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Humanising Language Teaching
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Humanising Language Teaching

Warmest thanks to Paul Davis, our inspiring Pilgrims teacher trainer, who gave us great ideas for the spoken grammar activities and helped us through the process of writing this article.

The Cambridge Grammar of English in the ELT Classroom - Teaching Selected Features of Spoken English

edited by Veronika Piccinini, Slovenia, Sylvia Velikova, Bulgaria, and Andrea Rebrová, Slovakia

Veronika Piccinini works as an Assistant for the English Language at the University of Nova Gorica (Slovenia), where she teaches general English and English for specific purposes on various study programmes related to humanities as well as natural sciences. She is particularly interested in the methodology of ELT.

Sylvia Velikova is an EFL teacher and teacher educator at the University of Veliko Turnovo (Bulgaria). She is the current President of the Bulgarian English Teachers’ Association (BETA-IATEFL), and has worked on British Council Bulgaria and ECML (Council of Europe) projects related to teacher education and development. Sylvia has trained teachers of English in different countries, including Austria, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Spain. She is mainly interested in first and second language listening, and the role of reflection and self-assessment in teacher education.

Andrea Rebrová started her career as a teacher at the primary school in Trnava, Slovakia. She became a teacher at a private language school Harmony - your learning way in 2003 and since then she has been through various courses for different target groups and in charge of many internal projects. Her heart is in teaching adult beginners. She specializes in using music and movement in the classroom.


Lesson plans


This article describes various possibilities of using Carter and McCarthy’s Cambridge Grammar of English (2006) in the ELT classroom in order to enliven the teaching process at all levels. The general aims of the activities presented are to get learners “to notice,” discuss and practice the use of selected words or structures typical of spoken English; to help them revise, consolidate and compare various patterns used in formal and informal conversation; as well as to sensitize them to language register variation. The activities presented also demonstrate how to successfully incorporate linguistic material form authentic resources, mainly the corpora, into the ELT process.


In August 2010 we, ELT teachers and teacher trainers from Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa/Italy, Spain and Sweden attended a Pilgrims “Methodology for Teaching Spoken English and Language” teacher training course with Paul Davis. During the course we had the opportunity to share each others’ opinions on the topic of teaching spoken English. We found that EFL teachers relatively rarely focus on teaching spoken grammar and language. Consequently, EFL learners do not acquire an adequate level of spoken English language competence. In considering the reasons for teachers’ neglect of teaching spoken English, several problems emerged. Firstly, many teachers feel that they simply do not master spoken English to the extent that would give them enough confidence to transfer their knowledge to the learners. Secondly, the teachers lack adequate methodological approaches for teaching spoken grammar and vocabulary as they have not received enough proper training (which the Pilgrims course offers). Moreover, elements of spoken English are only rarely incorporated into the official school curricula and therefore coursebooks and activity books contain only a very limited number of activities related to acquiring spoken English. This may be due to the fact that “for many centuries dictionaries and grammars of the English language have taken the written language as a benchmark for what is proper and standard in the language, incorporating written, often literary, examples to illustrate the best usage” (Carter and McCarthy, 2006).

The article discusses the ELT methodologies for teaching the following three features of spoken English:

  • the use of the structures with “I says”, “go”, “be” and “be like” in direct speech reports;
  • comparatives in spoken English containing “much, much”, “a bit”, “a lot”;
  • the use of the delexified “just” in spoken English.

The article also demonstrates how to use the British National Corpus as a reliable authentic resource of both spoken and written language, since the examples of use of a particular word partnership are taken from the British National Corpus. Learners are also actively involved in the process and invited to use other authentic resources of spoken language such as video clips published on the YouTube channel, and in some cases, another “word bank” programme – the Google fight. Practical applications of the ELT methodologies are illustrated in the lesson plans attached.

