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Poll: How do you handle grammar rules and exceptions?
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How do you handle grammar rules and exceptions?

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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Mar 7th, 2008, 07:54 pm
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Default Grammar rules and exceptions!

Most of our learners like to have rules which they believe facilitate their learning but unfortunately for them most garmmar rules have exceptions.
Do you emphasize on grammar rules when teaching? Do you get them to handle exceptions later, teach the rules and the exceptions together, or ignore exceptions and let them find out themselves?
Pretty confusing, isn't it?
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Unread Mar 12th, 2008, 07:51 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Teacher - ...so we use Present Simple for something generally true, and Present Continuous for a current action.

Student - Yes, I am understanding.

--------------

I like to get the students to look for patterns in language use rather than apply grammatical rules (although I do that too).

As long as they are aware that there are exceptions, they should be okay.
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Unread Mar 13th, 2008, 03:45 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Do you emphasize on grammar rules when teaching? Do you get them to handle exceptions later, teach the rules and the exceptions together, or ignore exceptions and let them find out themselves?
Pretty confusing, isn't it?[/quote]
I personally teach the rules and handle exceptions later. In Emile's example , present simple versus present continuous
the basic rules are not too complicated although some of my students can't see the difference between a state verb and an action verb and in French, it's the same!!! So I make a list.
For older students I teach the exceptions .
Ex :She teaches maths in a school in Bonn. ( permanent)
She is teaching Maths in a school in Bonn. ( temporary)
My younger students can't handle the difference between these two sentences but my older students can .well, I hope so!!!
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Unread Mar 13th, 2008, 07:11 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

How much grammar should be taught? When teaching the relative clause, do students need to know the technical terms? Or can we simply give some basic grammar references and the pattern? Or how about a more difficult grammar point? If I said to students that we will be looking at non-defining relative clauses, and how quantifiers can be used in conjunction to provide additional information, I'm sure I would get a lot of blank stares. And rightly so.

When the class gets bogged down with grammar explanations, then this takes away from time to reinforce and use the language. I cover the form and meaning of a grammar point, make sure that students understand the pattern more than the technical terms and exceptions to the rules, and move on to drilling the new language. This seems most effective, and paves the way for free(r) use at the end of the lesson.

Some schools or classes teach grammar separately, almost as an extension to the regular curriculum. A lot of terms get covered, the ins and outs of the rules are explored, and so on. But if research is to be believed, this actually doesn't improve use of the language.
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Unread Mar 13th, 2008, 08:17 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

It's very hard to say to which extent grammatical terms should be taught considering the fact that even the word 'verb' is a grammatical term. Can we really avoid explaining these terms even if we wanted to?
I recently ran into a problem in my class because a teacher before me had taught the rules for identifying long and short adjectives basing on the number of syllables. The students were saying 'stupider than... the stupidest...'
If my colleague had simply mentioned to them when they were learning the rules that some adjectives with two syllables could be used like long adjectives, it would have saved be quite some trouble. I think a few of them still doubt my 'contradictory' explanation.
Considering the way they accept and stick to rules, I think the better way is to let rules come with the exceptions in one package.
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Unread Apr 29th, 2008, 08:04 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

I basically use two ways to teach grammar - by grammar teaching, I mean those aspects of grammar whose rules do not come out easily like conditionals, gerunds etc. First is rule and then practice or the second way is to give an example and ask students to decipher the rules.
For most beginner to elementary students, I most often won't teach them grammar rules unless it was absolutely necessary.
Even when I do, I don't spend too much time on it. The rule is then followed by a barrage of communicative grammar practice exercises.
From pre-intermediate and above, I may spend some time, longest 5 mins explaining some complex rules with lots of controlled practice at first. I remember trying to explain the zero, first second and third conditionals. It is grammar points like these that take about 5 mins to explain. But usually I do it in stages, followed by practice. Then when students have mastered using say first conditional for example I laugh and tell them, something like " Just when you thought, you have mastered your conditional sentences, another kind of conditional sentence steps in - the second conditional. "
Then I can show the difference between first and second and also give them circumstances when we would use them. Again practice follows every explanation. It could be a game or some activity to reinforce the rules learnt. Usually, a smart student will come up with a smart exception-to-the-rule question. This is when you tell them about rules always having exceptions just like with every rule. With my chinese students, I bring out examples from Chinese which I know much about. Then they see that this is not just an English problem but a language problem. By teaching rules of grammar we raise language awareness for the students and reduce the chances of making the same mistakes all through the different levels.
Don't over correct grammar mistakes though. This is especially true in communicative activities. Also, when you do correct try to make it not look that way. I often repeat the correct one during or after their speaking but I do not stop the student to say -this is wrong.
Grammar rules also need to be taught because most foreign language learners ask several "whys" when they come across some never-before-seen grammar. For example in the Chinese language, verbs do not change. English verbs change form several times.The verb "go" for example can change form several times in English - go, went, gone, going. In Chinese this never happens. Imagine teaching verb tenses to these students. Anyone who has taught Chinese students will find that the students demand an explanation when you use a change in tense. The beginners are most often taught present simple and present progressive, but when they start getting into pre-intermediate, they find it hard to break away from using the present tenses for every time change- after all the verbs do not change in their language and the meaning can still be communicated using a time expression like “yesterday, last month etc”.
For students to speak correctly, this needs to be taught and practiced.
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Unread May 6th, 2008, 10:52 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

