Me, reading student evaluation comments.

Or me, when students tell me the homework was hard.


What the…?

Google Translate keeps getting better and better, which makes pure gibberish less common while also making it harder to figure out if a student has copied his essay from somewhere online, gotten help from someone more fluent, or somehow jumped up three levels in writing skill overnight.


Pencil: 2, Laptop: 1

Taking notes the right way.

Despite the ubiquity of tech gadgets in the modern university classroom, the old pencil and notebook are still superior, at least when it comes to taking notes. A study looked at students’ ability to answer both simple fact questions (dates, names, that sort of thing) and more complicated conceptual or application questions (Why…? type queries, for instance). While laptop note-takers and longhanders did equally well with the basic factual questions, the tech-users performed significantly worse on conceptual ones.

It’s thought that the slower speed of pen-and-paper note-taking may be the key, according to the ‘encoding hypothesis‘. Writing longhand is much slower than typing, and because of that, students must process the information more while summarizing, finding only the key points, and so forth as they are writing. Laptop or tablet users, on the other hand, tend to type much more of what they hear, and in doing these verbatim transcriptions, use their brains less. Even when told explicitly not to take notes verbatim, the laptop-users still performed worse on the tests.

Of course, sometimes the challenge is to just get students to take notes at all…*sigh*

You can read more about this topic, and learn more about the science involved, at NPR.



Every Day during Summer School

Having just finished a module for a repeat class, this was a daily issue. And now, I’m just about to start our summer module, which also happens to correspond with Ramadan. The students during this module will be…shall we say, less motivated than usual.


Pedantry: Less & Fewer

pedantsrevoltThe quickest way to lose friends and make your coworkers loathe you is by correcting someone’s grammar. But what is the frustrated pedant to do when she hears “I had less candy than my brother, but my dad still took some of mine.” and she knows, knows, that a terrible grammatical sin has been committed?

The answer is, of course, to secretly judge them and let a happy little smile be the only outward signal of your intellectual, and frankly, moral superiority show.

The matter at hand is less versus fewer. As the rule says, fewer is for countable nouns and less is for uncountable ones, generally speaking. But, just because a noun can be plural, do not automatically assume that it should take the determiner fewer. Consider this passage from the New York Times:

Also use less with a number that describes a quantity considered as a single bulk amount: The police recovered less than $1,500; It happened less than five years ago; The recipe calls for less than two cups of sugar.

Also consider that certain phrases are idiomatic and therefore, acceptable. One such example would be “Write an paragraph is 200 words or less.” Linguist and author Stephen Pinker suggests that the less-fewer rule is applied by many pedants a little too forcefully. It’s acceptable to use less, he says, “with a singular count noun, as in ‘one less car’ and ‘one less thing to worry about’.” The ‘rule’ about less-fewer is one he considers “dubious” though a fair guide in terms of style.

For more about “dubious” grammar rules, you should check out Pinker’s The Sense of Style. Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words or Dictionary for Writers and Editors are also quite useful.


Worksheet Wednesday: Passive Voice with Ratatouille

ratatouilleEveryone loves the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille, right? Who wouldn’t want to follow the adventures of a precocious rat running around a Michelin star restaurant?

Inspired by an exercise on the always-useful Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals blog, I made these pages for my Intermediate level classes to accompany a short clip from the popular film. The objective is to get the students more comfortable with passive voice. In this lesson, I assume the students have already been introduced to the grammar structure. A typical ~45 minute lesson plan exploiting this worksheet would go something like this:

Warm-up: small group/partner discussion – Do you like to cook? What can you cook by yourself? etc  Or questions about dining out, like “What’s the fanciest restaurant you’ve been to?” or the like. “What would you do if you saw a mouse or rat in a restaurant?”
Then ask if they’ve seen Ratatouille. You can show the poster of the movie or a still from it to jog their memory. See if they can summarize the film or give a rough outline of its plot.

Watch the clip. It’s 3 minutes long. You can download the clip here. You can have them take notes on part A of the worksheet if you like.

Have the students recount what happened in the clip. Make sure they know who the three characters are (Remy, Colete, and Linguini). Some concept check questions will help make sure they can do the rest of the exercises.

Then, you can have them do either exercise B or C, depending on whether they’ve had an introduction to passive voice already or not. If not, starting with part C might be better, with some instruction on how to form the passive voice first. If they have, then B can be enough, with C as some extra practice for reinforcement.

A wrap-up discussion can be done next, with similar questions from the warm-up, but guide them to use passive voice. You can give them a topic like “Describe the last time you ate out.” and model an example with passive voice. “My friends and I went to Tony’s Italian. Spaghetti was served. The dish was prepared without cheese. … ” Concept check questions using passive voice can be used to steer them in the right direction.

There you have it. Let me know if you use this, and tell me how it goes!

Download the worksheet and answer key:

passive voice – ratatouille

passive voice – ratatouille AK

Ratatouille video clip



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