Spoken Grammar: a Guide for English Language Teachers

I got offered free access to this course on Udemy. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while. Finally got around to it and… wow! It’s very impressive.

Course overview

Spoken Grammar is a teacher training course. It provides teachers with techniques and materials for teaching conversational grammar – typically to learners at intermediate level or above. There are about three hours of lectures on the course which highlight a wide range of spoken grammar, and give an insight into how these features could be taught in the classroom.

There are 6 sections on the course:

Section 1 Introduction.
Section 2 Word order and ellipsis: heads and tails; declarative questions; ellipsis.
Section 3 Emphasis: hyperbole; interjections; cleft structure and binominals.
Section 4 Vague language: vague categories; vague placeholders; lexical bundles.
Section 5 Marking spoken discourse: adverbials; discourse markers; using direct speech.
Section 6 Response language: tokens and questions; so and do; synonymous language; dependent clauses.

The format of each lecture is the same. First the topic is introduced. Then each topic is explained in a short video lecture (usually between 6-10 minutes). This usually consists of…

  • a concise explanation of the grammar point for teachers
  • an example of how to introduce the spoken grammar feature in context, typically a dialogue
  • an example of how to guide learners to notice the purpose and/or features of the target language
  • an example of controlled practice and then freer practice tasks for using the language naturally. These are typically ideas for simulations or role plays.

The lecturer/course creator

Ken Paterson is the former Director of the Centre for English Learning and Teaching at the University of Westminster. He has (co-)authored various books, including ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (DELTA, 2011).

Ken’s lecturing style on this course is very clear and well-paced, his explanations of the grammar points are really easy to understand and concise.

Udemy platform

Just a general comment, as this was the first time I’ve taken a course on Udemy. It’s intuitive, straightforward navigation, no problems with things like slow loading, etc. It’s very easy to use. There wasn’t an option for participant interaction on this course, apart from a function to ask questions to the lecturer asynchronously (think that’s the word). However, there might be forums used on other Udemy courses. Either way, it’s not really needed on this course.

General course content

The overall content is varied and for the most part extremely useful for my learners. Ken mentions how his choice of the target language described on the course was underpinned by patterns from language corpora, and also points out when features are more interesting for teachers to notice rather relevant for input (e.g. phrases like so you have, so you are).

I love some of the choices of target language, as they are certainly not your typical coursebook grammar points. Verb binominals was a new one for me, and the section on vague language is brilliant and incredibly… sort of… useful (te he). Ken’s description of declarative questions made me realize just how frequently these are used, hence how important they are to teach. I also really like the ‘heads and tails’ too, as this is language that I rarely cover in class but I think is pretty relevant. I just love the content in general – it would certainly complement our task-led syllabus at work and would be perfect as a focus for our conversation classes.

Each lesson has an accompanying handout which highlights the procedures teachers could follow to teach each grammar point. These handouts are not all-singing all-dancing, they are designed more as a rough outline for teachers to then personalize/adapt for their own classroom.

Other things I like about the course

Everything! I think this course is essential for anyone taking, or thinking of taking, a DipTESOL. It is a great way to enhance your subject knowledge and offers some nice practical ideas to integrate the teaching of spoken grammar into your lessons. As I said, I found the Ken’s descriptions of how certain spoken features are used were very clear, and a good model for how these can be explained to learners.

This course took me back to the input sessions on my DipTESOL at TLI Edinburgh. My tutors were very keen for me to focus on teaching spoken grammar and highlighting interesting/useful patterns of spoken language during dialogue and role play work. Subsequently, this has become a fairly standard part of my teaching practice, i.e. addressing spoken grammar features when the need emerges in class. However, I sometimes cringe at my vague explanations of these… just last week I gave some shoddy descriptions of phrases like ‘sort of’, ‘and stuff (like that)’, and ‘just’ as a softener. I think this course will help refine my classroom practice – I’ve got some of the parts already in place but I think Ken has added some clarity and tips for improving my methods.

Another thing I like and well worth noting is… I like the way that Ken considers the broader context, ELF. There are certain features of spoken grammar that he introduces more for listening purposes, such as the use of ‘They went…’ or ‘They were like…’ for reported speech (well, direct speech as it happens…). He concedes that in his own teaching he tends to encourage use of a more neutral ‘They said…’ as it is likely to be more intelligible, although it’s worth recognizing that other phrases are used. I like this – it gives you the feel that Ken is a real practitioner who thinks critically about the language he is teaching and the impact it may have on the learners.

What could improve?

This is the second review in a row where I’m being super positive (see the other one here), so I need to balance that out a bit. Given this course focuses on spoken grammar, I think an integrated pronunciation focus for the target language could be highlighted, perhaps in the handouts/downloadable materials. As I said, the handouts are more an ideas bank than a lesson. With this in mind, I think a bit of guidance on salient features of pronunciation which the teacher could address might be useful. Examples: the weak form of ‘and’ in binominals, catenation (or perhaps other features) in ‘sort of’, etc. Just a bit of guidance I think would be useful. Ken does model the pronunciation of phrases well but doesn’t give much detail on how to draw attention to these features.

Am I asking for a course about spoken grammar to be a course about pronunciation instead? Ha, maybe. But the two go hand in hand and this could be exploited.

Summary

This course costs about 9 quid. Absolute bargain. It will give you lots of ideas for experimental practice that should be relevant and useful for many learners. If your teaching has mainly involved using a coursebook then this course should be a refreshing take on grammar for you. I’d recommend it to teachers of all levels of experience, in particular those moving from CELTA towards DELTA.

Rating: 5/5

Related link: an old pre-dip post of mine on dealing with spoken discourse. Nice to look back on for me!

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