Grammar Issue – Adam

Adam Simpson

You’re teaching EAP? Forget most of what you know about grammar (kind of!) 
  – Adam Simpson

The name Daniel Horowitz may not be that familiar to you, nor to many in the world of English language teaching. Nevertheless, this man’s writings in the 1980s have had as profound an effect on my teaching as any other individual. Part of the reason he is not well known is that he was sadly taken from us before his time, but also because he was not frightened of rattling the establishment and speaking out against what he knew to be wrong, or at very least ineffective in language teaching. I consider myself fortunate, therefore, to find myself in a working environment where his ideas have come to life.

As the title of this post suggests, Horowitz had certain ideas on what constituted ‘academic English’ and indeed what that meant in terms of grammatical focus. My aim today is to show you how logical and practicable Horowitz’s suggestions are, and yet how they probably aren’t being implemented in a lot of supposedly EAP courses. I feel that it is pertinent at this point to look at the main functional categories that Horowitz suggested comprise academic discourse, and the specific functional objectives that each and every EAP course therefore should aim to teach. If you teach EAP, look at the program you’re involved with and ask questions if you don’t see these things being covered.

Now, let’s look at each of these functional categories and think about what they mean in terms of grammar. Please bear in mind that this is just a brief overview:


Displaying familiarity with a concept

So, what do you need to do to ‘display familiarity’ with something? This might mean defining, exemplifying or giving a physical description. At lower levels, this might mean using the simple present tense and focusing on the use of articles. As learners progress, they might be exposed to defining and non-defining relative clauses.


Expressing similarities and differences

This is as simple as the title suggests: to do this you need to be describe and account for differences, or compare and classify concepts. At lower levels, this might mean using comparative and superlative adjectives, or comparison of nouns (more, less, fewer). As learners progress, they might be required to use adverbials of concession (although, despite (the fact that), in spite of (the fact that), nevertheless), for instance.


Expressing cause and effect relationships

So, how might we express cause and effect relationships? This might mean having to identify historical causes and contributory factors, or indicate goals and express results.  At lower levels, this might mean using specific verbs (is caused by, result from, contribute to). As learners progress, they might start to learn other expressions (as a result of, because of, as, since, because, due to therefore, thus, so, as a consequence of, for this reason, the more … the more, owing to) and noun complement clauses with ‘the fact + that-clause’ (e.g. ‘The fact that Prozac is so powerful undermines the power of psychotherapy’).


Displaying familiarity with a process

So, what do you need to do to ‘display familiarity’ with a process? This requires the learner to be able to describe a scientific process, or narrate a historical process. At lower levels, learners might encounter the passive voice (made (of), given, taken, used (for), known (as), defined (as), related (to), associated (with), composed (of), linked (to/with), based (on)) and sequencing meta-discourse (first (of all), next, finally, at the same time, the first/next/final step/stage, after/before that). As learners progress, they might be exposed to other structures such as ‘Having’ + participle (-ed) phrase + clause (e.g. Having completed the research, we can now determine…).


Displaying familiarity with argumentation

So, how do we ‘display familiarity’ with argumentation? This might mean emphasizing a point, evaluating ideas, or paraphrasing and summarizing an argument. At lower levels, this can involve using expressing obligation with modal verbs (present and future: have to, don’t have to, must, should, allowed to, need to). At higher levels learners might be exposed to structures such as noun complement clauses (N + that-clause + evaluation) with head nouns (idea, assumption, assertion, realization, discovery, proposition, recognition, evidence, proof, sign, indication, (e.g. the assumption that the population was evenly distributed is not a good one here)).


Using an academic style

What does it mean to use an academic style? This might require being concise, precise and objective. At lower levels, this might mean avoiding repetition through the use of synonyms, pronouns (personal, possessive and reflexive). As learners move on in their studies, they might be exposed to participle clauses including reduced relative clauses, for instance.


Is it really so different?

