There’s been an interesting discussion on the value of rules in teaching on Scott Thornbury’s blog. Here’s one of my comments…

Well, rules are only one part of explanation. They are the essence of the explanation, and whether or not they are a help or a hindrance depends on how good the whole explanation is. Rules simply should be as short, jargon-free and … “tangible”, as possible. Here’s one suggestion on how to facilitate learners’ understanding and retainment of the new material.

I try to explain by setting the scene and describing a situation,

eg, I messed up a job interview because I was wearing the wrong clothes, using the wrong body language and saying the wrong things – then say that I’m criticizing myself for what I did yesterday (stressing CRITICISE and YESTERDAY) – I – SHOULD-NOT-HAVE-WORN-A –TUTU (wear-worn-worn) – WORN A TUTU , nie nado bylo (Russian, = I shouldn’t have) .

Then I elicit: what about fidgeting and scratching my back? – I – shouln’t-have-fidgeted, I- shouldn’t-have- scratched my back. Then I put the pattern on the board: Sb + should’t have + done smth YESTERDAY (CRITICISM!) – Is this present perfect? (in response to the very usual question) – “yes”, I say, “kind of. It looks the same, but it’s “should have” always, never “has”. OK?”

Then I choral drill the above three phrases. Then I do some substitution drills to make them comfortable with the patterns. Throughout the drilling and eliciting I stress it was yesterday, we are dissatisfied and criticizing, and say nie nado bylo a few times for reinforcement.

We then proceed with telling me what I SHOULD have done at the interview, which is followed by a structured pairwork activity to get them discuss their own failures. The blackboard/OHP is almost blank with the pattern and 2 keywords on it – CRITICISM, YESTERDAY, “ne nado bylo”.

That’s it. Nothing really new. The keywords are labels, can we call them rules? I think we can. Have I explained it? Yes, since they understood and used it appropriately. Russian is very helpful here indeed – I never hesitate to instantly translate a word or to instead of laboriously explaining/drawing/eliciting anything for 5 – 10 minutes. For present perfect that might be RESULT, JUST DONE, EXPERIENCE (ever/never), HOW MANY TIMES? – for the different uses of it.


One comment on “How KEYWORD RULES work

  1. […] should be (ideally) a few keywords to avoid any lengthy rules, or mnemonics to remember the tough […]

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