Teaching verb tenses.

nigele2

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I’m doing a fair number of assessments these days as part of the process of constructing learning plans. All my potential students have studied English to some level at school.

In addition many have started trying to do an internet or book-based course. Their requirement is often to get a certification (often B2 or C1) as part of an application process for either a visa, employment opportunity or academic course.

I find the most common and obvious reason they struggle is related to verb tenses. I'm sure not a surprising revelation.

One method I use with one-to-one sessions is the timeline and visualisation approach.

I would be interested in hearing of any advantages and/or disadvantages of this approach. And any other issues relating to say the order of teaching tenses and support words/phrases.

My intuition tells me that perhaps starting with continuous could offer advantages, but I’ve only seen a few promoting this.
 

jutfrank

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When you're doing one-to-ones you have the advantage of taking a fully diagnostic approach. Find out where the errors lie and then prioritise accordingly.

And if you're teaching learners who have the same L1 (Spanish, I presume?), then you will eventually begin to identify the issues that are typical for those speakers.
 

nigele2

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When you're doing one-to-ones you have the advantage of taking a fully diagnostic approach. Find out where the errors lie and then prioritise accordingly.

And if you're teaching learners who have the same L1 (Spanish, I presume?), then you will eventually begin to identify the issues that are typical for those speakers.

jutfrank yes, they are spanish. And their own language has a strong correlation with English regarding verb tenses. However, I find that the students cannot offer a methodology for tenses in their own language, let alone for English. One observation is that they rarely use Past Perfect in Spanish, and thus do not understand its usage in English.

And despite being one-for-one the timescales for my students are very short. But a full diagnostic as you suggest is something perhaps I need to prioritise. Maybe I could get that completed online. Thank you for highlighting that.

Timelines can be a very useful way of illustrating the time-relationships involved in many uses of the various tenses and aspects if English. However, over-dependence on timelines can mask what I see as the key point about the English tense system: English tenses are about distancing/remoteness. The distancing may be in time (past v non-past) but it may also be in directness (direct v indirect) and/or reality (real/actual vis less real/counterfactual).

Piscean, to date I haven't had a student for sufficient time, who is at a sufficient level, to teach the subtleties. But I can see how over-dependence on timelines could become a negative. I will keep an eye on that. Thank you.
 

jutfrank

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It's a bit old now but I'd definitely recommend trying to get your hands on a copy of Teaching Tenses by Rosemary Aitken. It helped me a lot in my first few years of teaching.
 

NinjaTurtle

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Nigele,

First, please read my post #8 in the thread listed below. (Ignore the Chinese part and just read the English part.)

https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/260438-IELTS-Life-Skills-A1-for-an-absolute-beginner

My method is this: Ask a question, have the student answer, then have them ask you the same question, then have them listen to you answer the question. For example:

Do you eat vegetables?
Yes, I do.
What kind of vegetables do you eat?
I eat lettuce, cabbage, and celery.

In order to teach verb tenses, you merely need to add questions with various tenses:

Does your mother eat vegetables?
Yes, she does.
What kind of vegetables does she eat?
She eats lettuce, cabbage, and celery.

This method will also solve the problem of your students avoiding present perfect. Just ask them questions that require present perfect. Feel free to ask for examples.
 
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Raymott

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You are lucky having students who at least share the verb tenses of English, even though they are sometimes used differently. If you know enough Spanish, presenting the similar and the different ways the tenses are used can save a lot of time, at least for those students who can grasp this concept. Cognates are your friend!
What I'm suggesting is that, even if you use the timeline method, you can still point out the differences and similarities, and you would not be wasting time (for most student's, I've found). But I have been tutoring Arabic and Chinese students who come to Australia to study, and I rarely teach students with a European L1.
 

Tdol

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English tenses are about distancing/remoteness. The distancing may be in time (past v non-past) but it may also be in directness (direct v indirect) and/or reality (real/actual vis less real/counterfactual).

