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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.

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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

 

shallnotpass

This was me today

I don’t know what was so interesting to the east side of my classroom today, but it certainly wasn’t the reading and listening practice we were doing, and not even the Kahoot quiz. How is it only Wednesday?!

teacherinterrupted

Found on the Clever Classroom Facebook page.

This. A Thousand Times, This.

pptnotteaching

Found on the Shit Academics Say Facebook page.

Time to Chop Chomsky

This article lays out the case against Chomsky’s universal grammar theories. Essentially, despite decades of refining the theory, it has never been able to accommodate all languages. More damningly, it doesn’t correspond to research about how children learn their native language.

The alternatives that are coming up, it seems, view language a bit like the way neuro-scientists  are starting to think about consciousness, as an emergent property of the brain. The authors are careful to denote that there is no comprehensive, widely-accepted usage theory to replace universal grammar. But, as more and more corpora become available and more brain science is done, it is very likely that a better model will emerge.

 

I’m Awake!

Students (and teachers) after lunch be like…

duckawake

via GIPHY

 

Administratium, the Heaviest Element

I once had a professor who called bureaucracy, in our university or in business or in the public sphere, administratium, the heaviest element. It made everything slower, harder to wade through, and generally more frustrating by the fact of its very existence. While he talked about this fictive element jokingly, it was clear he felt stifled by the burdens of administration.

The teacher profiled in this NPR article, Rick Young, shared my old prof’s disdain for administratiumatom-clip-art-cliparts-co-kkxcjj-clipart

“Everything’s very time-consuming. In in my mind, it’s not productive time,” he says. “It’s not helping my students. It limits the freedom of teachers to really freely teach and of principals to freely lead and evaluate.”

Young, an effective and beloved instructor in an alternative high school, has given up teaching after 25 years, thanks entirely to the weight of imposed standards and formats and requirements from district, state, and federal authorities.

Much of the burden he and educators across the country face comes from our national addiction to data. Everything related to education must be turned into a metric that can displayed on a PowerPoint slide. If something can’t be datafied, then it is all-too-often deemed unessential and is tossed out of the school along with PE and Art and recess. Hence, our love of standardized tests and our push for teacher evaluations (which have been shown to be poor measures of ability). Standardized tests often just show whether a student is good at taking standardized tests, and can demonstrate wildly incorrect results based on a number of confounding factors (race, gender, sleep, diet, weather, etc), AND aren’t always good indicators of future academic or career success.

Instead of overburdening our educators with mandates, focusing on better training and support for teachers, paying them better and attracting more enthusiastic and capable people to the field, and, critically, not losing them in the first year or two, would go a long way to improving education in America. Train good people, give them the respect (salary) and support they deserve, and step out of their way.

If I’m Talking…

teachersfacewhen

H/T to the Create-Abilities Facebook page.

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