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TESOL Connections (March 2011)

by User Not Found | 11/08/2011


  • Grammatically Speaking

    • Lesson Plan: Egypt & Social Media, by Sarah Sahr

  • Free article from March 2011 TESOL Journal:

    Integrated Lyrical Writing: Addressing Writing via Ballads, by Alan Lytle

    Association News

    • The March 2011 issue of TESOL Journal is now available for members (free!)

    2011 TESOL Convention and Exhibit in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA:

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    is available for download.

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  • TESOL Executive Director Rosa Aronson interviewed on Education Talk Radio

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  • Congratulations to TESOL's 2011 Award and Grants Recipients

    • TESOL Board member Kay Westerfield interviewed by Voice of America

    on business English


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  • Article: Successful Strategies for English Language Learners
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    Grammatically Speaking

    T. Leo Schmitt explores English grammar

    and answers your grammar quandaries

    download the PDF

    Before he retired, Richard Firsten received this question, which I am happy to tackle.

    Dear Richard,

    Another contentious question you may be able to help with. In the following sentence:

    Harold prefers contestants _____ he can sense are facing him.

    Which would be the preferred relative pronoun? My initial instinct is to use that and be done with it given the restrictive nature of the first adjective clause, and our propensity for using that. However, if push comes to shove, might we use one of either who or whom? It seems to me, though, that the contestants who are doing the facing represent a clause that is the object of sense, and thus an object pronoun is more suitable. I hope I haven’t made this too convoluted. Any clarity you can bring to the discussion would be greatly appreciated.

    Michael Temple

    International Education

    Northern Lights College


    Thank you for the question. Often the more you think about grammar, the more convoluted it seems to become. J

    I think you raise an interesting question on two levels. On one level, there is the grammatical choice. These words (who, that, and whom) are called relative pronouns and appear in what are called adjective or relative clauses that come after a noun that they modify. Thus the clause followingcontestants gives us more information about them.

    The difference between whom, who, and nothing

    Traditionally, who is used to mark a relative pronoun that served as the subject of the adjective clause and whom was used to mark a relative pronoun that was an object. Thus, we have “That is the man who gave the argument to the English and French to tell President King,” where “the man” is the one giving the argument. We also have “That is the man whom I saw coming out of room B,” where “I” am seeing “him.” In this respect, we could equate who with he and whom with him. Note that the subject position who is necessary, while the object position whom is not. Thus we could have “That is the man whom I saw coming out of room B,” but NOT “That is the man who gave the argument to the English and French to tell President King,” so we could complete your sentence as “Harold prefers contestants whom he can sense are facing him,” or “Harold prefers contestants he can sense are facing him.”

    But wait. Many English speakers will think that it has been a long time since they have heard whomused in regular conversation. Whom does indeed seem to be dying. A quick Google search will show that whom is indeed sometimes replaced by who. Thus we could have Harold prefers contestantswho he can sense are facing him. Strict grammarians will argue against this (but see below), yet many English speakers would not wince at who if they heard “the man, who I finally realized was a police officer….”

    That, which, and who

    The traditional rule is that we use who/whom for people and anthropomorphized objects (e.g. “The dog who saved Christmas”). We can use which for objects, and we can use that for both people and objects. Which is rare in conversation, but is used in written English—especially British English, where it is common. In practice, that is common in spoken English in both the subject and object position although nothing is the most common in spoken English in the object position. Thus we could say “Harold prefers contestants that he can sense are facing him,” but dropping that seems to be the most common based on most corpora I have seen for spoken English.

    We thus see four distinct possibilities for completing this sentence:

    1. Harold prefers contestants whom he can sense are facing him.
    2. Harold prefers contestants who he can sense are facing him.
    3. Harold prefers contestants that he can sense are facing him.
    4. Harold prefers contestants he can sense are facing him.

    I would argue that all of these are now acceptable, but see below. Their relative usage will vary depending on the mode (spoken or written) as well as the dialect and context. Generally, number 4 would be expected to be the most common.

    Sociopolitical Concerns

    The second issue this topic raises is the question of preference and the sociopolitical aspect of language. Growing up in London, I frequently heard people saying utterances like “He’s the man what I saw yesterday.” For these speakers, we could add a fifth option, “Harold prefers contestants what he can sense are facing him.” For some grammar purists, this is nothing short of an abomination, yet these were native speakers of English. This reflects the diversity of English.

