Tennis

You know the sport. Nets. Lets. Balls that come in Pringles cans and are hit with quasi-sexual moans and groans. It can be quite the…racket? (Sorry, I had to. Puns get no love, but I’ll smash any served up to me. God, I’m really over the line now. My fault. I thought they were ace, though.)

Tennis is a universal activity in that it can be made to fit a variety of themes and skills. It’s a great way for pairs to do memory checks for grammar or vocab. Best of all, it requires no prep work so it’s great if you’re a lazy bastard, which of course you are.

Let’s say you’re teaching Irregular Simple Past tense. Perhaps your book has a chart like this:

past simple-min

Well, first of all, that’s boring as shit. I hope you aren’t just having your students  memorize a chart like that and then quizzing them on it, but we both know you’re hopeless. Why not do something fun with it? Or at least interactive.

You know how tennis goes back and forth? Same concept with this activity. Here’s how it works:

  1. Put your students into pairs.
  2. Student A will ‘serve’ by saying a Simple Present verb.
  3. Student B ‘returns’ the serve by saying the Simple Past verb, and then volley with a different Simple Present verb.
  4. Student A volleys with Simple Past and then a new Simple Present verb.

It will look like this:

A: Go.

B: Went. Come.

A: Came. Fly.

B: Flew. Eat.

A: Ate. Drive.

And so on and so forth. If a student can’t return the volley within three seconds, a point is awarded to the other player.

This would also work great as a pronunciation activity for Regular Simple Past verbs.

A: Visit.

B: Visited. Stay.

A: Stayed. Miss.

B: Missed. Crap.

Or maybe you’re teaching a lesson on clothes:

A: Shirt.

B: Trousers.

A: Socks.

B: Shoes.

A: Belt.

B: Derp derp derp derp. Fail.

How about a variation with teams?

Put students in two lines. The first two students in each line will play the game above. Whoever repeats a word or times out must sit down and the next student in that line steps up. The winner stays on until he/she loses a game. The line with the most students at the end wins the set. Most sets won wins the match.

Why not turn it into a tournament? Let’s call it Wimbleton.

Students stand and find a partner. All the pairs play one round of tennis. The losers of that round sit, while the winners pair off for the next round. Play as many rounds as it takes until there’s a winner.

The variations on tennis are endless, but my time isn’t so I’ll leave it at that while I go drop a deuce. Ha! Game, set and match.

Grammar for Beginners

The ‘beginners’ in the title refers more to you, rookie teacher, than your students. We both know that you know absolute dick when it comes to grammar. You know when it’s right or wrong because you’ve been using it your whole life, but can you explain to elementary students exactly why ‘you suck at teach’ is wrong? Hint: gerunds after prepositions. You do know what those are, don’t you?

All snark aside, grammar scares the hell out of a lot of budding new teachers. They don’t remember learning the rules (if they learned them at all), and their greatest fear is being put on the spot: ‘Teacher, what is simple past?” Imposter syndrome runs deep in the veins of noobs, as it should, because let’s be honest, that piddling TEFL certificate didn’t make you a teacher.

Imposter syndrome

The good news is that rules have very little place in the classroom when it comes to actual teaching. Nothing is more yawn-inducing or drool-congealing than seeing a board filled with rules. Students aren’t going to remember them, at least not in the time you have to teach. What will likely happen is they grab their pencil and start mindlessly writing down what doesn’t need to be written down. That’s what their books are for.

So, all of this is to say that, yet again, the enemy here are words and explanations.

Here’s the dictionary definition of simple past: “The simple past tense, sometimes called the preterite, is used to talk about a completed action in a time before now. The simple past is the basic form of past tense in English. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past and action duration is not important.”

Yeah, fuck that noise.

So how do you teach it? Here comes a dead horse to beat…

beat a dead horse ‘Do you like that, Ed?’ ‘Nay.’

Show. Don’t tell.

Write this on the board: “Yesterday, I go to a restaurant and eat rice.”

Ask your students what’s wrong with it. Typically there will be one or two or even more that already know the rules anyway. Elicit from them. Use your students’ collective knowledge. It’s more memorable than explanation.

Now fix the mistake. “Yesterday, I went to a restaurant and ate rice.”

T: “Why ‘went’ and ‘ate’?”

Ss: “Because ‘yesterday'”

T: “Yesterday is past, present or future?”

Ss: “Past.”

T: “Very good. We have to change the verbs for the past.”

Now show them a timeline. Ask them to identify where our sentence should go.

simple past timeline

Now elicit a few more past time expressions and write them on the board. “Yesterday, last night, two days ago, last week, in June.” Start using these time expressions wrongly and have them correct you. “Last year I fly to Thailand on holiday.” “I have eggs for breakfast this morning.”

Students should begin recognizing that verbs in the past much change. They didn’t need a rule to tell them this. They came up with the rule themselves through pattern recognition. This is the difference between ‘revealing’ them the answer and ‘telling’ it to them. Again, show. Don’t tell.

Think they got it? Awesome. Now reinforce it with an activity. Tennis, anyone?