Lesson plans

Comparisons using “much, much”, “a bit”, “a lot”

Lesson plan contributed by Donatella Di Paolo, Maria Belen Garrote Rivera, Laura Rio-Miranda Arnaiz, Alicia Gutierrez Baeza

Level: Elementary

Materials: Flashcards with pictures of animals; the selected theory from the Cambridge Grammar of English (for teacher’s reference)

Aim: Practising comparatives in spoken English by using “much, much”, “a bit”, “a lot”

Timing: 45 minutes

Stages of the lesson:

  1. Warmer: revise names of animals. Show pictures of animals and say: “I’m a lion. What noise does a lion make?” Children answer by making the noise acting as lions.
  2. The Jungle: give each child a flashcard with the picture of an animal on it. The class turns into a jungle, children walk around holding their flashcards and acting like the animal on their flashcard.
  3. First Practice: walk around comparing the various animals using “much, much”, “a lot” and “a bit”, e.g. “The monkey is much, much bigger that the frog ...”.
  4. Second Practice: children are divided into two rows facing each other, one row of “animals” will not move while the other animals will be instructed to try to find an animal which is “much, much bigger than...” etc.. Then we do it the other way around.
  5. Find an object: each child should find an object in the classroom, i.e. a ruler, a pen, a book, a chair etc. In pairs children say the name of the object and compare their object by using “much, much”, “ ... a bit...”, “a lot...”, e.g. “My ruler is much longer than your rubber”, “The chair is a bit smaller than the desk” etc.
  6. Settling down activity: children sit in a circle (on the carpet). Show a few pictures of bears, ask them to say what the differences are between the bears (encourage them to use the comparative forms they have just learned).
  7. Tell the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, use the comparisons practised in the lesson.
    If there is time, give the children a project e.g. drawing the characters in the story and retelling the story to each other or in groups.

Even at lower level we need the support of Carter and McCarthy’s Cambridge Grammar of English (2006). “A bit”, “a lot” are features of comparatives in spoken English which are neglected at this level by textbooks. Comparatives are taught with short adjectives and long adjectives –er ... than / more ... than, but specifically indicating a much greater degree on the scale of comparison or a smaller degree. (see Cambridge Grammar of English by Carter and McCarthy Reference 466c). We take it for granted that students already know the parts of the body and the names of some animals.

Use of the delexified ‘just’ in spoken English

Lesson plan contributed by Mariano Martinsanz, Cristina Preda, Montse Urbeltz Irurtzun, Roxana Zinca

Level: Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate

Materials: A selection of sentences from the British National Corpus and a handout prepared from p. 98-99 of the Cambridge Grammar of English (2006).

Aims: to help students understand the different meanings of delexified ‘just’ in real spoken English; to get them use ‘just’ with its different meanings in actual spoken language.

Timing: 45 minutes

Stages of the lesson:

  1. Ask the students to make groups of three.
  2. Hand some sentences taken from the British National Corpus (see reference below). Give one or two of the following sentences per group of 3. We have removed the word “just” from each utterance.
    1. I don’t want to sleep with him.
    2. Some of the workers may have entered the labour market from school.
    3. He could have got the ferry to Fishbourne and spent a fortnight at Butlins.
    4. I was wondering if I could use your laptop.
    5. Somehow they don’t look right and blend.
    6. The hotel is a few minutes from the resort center.
    7. I have signed in a contract with a major new client.
    8. Couldn’t you leave the whisky?
    9. You needn’t be going to America to cash in.
  3. Ask students to place the word ‘just’ in any possible position and to explain its meaning. The sentences will have different meanings depending on the position of ‘just’. Here are examples of the possibilities the students may come up with.
    1. I (just) don’t want (just) to sleep (just) with him.
    2. (Just) some of the workers may have (just) entered the labour market (just) from school.
    3. He could have (just) got the ferry to Fishbourne and spent (just) a fortnight at Butlins.
    4. I was (just) wondering if I could (just) use your laptop.
    5. Somehow they (just) don’t look (just) right and blend.
    6. (Just) the hotel is (just) a few minutes (just) from the resort center.
    7. (Just) I have (just) signed in (just) a contract (just) with a major new client.
    8. Couldn’t (just) you (just) leave (just) the whisky?
    9. You needn’t be going (just) to America (just) to cash in on the 20 dollar check.
  4. Check the different meanings of ‘just’ suggested by the student. The teacher elicits the six different meanings of ‘just’ according to the Cambridge Grammar of English (2006) as follows:
    1. JUST for emphasis: Just has a meaning of ‘simply’ or ‘absolutely’.
    2. JUST meaning ‘exactly’.
    3. JUST meaning ‘only’.
    4. JUST meaning ‘recently’.
    5. JUST with expressions of time and place.
    6. JUST as a softener.
  5. Ask the students to change groups and to give some examples of the sentences they worked on.
  6. As a follow-up activity, the students write their own examples next to the most appropriate meaning.
  7. The teacher gives the students a handout of page 98-99 of Cambridge Grammar of English (2006)

