Key Language Issues

"But which bits of the language do I choose ?"

The English language is vast. To illustrate, here's Wikipedia on the Oxford English Dictionary :

As of 30 November 2005, the Oxford English Dictionary contained approximately 301,100 main entries. Supplementing the entry headwords, there are 157,000 bold-type combinations and derivatives; 169,000 italicized-bold phrases and combinations; 616,500 word-forms in total, including 137,000 pronunciations; 249,300 etymologies; 577,000 cross-references; and 2,412,400 usage quotations.

But of course, that's just vocabulary - the flexible (OK, semi-anarchic) nature of English grammar means that the number of possible acceptable combinations must be heading towards the infinite ... and then there's the global nature of English, so which local, regional, continental variation should you look at?

So, it's quite understandable that teachers of English B may feel that they are unable to see the wood for the trees.

Key language for English B

I do not intend to list half of English grammar here, in some form of comprehensive syllabus. This would not only be impractical (there isn't space) and redundant (there are plenty of better English grammars available) - but also undesirable: students have individual difficulties and weaknesses and these should be dealt with, to a large extent, individually. What I do want to provide is a guide to key common issues that affect most English B students to some degree.

So here is my selection of essentials - both the language that students commonly get wrong, and the language that they need to acquire in order to communicate effectively ...

This section's main headings...

... many of which have subordinate pages, including Student Access 'TASKS' pages.

qBank - basics & common flaws ... guide and index to the qBank's database of questions for you to form into exercises and drills.

Essential functions ... There are long lists of language functions - but which are truly necessary from an English B point of view?

Tenses, explored ... The average student will arrive in the English B class having at least heard of most tenses in English. This does not mean that they really understand what each tense involves, nor that they will actually use them in real communication, nor that they will use them accurately.

About articles 1 ... Perfectly easy for many students, and an irritating mystery for others, depending on their L1 background. This page presents the basic rules...

About articles 2 ...and this page presents a guide to the various exceptions - in the shape of helpful Mini-rules.

Basic linkers ... How to help students to start linking ideas and sentences together in more sophisticated ways, according to purpose. Presents a toolkit for using cohesive devices.

Compare & contrast ... simple, but vital, structures which enable students to combine comparisons effectively and clearly (for example, "the less... the more...")

Cohesives & referencing ... backwards and forwards referencing (those beautiful words anaphora and cataphora) can cause students problems if they don't learn to handle them consciously and carefully

Conditionals, explored ... The use of that little word 'IF' is vital for much of the subtlety and precision of expression in argument. But the Conditional structures are also, at times, the most complicated bits of English grammar.

Modals ... those small variations in the form of verbs which allow statements to be made more subtly and more precisely

Make & do ... two verbs which are very commonly used in idioms, and which are very often confused

Expanding vocabulary ... largely a page for you as a teacher, discussing the theory and practice of teaching vocabulary efficiently

Sentence Structure ... Sound sentence structure is based on clear thinking and a reflective approach to expression - and on having the technical resources to be able to articulate phrases and clauses. These need to be taught.

Sequence markers ...  a toolkit of 14 words and phrases which make it possible to creat clear structure in a prose text

The Asking of Questions ... discusses the tactics and strategies of asking questions - and how grammatical structures will affect the kind of answer that you might get!

Correction skills ... important that students learn to self-correct - which comes down to noticing that there is a grammar rerror in the first place !

L1 interference ... advice and information about a range of languages and how these may affect the way that students learn and use English


Student access

All of the pages in this section are available for students, if you have signed them up for the Student access system. There are two forms of access...

Direct student access ... these pages are permanently open for all signed-up students to consult when they choose. They mainly consist of clear explanations of basic grammar rules, for students to revise ... and many have 'dynamic quizzes' - short exercises which refresh with new items every time the page is opened, thus providing on-going practice of the grammar points explained on that page

Filtered student access ... these are the pages entitled 'TASKS' - you can set these pages as assignments, to specified students, and check on how they have done


Grammar: theory into practice

As language teachers, most of us will have had the experience that students may grasp grammatical concepts, but that is not the same thing as putting that concept into use. To put it another way, students may do well in a test on the Second Conditional, but they clearly don't use it in real conversation or writing. So how do we make the grammar that our students learn active and so useful to them?

The answer is guided by one of the ancient Commandments of Good Practice:

Presentation > Practice > Free production

In practical terms, this means:-

Stage 1 - you start with a succinct explanation of the grammar rule in question (with examples, to illustrate)

Stage 2 - then you give them exercises focused precisely on the rule (for instance, gap-fill or conversion)

Stage 3 - and finally set them tasks which will require the spontaneous use of the structure without explicit guidance (say, a 'What If' writing task which requires the use of conditionals).

[I first heard that idea from Peter Drye, the Quixote of the grey pointy beard and grey curly pony-tail, who taught me more real wisdom about teaching in a three day course than I found in year-long courses later on. Thank you, Peter, wherever you are in the great EFL School in the Sky!]

The first two stages can be dealt with easily enough - there are various grammar + exercises books on the market. My favourite is 'How English Works' by Michael Swan & Catherine Walter (Oxford) - easy to find what you want, lucid explanations and interesting exercises.

The more difficult stage is to find topics, situations and tasks for the third part...

So have a look at the rest of the site! See particularly...

Themes, 2018 onwards ... this whole section provides masses of texts and activities covering relevant subject matter

Approaches... ... the whole section devoted to Approaches to Teaching and Learning; and specifically:-

Thinking ... a gymnasium of thinking skills, which will require putting language into practice

Tasks & activities ... a toolkit of general techniques to stimulate interaction and expression


All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.