Or even social distance.
 

nigele2

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Thanks to everyone who posted. I've taken onboard your points and those from several other contacts. I'm going to move to a approach based on Present, then future, then past. And will certainly use Ninja's approach within this structure.

I have students waiting so sadly it was a matter of choosing an approach and pushing on. Not only for my face to face lessons, where clearly I can make inflight changes, but also I need to create more materials for my supporting Moodle site.

Just like to say that after 3 years of seriously getting into teaching it is proving more exciting than I imagined it would.
 

NinjaTurtle

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...Ninja's approach...

I want to emphasize the basic technique. Ask a Yes question, then ask a No question, then as a Wh- (who, what, where, etc.) question. Then have the student ask you the same questions. (Asking the question is MUCH harder than answering the question.) First make the questions simple:

Do you drink coffee at Starbucks?
Yes, I do.
Do you drink coffee at McDonald’s?
No, I don’t.
Where do you drink coffee?
I drink coffee at Starbucks.
Do you like cappuccino coffee?
Yes, I do.
Do you like macciato coffee?
No, I don’t.
What kind of coffee do you like?
I like cappuccino coffee.

As times goes on, you can progress to more complicated questions:

Were you happy when you graduated from from high school?
Yes, I was.
No, I wasn’t.
Well, I had mixed emotions when I graduated from from high school.

How did you feel when you graduated from high school?
I was really happy when I graduated from from high school. I cried!
I had mixed emotions when I graduated from from high school.

As times goes on, you can progress to very complicated questions:

Do you think that using Google Translate is a good way to do your English homework?
Yes, I do.
No, I don’t.

What are some of the good things about using Google Translate to do your English homework?
One of the main things is that it is convenient. I just go to Google and get something translated. Another thing is that it’s very fast. I don’t have to waste time thumbing through a paper dictionary.

What are some of the problems with using Google Translate to do your English homework?
One problem with that is we tend to start relying on Google Translate too much, and we end up just pasting and copying instead of actually taking the time to learn the new vocabulary we are using.
 
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nigele2

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I want to emphasize the basic technique. Ask a Yes question, then ask a No question, then as a Wh- (who, what, where, etc.) question.

Ninja, thank you very much. It will be great for face to face sessions when used within one of the three major time tenses. I'm trying to think how I can adapt it for online work, without creating too bigger headache for myself.

(I should stress that my lessons are basically free, and I only have so much time. It isn’t that I don't want the best for the students.)

The problem I have is that, within my experience, multi-choice questions don’t give the best results.
 

NinjaTurtle

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...multi-choice questions don’t give the best results.

Nigele, can you clarify? Are you using online webpages to teach English? Are you teaching English grammar or English conversation using online webpages?
 

nigele2

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Nigele, can you clarify? Are you using online webpages to teach English? Are you teaching English grammar or English conversation using online webpages?

Beyond face to face I'm using a Moodle website. So, I have a full LMS structure. Nearly every type of tool one can imagine.

So while face to face is the interaction I most enjoy, I can also use an online conference environment (projection, whiteboard, audio and video, etc.). But, in addition I want to offer lots of tasks that students can utilise online, that do not require more than me seeing their grades (thus self-marking).

I have used Moodle in my IT career in the commercial world, and I am a great fan. It being free for teaching of course helps.

My students invariably want a certification (B2 or C1) to give them access to Visas, an academic course, or employment. For example, I have had a student who failed to gain C1, as part of her university course, due to bad letter writing. Another who was petrified at the thought of doing monologues and dialogues at level B2; a requirement for a course in Australia. And now a policeman who has two years to get to level B2 in both French and English (sadly cannot help him with the former). He wants to work in diplomatic security. I should say he is not my normal type of student but being the brother of my most successful student to date I couldn't say no.

I also have an extensive Spanish family who were probably the original motivation.
 

Tdol

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Just like to say that after 3 years of seriously getting into teaching it is proving more exciting than I imagined it would.