The reason for this activity is that delexification, and hence ambiguity, is a common
feature of spoken language. In order to make the students aware of this, we just need to use examples of real English taken from the British National Corpus, together with the students’ own examples. The students themselves induct the different meanings of ‘just’ in the examples. Only at the end of the lesson does the teacher give them the handout with the theory.

Reported speech

Lesson plan contributed by Gunnel Ålin, Birgitta Åstrand, Gudrun Hedeland, Veronika Piccinini, Monika Ratnamaheson, Andrea Rebrová, Sylvia Velikova

Level: Intermediate and above

Materials: Catherine Tate - Valley Girl video (

Aims: to get learners “notice”, discuss and practice the use of “I says”, “go”, “be” and “be like” in direct speech reports in spoken English; to help them revise, consolidate and compare speech-reporting patterns used in formal and informal conversation; to sensitize them to language register variation.

Timing: about 40 minutes

Stages of the lesson:

  1. Ask students to shout topics they like talking about. Put them on the board.
  2. Ask students to form 2 concentric circles – inner and outer one, each inner circle student facing one of the outer circle students.
  3. Students choose a topic they want to talk about – student in an inner circle talks to a student in an outer circle for a minute.
  4. Students in the inner circle move to their right and face a new partner.
  5. They retell their conversation with the previous partner using the language they already know (e.g. I asked Peter what he had done yesterday. He told me he had been to the cinema.)
  6. Teacher elicits the reporting verbs students used and puts them on the board (e.g. I said, he asked, I replied, I thought....)
  7. Students watch Catherine Tate- Valley Girl ( gives instructions to listen to what happened to her.
  8. Students retell the story in pairs. They can ask each other questions if they didn’t fully understand.
  9. Students watch Catherine Tate, Valley Girl again. This time the instruction is to spot everything students may find unusual, different, etc.
  10. Teacher elicits “I’m like”, “he’s like”, “dramatization”, “short sentences”
  11. Teacher gives instruction: imagine you are in a bar and you meet a complete stranger. Act the dialogue in pairs.
  12. Retell the dialogue to another student using “I’m like”, “he’s like”. Start the dialogue with: You won’t believe what happened to me last night. I went to this bar and ... e.g. A good looking guy was sitting there at the bar.
    And I’m like „Can I sit here“.
    And he’s like: „Go ahead“.
    And I’m like: „Are you OK?“
    And he’s like: „I like your sweater“
    And I’m like: “Sorry?“
    And he’s like: “I like your sweater“, etc.
  13. Have one or two pairs retell their dialogue for the class

Variation: have two students performing the dialogue in the bar and another student retell the story practising “he’s like”, “she’s like”, “he was like”, “she was like”.

The use of “I says”, “go”, “be” and “be like” is an interesting feature of casual conversation. Though it is perceived by some as “non-standard” or bad style, this piece of naturally occuring “authentic” language is in fact “widespread and normal among major social varieties of British English” (Carter and McCarthy, 2006) and especially among younger speakers. In class, learners could also be guided to discover how the speaker’s choice of „I says“, „go“, „be“ and „be like“ enhances dramatization (also look at accompanying facial expression, changes in voice, etc.) and reflects a very informal and intimate conversational style. Students can also be encouraged to explore the socio-cultural content of the video. The teacher could get them find out about and discuss the comedy sketch series The Catherine Tate Show on BBC Two; the Valley girl character and the stereotyped valley girl language (e.g. through Frank Zappa’s song “Valley Girl”, if appropriate), and possibly relate the topic to a similar aspect in their own language and culture.


British National Corpus (August 2010).

Carter, R. and M. McCarthy (2006) Cambridge Grammar of English, Cambridge University Press.


Please check the Methodology for Teaching Spoken Grammar and English course at Pilgrims website.

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