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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 3; Issue 1; January 2001

Short Article

Emotional Intelligence
How to use E.I. in teaching reading comp and phrasal verbs.

by Jim Wingate ( Primary, secondary and adult)

Let's apply 'emotional intelligence' to English. Let's do what coursebooks and dictionaries don't do. Emotion is life, response. Most English lessons have no life, no response. Let's look at a typical lesson. We read a text. We answer comprehension questions. What strange behaviour! Look at life instead. We read a text (eg. a letter from a friend). The friend does not add comprehension questions to the letter. In the pub a friend tells a story. The friend does not follow the story with comprehension questions.

Classroom Technique

So, let's add a moment of humanity. After reading a text, let your learners, in pairs, talk about it freely for one minute in mother tongue. Then ask the comprehension questions.

My mental picture of what happens is this:
We read a text.
It remains suspended in the air, an "out there", "other", "objective phenomenon", "them".
If we ask comprehension questions it is like reaching up to the text to pluck out answers.
Add this classroom technique.
We read a text.
The learners talk about it freely for one minute in mother tongue.
The text descends from the air and engages with the brain.
It becomes experience, "in here", "self", "subjective experience", "us".
If we then ask comprehension questions, it is reaching inside for the answers supported by a lifetime's experience.
We have tapped into the emotional intelligence.

Phrasal verbs

I often inherit learners from other teachers and I find my learners have a fear or dread of phrasal verbs. Yes, their emotional intelligence has been involved, but negatively. "Phrasal verbs were invented to make students fail exams." "Phrasal verbs are impossible!"

Factual and Emotional Reasons I therefore give my learners two reasons for the existence of phrasal verbs. One reason is factual to satisfy the left-brain. The other reason is emotional, to satisfy the right-brain.

Factual Reason I draw a map of Great Britain with the North coast of France. I draw an arrow from Normandy. I write "1066". I elicit or tell that the Normans invaded, bringing the Latin-based language, Norman French which became the language of the King's court, the law courts, the upper and middle classes. But what language did the lower classes speak? Yes, Anglo-Saxon. But it's still true! There were two languages then, and there are two languages now, Latin-English and Saxon- English.

Emotional Reason So, when English-speakers hear Latin-English, they are impressed. It sounds as if the person is speaking from the head. But when English-speakers hear Saxon-English, they believe what is said. It sounds as if the person is speaking from the heart or the belly. "If you want people to believe you, use phrasal verbs".

Emotional Experience

I give my learners two parallel texts. One is in Latin-English. The other says the same but using phrasal verbs - Saxon-English. My learners read the texts. I read the texts aloud. They talk freely in pairs for one minute in mother tongue. Then I ask them how different the texts felt to them (right-brain).
I ask them to describe those feelings. Then we discuss 'why?' (factual, left-brain).

Emotional Strategy OK, the above gives an emotional experience of style, but what about an "attack strategy" for a phrasal verb never seen before? ("attack strategies" are useful things to start doing eg. with a text. They are alternatives to panic and giving up, "I can't do it!")
With a hand, I gesture "up". I add my facial gesture "up" = positive. My body posture reinforces, "up". I gesture "down" with hand, face and body, all negative.
I write + - in two columns and invite my learners to work in pairs and to add up down further prepositions by experiencing the feel of them - emotional intelligence and life experience.

We end up with +
"in here"
"subjective experience"
"out there"
"objective phenomenon"

My learners are then equipped with an "attack strategy". "When you meet a phrasal verb which is new to you, look at the little words. Are they positive or negative? "To put up with" has two positive particles. That helps with guessing the meaning from context.

"Feel It!" I say two sentences in the same tone; "Come with me to the cinema." "Go with me to the cinema". I invite my learners in pairs to say how the two sentences feel as I repeat them in identical tone. Yes, we can add 'come' to the + column and 'go' to the - column.
We do the same with 'this' and 'that', 'some' and 'any', sorting them into 'us' words and 'them' words. Thus a sentence with "up", "some", "come", "this", sounds inviting. A sentence with "go", "any", "that", "down" sounds rejecting.

Confidence in Emotional Intelligence

I'm building my learner's confidence that what they feel when listening and reading is valid, is real, is useful, and gives them information.

Their emotional perceptions give them information because they connect with their life experiences and their inner knowledge of their own language (s).

Blank and Barren The above paragraph is the opposite of many learners' (learned) assumptions, "My life experience is not useful". "My own language is not useful". "This new language can only be learned as facts". "It cannot be guessed because I do not know all the facts". "I know nothing."

"I know nothing?" To my mind, teaching beginners is most effective if you help them to constantly experience how much they do know, to use their life experience, to use their knowledge of their own language (s) and to be confident to use their emotional intelligence.

A Teaching Strategy Therefore, I propose a simple 4 stage teaching strategy. For each new area of language you are about to teach your learners:

  1. Give a factual reason why it is so.
  2. Give an emotional reason to balance the factual.
  3. Give time for your learners to explore the feeling of that area of language, responding freely. (this can be done before or after 2.)
  4. From 3, with your learners, develop an emotional intelligence attack strategy for beginning to understand pieces of language in that new area.


Saxon Menne's excellent "Writing For Effect" OUP, 1982 (out of print)
( See this Issue's Old Exercise)
Michael Lewis "The Lexical Approach"

Jim works as a story teller, teacher trainer and writer. www.jimwingate-ltdt.co.uk

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