    Although corpora seem to indicate that whom is very rare in conversation, it is still used. Think about what you would think if someone were to say “Harold prefers contestants what he can sense are facing him,” and another were to say “Harold prefers contestants whom he can sense are facing him.” Someone using the former may be accused of using improper grammar and demonstrating ignorance of “good” English, while someone using the latter may be viewed as being educated and standing out as grammatically exigent. However, the one who uses what may well establish solidarity with other speakers who use what, while the one who uses whom may stand out from the standard dialect and may come off as arrogant. How you feel about this question and whether there is a single correct form of grammar depends partly on your views on language, but also to a significant extent on how you approach sociopolitical questions. It should be noted though that “preferable” forms do not gain their support from scholars citing scientific fact, but rather from arguments about what is best for speakers.

    For teachers, much of the decision making here will depend on what best suits student needs. Students moving into those rarified circles where whom is considered de rigeur and a symbol of one’s grammatical accuracy may well best be taught exactly how to use whom as the object of a relative clause. Most students, however, will only require a basic understanding of how these relative pronouns work. Even standardized tests such as TOEFL have moved towards a more corpus-based approach based on actual language usage rather than one that explicitly tests understanding of fixed rules.

    While there will likely always be proponents of the traditional rules of grammar, the development of technology and the ease with which we can analyze language now means that we can see how, where, when, how often, and by whom language is used. This will help us to see patterns that may not necessarily fit with notions created hundreds of years ago when Latin was still widely considered the archetypal language of grammar.

    I am not espousing any particular manner of speaking here, but rather noting that English varies enormously and nonstandard forms do exist and have complex grammars of their own. This column will continue to try to analyze patterns and will make frequent reference to received and standardized grammatical rules. However, I would also encourage readers to consider how nonstandard dialects are used and what role they play or do not play in the English language classroom. There are no simple answers to this question and this generates considerable debate. Hopefully, that is a good thing as we increase our knowledge of how language and grammar work.

    Last Month’s Brain Teaser:

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

    1. “Some things your son will say may surprise you, but it is important that he knows you are listening and that you care about his feelings and his attitudes.”
    2. “If your horse decides to get excited and you want to demand that he lowers his head and calms down, then use this cue.”

    I appreciate the many correct answers to this month’s brain teaser. Raul was the first to get this answer to me:

    The rule that is being broken is the use of the present tense of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is used in dependent clauses that begin with that and express a demand, requirement, request, or suggestion.

    Therefore, the sentences should read:

    • “Some things your son will say may surprise you, but it is important that he know you are listening and that you care about his feelings and his attitudes.”
    • “If your horse decides to get excited and you want to demand that he lower his head andcalm down, then use this cue.”


    Raúl Cervantes Desouches

    Academic Director


    Thank you, Raul. This rule is another example of the sociopolitical aspect of language. Many speakers will indeed add the 3rd person “-s” (both of these are authentic examples). Using the base form (i.e., Without the “-s”) in this case may mark one as being more aware of traditional English grammar rules, yet I doubt that many speakers would even notice if the “-s” were or were not used. Thus, this rule is another example of grammar rarely tested in high stakes exams.

    Nigel Caplan was not the first person to respond, but he did add an interesting angle.


    The "rule" being violated here is the archaic subjunctive, which is required (at least in American English) after certain verbs and adjectives of demand, urgency, or necessity. Under traditional grammar, the correct sentences would be:

    1. …it is important that he know...
    2. demand that he lower his head...

    A colleague asked me recently if it was true that British English uses should in place of the subjunctive in this context (I am from United Kingdom but I live and teach in the United States). I ran a rudimentary corpus search, and posted the results on my blog.

    I found that in actual fact, the indicative mood is more common than the modal should, and the subjunctive does appear in BrE [British English], but highly infrequently.

    Thanks for the interesting column!
    Nigel Caplan

    Assistant Professor
    English Language Institute
    University of Delaware

    Thank you Nigel, for adding a British perspective. Should also seems to be used in American English, primarily in academic language (along with the subjunctive).