I have met colleagues who stand for the opinion that in a good ESL class, the students should be able to make the rules themselves with very little guidance from the teacher. Like Kisito mentions, they say that when enough practice on the language structures is done, students will unconsciously get a rule to that structure.
Well, right as long as the structures are simple ones.
I think the biggest danger in teaching rules is teaching wrong rules. It gives the next teacher a double uphill task. Students who have not been taught any rules at all are better than those who have been taught wrong rules.
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Unread May 12th, 2008, 04:42 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Yes Denis is right that teaching the wrong grammar rules makes things worse for the next teacher. In the same line of thought I wonder if you have the same experience of meeting many ESL teachers who do not even know some basic grammar rules. Well sometimes we can't avoid teaching rules because students ask for them. I can't begin to count the number of times my Chinese students ask for a grammar rule. This makes teaching of grammar rules inescapeable. But I have met many teachers who do not know basic grammar rules, and so cannot explain them. It may seem ok because they learnt using a direct method and were born in English speaking environments. But as a teacher, you will always get students asking you why we use a particular grammar form. Even with the rules, you cannot explain everything. So I always try to make my students see grammar as one expert did. She said that grammar rules are like the scaffoldings on a building, necessary at construction, but unnecessary after.
I should go on to say that teachers need to perfect their grammar knowledge and explore better ways and exercises for teaching, practising and reinforcing then, when and where necessary. Grammar rules, as imperfect as they can be, define a language and are therefore a good base to fall back to.
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Unread May 12th, 2008, 05:50 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

I like that quote of yours Kisito about grammar rules being like scaffoldings on a building. You remind me of my French language teacher in those days. In the mornings when he entered the classroom we would all stand and recite the famous rule: "Le participe passe s'acorde en genre et en nombre......" I am sure I got it worngafter all those years..
But it was really fun reciting those rules every morning.
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Unread May 23rd, 2008, 07:09 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Quote:
Quote Denis DNT View Post
Most of our learners like to have rules which they believe facilitate their learning but unfortunately for them most garmmar rules have exceptions.
Do you emphasize on grammar rules when teaching? Do you get them to handle exceptions later, teach the rules and the exceptions together, or ignore exceptions and let them find out themselves?
Pretty confusing, isn't it?
I always emphasize grammar rules first, as well as the exceptions
everything is based on grammar rules. that's the chief problem and that's what makes teaching children so difficult- you can't just "teach them the rules"
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Unread May 24th, 2008, 06:12 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

The textbooks used in schools ought to play a vital role in the teaching of these rules as well as the exceptions. Unfortunately most ESL textbooks focus more on dialogues and reading comprehension texts making it very difficult for some teachers.
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Unread Jun 23rd, 2008, 04:14 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Quote:
Quote emile View Post
Teacher - ...so we use Present Simple for something generally true, and Present Continuous for a current action.

Student - Yes, I am understanding.

--------------
I would argue that there are far fewer exceptions than most teachers think - just bad rules. Take this one. The whole point is that we don't use the Continuous for a current action - we use it for a temporary action - ie one which has started before the point of reference, continues after it but has a foreseeable end. So eg I'm writing this reply. I started a minute ago, the reference point is now and we all know that in a few hours I'll no longer be here. Similarly : I was waiting for the bus when the accident happened. At the moment of the accident (the reference point) I had already started waiting for the bus, and it's clear that the action finished shortly afterwards when the bus arrived. Whether it's present, past, future or anything else is immaterial - that's expressed by the tense of the BE auxiliary and may change. But the meaning of continuous aspect remains the same.

