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TESOL Connections (July 2011)

by User Not Found | 11/08/2011

Grammatically Speaking, by Leo Schmitt

  • Lesson Planning 101, by Sarah Sahr

  • Homework in English Language Teaching: The Final Frontier?, by Paul Maglione

  • TESOL Advocacy Day 2011: A Great Success, by John Segota

    Association News

    • Just Off Press! Pragmatics: Teaching Natural Conversation

    • Call for book proposals: Differentiated Instruction and Implications for Teaching

  • Call for Proposals: TESOL Journal special topic issues

    • TESOL submits comments to U.S. Senate on WIA Reauthorization Bill


  • TRC Featured Resource: A little bit of Americana! A lesson on Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • English language learners: Becoming fluent in afterschool
  • Video interviews with ELL experts from Colorin Colorado
  • Report: Improving immigrants’ employment prospects through

    work-focused language instruction

  • Free Education Toolkit focused on Hispanic educational attainment

    from the National Center for Family Literacy

  • Educational Seminars: The U.S. Dept. of State is offering fully funded exchanges

    for teachers and administrators

    TESOL Connections Archives (members only)

    To submit a feature article to TC, e-mail your submission to

    To advertise in TC, e-mail

  • Features

    Grammatically Speaking

    T. Leo Schmitt explores English grammar

    and answers your grammar quandaries.

    download the PDF

    Question: My question is, "How can teachers help English language learners understand the passive tense?"

    Thank you,

    Maxine LaRaus

    Traditional Grammatical Explanation

    Transitive verbs in English usually appear in the active mood, where they follow the usual subject-verb-object (SVO) order as in “He turned the computer on.” It is possible to turn this type of sentence into a passive mood by moving the object to the subject position. In this case, the recipient of the verb (called the patient) becomes the object, while the doer, or agent, of the verb can then be included or dropped as preferred, as in “The computer was turned on (by him).” The passive is generally used in several specific instances. These include when the agent is unknown or unimportant i.e. we do not know or care who turned the computer on. We also use it when we do not want to mention (and often blame) the doer of the action (e.g., Mistakes were made). Many grammarians also argue that we also use the passive when we want to highlight the object of the verb (but see below).

    The passive voice is formed by using the verb to be with the past participle of the transitive verb. It requires a subject, but no object is required. If an object is used, then it takes the preposition by as in “The song was sung by David Militello.”

    In addition to changing a verb construction from active to passive, we see constructions that could also be interpreted as expressing a state rather than an action as in “The car was destroyed.” In this case, we do not know if the sentence is saying that the car was destroyed in an attack or if it was in a state of complete disrepair. Context usually helps us to know whether it is a state or an action, so another example, “It was during this construction that the house was painted white” shows us fairly clearly that this is an action, whereas “It was a large, double cottage, with a broad front veranda, whose round, fluted columns supported the sloping roof. The house was painted a dazzling white…" indicates the house existing in the ongoing state of being (painted) white.

    From this, we then gain the idea of adjectives derived from passives. There is disagreement about whether we should consider a sentence like “the paper was torn” as a passive or as a simple verb to be plus adjective. Note that in some cases we have clearly different adjectives and past participles (compare “The cup was filled with sweet clove and honey” with “When the cup was full of oil, the wick prevented excess oil from pouring out…”), but often we do not. It has been argued that the complete transition from participle to adjective is complete once the adjective can serve not only as a predicative (one coming after a linking verb like the verb to be) adjective, but also as an attributive (one coming before the noun) adjective. Thus we can easily have both “the milk is boiled” and “the milk is finished,” but while we can have “the boiled milk,” we do not usually accept *“the finished milk.” Boiled is thus closer to adjective status than finished, at least in the case of milk.

    *this is a grammatically unacceptable sentence.

    Teaching Tips

    When teaching the form, it is important to remind students that the passive is not a tense or aspect (if you teach tenses and aspects). It uses the verb to be, which can be in any tense or aspect. Thus we can have passives, if rarely, in past perfect (“Turns out his wifey had been being lobbied by diamond mining companies”) and future progressive (“Pandora bracelets will be being offered in different colors”). Of course, the simple present and the simple past are by far the most common tenses, as they are generally in the active.

    It is useful to remind students that the past participle is always constant. It is only the form of the verb to be that changes. Only transitive verbs can be put into the passive.