    This Month’s Brain Teaser:

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

    1. Mrs. Clemens asked Miss Clara to be sure and save the gentians.”
    2. “Before specifying an ultra-high density code, be sure and match the scanner to the bar code.”

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

    Please e-mail your responses to

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


    Lesson Plan: Egypt and Social Media

    by Sarah Sahr

    download the PDF

    Events in Egypt the past months have created some great content to engage students in discussions about social media and its effects on day-to-day living. Arguments have been made that Twitter and Facebook fueled the revolution against Mubarak. This lesson helps students create conversations and tweets about the events in Egypt. For further discussion, teachers can expand the conversation to Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Wisconsin...

    Age & Language Level:

    Secondary Education, Intermediate to Advanced

    Higher Education, Upper Beginner to Intermediate


    Scissors, pens/pencils

    Handouts: Egypt_Timeline

    Egypt_Twitter Feeds


    60 minutes (However, this lesson could easily be drawn out into 2 days)

    Objective(s) – Students will be able to:

    • Communicate some of the protest events that took place in Egypt from January 25, 2011–February 12, 2011.
    • Organize a timeline based on the Egyptian protest events.
    • Summarize some of these Egyptian events into a Twitter post (140 characters).

    Note to Teacher:

    To have an effective lesson, you do not have to use all the information or steps presented below. As a teacher, you should be able to see/hear:

    • Students are talking about Egypt and what happened, in English.
    • Students are summarizing what happened in Egypt, in English.

    Introduction (Motivation): 10 minutes

    Start by showing this 4-minute video on YouTube. Consider enlarging the video to fill the screen so students don’t see the title.

    After students have watched the video, create a quick dialogue, with student partners, by asking some simple questions: What are they doing? Where are they going? Why? Think-pair-share works great with this:

    • Think about what you just saw. (30 seconds)
    • Pair up with a classmate and talk about what you just saw. (60 seconds)
    • Share these thoughts with the class. (2 minutes)

    Move student pairs into groups of 4–6 people. Ask some specific questions about the video: What’s happening to traffic? What was the large group of people at the end doing? Why are they there?

    Part 1 – The Timeline 15–20 minutes


    Students will create a timeline of the events in Egypt. Review with students what a timeline is. Give an example of a morning routine:

    7 am: Turn off alarm

    7:15 am: Take shower

    7:40 am: Get dressed, etc.

    By now, students should have moved their tables together to make groups. They will need to organize many pieces of paper into a timeline, so they need space. (Teaching note: Try not to make homogenous language groups. Students need to use their English to communicate. If, for example, all the students have Chinese as their L1, it will be challenging for them to keep their conversation in English.)

    Distribute page 1 of the timeline handout to the groups of students. Go over some of the events as a class. If there are any challenging events (events students don’t understand), go over them as a class. Once students have an idea of what’s going on and are comfortable with what the timeline says, review a bit of what happened in Egypt during the months prior to the protests. Use the events in the boxes to trigger students’ prior knowledge.

    Guided Practice: ***Modeling***

    As a class, chose two or three event squares to do as a class. For example:

      • Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Messenger services are disrupted. – the second event
      • Hosni Mubarak announces in a televised address that he will not run for re-election. – a middle event
      • People celebrate in Tahrir Square until early morning. Prodemocracy protesters start to clean the square. – the last event.

    When you feel students are comfortable, let them finish the timeline on their own.

    Independent Practice:

    In groups, students cut up the boxes on the timeline worksheet and make the timeline. As the teacher, walk around the class monitoring progress, helping and listening for English.


    Go over the actual timeline to make sure groups have a close idea of when events took place. They do not have to be exact. However, students should have enough of the information correct to see how quickly things in Egypt changed.

    Part 2 – Match Twitter Feeds to Timeline

    To download the rest of this lesson plan,

    including the handouts and answer key, click here.

    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.


