The 2×2 Matrix: A Powerful Universal Tool for Students to Acquire/Learn English Content & Grammar

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By Howat A. Labrum

Which strategy do TESOL teachers choose to use?  Do they prefer “top down” or “bottom up” approaches?  Or do they use neither or both?  I suggest choosing both, which means exploiting the synergy of the two strategies.  Underlying my choice of both is the 2×2 matrix which shows the four choices visually.

What is the 2X2 Matrix and Why Use it?

The 2×2 matrix is also the key to my focus here and the basis of my active voice English tense-map (see the graphic at the bottom), allowing for a concise overview while giving some essential details.  The matrix also synergizes the two important areas which involve appealing content and a concise verb tense system. In addition, the 2×2 matrix is a math formula, a universal concept understood by speakers of many languages, thus being a bridge for students wishing to learn English, both grammar and content.

The 2×2 as the Basis for the Tensemap

My starting point is the active voice tensemap.  It is a combination of a 3×4 table shared by Betty Azar in her book called Fundamentals of English Grammar (Prentice-Hall, 1985) and a timeline. By some deep thinking and chance, I realized the 12 tense forms could be shown by a timeline using three 2×2 matrices, one for each of the three tenses: past, present, and future

Adding Colour

The tensemap uses colours to help students see the patterns within and across the tenses.  For example, in the graphic below, it is clear the combination of yellow (perfect) and light blue (progressive) gives dark green (perfect progressive).  Grey is my obvious choice for the simple tense form (aspect). Furthermore, the tensemap allows the use of a quick and easy 3-step algorithm which students can use to identify the tense forms correctly by putting them in the appropriate quadrant.

The Tensemap can be Reduced to Uncoloured Symbols

Once the concept is understood, the tensemap can be visualized as the symbol +++. The ‘plus’ signs represent the four quadrants for past, present, and future. Students can use the +++ to show they understand the tense form in a text by underlining the verb, putting the +++ above the verb, and a dot in the corresponding quadrant. 

To show the past perfect (I had eaten), I place a dot in the upper left quadrant in the + which is the one on the left of the three. 

Use in the Classroom and at Home

A large version of the +++ (windows) can be put on the whiteboard where students can point to the corresponding quadrant when they hear a verb tense form in a sentence. This board exercise can become a Total Physical Response game for the whole class to participate in, a fun and less intimidating way than the usual verb tense exercises.  At home students diagram the tense forms in passages of text that are interesting and appealing to them.

Bio: Howat Labrum holds an M.A. in TESOL from UBC. He worked as an EFL teacher in Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea from 1976 to 2014. Howat created his tensemap in 1990 and has subsequently added more features to it. He has shared his ideas on Twitter @Howie7951 since 2015. Go to letlearn2008 on YouTube for more.  

Reference

Azar, Betty Schrampfer, (1985). Fundamentals of English Grammar, (1st Ed,), Prentice-Hall

A question for you:

Do you think this dynamic, colourful tool could be used in your classroom?

Classroom Corner: Murder Mystery Lesson Plan

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By Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

“Murder” is an active vocabulary review and speaking activity that will really engage your students and have them working together closely in teams. It is ostensibly called “Murder” and it works great when you are teaching a topic related to crime; however, the format of the activity can be changed to any topic you can think of. In a recent lesson plan, I adapted it to travel and have used it before for medicine and sports. For the purposes of this article, I will model it using the murder theme.

Objectives:

  • Review vocabulary through description.
  • Practice speaking skills by creating questions and answers.
  • Have students working together in teams to problem solve.

Preparation:

  • Before the class, cut up about 40 strips of paper. How many you need exactly will depend on how many teams you make.

