below

Some teachers feel that the transitive/intransitive distinction is unnecessary & combine the first two types. And then how do you help your students distinguish between adverbs & prepositions? Tricky - just call them particles?

Put a chart on the wall of the classroom with 3/4 columns & when one of these verbs comes up elicit which type it is & write it in the appropriate column. Refer to the chart & use it in warmers for quick reviews.

On to the meaning, the literal/non-literal distinction can help.


My German needs brushing up
He was put out by the arrangement
The milk's gone off
Stand up
She's always answering back
They ran away

There are basically three ways of approaching multi-word verbs in class:

1. Introduce them through the verb eg. take after, take away, take up etc

2. Introduce them through the particle eg. run away, throw away, hide away etc

3. Introduce them in a lexical set eg. move in, settle in, put up, look for - for the area of moving house.

Each has its moment although the most useful might be the lexical sets. Whichever you use, be careful to provide contexts. Noticing activites when dealing with spoken & written texts are useful.

There are three more approaches:

- to ignore them - wishful thinking! Even if you try to ignore them your students are bound to ask & worry about them.

- to just deal with them as they crop up - Well, yes but some systematic approach is necessary.

- to develop intuition towards them. 'Does it sound right?' An important aspect with any area of language.

And the stress? There is a tendency for it to be on the adverbial but not the prepositional particle.

Multi word verbs do need attending to & above are some of the issues you need to clear up in your own mind. If you haven't sorted out a systematic approach, it would be wise to do so - a bit of research goes a long way. The clearer you are about them, the clearer your students will be.

Decide which type each verb is

We couldn't get on.
They came up against a big problem.
He filled in the form.
The bus drove off.
They didn't pay him back.
He turned down the offer.
I used to look up to him.
He's suffering from a serious illness.
You need to work out the money.
Have you heard about Helen?
They put out the fire.
They got away with the robbery.
Ben broke down the door.
I don't care about it.
You've got to face up to the facts.
He doesn't really fit in with the others.
He relies on me a lot.
Josh turned around.
He's looking into the problem.
They ran out of sugar.
Keep away from that dog!
I look back on my childhood a lot.
She looks down on people.
The shop closed down.
He grew out of his clothes quickly.
She woke him up.
We must cut down on the money we spend.

To see the answers

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Film director

Total Physical Response activities in class are a great way to quickly build students' store of verbs. James Asher (1977) developed TPR basing it on observations of how children learn a first language. He saw that children listen before they speak & that their listening is combined with physical responses. He thought that this was an ideal way forward for the lower level language learner as it provided exposure & input & took the pressure off from having to speak thereby making it as stress-free as possible.

So how can we use ideas from TPR in our classes? Here are a couple of ideas:

A procedure for a series of instructions

Choose any procedure that can be acted out & write out the instructions. For example - a simple procedure for making breakfast:

Go the the cupboard
Open it
Take out the cereals
Take out a bowl
Put them on the table
Close the cupboard
Open the drawer
Take out a spoon
Put it on the table
Open the packet of cereals
Pour some into the bowl
Go to the fridge
Open the fridge
Take out the milk
Close the fridge
Go back to the table
Pour the milk on the cereal
Sit down
Pick up the spoon
Eat some cereal

A procedure you could use for this:

1. Teacher acts & tells the procedure while the students watch - do it two or three times - meaning should be apparent from the actions. It would be better to put the instructions on tape to free you from telling & acting.

2. Teacher, or tape, tells the procedure while the students act it out - do this several times.

3. Students could take it in turns reading out the procedure to each other.

4. Students tell each other from memory & the others act it out. As they become more confident with the instructions they can change them around to see if they catch each other out - checking comprehension.

At the end elicit the verbs & instructions on to the board. All the better if they have been able to act & repeat without having been given the scripts. They, & you, will be amazed at how many new verbs they have been playing with.

The film director

This is a similar activity to the one above but set within film. Write out a short set of instructions that a film director might come up with. Put the instructions on tape. An example might be:

'Peter, sit down at the table. Joe, stand up. Sarah, go up to Joe. Sarah, kiss Joe. Peter, stand up. Peter, pull out your gun & shoot Joe. Joe, fall down. etc....'

After an introduction to film & the cinema, play the tape & act it out in front of the students.

Then assign roles & the students act it out. One student could be the director with the script.

Then the students write the next scene in small groups - you'll need to go round & feed in the verbs they need. They then act out their scene with one director & the rest actors.

Lots of fun & lots of verbs!

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