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Teaching Tips 95

Nice verbs
Unexpected situations
Product, process or genre?


Nice verbs

Students, teachers & publishers seem to be obsessed with the verb form so we thought we might have a brief look at an aspect of verbs. Do you understand the following verb terms?

main/lexical verb
finite or non-finite verb
auxiliary verb
semi-auxiliary verb
regular or irregular verbs
participles or infinitives
modal verb
semi-modal verb
stative or dynamic verb
transitive or intransitive verb
multi-word verb
verb phrase

A verb can be a main verb, or sometimes called a lexical verb, as opposed to the auxiliary verbs such as 'have', 'be', 'do' & the modals. But how can you tell the difference between the two types?

There is a nice way to tell the difference with the NICE test. Have a look at the following chart:

The NICE test to show the component parts
of auxiliary verbs
Negation Auxiliary verbs form the negative with 'not' or the contracted form 'n't' - aren't, may not, don't...
Inversion When forming questions they are inverted with the preceding word - Are you tired? May I go?
Code A form of ellipsis is possible with auxiliaries, they can be left on their own when the main verb has been left out - Ben works here but John doesn't.
Emphasis They can be used for emphasis - Josh does play every day.

There are also other multi-part combinations that are considered 'semi-auxiliaries' as they come before the main verb, 'supposed to' - He's supposed to go.' 'be going to' - He's going to go. 'used to' - He used to come here.

All of this might well be confusing for some nationalities with no apparent rhyme or reason behind our use of verbs. It can get sticky when asked by a low level class what 'do' means in a question like 'Do you want to go?'. Sometimes referred to as the 'dummy 'do'', we need to get over the idea of a nuts & bolts word, one with no inherent meaning, present to help the main verb. A simple discrimination task would help to sort out the difference. Give a list of sentences with 'do' as the main verb & as a dummy operator & the students put them into the two groups. Another way to show the different forms of verb patterns is with cuisenaire rods. Have a look at the example page on the site.

Modals are also auxiliaries & they do provide meaning, which we'll look at in a later Tip.

For effective communication, our students need to manipulate auxiliaries in the different verb forms, in tags & for emphasis & need regularly reminding of their use - clear presentations, noticing activities & regularly picking up on in feedback slots all help. Although there are very regular rules of form, it's easy to underestimate the difficulty students have with them.

For a look at multi-word verbs, see the Tip 'Sorting them out'.

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March 20th is Earth Day, coinciding with the March equinox. The United Nations Cyber SchoolBus site:

'The Japanese Peace Bell at UN Headquarters in New York will ring at exactly 1:49 AM (EST) on Saturday, 20 March to mark the precise moment that spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. At this global moment, night and day are equal all over the world, the sun sets at the South Pole and rises at the North Pole and anyone standing on the equator at noon will not cast a shadow. Earth Day is a day of equilibrium when differences are forgotten and nature's renewal is celebrated by all.

For the last 34 years, this annual event marks the beginning of Earth Day which has been traditionally observed with the ringing of bells. Earth Day was created to remind us of our shared responsibility to protect the planet.'

Apart from the inherent interest, this could make for an interesting warmer discussion to a lesson. And for the younger learner, Earth Day would make a good springboard into an environment-based project.

Earth Day site:
What & when is Earth Day:

A few more links:
Wikipedia Spring entry:
Spring lesson plans from
Spring stuff from Kids Domain:

Information about Earth:
Nasa's Earth Observatory:
Quotes about Earth:

And talking of Earth, have you tried Google Earth? If you have a broadband connection to the internet & a relatively new computer, you should be fine for running it. Free & excellent.

We've had a few Tips about the speaking skill & helping students with the spontaneous nature of conversation:
A many-headed interview
Quick thinking roleplay

Here's another spontaneous roleplay idea. Have a look at the following role cards:

You are standing outside a phone box & have been waiting for at least five minutes. It's starting to rain. Knock on the window & try to persuade the caller inside to hurry up. (Make it very difficult for your partner to work out the situation.)
You have been out with your drinking friends. You promised your partner you would be home for a special meal but you forgot. Apologise to your partner. (Make it very difficult for your partner to work out the situation.)
You are on a train & have just been to the toilet. As you arrive back to your seat, you see another person in your seat. Persuade her/him to move. (Make it very difficult for your partner to work out the situation.)

The idea is that one student has the card, while the other student initially has no idea what is going on. The card holder begins the roleplay, standing or sitting depending on the situation, & the other has to work out the situation, catching on & carrying on the conversation. This all needs explaining very clearly beforehand so that the card holder doesn't give the situation away straightaway. Try it out, the cards are easy to write & the students have lots of fun.

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Writing skill

Product, process or genre?

A brief look at aims & approaches when looking at writing in class. There seems to be a fairly common idea amongst teachers that if their students are putting pen to paper, they are developing the writing skill. For low level students who use a different script in their mother tongue, any kind of writing could certainly be said to be helping them with the writing skill.

However, for the more advanced students & those who have the Latin script in their mother tongue this isn't necessarily the case. There is a distinction between language consolidation & classroom language recording & actually developing the skills needed for effective writing. Have a look at the following activities & decide if they are writing skill development tasks or some other task.

1. students fill in the gaps in sentences with the past simple form of the verbs given.
2. students brainstorm ideas for the story they are going to write.
3. students re-write their letters to make them better.
4. students copy new vocabulary from the board.
5. students write postcards to each other.
6. students do a fastwriting activity - Tip - Just write it!
7. students make notes while they listen to a dialogue.
8. students write down the record of the new grammar point.
9. students transform sentences from the active to the passive.
10. students match words & definitions.

 2, 3, 5, 6 & 7 are writing skill development tasks.

Traditional ELT writing classes have used a 'model approach' to the skill. The students are given an example of the type of text they are to produce & they copy bits & change the content to match their brief.

Nowadays, when developing the writing skill, teachers combine three approaches; a 'product approach', a 'process approach' & a 'genre approach'. The first, the product approach is the more traditional one as in the 'model approach' above, that emphases the end product, what the students produce at the end of the writing. There is little concern as to how the student reached the product.

The process approach emphasises the journey to the product, the actual composing that may include the brainstorming, planning, drafting, writing, revising & re-writing. Clearly there is a product here, the students do produce a text, but we are also interested in the creative processes, as well as the end result.

A genre approach targets the common written genres that our students might need to produce. Some of these might include informal letters (to friends, colleagues), formal letters (that request information, complain & express opinion etc), emails, faxes, cvs, postcards, forms, lists etc. Here we might look at examples of the genre we are concentrating on, not to copy but to help the students refine their ideas during the process.

It is always a good idea to clarify aims & the writing skill also needs a principled approach. Combine the three approaches & you'll be doing your students a service.

A couple of excellent writing skills books:
Process Writing (Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers) by R.White & L.Arndt (Longman)

Writing by P.Hedge (OUP)

Some past Tips on the skill:
Thank you - punctuation
Questioning it
Keeping to the limit
Listening in
There once was an English teacher
Silently chatting
Interesting writing
Writing for beginners
Hopeful haikus
Just write it!
Bizarre consequences

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