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Help! Grammar topics that require knowledge of parts of speech....

Hi Everyone,

Newbie here! I teach a biweekly community-college ESL class. Most of the students speak at an intermediate level, with writing and reading perhaps a bit lower than that.

Here's my problem: I find it difficult to teach certain grammar topics when students don't know the concept of parts-of-speech. For example, one textbooks describes gerunds as "verbs that are used as nouns." That's correct, BUT the students aren't familiar with the concepts of "noun" and "verb" (had never learned this in their native language and may not have had much formal education, although all are literate.) In addition to gerunds, other concepts that seem (to me) to require some knowledge of parts-of-speech include pluralization, past tense, and subject/verb agreement.

My solution has been to back up a little...and start teaching parts of speech. We are working on reading stories and identifying nouns and verbs. We'll move on to pronouns next. It's slow going but really fun -- and the students are very interested. And yet, I don't know if this is the right approach to eventually learning gerunds etc. I'm NOT an experienced ESL instructor.

And so, I've chosen this topic for a project that I'm working on as part of my Instructional Design coursework. I would love to tap into the LINCS community of instructors for needs assessment. If you are willing and able, please answer any or all of the below three questions 

1.) Do you use the parts-of-speech words ("verb" "adjective" etc) when you teach certain grammar rules? And if so, do you sometimes need to teach the concept of parts-of-speech first? 

2.) Do you feel that your students are hindered by not knowing these part-of-speech terms and concepts, or do you find that they really don't need to know?

3.) If your students don't know parts-of-speech and have nonetheless learned more advanced grammar concepts (e.g. gerunds), how did they do this? 

If it's worthwhile, I'd like to create a learning object to help with parts-of-speech...but don't want to do so if it's not a good strategy to learn them in the first place.

Thanks so much in advance. Evonne

Comments

finnmiller's picture

Hello Evonne, You are asking some great questions. I think you will find our previous discussion on teaching grammar with guest facilitator David Kehe quite relevant. David has written several books on teaching grammar, and he has developed an effective approach. In the discussion thread, you will see that David addressed the issue of teaching parts of speech.

Let us know what you take away from David's guidance on this topic and what questions--if any-- remain. I'm certain that members will want to weigh in on this discussion, too.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP
 

Evonne Bradford's picture

Susan, Thank you so much. I look forward to reading the David Kehe discussion! Evonne

Glenda Rose's picture

1.) Do you use the parts-of-speech words ("verb" "adjective" etc) when you teach certain grammar rules? And if so, do you sometimes need to teach the concept of parts-of-speech first? 

I use more common words at first (a naming word = noun, an action word = verb), but I do eventually teach the grammar terms.  Last night, for example, I had to teach the difference between noun and PROnoun, and that you don't use them together.  I had students writing sentences like: "My sisters we work together."  So, sometimes it is useful to back up and explain that we don't need the PROnoun (in place of the noun) if we have the noun.

2.) Do you feel that your students are hindered by not knowing these part-of-speech terms and concepts, or do you find that they really don't need to know?

I don't find that hinders them.  I can integrate the "vocabulary of language" into the lesson.  I always joke with them, though, that these words are just for English class.  You'd never go to the fast food restaurant and order 3 nouns, 1 verb, and a prepositional phrase. :) 

3.) If your students don't know parts-of-speech and have nonetheless learned more advanced grammar concepts (e.g. gerunds), how did they do this? 

What I find is that some people are very good at learning basic grammar intuitively from reading a lot and a lot of practice. BUT, just like our first language English speakers, to get to the finer points of professional and academic writing, they need to understand what they are doing (and for adults, why).

If it's worthwhile, I'd like to create a learning object to help with parts-of-speech...but don't want to do so if it's not a good strategy to learn them in the first place.

If it is short and deals with one part of speech at a time, it may be useful for teachers who don't really understand the grammar rules of English themselves.  Just my opinion.

I hope this helps!
 

Glenda

Evonne Bradford's picture

Thank you so much, Glenda. I love how you handle PROnouns. It's a perfect example of how knowing the name for the part of speech can help. Out of curiosity, how do you deal with adverbs?

David J. Rosen's picture

Evonne,

You asked: Do you use the parts-of-speech words ("verb" "adjective" etc) when you teach certain grammar rules? And if so, do you sometimes need to teach the concept of parts-of-speech first?

To help students learn to recognize parts of speech, I don't recommend starting with rule-based definitions of basic parts of speech, because so many commonly-used definitions of parts of speech are wrong or inadequate, and therefore confusing. For example, consider this common definition "A verb is an action word." Students might read the word "handshake" in the sentence "We can make an agreement with a handshake." They could then wrongly conclude that because shaking hands is an action the word  "handshake" in "a handshake" is a verb. This isn't an exception to a rule. That definition of a verb is linguistically inadequate. Equally wrong, the common definition that a noun is "the name of a person, place or thing, quality or idea" is also linguistically inadequate. In the example "We can make an agreement with a handshake." linguistically what determines that "handshake" is a noun is that it is preceded by an article, in this case "a".  (A handshake is not the name of a person, place, thing, quality or idea. It's a certain kind of action.) To help students identify nouns in a sentence, it may be more useful to teach them the very limited set of words we call "articles", namely "the", "a" and "an",  and to say that a noun -- often, but not always, a person, place or thing -- comes after an article in a phrase or sentence. You can then give them sentences with articles and nouns and ask them to identify the nouns. It's important to tell them that the noun doesn't always come immediately after the article, that sometimes there are other kinds of words that "modify" the noun that come in between, that some of these are called "adjectives." You could then give them some examples of sentences that have an article, an adjective and a noun, and ask them to identify each of these parts of speech in each sentence. Later you could introduce other words, in addition to articles, that signal that a noun is coming such as the determiners, as they are sometimes called, "some" and "many" as well as various numbers.  The main idea here is to help learners practice correctly identifying a part of speech, not to memorize an inadequate definition of one and then look for a word that fits the definition. If it helps, of course, give common examples of the part of speech -- just don't rely on the examples to define what the part of speech is, or a student will rightly challenge you to explain why, if verbs are always action words, "is" (for example, "A verb is an action word"),  or words like "think" or "dream", and many other words that do not describe an action are verbs. I have found that this approach works, at least with native speakers of English. I haven't had the opportunity to try it with English language learners.

David J, Rosen

 

Ginger's picture

Hi. I love to talk grammar! :)

At first with my ESL students, I didn't think it was necessary for them to learn the parts of speech by name because in reality when speaking, they're not necessary. But as I taught them to write, I found the necessity pretty quickly. And I realize that in teaching I use the words "noun" and "preposition" often, so I want them to understand what those are. So, yes, I think students are hindered particularly in their writing and class comprehension when they don't know the parts of speech. Now I list the 8 parts of speech in the beginning of the term and mention briefly what they are (words to label different groups of words) and how knowing the patterns of these parts and their positions in sentences helps us write and comprehend better. I don't spend a ton of time defining the words in the beginning; I just want them to recognize them as labels for words like they recognize other vocabulary for grouping words. As the term continues, I'll mention the parts more often and do simple, short mini bites of info as it applies to the concept we're learning. When following any good ESL curriculum, eventually students need to understand the parts of speech. I think creating something to help would be great! Good luck!

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