Me No English

“Me no English,” states the girl with enough grammar to ape Tarzan. She does this in spite of speaking full sentences and writing them in her book. I’ve heard her say fluent and complete ones before. She and the others use this as a joke.

“I’m not asking you to speak English,” I growl. “I’m asking you to repeat. I say, you say.”

That’s one of my teaching mantras. I use it in every single class. At least five times a class. Approximately once every seven minutes. All day long. Every weekday since the 17th of September 2017.

“Me no…”

“Nope. I say, you say. May….”

“Me…”

“No. Say. Say. May…” Pointing to my mouth. Counting on my fingers.

This girl is eleven. She’s been in English classes for 2.5 years. Today’s lesson is about future tense. Or was. It is 16:07 and class ends at 16:10. I took her notebook off her at 15:35. It’s taken 32 minutes to get through the bullshit this class has been putting me through. Incessantly talking. Frustrating meanness. A total lack of respect. It’s not that they can’t do what I’m asking them to. I’ve seen it happen.

“Let’s help her out, guys.”

Half the class had to come up and ask me nicely to return their stuff. I took it because at the start of class, I wrote the list of supplies needed for English class. I’ve been writing it on the board for the whole month of December, after a kid tried to get out of taking the English semester test by claiming he didn’t know he needed a pencil. The list reads:

YOU NEED:
– A pencil
-Your English Book (closed)

I added the ‘your,’ the ‘English,’ and the ‘(closed)’ due to students claiming that the instructions were too ambiguous. Given that my students still repeatedly interrupt classes to say, “What’s your name?” after having me in their school every single day for the whole semester, I believe that they might just forget that I exist when I step out of the room and go to my next lesson. After all, they say that six month old babies think you die when you leave the room. Maybe my fifth graders have arrested development.

“What is it that we have to say, in order to get our things back?”

This student is the fifteenth in line. I’ve repeated the line with every last one of them. I’ve sent people to the back of the line to contemplate their sins for being a jerk and/or picking their nose while they politely asked for their book.

I took the books because I waited for five minutes for my students to comply with the instructions that do not change and have always been the instructions. That’s the limit. I watch the clocks and count the seconds. I punctuate the moments with points for those who are doing as I ask (In this class, there was but one. One, out of 35, who was ready for class after five minutes of waiting.). Once it reaches five minutes, I start to take books.

I put them on the teacher’s desk, and there they stay until I call the students up to ask me politely for their things back. In this class, I’ve created a pile of rulers, notebooks, vietnamese language homework, several open English books, pens, leaking fountain pens, and a book about no-bake desserts.

I pointed out that even the first graders don’t normally have this much of a failure-to-comply-with-basic-instructions mountain. The line to receive the stuff stretched all the way to the back of the room, the final ten minutes of a 35-minute class in which we did exactly zero of the work they are supposed to complete filled with repetitive, immediately-forgotten, false politeness. The last notebook sat in my hands for two minutes, with me repeatedly threatening to eat it (no titters, usually gold material for primary students).

Only when I opened my backpack and put the notebook inside did the eleven-year-old girl race forward, shouting in Vietnamese, “HEY! THAT’S MINE!!!!!!!”

In this class two weeks ago, I rapped my own knuckle on the board so hard trying to emphasise that I was not asking them to generate the words from the ether so much as read the things off the board in a zombified tone. My left ring finger cracked open. I bled. My students laughed at that. It was probably the first time they actually laughed at something I did all month. Haha. Look at that idiot bleed.

“Me n…”

“Let’s all help her, yes? May…….” The class joins in, or rather the few who noticed that I’m asking them to help a girl out.

“May…..” She repeats.

Counting on my fingers to indicate the second word. The two best students in the class chime in with, “I…..”

“I….”

Counting three fingers. Third word.

“Have….”

“Have…”

Fourth finger.

“My….”

“Me….”  I let it slide, this minor mistake. Let this girl’s English persona be from England or something. That’s what I tell myself.

I have to prompt about three times with my face contorted and pulling my own finger for comedic effect, emphasizing how much a want them to just god damnit say the fucking next shit-arsed word in this sentence of only six words total. The class has wandered in the 20 seconds since we began chanting “May I have my…” I wonder what they chat about constantly. Probably, “Remember how her knuckle bled? huhuhuhuihuh, Yeah that was the best….”

