The school year has started and that means, at least at my school, ‘All Check.’ ‘All Check.’ Oh how I hate the sound of you. It’s a series of review classes and short tests which cover everything the students were supposed to have been taught last year. Usually the foreign teachers don’t have anything to do with All Check. But I guess, seeing as how I’ve been at the school for four years now and most of the teachers have been fooled into thinking I speak a passable Japanese, they slotted me in to teach a few “All Check” classes. I got a nice fat envelope filled with tests and a one page explanation of the grammar point–or points–I needed to cover in my fifty minute lesson. Now I was lucky. The teacher who sits next to me seemed pretty upset about her teaching content. I peeked at her sheet and here’s what I saw:
- What a beautiful flower. à How beautiful this flower is!
- What a kind boy he is. à How kind that boy is!
- What a fine singer she is. à How fine that singer is!
I have to admit my ignorance. Looking at those sentences, I am slightly perplexed about what is supposed to be taught. And completely befuddled as to why the period morphs into an exclamation mark.
Anyway, I didn’t get anything that bad. I was supposed to teach:
– must have + past participle
example: He must have missed the bus.
– may have + past participle
example: She may have seen that movie already.
– cannot have + past participle
example: My teacher cannot have made that mistake
– should have + past participle
example: You shouldn’t have forgotten your crayons.
(author’s note: why crayons?)
These are the actual grammar points and example sentences I was given. The first thing that struck me was the fact that ‘must’, ‘may’ ‘cannot’ ‘should(n’t)’ can pretty much be moved around freely between the sample sentences without causing any kind of structural problems or meaning difficulties. Depending on the type of teacher, he very well ‘may have made that mistake,’ or in a worse case scenario ‘must have made that mistake’ which might/may/should lead you to scold him with a tart ‘you shouldn’t have made that mistake.’ I put the my ‘All Check’ envelope to the side of my desk and decided to think about it. I’m good at putting things on the side of my desk. And the higher that pile gets, the harder it is to see me. Which is also nice.
The other day I signed up for a TESOL IA virtual seminar on Grammaring with Elka Todeva from SIT. I didn’t have any real deep interest in grammaring. Mostly I wanted to know more about the people who have helped support and served as mentors to my PLN. Turned out that Grammaring was something I really needed to know about. From the very start, when Elka flashed a slide and said that Grammaring was “a set of options,” and “a liberating force,” I was hooked. She said a lot more, but you know what? You can access a recording of the whole seminar, right here. And you absolutely should. First off, you will learn to teach the hell out of indirect and direct articles, which alone is worth it. But if you don’t know all about grammaring already, it will also introduce you to input flooding. That’s what I am talking about baby, input flooding. Instead of introducing a discreet grammar point, or giving a nice series of disconnected examples, flood the students with the grammar in use. Let them not only see how it works, but experience it and learn it in and through use.
So that’s what I decided to do today. I picked up that fat envelope of tests and my grammar points and headed off to class before the bell rang. On the board, I drew a picture of two stick figures sipping steaming cups of coffee in a café. I’m no good at drawing bodies, but very good at steaming cups of coffee. I labeled the stick figures Tom and Mari and drew and extra chair with a big question mark above it. Then I wrote the following conversation on the board:
Tom: Where is Kathy? She should have here by now.
Mari: She lives so far away from the station.
She must have her train!
Tom: You know, she left her day-planner at my house.
She may have that we were meeting here.
Mari: No way! I talked to her last night.
She can’t have
(author’s note: watch out for exclamantion mark overuse syndrome)
I had the students practice this dialogue in pairs in a 4/3/2 activity. As they practiced, I erased words here an there from the board until they were saying it from memory. But one dialogue does not a flood make, or at least it seemed the waters of understanding had risen to pond level at most, so I drew a stick figure of what I thought looked like an angry teacher and a defiant student on the board. Then I jotted up the following dialogue:
Teacher: Tom, where is your homework?
You ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ it last night.
Tom: But I did do my homework! I put it in my bag.
Someone ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ it!
Teacher: Who do you think stole your homework?
Tom: It ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ Mari.
She was standing near my bag.
Teacher: No! It ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ Mari.
Tom: How do you know?
Teaching: She didn’t turn in her homework either!
As you probably guessed, this time around, aside from ‘cannot’ students were free to slot in the phrases wherever they liked. I grabbed my eraser and we practiced until the board was blank.
And then I gave out the tests. I am happy to say that the average grade was 90%. Which was much higher than the previous tests. That might be do to the power of grammaring. It also could be do to the fact that in the other classes they were learning insane things like, “What a beautiful flower. à How beautiful this flower is!”
So I’m down with this whole grammaring thing. Tomorrow’s grammar points are “must/have to/should/can” in the simple present tense (not sure of the logic of putting the past-tense before the present tense, but maybe my school is just working on a deeper, cosmic wavelength). I’m gonna grammar flood them again. But this time, I want to move a bit faster so we can finish up with a minimum-prompt dialogue. If I had had enough time today, I was hoping to have the students complete the following:
Mary: You ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ homework!
Tom: No! You ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ yesterday!
Mary: What? You ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ last month!
Tom: No way. You ＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿＿ from the minute I met you!
But perhaps fortunately for the students, we ran out of time. Which was a very good thing, because they might have developed dangerously high levels of toxicity from exclamation point over-exposure.
(Final author’s note: this blog post really doesn’t do justice to the depth of thinking behind grammaring. I feel pretty guilty about that. So please, please, take a listen to Elka’s seminar, or maybe even buy Diane Larsen-Freeman’s Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. I just did.)