Compelling Conversations logo

Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

  1. Perfection and grammar: not essential for ESL students, or even native speakers

    September 17, 2014 by Eric

    Certain grammar rules unnecessary for comprehension, everyday conversation


    Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

    “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

    -Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Spanish surrealist painter

    Is it always essential to have perfect grammar? Must we always avoid split infinitives, dangling modifiers and grocery shopping lines labeled “Ten Items or Less,” since the sign should read “Ten Items or Fewer?”

    Leading linguist and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker doesn’t think so. In this Guardian article, he spotlights 10 grammar rules that are okay to break some of the time. His reasoning varies by example, but mostly regards contemporary acceptance, informal vs. formal settings and the historical use of the word. These rules have foiled great writers, national ad campaigns and grammar purists themselves–but whether or not they are actually broken falls under another story. While Pinker does praise writing with classical grammar, he emphasizes the fact that sometimes some grammar rules are taken too seriously, and unreasonably so.

    Pinker’s points reiterate the importance of clarity and communication above all else. Though English language learners should learn certain grammar rules, they must know that perfection is not the ultimate goal. Clearness is far more important. For instance, teachers waste time stressing that sentences can’t end with prepositions–one of the misconceptions Pinker debunks-instead of focusing on content and real-world situations. In the real world, people say sentences like “Who are you writing to?” instead of “To whom are you writing?” And (notice this sentence starts with a conjunction) English learners need to know when they’re not making real mistakes and that, instead, they’re violating an outdated, unused rule.

    What other grammar rules have become obsolete? Which rules do you stress in your classrooms?

    Ask More. Know More. Share More.
    Create Compelling Conversations.

    Photo source: Sentencediagram


    Comments (2)

  2. Do You Use Newspapers in Your English Class Yet?

    July 23, 2010 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    Newspapers tell us the news, and inform us about how today is different from yesterday. They provide us with some clues and some information to help us better understand our rapidly changing world. They arrive at our homes, on our laptops, and in our libraries.

    But what about our English classrooms? How often do you use newspapers in your ESL classes?

    Newspapers allow students to expand their vocabulary, follow current events, and deepen their understanding of our rapidly changing world. As a former journalist, teaching English with newspapers and magazines seems absolutely natural. My standard homework requires students to select, read, summarize, and evaluate an article of their choice and bring to class for a discussion.

    Students provide the basic background information:
    Title author
    publication date
    length # of sources:
    List five new or important vocabulary words:

    The ESL students also make some judgments:
    What’s a key quote?
    What’s the main idea? Why?

    Finally, students answer three other questions:
    What did you learn in this article?
    Why did you choose the article?
    How would rate the article on a scale of 1-10? Why?

    Students pursue their own interests – with some guidance – and develop a stronger English vocabulary that they want and need for their personal and academic development. Naturally, they bring in topics and articles, in English and from the internet, from around the world. This regular homework activity creates an engaging, informative classroom atmosphere while allowing students to “create” some course content.

    Many ESL and EFL teachers, however, often feel reluctant to use newspapers. Sometimes teachers feel that newspapers distract from their textbooks; sometimes it adds elements of uncertainty. I suspect, however, that many English teachers also don’t quite know how to effectively deploy newspapers in their classrooms. The newspapers in classroom movement remains more of an ideal than common practice in the United States.

    American newspapers would like to change that fact. The New York Times wants ESL teachers to add their quality international paper to the curriculum. Here’s an excellent 4-page primer outlining 10 Ways to Support English Language Learners with the New York Times . And despite the descriptive headline, the informative article actually outlines over 25 activities and provides links to dozens of exceptional educational resources for both students and teachers. Students can find archival photographs to write postcards from the past, research their birthdays in history, find tourist information on their hometowns for oral presentations, and compare and contrast how different countries approach global problems. Worksheets have been developed for an online vocabulary log, understanding prepositions, and a problem-solution organizer.

    Bottomline: This exceptional, flexible teacher’s resource makes using newspapers much easier for novice English teachers and time-starved experience ESL instructors.

    Can all English classrooms use newspapers? No. Yet many low level and intermediate classes can use Easy English Times, USA Today, or the local English paper and focus on simpler, shorter headlines and articles. High intermediate and advanced students, however, can – and I would suggest should – try to read serious newspaper such as The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

    So let’s help our students and bring newspapers into our classrooms.
    Our students, after all, want to understand their world – in English!

    Do you teach lower level English students? See these tips from the American literacy newspaper Easy English Times for beginner students)

    Ask more. Know more. Share more.
    Create Compelling Conversations.


    Comments (4)