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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

 

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.

 

The Scarecrow: Lesson on Relative Clauses

On Wednesdays, I (often) share a worksheet or lesson that I’ve used in my ESL classes. You are always free to use and modify these as you like. If you do, please include attribution to me and don’t even think about selling it. This week, the worksheet was designed for intermediate (B2+/C1) students.

scarecrowOne of the objectives slated for this week was a review of relative clauses ahead of teaching reduced relative clauses. This seemed like a great opportunity to put some of my ICELT training to the test, and to incorporate material from a great workshop on using speechless video in class given by my colleague Kendra last year. The video I chose for this lesson was a very well-made piece called The Scarecrow from, of all things, Chipolte. But don’t worry, there’s no advertising in the video. It features great visuals and a lot to discuss.

organic-sticker-19324676This lesson can be used to review relative clauses, if you follow my worksheet. But, it can also work for any number of other skills and language. The lesson starts with a vocabulary elicitation exercise; students generate some useful words based on several pictures. Then they discuss a few questions to warm them up and activate schemata. Then they predict what the video might be about. While they watch the video, they are encouraged to take notes, using a prepared note-taking box with space for characters, settings, things, events, and notes. After watching, they check their predictions (we learned in our ICELT class that most teachers cultivateforget or just skip this step, so don’t do that!). Then they are asked to write a brief summary using their notes, which I had them do with their partners. From that, we move into a few comprehension questions, but the questions are actually nudging them into the real objective: relative clauses. Each of the questions is written as a relative clause, which many of my students didn’t notice until I asked them what the sentences had in common.

crowThen there is an exercise centered around identifying the relative clause and its components. That’s followed by an error-correction exercise and then a return to the summary they wrote earlier, which they will rewrite using relative clauses.

That was all the time I had for my lesson, but if I had more, I would have included a speaking activity, where the students would write their own questions and quiz each other, all the while using relative clauses. With even more time, I would have loved to have used this for a group discussion activity, since we just set the group discussion assessment criteria and tasks in my class. C’est la vie.

As I said, you could easily re-work this lesson to cover many other grammar topics or receptive/productive skills. The video could easily lead into a group discussion lesson, debate, essay writing, surveys and presentations, and much more.

Download the worksheet:  the scarecrow – relative clauses

Have fun!

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Creative Commons License
The Scarecrow: Relative Clauses by Chris Sanders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Eye Before Flea

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Found on Pinterest.

You Need to Study Your Grammar, Son

Quick. What’s the third conditional? Mixed conditional? Is there even something called zero conditional? What’s the difference between present perfect and present perfect progressive, and why can’t you use the progressive in this case but you can in the other one?

zoidberggrammarbadIf you’re a native speaker, you likely haven’t studied grammar from an academic point of view since 8th grade. And unless you majored in linguistics, you might not even know what nominative, dative, and subjunctive mean, let alone how they might relate to English language instruction.

Before I began teaching ESL, I thought of myself as a knowledgeable, highly-literate person. I had impeccable grammar and my the sophistication of vocabulary made men nod in respect and ladies swoon with desire. Yet, within the first week of teaching 1st and 2nd graders, I realized that my intuitive ability to use English well did not translate into a technical understanding of how English works. If we ever talked about the different conditionals in school, I have no memory of it.

I remember once, very early on, a Korean 3rd grader asked me when we should say “the” with a short ‘e’ sound and when was should say it with a long ‘e’. I was like, “LOL WUT?” I desperately needed to bone up on my technical knowledge, and quick.

Somewhat indirectly, I learned a great deal about the foundational components of language and important notions of grammar from the collected works of Stephen Pinker, the famed MIT linguist. His classic The Language Instinct is highly worth reading, as is his most recent tome, The Sense of Style, which bills itself as a writer’s guide, but it much more than that. Another great author in this context is Bill Bryson whose The Mother Tongue and Dictionary of Troublesome Words are fantastic and useful reads for English teachers. Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves is another fun, enlightening read.

Podcast’s were crucial in my late-game grammar education. Early on, I discovered Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s podcast. Her show’s range from simplistic questions like a student might have to more in-depth discussions of esoteric topics. Other great linguistic podcasts that I recommend are Lexicon Valley and the History of English.

There are, of course, a vast sea of websites for reviewing grammar. The ones I used years ago have mostly been lost to the fogs of time, and the ones you can google today are as good or better than what has come before. Purdue’s OWL, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is fantastic. Here are a few others to consider:

If you have any resources that you find particularly helpful, please share!

correctinggrammar

Worksheet Wednesday: Modals of Probability

worksheetEvery Wednesday, we share a worksheet with you to use as you see fit. These worksheets are considered Creative Commons licensed; you can modify use them if you want in your classroom. If you redistribute them, though, we would like to be acknowledged, and don’t even think about selling them! It would be awesome of you to let us know if you use any of our worksheets, and if you see any mistakes or have any suggestions, please let me know!

This week, we have a worksheet on modals of probability. This go-around, the answer key is separate; you’re welcome.

modals of probability

modals of probability AK

Worksheet Wednesday: Stative & Dynamic Verbs

worksheetEvery Wednesday, we share a worksheet with you to use as you see fit. These worksheets are considered Creative Commons licensed; you can modify use them if you want in your classroom. If you redistribute them, though, we would like to be acknowledged, and don’t even think about selling them! It would be awesome of you to let us know if you use any of our worksheets, and if you see any mistakes or have any suggestions, please let me know!

This week, we’re sharing one we used last module in our Intermediate class while studying stative and dynamic verbs. If you aren’t super familiar with this topic, you can learn more about it here and see a list of stative verbs here. Or just, you know, Google it.

Without further ado, stative and dynamic verbs practice. Please note there is an answer key on the last page. Don’t print that when you pass these out to your students!

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