Launching the qBank

Wednesday 29 June 2016

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I have been working very hard for the past four months or so, writing grammar exercises for the qBank. The what? I hear you say. Right ... the qBank feature is a data-base of question items for exercising and drilling specific points of grammar, thus making it possible for you to produce quickly and easily grammar exercises for your students, and adapt these closely to their needs.

As I commented in the blog Exercises & drills (see left), I have become converted to the idea that an appropriate use of exercises, especially online, can be very helpful in establishing and reinforcing students’ command of the language. The aim is to focus on specific mechanisms of language, and require students to think about those mechanisms, through limited repetition of the same structure so as to embed the mechanism and make it automatic.

If you look at the qBank (enter by clicking on ‘qBank’ in the top left box on the Home page), you will see that the items fall into two main groups: ‘Key language issues’ and ‘Transferable academic language’. To explain more fully...

Key language issues ... this group of topics is directly related to the main site section of the same name, which concentrates on a range of fundamental elements of the English language. And by ‘fundamental’, I mean two things : (i) elements of grammar which are essential for communicating basic notions – for instance, if you can’t handle the system of tenses, you can’t really express time properly; and (ii) elements of grammar that students most commonly get wrong or find difficult – the ‘Common Flaws’.

I have selected these Common Flaws on the basis of twenty years of examining, where you see the full global range of student errors. Some students have problems with fundamentals because of L1 interference – the problems of Slavic students with articles, for instance, since Slavic languages don’t bother with these irritating little details ! Other students may have an excellent command of a really sophisticated range of language, but have residual flaws in basics – they mis-learned, say, the use of past tenses right at the start, and have never been adequately corrected since they communicate so well in all other respects.

The qBank, therefore, enables you to target key fundamentals, and drill each student appropriately in order to embed the correct use.

Transferable academic language (TAL) ... this is my slightly high-flown but accurate description of elements of English used in the instruction and study of any and all academic subjects. It is ‘transferable’ in that it is not subject specific. To illustrate, the verb ‘investigate’ can be used in any field of study; and the ability to structure sentences in complex and lucid ways is essential not matter whether you’re doing a Physics lab report or a History essay.

The qBank, then, provides the means to drill and reinforce the use of both sophisticated vocabulary and of complex grammar structures, and these are the key to teaching TAL.

On top of writing the 1000+ items for the qBank, I have also re-written, expanded and re-structured the main site pages in the ‘Language system’ section. This has been in order to (i) inter-link thoroughly the main site with the qBank, and (ii) re-format the main site pages so that they can be used to present language elements through projections onto whiteboards or through smartboards. The intention is that you can present, say, an overview of the tenses structure to the whole class, and then devise exercises for the students to do for homework in order to practise and reinforce what has been presented.

Finally, most of the pages in the ‘Language system’ section are now available for students to look at on their own, for revision and study purposes. You would use the ‘Student access’ system to achieve that (see ‘my student groups’ in the top left box on the Home page).

It has been a long haul, writing the qBank grammar exercises. Curiously, I began my teaching career working one-to-one in an intensive English course – and the last task of every day was to record grammar exercises on a cassette recorder, for each pupil to take back to his or her hotel room in order to reinforce the language items learnt that day. And here I am, 40-odd years later, writing grammar exercises for a website! Funny old thing, Life...


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