Hopefully, none of the examples I’ve given will appear to be dramatically different from what you might traditionally consider to be ‘grammar’. Therein lies the problem with academic grammar: it is both very similar to what we might teach in a general English course and yet with sometimes drastic differences in emphasis.


If you’re familiar with the progression we see in many course books, you might have noticed that I didn’t mention the present continuous or the present perfect in my examples. That’s because they are noticeably less important to the academic world than they are in everyday life. I mention these as they are particular stalwarts of many a grammar syllabus, and exactly the kind of things that Horowitz would have told you to downplay in your teaching (and which consequently made his suggestions seem so difficult to accept).

Your biggest challenge, and one I hope you’ll take up if you teach EAP, is to think about what your learners really need and don’t be afraid to focus more on things such as the passive voice and simple tenses and less on the present continuous or the present perfect. While this is merely a brief introduction to academic grammar, I’d be happy to discuss this in more detail with anyone interested.


Suggested reading

The Contribution of Daniel Horowitz by Ann M. Johns – JALT Publications (available by clicking here


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The Games Issue – Adam Simpson

Games in the language classroom: the When & the How
 – Adam Simpson

Adam Simpson
I love playing games in my classes; as far as I’m concerned, games can play a range of roles in the language curriculum. Nevertheless, you’ll find that, traditionally, games have been used in the language class merely as warm-up activities at the beginning, fill-in activities when there’s that extra ten minutes towards the end of class, or often as not as a bit of fun lobbed randomly into the curriculum to spice things up and motivate or energize a tired class.

While I don’t have a problem with any of these approaches, I increasingly feel that games can and should constitute a more substantial part of any language curricula. Indeed, games are a tremendously flexible way of achieving all kinds of objectives: games can be used either for practicing particular language items or skills, or in practicing communicative language production. Likewise, games can also be used as a means of revising and recycling recently taught language.

Younger learners are especially enthusiastic about games, but older students quickly find that they enjoy classroom games too. Having said that, it is particularly important that we as teachers explain the aims and objectives of the game: games can be viewed as a frivolous activity and be resented if the reasons for playing aren’t made clear. Nonetheless, older students can take a great deal from games, more even than young learners, especially when they take a role in deciding how it should proceed.

As with any other learning activity though, we need to pay careful attention to the level of difficulty in our games. A major part of the appeal in participating in a game lies in the way that it challenges us; if the challenge is too great or too straightforward, many students may become discouraged and lose interest. Perhaps one of the most important things for us to remember is that this ‘challenge’ comes in two forms: 1) understanding how to play the game, and 2) understanding the language content. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of ideas for making sure that we address both types of understanding. When planning a game for your classes, bear these things in mind:

1. Don’t underestimate the value of demonstrating the game

A quick demonstration of how the game is played can prove invaluable. You can do this in two ways; a) you as the teacher can demonstrate with a group of students, or; b) a group can demonstrate for the class.

2. Always give clear directions

Directions often make a natural accompaniment to demonstrations, but it can be boring to start off with a big list of instructions before you even begin the game. Alternatively, think about what you absolutely have to explain first off, and then consider giving further directions as and when needed. An important point to think about is that – no matter how well you plan a game – there is always room to make it more fun. Therefore, be flexible: some student-initiated modifications to ‘the plan’ can and often should be accepted.

3. Script out the metalanguage

Consider the language learners will use to play the game. You can either prepare a list of key vocabulary or a list of useful phrases that they might need to use, or perhaps a sample script of the typical ways in which questions are phrased to obtain information.

4. Where possible, use game formats to review already known content

I tend to stick to common, popular game show formats from television. That way, a large number of students will have at least a vague idea of how to play. This helps a lot in cutting down the amount of time needed to do the things I’ve mentioned in points 1, 2 and 3. This in turn enables you to get on with playing the game, which is only ever a good thing.