“Book…” Relief. Thank you, one kid paying attention. Thank you, 2% of the class.

“Pook…”

Close enough. It’s a notebook but close the fuck enough. 16:09.

“Please.”

“Piss.”

I pass it over, feigning relief.

“That was easy, no? See, you can speak English! You can!”

Under my black blazer, my shirt is soaked through with the perspiration of a six-word question.

With that, the giant drum rings out and the students instantly start running out the door.

Teaching

“Can I tell you something?”

I’m outside one of my toughest classes, having just been told that the kids inside are crying due to being (justly) scolded.

“I’m so proud that you did your speech this morning. Remember how when I got here, you couldn’t read very much at all?”

This is a student from the class with the following description: can’t sit in a seat for more than five minutes, little to no grit or resilience, five-six years old, one of whom could not find the pages in the book when I arrived (but now can!!!) and one who likes to climb on the table and kick the others in the face. Not hard, but still.

Of course, I love them still.

“Yes….” says the student. She understands everything I say to her, having spent a long time living in the USA.

“I am so impressed with you. High five! Seriously, though. I cannot believe how much progress you’ve made.”

The bright, humble smile this particular student possesses gleams into existence on her face. Only I can see it, in this passing moment between insane amounts of stress.

“I want you to know,” she turns that sunshine on me, looking up into my face from her standing level, around my knees, “This is the whole reason why I love being a teacher.”


DO I love being a teacher?

I do. I don’t. I bang my head on the door of the toilet at the school, in the briefest of moments I can both sit down for fifteen seconds out of a 9.5 hour day and perform a necessary bodily function. I plead. I beg. I shout. I cry (not normally out where anyone can see). I am entering my sixth year of being a teacher, and I am in a situation that reminds me daily of the first time I was called “Miss Coleen.”

In my first school, in Patagonia, I had access to the copy machine only when it had paper and ink. And when I could convince the janitor to copy something. And when it was connected to power. And when the time permitted. And when it was in service.

Let’s be honest. I had no copy machine.

I remember writing out worksheets by hand for my students with a red magic marker. I remember crying in front of my class and telling them that I was a volunteer, and than meant I wanted to be there. I remember them telling me that they didn’t believe I wasn’t being paid to teach them.

I remember paying out of pocket for the services of a print shop down the road from my homestay, feeling my stomach fall out and land near my shoes to be kicked along the pavement at the sight of a stiff, dead, orange kitten outside. It was maybe 6 July 2011, and I was about to leave Escuela 5 (Juan de Ladriellos) in Puerto Natales.

My very first day, I had to bend the law and my volunteering contract to cover a class for my colleague. It was Septimo A. It was the hardest class in the school. Seventh graders are, to this day, a challenge to me. But that day I walked in with no prep time, no lesson plan, no Spanish, and no prior training to be a teacher (excluding the prefunctory TEFL Certificate I had received an A for on the Internet).

I didn’t die, perhaps surprisingly!

But it was a tone-setter. The school was tough on veteran teachers. I was a newb with idealistic tendencies, who was an outsider and also always the good girl in classes growing up. I realised that I cannot easily anticipate the ways that students will go off the rails or try to hurt one another, or subvert my lessons, because I simply never dared to be naughty.

There was a three-day period where I almost gave up in Chile. I couldn’t find the strength to eat or get out of bed. I half-feigned illness and laid in bed, unable to sleep or even close my eyes for days, with the National Geographic Channel on 24/7. At the time, it seemed a perfectly logical response. Looking back, I was in serious distress. I made it through, decided to keep going, and went back to the school.

On my last day, I was mobbed by students who nearly knocked me over in the assembly called to confer upon me an honourary certificate. I remember tearing up in front of everyone, and people cheering my name. In some slow-motion from a movie, I remember the kids rushing me and shouting in a newly-minted teacher’s voice for them to be careful. Don’t hurt each other. Be nice. No, stop that. Be good. Be good. Be good.


In some Korean hagwons, we live a teacher’s nightmare.

There is no time to prepare your lessons, so they turn out like shit. You try to make them fun, and the kids respond by becoming so competitive that they are liable to start self-harming if they believe that there was some small slight to them.

Taking a bullshit, made-up, inherently arbitrary “point” away induces paroxysms of rage and ear-splitting bellows.

