Grammar and how to teach it

Workhop Review: Dominic Braham and Anthony Gaughan

By Jane Potts

This was an excellent workshop as any of us who had done the CELTA training in Berlin would have expected.

Anthony asked us to think of a metaphor, an image of what grammar represents for us. Easily the most unusual image came from Chris, who said that for him, grammar was an inlineskater pace-line. Once those of us who don’t skate, had discovered what a pace-line was, we could see the connection.

Anthony linked grammar to a jigsaw puzzle piece in which the piece itself dictates how and where it can be used.

He explained that because English has little morphology, the word order is very important to create meaning.

This concept was quite self-evident to me, and I thought this workshop, despite its original subject headings (just to give you a example – “verb ‘ate ‘im” – say it aloud!) was going to be quite straightforward.

Little did I realise.. from then on, the new ideas and challenges never stopped!

“Tenses are not always about time.”

“English only has 2 tenses – present and past.”

“80% of all spoken and written English is in the present simple or the past simple”. (Longman Grammar of English)

And there was me thinking I’d come along to learn n how to teach my students the 2nd person plural form of the passive subjunctive plusperfect. I rapidly started rethinking and realising how little point there would be and how my energies could be better used elsewhere.

Similarly, we learned the real reasons for using the passive, not the ones we’ve been innocently passing along to our students. It’s all to do with the fact that we like to start our sentence with the information we have already given to our listener/ reader and not the information which is new to them. Not convinced? Nor was I – at first- but I am now!

Dominic talked to us about the present perfect – a tense which is particularly problematic for German students. He showed us why it is particularly difficult and why many of the rules which we give students are not always true. He encouraged us to prioritise mistakes which would cause a student to be misunderstood. Later he ran a session on modal verbs with some really useful ideas on teacher generated context.

This is only a brief overview of the many topics covered in the day – I haven’t even touched on reported speech, nor the question and answer session at the end of the day. Anthony and Dominic have promised to put up their slides on the Ning and are considering another grammar workhop in the future. If you get the chance, go along!

Thanks to Anne for the excellent organisation and coffee at every break!