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The meaning of rules

本文作者: 21ST
期号:142  阅读数:3825
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Help students discover how the traditional distinction between grammar rules and semantic meaning is breaking down.Marshall Cavendish


A popular way of revising grammar areas is to contrast the way two related areas are used. This is most often done with verb tenses such as present simple/present continuous and past simple/present perfect. However, it also works well with frequently confused vocabulary such as say/tell and function words such as some/any. Here is a technique for involving students actively in “discovering the differences” by using a jigsaw technique.

Write out all the rules again, replacing the target words or the name of the tenses by the same blank, symbol or nonsense word. In the example below, we have used the nonsense word coffeepot.

We use coffeepot for something we are showing, or holding or that is close to us. Photocopy enough versions to give one to each pair of students in class working together.

Now write out all the examples from your original again, leaving the target word or structure in.

I like this bright yellow shirt over here.

Again, photocopy enough versions to give one to each pair of students in class working together.

Look at the grammar and choose four to six uses for each of the target structures. You must have the same number of uses for each structure — don’t worry if you can’t include every use you want to revise, you can introduce the others later in the lesson. It is a good idea, if possible, to include at least one use for each structure that you don’t think the students have been taught before (though they may have come across it). Be careful, however, to limit the number of such uses to one or two.

Draw a vertical line down the middle of a piece of paper. Use one side for one structure and the other for the second. For each structure write one rule followed by one example, until you have a table like the one below for this and that.

Form one

We use this for something we are showing, or holding or that is close to us. I like this bright yellow shirt over here.

We use this when we are talking about a time which is now, or close to the present. I’m going to the theater this evening.

We can use this without a noun to refer to the situation we are in now. One of the tires is flat. This is very dangerous.

When we speak informally we often use this with a noun to mean something important in the story when it is first mentioned.

There was this man, and he was carrying this huge bag…

Form two

We use that to refer to something that is some distance away (often with there). That coat there in the hall is John’s.

We use that when we are talking about a time which is in the past. My new mobile phone is much better than that big, old thing I used to have.

We often use that to comment on something that someone has just said. “Pompeii is wonderful.” “That’s true.”

When we are speaking information and refer to someone or something we all know about, we often use that +noun.

Keith met that boy who used to work in the library.

Put the students in pairs or small groups. Give each group one complete set of examples and one complete set of rules. Explain that the rules refer to two separate forms (or words). Ask them to match an example to each rule and then sort out the rules and examples into two groups according to the word or form they apply to.


Corpus linguistics has revealed a link between grammatical form and semantic meaning which traditional grammarians simply failed to notice. For example, answer this question on a pattern.

We use one preposition after a) sense nouns b) position nouns. What is the preposition?

Answer: of

Examples: taste of, middle of


If grammarians rarely notice them there is little chance that learners will. The patterns are generative. They help students make educated guesses about the form of new words. These patterns often do not translate literally into L1.


Step1: Categorizing the semantic groups

Give the students a list of example vocabulary jumbled up.

want, ask, expect, tell, (would) like, (would) love, encourage, persuade, force, need, teach, (would) prefer, help, (would) hate

Ask the students to sort them into the target semantic categories. Here verbs connected with the future which have a meaning connected with a) preference or taste b) influence.

Step3: The complete rule

Put the form on the blackboard.

Verb+(object)+to+infinitive. Use questions to elicit all the parts of the rule and put them on the blackboard.

Answer: of

sense nouns — taste, smell, sound, feel, etc

position nouns — middle, edge end, corner, top, etc

Step 2:Eliciting the pattern

If the pattern includes more than one form, elicit each part separately. The pattern here has two forms:

1) verb+to+infinitive

2) verb+(object)+to

Give the students example sentences without the target form and ask them to put the sentences in the correct form. In the examples below, the students would be asked to find the correct form of the verb in brackets.

I want (go) to Madrid.

Dave encourages me not (give up).

You can then elicit the rule: verbs connected with preference or taste and how we influence people and connected with the future take to + infinitive.
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