Many students carry a mobile phone around their necks or on their wrists, able to text mummy if teacher is even one second late to class or tells them off for being rude to another student. That way, parents can swoop in to watch the CCTV in real-time of our classes, without speaking to us or asking why their student was put in the Time Out Chair. Heaven forbid they should actually ask me about their child’s seeming inability to control himself or what swearword precisely he used to be sent outside. When you ask about why the moms are all so overbearing, you get the response that they are “very sensitive.” Every. Last. One.

Students are expected to be instantly fluent, and instantly perfectly behaved, and instantly copacetic. I have kindergarten students taking a goddamned TOEFL test! Yes, the one for college entrance! A four-year-old who was born in 2012 and cannot consistently use the toilet without assistance should definitely memorise a three-minute speech about animal defense mechanisms and predation behaviour. Yes, even the oldest have not yet mastered the mystery that is shoelace-tying, but they should analyse and regurgitate university-level news articles.

A familiar strain from Chile comes through….we’re often out of paper, and there was until today but one computer shared between six teachers. For a week in December, we had no paper to print or copy, and no books. I said, “Fuck it (internally, obviously), let’s make snowflakes and chat for two hours.” I buy and hoard my own supplies. I save scraps of paper to a fault. I find myself writing out worksheets by hand once more.


But that smile. That light.

It’s true, what I told that student today. No matter how insane it all gets, or how little time I have to pee, or how few pencils I have. No matter how much I feel the muscle knot I carry with me in my left shoulder, remnant of those three bedbound days in Patagonia. No matter how much I kick myself for shouting at a preschooler.

That light is like a drug. I am a teaching addict, and I chase the dragon every day. One second of that light, and it all seems worth it.

TEFL for Newbs: Conjugation

This is part of a series on how to teach the basic points of English grammar and usage, for those just starting out in TEFL abroad. For the rest of the series, and the supplements about how to manage one’s classroom and how to summon glitter farts on command (read: host an ‘Open Door’ class), click here. 

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Punctuation
TODAY –> Conjugation
Verb Agreement
Teaching Writing

Conjugation sounds like some form of Medieval torture at first blush. To most language students encountering it for the first time, it surely is. Fear not! I’m here to make it slightly simpler and more straightforward. Let’s first get my totally non-scientific working definition:

Conjugation: The way(s) that verbs change in sentence according to a given situation. 

That sounds really confusing, but it’s the best I can do. Here is a more complex definition, for those of you who want the more technical-sounding, M.A. Linguistics-y one (thank you, Wikipedia):

In linguistics, conjugation (/ˌkɒnᵿˈɡʃən/[1][2]) is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection(alteration of form according to rules of grammar). Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood,voice, or other grammatical categories.

In English, we tend to focus on the person, the number, the tense, the aspect, and the mood. In writing, we may throw the voice in there.

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF YOUR STUDENTS don’t just throw that second definition up there when trying to teach conjugation. Even in an advanced class, it will overwhelm them. As always, change your language to suit their levels and needs. The things to pay attention to in English Conjugations can be more simply laid out by using questions:

Person: Who is speaking?
Number: One person or many people? Is the speaker included?
Tense: When are we speaking about? Past? Future? Is it hypothetical?
Aspect: Is the action complete?
Mood: How does the speaker feel about the action? Is this a command or a suggestion?

As a native speaker, these questions are all implicit. We don’t even think about it, but we use conjugations all day, every day. You need to consider how strange they may seem to your students based on their native language (L1). For example, my Chinese students struggle with tenses and number in terms of conjugation, because in Chinese these do not affect the verb at all. My students say thing like this all the time.

Yesterday, I go to the store. My mother is angry because she do not know where the milk is. 

There is some (rather dubious) evidence that the grammatical organisation of verbs in a given language may affect its speakers’ thinking, and if you want a decent explanation of one of the theories regarding this you can watch this TED talk.

Beyond that, a native speaker reading the sentence above is confused greatly. We convey meaning very precisely in English (as in all languages) according to the conjugations that we use.

Therefore, conjugation is a hugely important skill for your students.

But how to teach it without putting a dense definition up there and overwhelming them? My advice to you, newb, is to start very basic.

First, make sure that your students know what a verb actually is. Use the strategies in the Parts of Speech post to make them aware of the different parts of a sentence and their functions. This need not be more complicated than:

Verbs: actions! 