    A traditional approach, which my Latin teacher inflicted on me many years ago, is to practice switching the agent and patient to create passive sentences from active ones. Using pronouns highlights the grammatical change. E.g., He saw her. to She was seen by him.

    Common Usage

    Passives are considerably less common than actives (up to 25 % of the verbs in academic writing, where they are most common, but generally less than 5 % of verbs in spoken language). There are some language mavens who consider it poor form to use the passive. Indeed, Microsoft Word style often advises writers to consider changing from the passive voice. While writing style can be even more contentious than grammar, the passive clearly has uses. Those teaching in English for academic purposes situations in particular would be well advised to help students master it.

    The verb to be is often replaced with the verb to get in spoken language and increasingly in written language as in “Yes, there are 3 more signs you're about to get fired.” (Note that passives can occur as infinitives as well.) Students who frequently interact with first-language users of English outside the classroom will often pick up on this usage, which seems to be growing in popularity.

    There does seem to be a tendency for past participles to gain more traction as adjectives over time. In the example above, finished can be used in certain collocations, as in “Your finished kitchen is absolutely beautiful and I am so very impressed with your talents.” Some dialects may also be more accepting of participles used in this way.

    The argument that moving the patient, or recipient of the verb, to the subject position highlights or emphasizes the patient has been criticized. Indeed, the argument has been made that English prefers to put new and hence important information later in the sentence with old information beginning the sentence to improve coherence. Thus the passive could be used because the writer actually wants to emphasize the agent. For example, in “The acquitted defendant denied contempt of court, but the case against her was found proved. The case was heard by the lord chief justice, Lord Judge,” it seems that the focus is more on the new information about the judge rather than focusing on the case.

    Last Month’s Brain Teaser:

    Look at the following two sentences. What traditional grammatical rule is being violated here?

    1. Clearly this must of been today because Justin has his new haircut.
    2. These movie stars could of went further during their career but their time has passed

    The first correct answer came from Marie Czarnecki.


    This is a mistake with mishearing the present perfect:

    “Must of” should be “must have,” and “could of “ should be “could have.” The error probably has arisen because a rapid pronunciation in the contractions “must’ve” and “should’ve” (or even the quick pronunciation of the word “have”) can sound like “of.” This may even be related to the British dialect variation that drops the initial “h” sound in “have.” But I just tell students that they are hearing what sounds like “of.” I write the present perfect form on the board and pronounce it slowly and distinctly, and then say it a few more times, each time more and more quickly so students can hear why the mistake is being made.

    Marie Czarnecki
    Mohawk Valley Community College

    Thank you, Marie, for your answer. Thank you also to all the other people who wrote in pointing out the error. This replacing have with of can be an issue for first-language users as well because the pronunciation often more closely resembles of than have due to the contraction. Indeed, this confusion has led some speakers to pronounce the of even more clearly when emphasizing as in “She must of!”

    This Month’s Brain Teaser:

    Look at the following sentences. What traditional rule has been violated here? How would you explain this to students?

    1. Sarah Palin Asia Trip Planned For September: She already saw China on the wall at the take-out in Wasilla!!

    2. We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle

    The first correct answer will be published in the next column of Grammatically Speaking.

    Note that example sentences listed are from actual usage and not the author’s creations.

    Please e-mail your responses to

    When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

    If you have a question for Grammatically Speaking, please send it We welcome all types of language questions.


    Lesson Planning 101:

    Essential Parts of a Lesson Plan

    by Sarah Sahr

    download the article,

    including a blank template and sample lesson plan

    Part 1: Objectives

    No one would argue that writing a good lesson plan starts with an excellent objective or two… Let’s start with some definitions:

    Objective: a specific statement about what students are expected to learn or to be able to do as a result of studying a program: more specifically this is a learning objective; a measurable operationalisation of a policy, strategy or mission: this is an implementation objective (Harvey, 2004-09).

    Objective: [a written] precise and delineated goals for what you want your students to be able to accomplish after the lesson is completed (Lewis, n.d.).

    In my opinion, you should always be able to identify two parts in a quality objective: a Skill or Goaland a Desired Action.