Have you read anything on the idea that there are only two tenses in English - books like Meaning and the English Verb? They may not be particularly practical in a world where books teach the future tense, but they do offer some serious insights into how our verbs work.
 

nigele2

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Have you read anything on the idea that there are only two tenses in English - books like Meaning and the English Verb? They may not be particularly practical in a world where books teach the future tense, but they do offer some serious insights into how our verbs work.

I did consider it, but couldn't see a benefit for my students. For the most part they already see 3 tenses. And getting to grips with the future tense, not a task as difficult as getting to grips with past and present, gives them a lift.

It is rare that they are not already pursuing some type of course, or have returned to study those old school books, or are family and are still at school; and as you say, these by and large teach a three tense strategy.

But thanks for the thought. Who knows I may return to it one day if I don’t have success.
 
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NinjaTurtle

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Nigele,

I am sorry, but I am not much help when it comes to teaching the writing of business letters in English, etc. My main area is teaching people how to speak English. Regarding writing business letters, all I can think of is give them previously-created examples of several types of business letters and have them use these as formats to copy, change and then write "original" business letters. Are you in need of such types of example business letters?

I am curious about the idea of only teaching three tenses. Is this some kind of limitation, or are you open to the idea of teaching more than three tenses?
 

nigele2

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Nigele,

I am sorry, but I am not much help when it comes to teaching the writing of business letters in English, etc. My main area is teaching people how to speak English. Regarding writing business letters, all I can think of is give them previously-created examples of several types of business letters and have them use these as formats to copy, change and then write "original" business letters. Are you in need of such types of example business letters?

Ninja I can give courses on business letter writing. My issue is that many native speakers cannot write business letters. And many of my students will never be required to write one.

I'm not talking about formal letters. Many business letters will be very formal, while others will be rather informal. That is the nature of business in modern times.

But many students will reach a very high level of English, and not require this skill. So, I would like to know how these questions are marked? If the business sense of the letter offers 10% of the marks the student may be better not worrying too much. But if it is 50% then it needs to be addressed.

I give my students a strategy which involves them modifying a generic template before writing the letter. That at least ensures that they maintain a logical flow and sensible structure. But writing business letters, whether inter or intra business, is not easy.

I am curious about the idea of only teaching three tenses. Is this some kind of limitation, or are you open to the idea of teaching more than three tenses?

We're talking here of not treating "future" as a tense, as it does not involve a change to the verb. Be assured I will not be forgetting the aspects and voices[FONT=q_serif].

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Now if we could get it down to 2 in total my students would be over the moon.

Ninja already changing some of my old dialogues to your structure and hopefully can try it out Wednesday. Wish me luck. Maybe some Chinese luck.
 
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NinjaTurtle

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I would like to know how these questions are marked?

I wish I could help, but I cannot.

Wish me luck. Maybe some Chinese luck.

加油! 加油!

~~~

I like to play a verb-tense game with my students. First is a past-tense-only game.

Teacher: Let’s play a game. I say “leave”, you say “left.

Student: Okay.

Teacher: Leave
Student: Left

Teacher: Buy
Student: Bought

Teacher: Understand
Student: Understood

Teacher: Beat
Student: Beat (no change)

Teacher: Read (ri:d)
Student: Read (rєd)

Teacher: Drink
Student: Drank

Teacher: See
Student: Saw

Teacher: Speak
Student: Spoke

Teacher: Write
Student: Wrote

~~~

The students can take turns being the teacher, which makes it more fun.

This game can be later played with Present Perfect:

Teacher: Drink
Student: Drink, drank, drunk

Teacher: Write
Student: Write, wrote, written

Etc.

This can be quite entertaining when played in pairs, pitting one student against the other.
 

Tdol

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I did consider it, but couldn't see a benefit for my students.

Not necessarily for them, but my understanding as a teacher benefited from it. :up:
 
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