‘Used to’ and ‘Would’ for past habit dictogloss

This is something I do whenever this language point comes up, it backs up another point that we have mentioned before; students won’t hear something unless they know it exists.

Why bother teaching ‘would’ for past habit?

I got asked this recently, and the best answer I can give is that when speaking native speakers may use ‘used to’ once but will rarely chain it together for a list of repeated actions for that we tend to use good old ‘would’, so if students want to progress and become more natural communicators then knowing this will be a step on the way.

This is a short lesson, hence its inclusion in the mini lessons section, it could be used to introduce the grammar point or to revise it, whatever you choose is fine and the script can obviously be altered to your own life.

Procedure:

Pre task: Ask your students which structures we can use to talk about past habits, if most of the students know would, there may be less call for doing this lesson!

  1. Tell students that you are going to read two sentences twice and that you want them to try to write down as much as they can.  Tell them not to worry about writing down every word but that they need to get the general meaning and then reconstruct the sentences from there.
  2. Read this text, or one you have altered

“When I was young I used to play football everyday, I’d get to school early everyday and me and my friends’d play for about half an hour. Then the bell’d ring and we’d all run to class.”

It is really important to only read it twice and to try to not emphasise ‘would’.

3. Ask them to  try to rewrite in pairs or groups what you said, encourage them but do not mention ‘would’.  Instead, ask questions such as what time is being talked about, present or past?  What type of word has to go before an infinitive etc.

4.  When they have struggled for a while and maybe some of them have got it, reveal it to them either with a hand out or on the board.

5.  Get them to identify the function of ‘used to’ – past habit

6.  Ask them to think about the use of ‘would’ – does it describe future or past?

Ask them which structures we can use to talk about past habits, they should come up with

  1. past simple
  2. used to
  3. would

7. Ask them to correct the following passage.

“When I was young I wanted to be a doctor, I would want to work in a hospital”

then ask them to complete this rule.

We can use used to / past simple / would to talk about past habits when the verb is stative.

we cannot use past simple / would with stative verbs.

8. Production stage

Ask your students to tell their partners something they used to do when they were younger and ask them to decribe the details using “would”.  Ask them to record it so they can listen back and make any corrections that are needed.

9. Reflection

Ask them again which tenses can be used to talk about past habits.  The old test-teach-test.

From here you could move onto present habits, I’ve noticed that some students tend to struggle with present habits, we normally use present simple and will, but some students want to use ‘use to‘ – when we would use ‘usually’.

Film Reviews: A Diagnostic Listening exerise

A long time ago I came across an article that argued that a Dictogloss would be used in class to assess a student’s listening ability, that it could be used as a kind of diagnostic listening and the results could inform your following lessons. Sadly I have lost the article and forgotten the name of the author…which is pretty crappy of me.

At the time, I remember thinking that it was quite an interesting idea. OK, we all know dictoglosses as a great way of introducing a topic, as a nice listening exercise and as a way of working on a student’s general knowledge of English syntax…but, with a little twist it can work as a diagnostic! I’ve only ever taught this lesson once or twice and it’s always been quite interesting. I could see why people might disagree with the idea above but try it out and let us know how it goes.

Time: 1- 3 hours (depending on which activities you choose to do)

MaterialsSafe House – Dictogloss

Level: Pre-int + above

Procedure:

(1) Intro

I suppose it’s good to get the ould schemata activated so any little discussion question on films will do here. “what’s the last film you saw?” “Would you describe yourself as a film buff?” “Can you describe the plot of a famous film from your country?”

If you’re giving feedback at this point, I’d focus on gathering adjectives to describe different films as this will be useful later.

(2)  Dictogloss

Hand out the page with the “Notes” box facing up. Make sure you tell the students not to turn over the page until you tell them to (if they do, give them a little tap on the nose, bad student!)

Let them know you’re going to read a description of a film to them but you’re going to read it at the normal speaking speed of a native speaker. Tell them to write down any words they hear in the “Notes” box. Read the description twice at normal speed and then allow students to check their answers.

(3)  Reflection

This is where the dictogloss changes into a diagnostic. The theory being that everything the students have written down is what they heard and everything else is what they have missed and therefore their notes can be used as a diagnostic of sorts.

Have the students turn over the page and compare their notes with the actual text. I usually get them to circle the words they got correct. Then direct them to the reflection questions below the text. This is the really interesting part. Encouraging your learners to think about why they found a listening task difficult and going beyond “You speak too fast” can be really useful for them.

Once they’ve done it, it’s important that you sit down with them and talk it through. Their answers should give you the information to plan what is taught in future lessons. For example:

  1. if they have combined two words into a new word, perhaps you need to focus on linking between words.
  2. if they have focused on grammar words and missed out on the important words, then you need to encourage them to focus on content words.
  3. if they’ve completely ignored any content words that were new to them, then perhaps you could help them with writing what they hear or raise their awareness of common English pronunciation Versus spelling rules.
  4. If it was a speed issue, perhaps this type of exercise should be repeated more often so that they’re more confident with taking notes while someone is talking.

At the very least, the students will be able to focus on their own issues. Let them know that you will be using their answers to inform their future lessons.

(4) Engaging with the text

We always think it’s important for students to have a real response to a text and not just do TEFLy exercises. At this point, following the quite heavy reflection stage, I usually get them to read the text very briefly one more time and then discuss the questions at the bottom of the page.

When you’re listening to them, think about the kinds of things you might say in this situation and then correct them based on that instead of just looking at grammar errors. Think of the natural pieces of English you would use. E.g. “It sounds…” , “I’m not really into / a fan of…”.

(5) Language Focus:

Even though this is a tiny little paragraph, you’ve got quite a bit to work with here. I usually pluck out one or two features and, instead of doing an entire grammar lesson based on it, just use it to train students to notice language in context.

For example, you could choose to focus on present perfect continuous versus present perfect by highlighting the sentence: “Frost has been working with the CIA for years but has recently changed sides” and asking them to compare the two forms and discuss why each was used in this situation. You could also briefly examine the passive “Frost is marched” or you could look at reduced relative clauses: “Frost, played by Denzel,…”. You’re spoilt for choice.

(6)  Writing follow-up

I think after all of this it’s nice for students to go back to the beginning of the lesson and think about the plot from a famous film in their country and write their own mini review. Limit the number of words and highlight the adjectives from the beginning of the class.

A nice idea once they’re finished it to put them up around the room and have students move around in pairs and discuss which films they’d be interested in seeing and which review grabbed their attention. Meanwhile you can be pulling out a few of the common errors and boarding them for a final feedback stage.