    • Students will be able to (SWBAT), organize pictures from the story into the correct order.
    • SWBAT compare a future house to their current house by using a Venn diagram.
    • SWBAT interpret the story by using role-play as a way of retelling the story’s main ideas.

    Useful verbs when writing objectives

    In writing objectives, verbs are essential. Below are lists of verbs categorized by their domains to help create measurable objectives. (Of course, I’m using Bloom’s Taxonomy (Blooms, 1956).... just can’t get enough of it!) The six domains are listed in order of difficulty to obtain: Knowledge Based being the easiest, Evaluation Based being the hardest.

    Knowledge Based

    check, define, locate, reproduce, choose, describe, match, select, circle, identify, name, state, cite, indicate, outline, write, complete, label, recall, count, list, recite

    Comprehension Based

    change, distinguish, generalize, rearrange, classify, estimate, give example, restate, convert, expand, indicate, rewrite, choose, explain, infer, summarize, demonstrate, express, interpret, translate, describe, extend, paraphrase, transform, differentiate, extrapolate, predict

    Application Based

    apply, develop, modify, reconstruct, arrange, diagram, operate, record, build, discover, order, relate, change, discus, organize, report, classify, dramatize, participate, show, collect, employ, perform, solve, complete, generalize, plan, state, compile, illustrate, predict, teach, compute, make, prepare, transfer, construct, manipulate, produce, use, demonstrate, model, prove

    Analysis Based

    analyze, debate, discriminate, organize, associate, deduce, distinguish, outline, break, down, design, generalize, point out, categorize, detect, graph, relate, chart, determine, illustrate, separate, classify, diagram, infer, subdivide, compare, differentiate, investigate, summarize, conclude, dissect, order, survey, contrast

    Synthesis Based

    arrange, design, invent, reconstruct, categorize, develop, modify, relate, classify, devise, organize, reorganize, combine, document, originate, revise, compile, forecast, plan, rewrite, compose, formulate, predict, summarize, constitute, generate, produce, synthesize, construct, incorporate, propose, transmit, create, integrate, rearrange

    Evaluation Based

    argue, decide, interpret, standardize, appraise, determine, judge, summarize, assess, distinguish, justify, support, compare, discriminate, rank, validate, conclude, dispute, rate, verify, contrast, evaluate, relate, weigh, criticize, grade

    Try to have objectives from more than one domain. Critical thinking skills are found in the last three categories. Use them! They are our friends.

    Part 2: Scaffolding!

    Scaffolding is an instructional technique whereby the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task, then gradually shifts responsibility to the students.

    Metaphorically, it is exactly what a teacher needs to do when building new concepts for students. Think of a house… the carpenter needs to support a house with an exterior structure while the house is being built. Once the house is sturdy, the scaffold is removed. Now, think of a classroom… the teacher needs to support the student with step-by-step modeling while the information is being absorbed. Once the student is an autonomous learner, the teacher is removed.

    When teaching, it is good to remember the following steps:

    • Let students know what they will be doing. Never present an “academic surprise.”
    • Model and provide visual cues when available.
    • Use other students as examples.
    • Give students Time to Think!
    • Give students Time to Practice!
    • Give students Time to Share!

    Click here for a blank lesson plan template

    Click here for a sample lesson plan (including handout)

    using Aesop's fable: The Lion and the Mouse


    Aesop. (n.d.). The Lion and the Mouse. Retrieved from

    Bloom B. S. (ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of

    educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay.

    Harvey, L. (2004–9). Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

    Lewis, B. (n.d.). Lesson Plan Step #1 - Objectives and Goals. Retrieved from


    Sarah Sahr works at TESOL and has her Masters in ESL administration. She has managed a school in Vietnam, trained teachers in South Korea, implemented school reform in Qatar, run a circus train classroom for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and taught 8th grade writing in Maryland. Prior to all that, Sarah was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. She is also a certified ashtanga yoga instructor and has managed an eco-lodge in Chugchilan, Ecuador.


    Homework in English Language Teaching:

    The Final Frontier?

    by Paul Maglione, Cofounder, English Attack!

    download the pdf

    The last few years have witnessed an explosion of interest in how technology—from interactive whiteboards to podcasts to e-learning platforms like Moodle—can be used to enrich the classroom experience for learners of English.

    Much less attention, however, has been paid to how technology can be used outside the classroom—where learners spend 98% of their time—to accelerate, enhance, or otherwise improve the learning of English.

