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Revising and consolidating grammar

There are many ways of revising and consolidating grammar. I have found that it is often useful to give students short passages containing grammar mistakes. The grammar mistakes should be characteristic of the student’s level, nationality, areas of strength, or weakness.

What kind of grammar?

Italians characteristically use the Present Perfect to describe the past. Thus, ‘Yesterday, I have bought a new computer,’ is a very typical mistake, even for Italian-speakers at an upper-intermediate level, because it’s a direct translation from Italian to English. Use a passage that contains several instances where Present Perfect is misused instead of the simple past. The intention is not to catch the student out, but to identify and focus attention on areas of difficulty which may still be problematic.

Other characteristic and problematic grammar

Points at this level for Italian speakers include:

  • the use of going to and present continuous to describe plans and intentions, rather than will
  • the position of adjectives before the noun
  • the use of articles
  • comparative and superlative constructions: as…as…etc,
  • conditional structures – which are constructed and used differently in Italian
  • verbs with irregular past forms.

These problems are universal, but they often present difficulties for Italian speakers at the intermediate level (and above).

Use your imagination!

Writing these kinds of passages can be good fun and an opportunity for the teacher to exercise her/his creative writing talents. Use your imagination: write about yourself, your country, someone you know, customize what you write to fit the needs and personal characteristics of the student, but remember to keep it relatively simple: it’s a grammar test, not ‘Middlemarch.’ Keep the subject matter familiar and close to home, and the vocabulary straightforward. If the student is struggling to understand the sense of the text, the obstacle is probably one of general comprehension, not grammar. If you do not feel confident enough to write your materials, why not try setting your students a composition for homework. Compile their most frequent mistakes and create a template from the work they have produced for you.

Range and appropriateness

It should go without saying that it’s necessary to keep the grammar within the appropriate range. Don’t ‘invent’ grammar mistakes which are totally out of keeping with the mistakes students usually make in the normal run of things. Also, it’s probably not a good idea to introduce an erroneous third conditional structure into a passage you intend to use with an elementary group. If you have advanced-level students, it’s probably better to assume they already know to add s to the end of verbs in the third person when using the simple present tense. 

How to use the passage

The passages can be used by students working alone, or in pairs or small groups. Set a time limit – I usually allow a maximum of fifteen minutes, reinforcing the need to keep things relatively simple. These are essentially revision exercises – not a way of trying to introduce students to new grammar. At the end of the exercise, go through the passage with the student(s), correct the mistakes they’ve overlooked. Go over the material you think it’s necessary for them to have learned by that point in the course. Refer students to the appropriate unit in the grammar book – if you’re using one to supplement the course.

Conclusion

From experience, I have learned to limit these exercises to a few hundred words and to insert between twenty to thirty grammar mistakes into each passage. I have used exercises at the beginning of courses.  These exercises;

  • test levels
  • identify areas of grammatical difficulty
  • as warmers at the beginning of lessons as a way of revising and consolidating the grammar
  • as progress tests
  • and most particularly as homework exercises.

Students like these exercises. Given a choice they often ask me for one of these passages instead of a piece of writing, or activities from the workbook, etc. Exercise your imagination and perhaps introduce a bit of humor.

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Lan Luu

4 Comments

  1. I am Italian. I speak with my hands, and my wife knows it! There are so many apps now a days that can help you learn and express, even apps that record and replay it back in English or in any language now! Its impressive and easy to learn where ever you are!! School now a days is taken advantage of and it shouldn’t be. Its a gift for the reason that not everybody gets to attend school. However great way to pull out strengths and weaknesses through short passages. 

    • Hi Trevor

      Thank you for your comments.  I agree that some young people do not take school seriously.  It is much more difficult to learn a language later on in life.  We offer help to people who need to improve their English skills.  English for foreigners is still very new.  In the future, we will have many more resources available.

  2. This is a very helpful website.  I have been trying to help some Spanish speaking friends that live in my area  learn to speak and write English.  At the same time, they are trying to help me become fluent in Spanish.   I’ve had years worth of classes in school but I was not fluent.  

    Since I am doing this informally, it is nice to have an idea of how English is taught formally.   

    As you said, I have noticed there are some common types of mistakes.   I am certain they are noticing that I am making some mistakes over and over again as I try to communicate in Spanish also.    

    I may try making some fun exercises that cover things that we actually try to talk about.   Your website inspires me to NOT give up on being able to help them become better communicators.     

    • Hi Sondra M

      Thank you for your comment.  The website is far from complete.  We are adding material and resources every day.  We will add the option for one-on-one tuition in the future.

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