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Producing your own grammar activities
What kind of grammar?
I've been teaching in Italy for several years, and Italians characteristically use the Present Perfect to describe the past. Thus, ‘Yesterday, I have bought a new computer,' is a very typical mistake, even for Italian-speakers at an upper-intermediate level, because it's a direct translation from the Italian to English. I've used the example passage included below, (‘Carl Smith'), with many intermediate level Italian students. It contains several instances where Present Perfect is used erroneously instead of the simple past. The intention is not to catch the student out, but to identify and focus attention on areas of difficulty which may still be problematic.
Other characteristic and problematic grammar points at this level for Italian speakers include the use of going to and present continuous to describe plans and intentions, rather than will, the position of adjectives before the noun, the use of articles, comparative and superlative constructions: as...as...etc, conditional structures - which are constructed and used somewhat differently in Italian, and, of course, verbs with irregular past forms. These problems are universal, but as I say they often present particular difficulties for Italian speakers at the intermediate level, (and above)
Use your imagination!
Writing these kinds of passages can be good fun and an opportunity for the teacher to exercise her/his creative writing talents. Use your imagination: write about yourself, Britain, your country, someone you know, customise what you write to fit the needs and personal characteristics of the student, but remember to keep it relatively simple: it's a grammar test, not ‘Middlemarch'. Keep the subject matter familiar and close to home, and the vocabulary straightforward - if the student is struggling to understand the sense of the text, the obstacle is probably one of general comprehension, not grammar. If you don't feel confident enough to write your own materials, why not try setting your students a composition for homework, compiling their most frequent mistakes and then creating a template from work they have produced for you.
Range and appropriateness
It should go without saying that it's necessary to keep the grammar within the appropriate range: don't ‘invent' grammar mistakes which are totally out of keeping with the mistakes students usually make in the normal run of things. Also, it's probably not a good idea to introduce an erroneous third conditional structure into a passage you're intending to use with an elementary group. By the same token, if you've got advanced level students, it's probably better to assume they already know to add ‘s' to the end of verbs in the third person when using simple present.
‘Harry Gibson is a teacher for about ten years and he is working in typical comprehensive school near of Manchester....'
‘Harry the Gibson will has been of going to went a school hence Manchester...'
Probably a bit to much
How to use the passage
The passages can be used by students working alone, or in pairs or small groups. Set a time limit - I usually allow a maximum of fifteen minutes, reinforcing the need to keep things relatively simple. These are essentially revision exercises - not a way of trying to introduce students to new grammar. At the end of the exercise, go through the passage with the student(s), correct the mistakes they've overlooked, re-teach stuff you think it's necessary for them to have learned by that point in the course, refer them to the appropriate unit in the grammar book - if you're using one to supplement the course.
From experience, I've learned to limit these exercises to a couple of hundred words, and to insert between twenty to thirty grammar mistakes into each passage. I've used these exercises at the beginning of courses in order to test levels, identify particular areas of grammatical difficulty, as warmers at the beginning of lessons as a way of revising and consolidating grammar, as progress tests, and most particularly as homework exercises. Students like them, and given the choice they often ask me for one of these passages instead of a piece of writing, or exercises from the workbook etc - especially if you can exercise your imagination and perhaps introduce a bit of humour.
Written by David Done