5. Use games to revise and recycle previously studied content, rather than involving new content

Experience has taught me that games are no place to be bringing in new vocabulary or grammar, unless you do so in a very friendly test-teach-test manner. If you do bring in new stuff, do so in a team game and in a way that activates schemata or allows the class to share and display their collective knowledge on a subject that’s coming up in the course book. Sticking to things you’ve recently done in class is good, as it creates a situation in which the students have to recall and use language in the game, which is itself a reasonable facsimile of a real life situation with all the pressures to recall and use grammar and vocab in the ‘there and then’.

6. Mix up those groups… with care

Group games are good as they (obviously) contain groups which are heterogeneous in terms of current language proficiency. Carefully selecting who is in which team means that we create a situation in which the more proficient members can help others.


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Thinking about classrooms – Adam

Making The Most of your Classroom   – Adam Simpson

Adam Simpson

The physical challenges of the classroom
Deciding how to plan activities is both incredibly easy and horribly difficult. While we might have a good idea of how we want our lessons to unfurl, perhaps we don’t always give enough consideration to the role of the size and shape of the classroom as we should. While we might recognize that the shape and size of our classrooms dictates how our classrooms are arranged, we also need to understand that these factors should influence our choice of activities.

Before we get down to the business of moving desks and chairs around, we need a clear vision of what the room will look like and how this facilitates the activities we want to use.

The feng shui of the language classroom

Every classroom has a particular energy and flow to it. This isn’t new age mumbo jumbo; it’s common sense. Even in a place such as my school, where a number of rooms all follow a certain design, I find that there are little quirks in the shape and layout which make each unique. The little differences can make or break an activity if you haven’t factored the room into your planning. Here are a few preliminary questions that you might like to ask yourself about any given classroom.

  • Do you have enough seats for everyone?
  • How mobile is the furniture?
  • Where is the board?
  • How mobile are you?
  • How would you distribute handouts and other materials?
  • Are there windows in the room?
  • To what extent will the students engage with one another?

If you’ve answered these questions, you’re off to a good start (if, while reading this, other questions came to mind, please feel free to comment). Depending on the answers, you can now approach how you are going to use your room to facilitate learning. You are now faced with a classic ‘either / or’ situation.

1. Making the room work for the activity: Bearing in mind what you want to do in class, you need to think about what adaptations you need to make to the room to best facilitate the outcomes you’re looking for.

2. Making the activity work for the room: If the room can’t be adapted, you need to think about what activities you can do within the constraints that the physical environment has placed on you.

How do you get the room to work for you?

I currently teach in a variety of rooms. Each presents a different challenge in terms of the above questions, but each also presents opportunities to get the room to work in my favour. I’ve given considered thought about what I can and can’t do in each of these environments, and see that they adhere to standard models in the literature. The remainder of this post therefore will be a look at these different models and what activities they facilitate.

1) The dance floor

As the name suggests, the dance floor is a layout that places the focus on an area visible to all. This layout can promote lots of student interaction as all the seats point toward a central focus point. The large, open space in the middle of the room is traditionally in front of where a teacher’s desk might appear and is equally great for group activities and class discussions as it is for teacher talk.

On the downside, that big area might be regarded as a serious waste of space, particularly if you have a large class. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to get a group talking to each other this can be a winner, because students are able to hold eye contact without constantly having to swing around in their seats. However, this seating chart requires a room with a lot of space in it.

2) The catwalk

As I mentioned, I walk around a lot during my lessons, mainly in the hope that my movement will instill motivation in my students, but also so that I can maintain eye contact with each of them and not leave anyone out when it comes to asking questions. The catwalk is effective in preventing me from wandering aimlessly. While it narrows the area in which a teacher can easily move, it’s extremely effective in rooms that have boards on opposite ends of the room. Bear in mind, however, that because you are teaching down the center of the room, you may have the unnerving feeling of being surrounded.