Steps:

  1. First, you need to make teams. Depending on the size of the class, you can do teams of 2, 3 or 4. The activity works best if you have at least 4 teams but not more than 10, so if you have 12 students then go for 4 teams of 3. Put the students into teams, have them sit together, and have them choose a team name. Write the team names on the board.
  2. Next, you need to explain the premise of the activity; Someone has been murdered, (I usually choose another teacher or someone that the students all know, but that isn’t in the class), and the teams need to use their investigation skills to figure out the murder weapon, the scene of the crime, and the murderer.
  3. Put 3 columns on the board; murder weapon, crime scene and suspect.
  4. Start with weapons. As a class, brainstorm different kinds of weapons and write them up on the board. Get them to think of unusual weapons, which adds a little bit of fun to the activity.
  5. You need to brainstorm enough weapons so that there are 2 for each team and 1 extra. If you have 4 teams, the class needs to think of 9 weapons. If there are 5 teams, then 11 weapons.
  6. Do the same for the crime scene and the suspect categories: 2 for each team and 1 extra. With the suspect category, I have them name a student in the class, as well as a fictional job that that student has; for example, “John the Doctor”.
  7. All of these items (weapons, crime scene, and suspects) need to be written on individual pieces of paper, so choose 3 students, give them some strips of paper, and have them write items down as you write them on the board; 1 item for 1 piece of paper.
  8. When all the brainstorming is finished, have the students copy all the information into a notebook, so they can refer back to it.
  9. Now, the teacher should re-collect the individual pieces of paper, keeping them in their categories.
  10. Without showing the students, choose 1 weapon, 1 crime scene and 1 suspect and put it in your pocket. Those 3 pieces of paper are the actual murderer, the crime scene and the weapon that was used, and this is the information that the students need to find.
  11. Next, randomly hand out all the other items to the teams. Each team should get 2 weapons, 2 crime scenes and 2 suspects. Make sure they keep their information secret from the other teams.
  12. Explain to the students that their goal is to find the 3 pieces of information that you put in your pocket. They now have 2 items from each category, so they can eliminate those things from their lists. Give teams 3 or 4 minutes to talk together and make sure they all understand what their items are.
  13. They then have to eliminate the other things from each category by questioning students from other teams about their items. Have the students stand up and go around the class meeting students from other teams to question them about their team’s items.
  14. There is 1 rule here; the students cannot simply go to another student and ask “Does your team have the gun?” They must ask indirect yes/no questions by describing the item. They can ask 3 yes/no questions; for example, “Does your team have a weapon that is made of metal?” If the student answers “yes” then the student can ask another question “Does your team have a weapon that can shoot bullets?” and finally “Is it a gun?”
  15. By getting a yes answer, the student knows that that team has that weapon, and thus this is not the actual murder weapon (because the actual weapon is in the teacher’s pocket.)
  16. If the student gets a “no” answer they must change partners.
  17. Give everyone about 10-15 minutes to go around and question students from other teams about their items. The goal with this part of the activity is to get students interacting and describing items with as much accuracy as possible. This reinforces vocabulary and understanding of the characteristics of the vocabulary.
  18. When that time is up, tell them to go back to their teams and compare the information they have found. Most teams will not have found all the answers because their initial attempts will have been unorganized. Tell them that you are going to give them 5 more minutes, but this time, tell them to make a plan, perhaps 1 student only asks about weapons, 1 only about crime scenes and the other, only about suspects.
  19. When the 5 minutes is up, have them come back together in their teams and compare again to see if they found the answers that are in your pocket. They may have found the exact answer, or they may have eliminated it down to 2 or 3 choices. If they still have possible choices, they have to take a guess.
  20. Have the teams write down on a piece of paper what they think are the actual 3 pieces of information. Collect them, and write them up on the board next to their team name.
  21. Now it’s time to reveal the actual answers and see which team was the best at investigating. The team that has the most correct answers is the winner.

This is the murder version, but it can be done with many different topics. For something like travel, you can change the 3 categories to country, landmark and holiday activity and then have students try to figure out what you did on your vacation. For medicine, you can do symptoms and then get them to try and figure out the actual sickness. The format can work in many different ways.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2016, Winter). Murder Mystery Lesson Plan. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

Classroom Corner: No No, No Yes—Open Answer Activity

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By Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Spring 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

One of the biggest challenges for students when they are having casual conversations is how to keep the conversation going and optimize their ability to practice the language they have learned. For a variety of reasons, students often close conversations off by simply answering either “yes” or “no.” This activity is a fun way of stopping students from doing that.