The point about I understand is that it's not a temporary action - there's no foreseeable end to it. If you understand you understand permanently- And permanent actions are expressed with simple aspect. That doesn't mean of course that things can't change - any permanent action, whether I live in Milan, water boils at 100°, or I understand could change under certain circumstances. But the actual occurrence of those circumstances is not foreseeable at the time of speaking.

This is just an example. But time after time that teachers say "That's an exception" it really means that they've not worked out the correct formulation of the rule. Little wonder then that students aren't understanding ...
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Unread Jun 23rd, 2008, 10:28 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Susan, which option did you vote for? I am mean in the poll.
Just curious from your analysis.
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Unread Jun 23rd, 2008, 12:26 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Hi Dennis,
Actually I didn't vote, because I'd have to say "I teach students that there are no exceptions" and you didn't provide that option. But my nearest would be "I teach Ss to make their own rules" as most of the grammar teaching I do is by guided discovery. But at the end the rule is there.
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Unread Jun 25th, 2008, 05:27 pm
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

susan, you think there is no such thing as grammar exceptions at all?
(let's leave out the example with simple and continuous tenses)
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Unread Jun 26th, 2008, 04:13 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

As I said before I think that most cases of "exceptions" are really cases wheren the rule has been formulated wrongly in the first place - and unfortunately that's true of a lot of so-called rules in coursebooks. How many coursebooks do you know for instance that tell you some is used in affirmative sentences, and any in negatives and questions? So sentences like And of course that's not the rule at all. So examples like Would you like some wine? are presented as "exceptions". Rubbish. Explain the rule correctly and all the examples fit in. (I'm leaving out of the discussion here whether it's not sometimes useful to present simplified rules to students, even though we know they're not fully correct. But the important thing is that the teacher knows the correct rule, and that the student understands it's a simplification and that s/he'll get a fuller story at a later level).

Then there are other examples of "historical hangovers" - ie things which were perfectly regular 500-700 years ago, but have now mostly died out in modern English, leaving just one or two examples - which again are presented as exceptions. Well, in a sense they are. But not in the sense that they're completely random and inexplicable.

And of course, there's the opposite. As language evolves new rules emerge, and there's a moment in the middle where the old and the new exist side by side - the new often being seen as a "mistake" or "exception". But 100 years on, that "mistake/exception" may have become the standard rule.

Get into the area of lexis, syntactic patterns etc and there are certainly things which are not rule governed - for example a recent discussion here was looking at "why" you can say (eg) I advised him to go, but you can't say I suggested him to go. The meaning of the verbs is comparable, but they take different structures and there seems to be no rule to say why. But it's not a matter of "exceptions".

Having said all that a) I know I'm going against a lot of current thinking in ELT by arguing this (proponents of the Lexical Approach wouldn't agree with me at all), b) I'm certainly not going to claim I've looked at every single structure in the language. But I know from experience that nine times out of ten when a teacher presents an "exception", it's actually because s/he's presenting an inaccurate or incomplete rule.

What would you put forward as "genuine" exceptions in the language?

PS - las night I came across this is Terry Brookes Armageddon's Children (I don't have the book here, but the quote's more or less right) : I don't know why you're telling me all this but I'm not understanding it. Which got me thinking that understand can, of course, be used dynamically when the context is right. Another example would be : He was having a lot of problems with his maths course at the moment, but he's understanding things a lot better now. It all comes back to what I've said before : grammar is meaning. The grammar of the language gives us the choice between presenting something as permanently true (simple) or limited to a time period around a certain point. We choose the form dependent on how we want to present the information - what we want to "mean". There's no such thing as a verb which "can't" take the continuous - again, another example of an inaccurate rule.
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Unread Jun 26th, 2008, 07:41 am
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Default Re: Grammar rules and exceptions!

Great explanation, Susan, thank you. I definitely agree with you that grammar rules are often not well understood or presented, and I'd go along with the idea that teachers are to be blamed for it, not the rules themselves.

How many coursebooks do you know for instance that tell you some is used in affirmative sentences, and any in negatives and questions?

Yes, definitely. I have had trouble with that very example, but I have never encountered a book where a sentence like Would you like some wine is explained as an exception of that rule. They just write the "definition" and we have to deal with troublesome questions if some students happen to ask them.


What would you put forward as "genuine" exceptions in the language?

I don't know actually, I hoped that you might know a couple of examples.


PS. I'm mostly teaching children and adults at elementary and pre-intermediate level
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