If you’re planning a class discussion or some kind of two-team game, this layout is a practical way of arranging seating, as students will always face the other half of the class. Success with this layout depends on the number of rows you use: the fewer the better. To maximize class interaction, make the rows of students parallel to the center lane as possible.

3) The independent-nation-state

If, like me, you see the benefit of cooperative learning, or even if you regularly split your class into groups for games, this layout is a classic. This seating plan instantly tells students that you want them to operate independently from the rest of the class. It’s important that students still need to be able to see the board easily without giving themselves an injury, though.

Using this too frequently can result in a fragmented classroom and a lack of dynamic among the whole class. If your room is permanently set up like this, you eventually find that each group forms their own classroom culture and can’t work with students in the other groups. This is an effective layout, but should not be a permanent one.


4) The Battleship

Like the game, the battleship layout is all about the element of surprise. Consider the picture a metaphor for the battleship, the spirit of which is just to mix things up from the everyday norm.

This layout can be effective when trying to foster creativity, or even the polar opposite; this works when you have to administer a classroom quiz. The battle ship should almost certainly be a single lesson one-off, though.



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Critical Thinking – Adam

The Role of Questions in Teaching Thinking and Learning Adam Simpson

by Adam Simpson

The thing I hate most about my job is the word ‘coverage’. Assessors are obsessed with coverage. If material has been covered, it can be tested. If it can be tested, it will be tested and assessors rest easy in the knowledge that they have done their job well. This naturally leads to an over emphasis on coverage at the expense of engaged thinking, based on the assumption that ‘answers’ can be taught separately from ‘questions’.

Assessors are not entirely to blame for this state of affairs. Indeed, the position that formal assessment has been allowed to take in language instruction is merely a symptom of what we are presented with in published course materials. Consider this: every declarative statement in the course books we use is an answer to a question. The teaching world in which we live frequently sees this relationship between the statement and its accompanying question. One seemingly cannot exist without the other. This is a crying shame, as it does nothing to promote thinking of any kind, never mind critical thinking.

Questions are the driving force behind critical thought

Thinking of any kind isn’t driven by answers, but rather by questions. When we learn, it is because we ask questions that stimulate thought. The trap that published course books fall into – and the trap which we follow into – is that we ask questions only to get thought-stopping answers and not to generate further questions. So, how exactly are we going wrong?

The ‘Endless Content’ monster

We feed learners with endless content and this is a big problem. Content tends to lead to questions with one answer, which in turn leads to a dead end in terms of critical thinking. One analogy I like for this phenomenon is that we are getting learners to step on the brakes of a car that is already parked. Rather than more and more content being the driving force in the classroom, what learners really need are questions that ignite their intellectual engines: they need to create questions from the questions we ask. Thinking need to go somewhere, so the questions we ask learners determine where their thinking goes. There are many types of question that stimulate critical thought:

1. Questions of purpose

These force us to define our task. Why are reading this text?

2. Questions of information

These require that we look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information. Who wrote this text, and why?

3. Deep questions

These drive thought underneath the surface of things; they force people to deal with complexity. What is the philosophical nature of the material we are reading or listening to?

4. Questions of interpretation

These make us examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information. Why was the text presented in this way? What points did we place most importance on while reading?

5. Questions of assumption

These require that examine what we are taking for granted. Did the material give us new insight or challenge our accepted perceptions?

6. Questions of implication

Such questions make us follow where our thinking is going. What thoughts did this listening stimulate?

7. Questions of relevance

These force us to discriminate what does and what does not have bearing on a question. Does this reading add anything to what we know/need to know?

8. Questions of point of view

These require that we examine our perspective and to consider others’ points of view. Does this text contradict my thoughts? Does it offer new insight into the subject?

9. Questions of accuracy

These force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. Can/Should I take what is said in this listening at face value?

10. Questions of consistency

Such questions force us to examine our thinking for contradictions. Does everything here add up? Have I even considered the consistency of the information presented?