Write that on the board, and elicit some from your students. You can all act them out together if they don’t have a good sense of what verbs are. Use consistent hand gestures for indicating past, present and future (behind me, pointing downward, and pointing forward). Start simple; the most important one for students to master in English is the simple past tense. Eventually, you can branch out into a fuller conjugation table at some point. For your reference:

To eat – infinitive (no conjugation)
I eat. – present
I am eating. – present progressive
I ate. – simple past
I was eating. – past progressive
I will eat. – simple future

These are the main ones. If you are teaching students whose L1 has strong conjugation tendencies (Romance languages, perhaps especially), they will pick this up easily. For those with L1 grammar far different from English (Chinese and Korean in my own experiences, among many others), they will struggle. In addition, your students will be expected in their other classes and especially in the ubiquitous multiple-choice exams to know much more nuanced grammar. For example, what is the difference between the following?

If he ate pizza for dinner, he wouldn’t want to eat vegetables later.
If he eats pizza for dinner, he won’t want to eat vegetables later.
If he had eaten pizza for dinner, he wouldn’t have wanted to eat vegetables later.

That’s much more complex. This is where your colleagues will ask you why the ‘answer’ is one of these sentences and not another, and you will not know how to answer except by saying, “I have no idea what tense that is, but I know it’s A because that is what feels right.”

We’re verging into Conditional territory here, the bane of many a language student’s existence (including my own, in French especially). Conditionals are very confusing, because they express things that are not concrete or that include some inherent uncertainty. Within the hypothetical situations that one can express using these tenses, there is also something of a gradation of certainty. This is advanced stuff and very hard to teach to students whose L1 has no direct equivalent.

Luckily for you guys, I’ve been teaching a lot of Conditionals lately. I had to brush up on which is which, too. I suggest that you do this before class each time until you feel confident with them. If five years on you still don’t (like me!), keep checking it each time.

Zero Conditional: If I eat, I become full. (If + simple present + simple present)
First Conditional: If I eat, I will become full. (If + simple present + simple future)
Second Conditional: If I ate, I would be full. (If + simple past + modal)
Third Conditional: If I had eaten, I would have been full. (If + future perfect + modal perfect??? or something)

I simplify all that to this for my students, to help their heads not explode.

Zero Conditional: If and no changes (now)
First Conditional: If + will 
Second Conditional: If + would 
Third Conditional: If + would have

If my students are up to it, I add the following (a quick test! Which conditional is that?):

Zero Conditional: If and no changes (now)
First Conditional: If + will 
Second Conditional: If + would 
Third Conditional: If + would have

If you want a full conjugation of the verb ‘to eat,’ click here.

I use an activity called a Grammar Blast to help students sort the different forms of the verbs into their respective categories. This can be made for students of almost any level, and involves throwing about 25-30 bits of paper in the air and giving them time to figure out which sentences go where. They get good at noticing the differences quickly, and it’s fun if you put on a song while they do this.

Other ways to teach conjugation is a good old verb poster, with each person (I, you, we, they, he) and the conjugation on it. You can have the students make the different tenses different colours to help them remember.

One of the hardest things about teaching grammar in general is that students want there to be a single, simple rule. In many public schools, especially here in East Asia, this is precisely how English grammar is taught.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. It is very important to get students to let go of having a single ‘right answer’ when it comes to grammar, as much as possible. That way, they won’t get stuck in a single, largely incorrect pattern and limit themselves in terms of expression.

Give yourself and your students time when it comes to conjugation. It’s a long term project and not something that can be done quickly and easily. Hard, persistent work is the name of the game.

Next Time: Verb Agreement!

TEFL For Newbs: Punctuation

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Punctuation
Verb Agreement
Conjugation

Today’s topic: Punctuation

This one is technically not a grammar topic, but it is nonetheless very important. In fact, punctuation is so important as to have its (note: no apostrophe) own National Day in the USA on September 24th each year.

Let’s (note: an apostrophe!) get started with the very basics. Here are the most common forms of punctuation in English:

  • . = Full stop/period 

  • , = Comma 
  • ‘ = Apostrophe 
  • ” = Quotation Mark 
  • : = Colon 
  • ; = Semi-Colon 
  • – = Dash /Hyphen 
  • ! = Exclamation Point 
  • ? = Question Mark 
  • () = Parentheses 
  • [] = Brackets

These are used in many ways, and I do not claim to be an authority on the finer nuances of usage. I’m not an Oxford Journal copy editor, after all. However, the basics of punctuation should have been emphasised in your schooling. For TEFL students, there may be confusing differences in punctuation between English and their L1. In addition, national and local curricula tend to be inconsistent in how to use punctuation .