    This article is from Volume 2, Issue 1 of TESOL Journal

    March 2011

    Free Article:

    Integrated Lyrical Writing:

    Addressing Writing via Ballads

    By Alan Lytle

    download the PDF

    In trying to develop a writing concept that would be both instructive and interesting to English as a second language (ESL) students, a ‘‘writing through song’’ concept arose. Even though it is not a new idea, there is a natural connection between students and music. Music touches people in powerful ways, affecting emotions, energy levels, and social bonding. Music also embodies and expresses culture (Boer, 2009) and has been used in various ways to facilitate language learning (Lake, 2002). The ESL students, who were enrolled in a university’s Intensive English Language Program (IELP), had intermediate-level proficiency in writing and speaking and were working on the typical five-paragraph essay and a 5- to 10-minute prepared oral presentation. The class had already discussed descriptive, narrative, and expository rhetorical styles, and I was looking for a way to incorporate all of these into a controlled-topic writing assignment that would also integrate speaking, technology, and U.S. culture.

    Because this idea is related to the humanities, its expansion or adaptation is easy to accomplish because the concepts of the humanities and ballads contain the same social and historical issues. The project can also be adapted to almost any language proficiency level, language skill, and age group. It is not related to a specific textbook, so this project can be expanded and modified to suit the needs of the students and to address the targets of the curriculum and language being taught.


    The IELP’s curriculum was rewritten and updated to include skill-comprehensive, semester-based courses. Embedded in the courses are TESOL’s (2006) PreK–12 English Language Proficiency Standards and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) National Standards for Foreign Language Education (n.d.), Proficiency Guidelines—Speaking (1999), and Proficiency Guidelines—Writing (2001). The students in the test group were intermediate writers (per the ACTFL guidelines) and were accustomed to producing typical five-paragraph essays containing an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. However, their essays usually only involved one or two of the standard writing styles: description, narration, or exposition. Prior to this new activity, the students had been introduced to these styles, but they needed to learn to integrate these styles into a five-paragraph essay format so that they could demonstrate an understanding of how the styles were interrelated and interdependent. Simultaneously, it was essential to identify a writing style for each paragraph and a controlled topic to be used as a general guide for a thesis. Based on this need, paragraph style targets were set for the students, thus reducing their confusion as to what information should be included in which paragraph, especially because this was the first time the students had integrated three styles into one written piece.

    Because the students’ ages ranged from 18 to 35 and because they were in a multinational, multicultural class, music was a logical common interest. Therefore, songs that either had a social message or told a story were selected. The songs represented various musical genres, including folk, rock, country, and rhythm and blues, and because this was an ESL class in the United States, American songs were chosen. In addition, each song’s time period was considered in order to represent a span of U.S. history to the class as a whole. Even more important, the IELP is founded on the belief that an academic preparation program should integrate cultural content in the curriculum to give students the background schemata they need to be successful in the U.S. educational system. For this reason, aspects of U.S. history, political science, and sociological concepts were integrated into the core curriculum. As a result, students acquired beginning-level knowledge of the social and historical concepts referred to in the songs.


    Following are steps for teachers to follow or adapt in their teaching:

    • Select appropriate songs. Choose more songs than the number of students in the class to ensure that each student’s assignment will be random.
    • Identify sources of lyrics, and find websites that allow songs to be either purchased or downloaded for free (see Appendix A).
    • For each song, prepare a handout that includes the song’s lyrics and the URL of the website where the student will be able to download the song and lyrics.
    • For each song, also create a packet labeled with the name of the song, and place the handout with the lyrics and URL inside the packet.
    • Write numbers corresponding to the number of packets on small folded pieces of paper, and label each packet with a number.
    • Invite each student to randomly select a piece of paper with a number on it from a small container, and give the student the song packet with the matching number.
    • Present and discuss the procedure for completing the project.
    • During the following 2 weeks, spend a portion of each class period lecturing and doing activities on the various issues addressed in the songs.
    • Give students an outline of the expectations and the information to be included in each of the five paragraphs (see Appendix B):
      • Paragraph 1: the introduction
      • Paragraph 2: a description of the song’s genre, how it fits into U.S. history, and relevant social issues (description)
      • Paragraph 3: a retelling of the song’s story (narration)
      • Paragraph 4: the student’s opinion of and reaction to the song (exposition)
      • Paragraph 5: the conclusion
    • During class time, guide the class in writing a collaborative essay, and provide each student with a copy of this essay to use as a model while writing the assigned essay outside of class.
    • Introduce students to research practices, citation styles, and the concept of intellectual property, including the concept of plagiarism as it applies in the United States (‘‘one thought belonging to one person’’), and the need to include citations with pertinent information. For students with intermediate proficiency, the research concepts are at a basic level, and the teacher’s expectations of their mastery of documentation skills may be low; nevertheless, students have the opportunity to practice a skill that is so engrained in the U.S. educational experience that many university professors assume all students are familiar with it. In this activity, because of the basic-level expectation of this first attempt at research, Wikipedia ( and Wikimedia ( were allowed. (Instances of plagiarism can be tolerated, acknowledged, and used as teaching points later in the class.)
    • Assign students to do research outside of class about their song, its meaning, the singer(s), the lyricist(s), and the social situation(s) to which the song refers. Tell them to incorporate in their essays the information they find along with citations.
    • Assign students to prepare a technology-based presentation to show the results of their research.

