Wayne Trotman on a thought-provoking volume
50 STEPS TO IMPROVING YOUR GRAMMAR
Chris Sowton, Garnet Education; ISBN: 978-1-7826-0222-4
Go on, admit it! When you first saw the name of the book under review here you probably thought it would be yet another dense, inaccessible tome. Actually, until I began perusing it, so did I. Which just goes to show once more how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Soon, I was jumping around, delving into areas that I wasn’t really sure of, such as the correct use of the semi-colon (see below on this). Briefly, the ‘Fifty Steps’ in the title are broken down into ten key units of grammar (A–J), each containing five smaller steps. And I can almost guarantee that by the time you put it down to go to your classroom you’ll feel a lot more confident about teaching aspects like conjunctions and prepositions. Each section begins with two short tasks. First, a targeted questioning reflection task in which the reader self-evaluates their present understanding of the topic. Following this, the contextualisation task illustrates the relevance and importance of the topic by presenting learning points in context.
The much longer ‘Explanation’ section asks and then answers questions raised in the two previous tasks. It also contains links to the glossary, shows example sentences (each highlighted in green) and has pointers to where the reader can locate more information on the topic. Usefully, each part ends with a summary of the step in three points. If the term ‘user-friendly’ comes to mind, then I’d certainly agree with you on that. Let’s look at an example unit, shall we? ‘Unit A: What is grammar?’ This begins by asking and answering what grammar is for and why it’s important; it’s followed by a task on word classes, such as determiners (‘many’, ‘the’, ‘each’), conjunctions (‘although’, ‘therefore’) and, well, I think you can guess the rest. If you can’t, I suggest you look at page 12. Then follow some really thought-provoking tasks, like: ‘What’s the difference between open and closed word classes?’ And: ‘Can a word be in more than one class?’ OK, so you didn’t know the answers either. Page 12 will fill you in on these points, but to put you out of your misery on the second one, the answer is yes. By the way, in order to complete the ‘Activation’ task at the end of this step and all others, you’ll need to have covered the earlier tasks pretty well. Units that follow look closely at nouns and pronouns, asking how they work in English, then at countable and uncountables. And if you’re not sure how to premodify and postmodify nouns in order to make them more complex, then all this is illustrated on pages 39–43. Unit C analyses verbs. Question for you all: how well do you understand tense and aspect, and how good are you at explaining the difference between active and passive voice? It’s all there on pages 55–63. And while I remember, what percentage of words in English do you think are verbs? Five, ten or fifteen? You can either email me for the answer or visit page forty-eight. (I’ll give you a clue: the correct answer has seven letters.) Later units delve into matters relating to sentence structure, grammar for specific purposes such as indicating possibility and probability, grammatical precision to increase cohesion and emphasis, and then punctuation and spelling. In the latter you’ll learn how to use the semi-colon correctly. I see I’ve used it above, but do you think it’s used correctly there? Let’s hope so, eh! All told, this book is a real gem for teachers thrown in at the deep end on an intensive course that includes the vagaries of grammar. It’s now safely stored on my shelves for when that day next comes around.
Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey
Pic courtesy: Karl Ludwig Poggemann