My high-level students write an essay for me every week. I see a few problems over and over here in China, some of which were common in Korea as well. For example, the use of commas as full stops:

Then I went home, I found my mother, I went to work after that, My mother is nice.

Then I went home. I found my mother. I went to work after that. My mother is nice.

This is very common. I often find myself writing, ‘Commas are not full stops!’ on the essays. Another one is the use of a comma as a replacement for ‘and’ or another conjunction:

I like to play basketball, baseball. They are nice, easy. 

I like to play basketball and baseball. They are nice and easy.

The one above was fairly common in Korea as well. It seems like it might be that commas are occasionally used this way in East Asian languages, which would explain a lot. An error that is extremely common and pervasive in my experience is the inability to properly set up a quote or part of a dialogue. Observe:

Then my friend said I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!!!

Then my friend said, “I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!”

The important thing is that they show someone else was speaking, by putting a comma before the reported speech and quotation marks on the outsides. This is very important for academic writing as well, since they will need to quote authors of articles and cite sources (or, as some of my students do a lot, copy word for word from an article and attribute nothing!).

Examples of why punctuation is key to good writing and even simple communication abound on the Internet. When I teach punctuation to a high-level class, I sometimes put up examples of the ways it can change the meaning. These are not original to me, but some are pretty funny. See if you can spot the problems!

A notice in the woods: Please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walking trails

A sign on the fridge: NO, Popsicles! (What did the popsicles ever do to you?!) 

A sign on a toilet at a store: Attention! Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children!

A headline: Chef finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

Sales sale: “BRA” $1.99 “UNDERWEAR” $3 per pack 

My personal favourite: Let’s eat grandpa! 

The perennial: The Panda eats, shoots, and leaves. 

It takes repeated practice from a young age to learn how to punctuate properly. This is important to keep in mind, since most students will not grasp the concepts immediately and they may continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The best place to start, in my experience, is to make sure that the students actually know what the marks are called. This sounds simple, but it is very confusing to many of them. I make small signs with the Big Six (full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, quotation mark, colon) and put them on all the walls of the room. Then I ask a student to stand up and find one of them. Their classmates can help them by pointing.

Eventually, I ask for teams to stand up and move to the punctuation, going faster and faster so that the students have a fun time running between them. I’ve done this with tiny kindergartners and high school students! It works to make them quickly remember which one to use.

Another way to teach punctuation is to require complete sentences at all times in your lessons. Tell students when they are writing in their books that they are not allowed to use only one or two words, but must have a full sentence. Using the parts of speech from last time, you can say my complete sentence mantra:

“You need a subject, a verb, and an object. You need a big letter and a full stop.”

You will find yourself saying this over and over and over again. It will eventually stick in the students’ brains and they will hopefully always remember that a sentence needs a big letter at the start and some kind of punctuation at the end.

If you have essays that the students are writing, you can also do a peer-marking activity. Give them an essay that is not theirs, and a marker. Tell them that they need to put down three punctuation corrections in two minutes. Then change the papers and repeat.

You can either give the corrections back directly to the students afterward, or if you are concerned they will not have made good ones you can take them to correct yourself. This will give you an idea of whether the students know that they are making mistakes, and how to correct them. This is designed to get the students used to reading essays again and editing their own work, a fundamental skill for academic writing.

Additional Resources:

Eats Shoots and Leave by Lynne Truss

Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 

Next time: Verb Agreement

TEFL For Newbs: Parts Of Speech

This is the second in the series I’ve started for new TEFL teachers. It can be hard to know what will come up in terms of grammar and usage when starting out, and this is meant as a crash course from a now-experienced teacher (with a master’s in Linguistics to boot!).

For the full posts on all subjects, click here. 

For the summary of all topics covered in this guide, best consumed immediately before class when you’re crapping it over how to teach something you weren’t aware was even a thing in your native language, click here (will be live shortly).