    Four Historical Obstacles to Homework in ELT

    The strategic use of out-of-class learning (or homework, to give it its most dreaded name) in ELT labors under four notable obstacles:

    • Until now, the technology hasn’t really been there to make homework significantly different from in-class learning;
    • there has been disagreement in the profession as to whether homework should be used to consolidate in-class work, or whether it should instead provide a differentiated learning experience;
    • homework is unpopular with learners; and
    • homework increases the workload of teachers.

    Let’s look at each of these in turn to see how technology can transform this underutilized opportunity.

    First, concerning the maturity of the technology, it is clear that today’s online multimedia platforms have the capability of delivering a homework experience much more current, interactive, and involving than any workbook. If the problem until now has been that learners find workbook-based homework assignments tedious and uninspiring, this is clearly a hurdle we can vault over quite easily with what we can do nowadays on the Web.

    Tacking the second issue, the schism between homework-as-consolidation and homework-as-different experience, is a lot more difficult. Both sides have very valid points. Clearly, the more hours that are dedicated to a task, regardless of where that happens, the more learning will occur. That’s the whole principle of repetition, which is (paradoxically, on the surface) one of the main tenets of a TEFL approach that enlists the lessons of cognitive neuroscience. However, as Andy Mallory wrote in comments to a blog post by Paula Swenson on the subject of homework in EFL,

    If the student is only doing the work because you told them or because you will be angry if they don’t, then the benefit is very limited. Students will cheat, do the minimum and not engage with the task fully, defeating the purpose. Homework that means more work for you than for the students is not a good use of your time.

    And that is, I’m afraid, where the proconsolidation camp’s arguments run out of steam.

    Instruction vs. Practice: A Sports Analogy

    For me, the analogy with learning how to play a sport—say, tennis—is not far-fetched. Your tennis instructor might spend 45 minutes one day teaching you the (rather convoluted, for a beginner) mechanics of the backhand swing. He would hardly expect you, however, to go over those mechanics on your own the next day, in your own time, breaking down your swing to perfect it in its component parts as pictured in a manual or seen on a videotape. He would hope, rather, that you got in the habit of playing a few hours of tennis with a friend in between weekly lessons, and that from time to time you had occasion to use the newly learned swing, even if imperfectly.

    Your tennis instructor would know that, over time, you would become more confident with the swing and use it more often when the ball came to that side of the court rather than running around it to hit it with your forehand. And that, grossly oversimplified, is what autonomy is all about: discovering that instructed behavior can be employed usefully in the “real world,” and done so with increasing frequency until the behavior becomes truly learned. No extra points, then, for guessing that I come down on the side of the homework-as-different-experience. Homework, in my opinion, can be a form of “practice” which does indeed end up consolidating the “instruction” to which the learner is exposed in class. But rather than immediate cause-and-effect, this view of homework sees consolidation happening over time, informally, but in an ultimately more self-reinforcing manner.

    Homework: Moving From Chore to Learning Challenge

    What about the unpopularity problem? Students just don’t like homework, let’s face it. OK, fine, let’s deal with that. They certainly don’t like forms of homework that have the same look and feel as class work, but which intrude on their precious home and leisure time.

    But what if “homework” could in fact be very similar to what they actually do enjoy doing in their free time? What if, instead of artificial situations and gap-filling exercises, the starting point was popular culture: video clips, online games, and social networking? What if they got the chance to use their creativity, their resourcefulness, or their sense of humor? What if the unpleasant anticipation of teacher marking could be replaced with the satisfaction of sharing the results of your efforts with your friends?

    Read the rest of the article, including the list of multimedia resources.


    Paul Maglione grew up in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He attended Brown University and London Business School, and he studied TEFL at Rutgers University. Following a career in media (NBC, CNN) and entertainment (iPlay, Vivendi), he cofounded English Attack! in 2009, an innovative digital entertainment language immersion platform for learners of English. Paul is a regular speaker at TESOL and IATEFL events and can be reached at


    TESOL Advocacy Day 2011:

    A Great Success

    by John Segota, TESOL

    download the pdf

    On June 6–7, TESOL members from across the United States met in Washington, DC, for TESOL Advocacy Day 2011. Now in its sixth year, Advocacy Day 2011 featured a new, expanded format with a full day of briefings and activities on legislation, followed by a full day of visits to congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The goals of Advocacy Day were not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of

    advocacy. This year was the largest Advocacy Day yet for TESOL, featuring more than 40 participants, with close to 30 affiliates represented.