Objectives:

  • To practice avoiding “closed” responses in conversation
  • To use full answers when responding
  • Engage and reenergize students with short conversations

Preparation:

  • Get some form of tokens (I use Poker chips) with enough for around six for each student.

Steps:

  1. Preface this activity by asking students what the most important aspects of “speaking” English are. You will get answers like pronunciation and intonation, but students may not talk about the problem of answering with closed answers. For example, “Do you like Canada?” If the student just answers “yes” then the conversation finishes, but if the student answers “I love Canada because of all the natural beauty” then the opportunity for follow up questions and more speaking practice arises.
  2. Explain this idea to the students and then have them brainstorm derivatives and synonyms for “yes” and “no” (yeah, nah, yup, nope, yah, of course, and so on).
  3. Write the words on the board and tell the students that all of these words are off-limits, so during the activity, they are not allowed to say any of them.
  4. Distribute at least six tokens to each student.
  5. Have students stand up and find a partner. They will get one to two minutes to talk with their partner and ask them questions on any topic. If, while answering questions, a student says any of the off-limit words, they must give one token to their partner. This should encourage the students to answer with longer more complex answers.
  6. When the one to two minutes are up, have students find a new partner and begin again. Rotate through partners for as long as you want the activity to go for. It could be finished in 15 minutes, but I find it usually lasts longer because students love it and want to keep going.
  7. When the time is up, the student with the most tokens could be declared the winner.

Biographical Information

From the Spring 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2016, Spring). Classroom corner:  No no, no yes—Open answer activity. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Spring-2016-FINAL.pdf

 

 

Getting to Know Each Other: A Lesson Plan for “Liar Liar”

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by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2015 issue of TEAL News.]

This is an exciting and fun class activity that engages students in multiple skills as well as allows them to find out more information about their classmates. I often use it as an introductory game for intermediate to advanced level classes.

Objectives:

  • Practice written skills by producing several brief written explanations of events in students’ lives.
  • Practice speaking skills by creating questions and answers for these events.
  • Engage quick thinking and creative skills by making up explanations under pressure.

Preparation:

  • Before the class, cut up enough strips of paper so that every student gets three pieces each.

Steps:

  1. First, hand out three strips of paper to each student and explain that students are going to write brief explanations about three different things about themselves: one on each strip of paper.
  2. Model the activity by writing three headings on the board:
    1. A Secret
    2. An Experience
    3. An Interesting Fact about me.
  3. Then fill in the headings with a corresponding sentence about yourself. This can be a good chance to teach grammatical phrases such as “When I was…”
  4. Give the students 10-15 minutes and have them write their own sentences: one on each strip of paper. It is important to tell the students that if they have a secret and they don’t want other students to know it, then they should not write it down. They should also not show their sentences to other students.
  5. As they finish, go around the class and check their sentences for errors.
  6. Once you have corrected their sentences, have them write their names on the strips of paper and collect them.
  7. Put students in teams of three. Teams of two and four also work, but three is the optimal number.
  8. One student from each team comes to the front and stands facing the class in a line.
  9. Find those students’ sentences from the collection and choose one sentence from one of them and read it out to the class. This sentence is the truth for one of the students at the front, but all the other students must pretend like this is their sentence.
  10. The sitting students now have to find out who is telling the truth by asking questions. The theory is that the students who are lying will have much slower and less in-depth and inconsistent answers than the student telling the truth.
  11. Each team can ask two or three questions which all the students at the front answer, and then the teams can deliberate for a minute to discuss who they think is telling the truth. Once they have their choice, the truth-teller is revealed and the teams that got it right get a point.
  12. You then play again with new students. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2015 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander who has been working in the international education field for a number of years. After completing an English literature degree at Otago University in 2001, he moved to South Korea where he taught for eight years in both the private school and university systems. Upon meeting his Canadian wife, he shifted to BC where he continued teaching as well as moving into the curriculum development field.

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This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2015, Fall). Getting to Know Each Other:  A Lesson Plan for “Liar Liar”. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BCTeal-Newsletter-Fall-2015-Final-2.pdf