Today’s topic: Parts of Speech

Okay, so you’ve realised that grammar is a thing and that your new job as a TEFL teacher requires you to know something about it. Good start! But you won’t get far unless you are able to label the parts of the sentences that you use in daily speech and especially in writing. The parts of speech are a foundation for all the other skills you need as a teacher in an ESL classroom.

I made it a goal to teach my elementary and middle school level students the parts of speech in every lesson. For the past few months, at some point in the lesson I choose a nice colour and write “Parts of Speech” on the board. Under it, I write the following:

  • Noun – a person, a place, or a thing
  • Verb- an action
  • Adjective- describes a noun
  • Adverb – describes a verb (-ly)

That’s basically all you need to know about the parts of speech as well. You don’t need to know about how they interact syntactically or the theoretical implications of a silent pronoun and inflectional interference on theta roles (all that convoluted and largely inaccurate M.A. linguistics jazz) to effectively teach this.

If necessary, you can add more complicated parts of speech:

  • Prepositions: Where?
  • Pronouns – not name (Coleen –> she)
  • Articles – a, an, the

Write each word in a different colour if possible to emphasise that they are not the same. After a few weeks, all but the youngest students should be able to tell you the names of the parts of speech and their basic functions. When eliciting the words, give examples for each.

Teacher: What’s a Noun?

Students: ?

Teacher (pointing to trash can): Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to a chair) Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to self) Oh, look! A noun!

Reward them for guessing! Students will be able to give more examples, and often will have a good understanding of the concept in their native language.

Grammar is heavily weighted in Korea, China, and many other parts of the world for the purposes of multiple-choice tests, but most of my students throughout even the highest levels are unable to talk about basic grammar in English.

This is why teaching them the names for the parts of speech in English is so important. Many students end up studying English in a multi-lingual environment at some point in their lives, where the only common language is English. They need to be able to talk about grammar questions using the correct terms, and they cannot and truly should not rely on their L1 in that context. If students are bored or act like this isn’t an important lesson, you can always tell them this.

Once they have a working knowledge of the parts of speech, make sure that you reinforce this knowledge by using them in the lessons. I often put sentences on the board and ask the students a string of questions: “Where is the verb? Where is the adjectives? How many nouns?”

Dont be afraid to do this with relatively low-level students. Even with the youngest, this simple grammar lesson sticks. The key is to be consistent and do it every time you see them. Don’t give a huge amount of details or long-winded explanations of what any of the parts of speech are.

A key skill that most new TEFL teachers lack is the ability to ‘grade’ their language to make things easily understood at any level. A good motto is this: say more in fewer, simpler words.

Look at the examples below:

Low-level, elementary class: “Verb? Hmmmmmmm, oh! Running, jumping, swimming, fighting” Act out the actions and then say, “Oh, okay! Actions!” 

Mid-level, elementary class: “What’s a noun?” Remind them with the trash can point. “A……” And wait for them to answer you with “person.” As they get more comfortable, ask for the full simplified definition (“a person, a place, a thing”). Reward guessing. 

High-level, middle to high school class: “Who can give me an example of a verb? Okay, good…now can your conjugate it in present tense, please?” 

For the love of your sanity, don’t say the last one to most classes! They will give a look like you just transformed into a grammar alien and pointed a death ray between their eyes. The key is not to overwhelm the students with too much information that they don’t need.

Great activities can be found all over the Internet for teaching and cementing parts of speech in English. In my experience, two work the best.

The first is a colouring sheet with a ‘Paint by Numbers’ scheme based on words and their part of speech. This works really well for getting students to work together and makes a nice project to show parents, too! Just be aware that some English words can play many roles in a sentence. For example:

Dream 

A dream : Noun form 

To dream: verb form 

dream job: adjective form

This is a good opportunity to remind your students that English grammar is not a precise science and that ‘rules’ they learn in their school may or may not actually hold up in real life. The ambiguity may cause their little heads to temporarily explode, but I promise it’s better for them in the long run (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THERE ISN’T A RIGHT ANSWER???” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”).

The sencond activity is to make simple sentences and cut them up. Have the students unscramble them in teams and race to write them correctly on the board. The winning team has to label the words with the parts of speech, or the other team can steal the point.

There you have it. The basics of parts of speech for TEFL. Send me your questions and comments, and let me know what other topics you newb teachers need covered. I’m happy to add more to this crash course!

Next time: Punctuation