    Responding to recent action in Congress and from the White House, TESOL Advocacy Day 2011 was focused on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently revised as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). To maximize the impact of TESOL Advocacy Day, key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings to discuss TESOL’s newly revised recommendations for ESEA reauthorization and the impact of the current law upon English language learners and their teachers.

    "I spoke from my heart and they listened! It was really amazing!"

    In preparation for Advocacy Day, each participant was required to take early action. For example, participants had to set up their own individual meetings with their congressional representatives and were encouraged to learn more about their members of Congress. Additionally, participants were sent talking points and background information on ESEA reauthorization so that they could begin to familiarize themselves with the issues in advance. To help make their congressional meetings more effective, participants were also encouraged to find examples from their own programs to illustrate the talking points.

    TESOL Advocacy Day commenced with a welcome from TESOL Past President Brock Brady and a welcome from TESOL Executive Director Rosa Aronson. The event was led by John Segota, Director of Advocacy, Standards, and Professional Relations, and Ellen Fern of Washington Partners, LLC, TESOL’s legislative consultants. The first day featured a briefing from congressional staff to present the “view from the Capitol Hill” on ESEA reauthorization and the key issues under debate, as well as a similar briefing with representatives from the National Education Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In addition, Dr. Rosalinda Barrera, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education, provided an update from OELA and discussed the Obama Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing ESEA. These briefings provided background information and a greater context for the individual meetings with members of Congress that were to take place later the next day.

    “...people felt they had made their voices heard and had learned a lot in the process.”

    -From Susan Ranney's MinneTESOL blog

    Because of the new expanded format for Advocacy Day, a series of activities were held in the afternoon to review aspects of the legislative process as well as how to prepare for meetings with members of Congress. One of the new activities for this year gave participants the opportunity to role play as members of Congress in a mock hearing to discuss a piece of legislation, as well to have a mock debate on the floor of Congress to try and pass legislation. Participants had a lot of fun pretending to be members of Congress, whether they were asking questions of witnesses during a hearing or making speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives. The day concluded with additional time to plan and with information for participants to prepare for their meetings.

    “The briefings and activities on the first day of Advocacy Day were invaluable,” said Debbie Sternecky of Illinois. “It was very helpful to hear directly from insiders in Washington what to expect, and what was going on with ESEA. I was really impressed with the amount of knowledge they had, as well how much they shared.”

    On June 7, participants went to Capitol Hill for their meetings. For the many first-timers at Advocacy Day, it was an enlightening experience. “Although I had often written to my senators and representatives about English learner needs, I felt rather nervous about speaking face-to-face,” explained Judy O’Loughlin from California. “But once I started to talk to each of these Congressional and Senate aides about my own personal experiences and those of colleagues throughout the country, I spoke from my heart and they listened! It was really amazing!”

    To conclude the day, a group dinner was held with all the participants to discuss their experiences and share what they had learned. Each of the participants was also given information to follow up not only with the congressional staff they met with, but also with each of their affiliates to report what they had learned by their experience. Based on the evaluations and feedback, it was unanimous: TESOL Advocacy Day was a positive experience for all the participants, not least because of the impact they made on Capitol Hill.

    Julia Muffei from Texas summarized her experience: “TESOL Advocacy Day was so well organized— it truly was a wonderful experience. I dare to call it life changing! I feel so empowered now to advocate for my students and for the field!”

    Since TESOL Advocacy Day 2011, U.S. Education Secretary has made several public statements calling for ESEA reauthorization. In addition, TESOL has acted on behalf of its members in adult education by submitting comments on draft legislation that would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. If you are interested in learning more about these developments, your congressional representatives, or and the other legislative issues TESOL is tracking, go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at

    View more pictures or watch videos from TESOL Advocacy Day 2011.


    John Segota, Director of Advocacy, Standards, and Professional Relations, has been with TESOL since 1996. John has a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Studies from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, and a graduate certificate in Project Management from the Keller Graduate School of Management; he has also earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from The American Society of Association Executives.