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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teaching Irregular Verbs: Beyond the Form

Many of the most common verbs in English are irregular. It’s almost impossible to make a simple sentence in English without using the verbs such as ‘have’, ‘get’, ‘be’, ‘do’, ‘make’, ‘take’ and ‘go’. Mastering these and other most frequent irregular verbs also sets the stage for using phrasal verbs and idioms at later stages of learning English.
 
Drills, chants, dictations, bingo, flash cards, memory games are all great for practicing the form, but the ultimate goal is to be able to use these verbs in the right context. Learning English is a long process and at least some of these forms will naturally be forgotten along the way. The dictionaries and online resources are there for the students to look up the verbs that slipped their mind. The job of a teacher, however, is to dedicate the valuable class time to focus on the most common word combinations with these verbs and exclude examples that don’t work in English (but often come up from student first languages).
 
Consider the following exercises as a way to draw student attention to using irregular verbs in lexical groups rather than individually:
 
1. Create as many verb+noun combinations where the noun is the direct object of the verb (a transitive verb with one object)
 
had ____/____/____/____/ (a headache/a problem/a tough day/a lot of homework)
took ____/____/____/____/ (a bus/a bath/a vacation/a break)
won ____/____/____/____/ (lottery/the game/elections/the war)
got ____/____/____/____/ (the job/the idea/a phone call/a cold)
 
2. Make as many verb+noun (pronoun)+noun (pronoun) combinations (a ditransitive verb with two possible objects: direct and indirect)
 
gave ___ ___ (me a book or gave a book to me)
sent ___ ___ (Jenny a letter or a letter to Jenny)
lent ___ ___ (him money or money to him)
bought ___ ___ (David a tie or a tie for David)
 
3. Think of an appropriate subject for the verbs that take no object (a noun/pronoun + intransitive verb)
 
____ wept. (The girl)
____ rose/set early/late. (The sun)
____ began at noon. (The class)
____ shrank. (My jeans)
____ rang. (The doorbell)
 
4. Come up with verbs that can go together with any of the following nouns
 
____ a picture/a map/with chalk/a house (drew)
____ for work/in 5 minutes/early/after lunch (left)
____ an appointment/a reservation/a cake/yourself comfortable (made)
____ a story/the truth/a joke/about yourself (told)
 
5. Help find as many verbs that can be used with a particular noun:
 
__________ money (lent/paid/took/brought/won/lost/found)
__________ time (spent/had/lost/did)
__________ animals (fed/rode/drew/kept)
__________ clothes (bought/sold/wore/made)
 
6. Do a simple matching exercise on the board, rotate the verbs on the chart daily (match the verbs to nouns).
 

A

B

sang

a hole

spread

the present in the closet

hid

a national anthem

knew

butter on toast

dug

the answer

 
6. Have students listen to the following sentences and guess the missing verb. Pause where they need to insert the verb. Many textbooks give this fill-in-the-gap type of exercise, however I find it much more effective when students aren’t glued to the book but have to rely on their ears to derive the meaning:
 
I _____ my old car and _____ a new car. (sold/bought)
She _____ the house at 12 noon and arrived half an hour later. (left)
He ____ 5 emails last night. (got)
I ____ my husband a scarf for his birthday. (gave/bought)
We’ve never ____ on a cruise. (been)
He _____ hi and we _____ hands. (said/shook)
Students go through 2 processes here: thinking of the right verb and using the correct form.
 
After plenty of teacher’s sentences, have students give their own examples where they pause for the missing verb. Don’t let them write anything - it should really strain their ears. They should produce a sentence that makes sense and have legible pronunciation so everyone can understand the meaning. Warning - students might be worn out by the end of this activity! This exercise will prove that active listening is a lot harder than reading.
 
7. Help notice pronunciation and spelling patterns, grouping these verbs accordingly:
 
catch-caught-caught
teach-taught-taught
bring-brought-brought
buy-bought-bought
seek-sought-sought
fight-fought-fought
think-thought-thought
 
pay-paid-paid
say-said-said
 
grow-grew-grown
throw-threw-thrown
 
Here, also work on the commonly confused forms:
 
feel-felt-felt
fall-fell-fallen
lie-lay-lain
lay-laid-laid
read vs. rid
 
These activities can be incorporated as a warm-up, group work following a teacher’s presentation, quiz or homework assignment. The main idea is have students get used to thinking in chunks at lower levels and help maintain that habit going forward.
 
Teaching irregular verbs in depth rather than breadth will allow students produce more meaningful language at any of their current stages of language learning and make their English classes much more worthwhile.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 11:33 AM
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