    The following are the materials required (or preferred) for this project:

    • Internet access
    • computers
    • printers
    • manila folders or envelopes
    • digital music players
    • email (This is not required, but being able to distribute model compositions and answer questions via email makes communication faster, easier, and more consistent.)
    • presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint, Keynote)


    The basic concept of this project is easily adaptable to the interpretive mode (listening and reading), interpersonal mode (listening and writing), and presentational mode (speaking and writing) of language proficiency achievement (ACTFL, n.d.). Incorporating description, narration, and exposition allows students to demonstrate their conceptual and linguistic comprehension associated with using these three academic styles.

    Also, this activity can be used with various age ranges and language proficiencies, though the teacher may need to supervise access to the lyrics and the music downloads. Depending on students’ abilities, the teacher can limit the song choice to a particular genre (e.g., folk, country, ballad), a specified time period (e.g., 1950s, 60s, 70s), or a significant cultural concept (e.g., revolution, freedom, segregation).


    This writing exercise worked well with the intermediate-level students in the IELP because it used a familiar medium—music. However, for the project to be successful, students need to have an understanding of various periods of U.S. history and an awareness of each decade’s conflicts and challenges. These topics are often included in ESL texts, but, if not, they can be introduced. If students are unable to interpret the songs’ cultural background, impressions will not be effective or accurate. Therefore, having access to accompanying music videos, should they be available, helps students understand underlying lyrical meanings. However, the videos must be previewed for content and to make certain that the meaning is not expressed too abstractly or graphically. The more students listen to the songs and read the lyrics and the related historical information, the more they can delve into the songs’ meanings.

    Overall, the results of this project were positive. The final papers modeled the description, narration, and exposition styles, although with the expected errors at the intermediate level (see Appendix C). In an oral interview, the students were asked their opinions of the activity and what they had learned during the experience. Their responses were positive, although one suggestion for improvement involves using peer review of the project before final submission. This would allow students to exercise their evaluative skills; offer alternate suggestions for the songs’ interpretations; and correct any historical, political, or sociological information. Additionally, peer review would help shift the focus away from the teacher as ‘‘sage on the stage’’ and give students more ownership of the final product.

    Because this project integrated speaking into the final product, it warrants mentioning that the students did not do as well with the speaking portion as with the writing portion. Even though the expected speaking component was modeled several times, students were still reticent to speak. After further consideration, more speaking activities targeting specific areas of the final project would help students develop confidence in their speaking skills and in speaking before an audience.

    Because this project is not textbook-specific, it can be expanded and modified to suit the needs of any student and to address the goals of any curriculum and language being taught, whether the students are adult learners, children in elementary or secondary schools, or participants in a conversation/culture course. It is important to keep in mind that songs that tell stories are often complicated for ESL students to comprehend; therefore

    some ESL students shy away from the traditional popular music of a culture because it is difficult (often, even for the native speaker) for them to understand the words. Practicing lyric reading, studying the vocabulary, and listening to various songs can help students become more familiar with popular music and make them more confident in their ability to listen and understand the world around them. (Brown, 2006, para. 6)

    Adaptability is one of the advantages of this project; it is the very key that enables learners to access the concepts (e.g., social or historical themes) in a manner that is more familiar to them.

    To print the article, including references and the appendix, download the PDF

    Members: read the full March 2011 issue of TESOL Journal
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    Alan D. Lytle is the teaching director of the Intensive English Language Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His background is in second and foreign language education, with 22 years of ESL and foreign language experience at all levels, in academic preparation, conversation, and language-for-special-purposes programs.