11. Questions of logic

These make us consider how we are putting our thoughts together, to make sure that everything adds up and makes sense within our logic system.

Dead minds come from dead questions

The superficial questions we constantly see in published teaching materials result in superficial understanding. Most students typically have no questions: their minds are silent. Any questions they do have are often superficial to say the least. Don’t blame them for this; it is a natural symptom of how they have been taught to learn. Lack of questioning shows us that they are not thinking through the content they are apparently ‘learning’. Indeed, they are not really even learning the content we think they are learning.

Fortunately, we can fix this: thinking begins when questions are formed by both teachers and students. My advice would be to approach coursebook material with your learners and see what questions from the eleven types mentioned above you – together – come up with.

The Young Learners Issue #1 – Adam

Leveraging Young Learners’ Use of TechnologyADAMSimpson150x150

Young learners born between Generation Y and Z have grown up with technology that helps them engage with a constant flow of information and data. Yet the constant question from early 21st century teachers is, ‘How can we adopt technology in our classes in a meaningful way that facilitates learning?’ This is a good question we should ask whenever we use tech in our teaching, but it’s easily answered if we leverage the ways our learners are already interacting daily with technology. Here are five ideas that might help.

Don’t be afraid of technology
Although YLs are most commonly described as tech savvy, I have trouble with this term as I feel it poorly depicts their true interactions with technology. What I have come to understand is that our young learners are actually tech comfy, rather than tech savvy. Realizing this,we can overcome our own fears of technology and adopt the tools they already use to facilitate learning.

Adam Image1

Teach proper search skills

By 2006 about 90% of young Westerners used Internet search engines. It’s now virtually 100% with an ease-of-use mentality at the heart of this phenomenon. While Gen Y-ers still recognize the value of physical libraries, such facilities fail to live up to their expectations of speed and convenience. This high comfort level, however, fosters a false sense of ability: young learners often overestimate their skills in finding and – especially – in evaluating online information. So, one of the first things we must do as teachers is offer guidance in how to use search engines effectively. Fortunately, there are resources such as this infographic to help us achieve this.

Use visuals more effectively

In many cases, technology is enabling us to meet teaching aims in ways we could only imagine in the past. Whereas we used to search through our possessions for meaningful realia to elicit language in class, we can now use online visuals. Infographics like Nik Peachey’s Infographic Tools  (a great starting point) and YouTube video clips shouldn’t be considered as the new alternative to reading, though, as they are not an adequate replacement for the development of reading skills. However, they are a great way of stimulating interest and activating schemata.

Leverage technology to give feedback

Those few lines of red scribbled notes on a learner’s writing homework have never been adequate feedback; this is one aspect of teaching that has been greatly enhanced with tech tools. Gen Y-ers have grown up receiving instant feedback on their performance, so they can feel let down if we don’t give them the same level of response to their learning. Using audio recording tool Audacity or something like Class Dojo allows us to record thousands of words of feedback in the time it used to take to write two or three sentences.

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Handle multitasking with care

Recent research suggests that teenagers currently spend more than three hours a day connected to at least two tech gadgets — from a total of more than ten hours spent plugged into at least one. I’ve heard such statistics used to justify classroom multitasking, but I’m not convinced it’s a great thing to encourage. The problem is — and Carnegie Mellon University research backs this up — that a young brain working on two tasks has much less overall brain activity than if they were focused on one task.  It’s doing less trying to do more. I’d suggest exercising great care dealing with multitasking in class, especially when doing something creative – which it’s believed suffers the most from multitasking. If learners are looking up words in an online dictionary while doing another task, it’s probably Ok. However, if creativity is your aim, keep multitasking to a minimum.

I hope you now feel it’s a good thing to be using technology in class and that you don’t have to go over the top. Indeed, you can be successful simply exploiting the ways learners already use technology on a day-to-day basis in their lives.