October 2010 - Collocations Dictionary by Macmillan Education
This is something of an interesting twist on the run-of-the-mill dictionary. A dictionary of word collocations. The book has been created to help upper intermediate to advanced students write more natural and accurate English.
To see how it works, let's take a simple noun such as 'neck'. As in any other dictionary, there is firstly a definition of the word, in this case - the part of the body that joins the head to the body. Then there is a selection of adjectives commonly used with that word (bad, broken, fractured, stiff, sore, scrawny, slender etc), a selection of verbs used with the word (strain, stretch, extend, break, snap, etc), and a few example sentences to show how certain collocations would work. In the warm up, Ferdinand cricked his neck, so he couldn't play.
While the Collocations dictionary will make a worthwhile addition to any TEFL reference bookshelf, I don't think it's ever going to sell by the proverbial truckload. It has fairly limited use. I can see perhaps a very serious student of written English dipping into it if there is truly a word whose possible collocations they want to find out more about. And for any teacher with an intermediate class, they might take a word and use the collocations as a ten-minute lesson filler, but I'm struggling to see the dictionary's value beyond that.
I suppose the dictionary could well serve as a reference for native English speakers who write regular blogs and articles and are suffering from the dreaded 'writer's block' but as William Zinsser points out in his brilliant 'On Writing Well' (which for me is the definitive book on the topic of writing) - if a collocation comes too easily to the mind of a writer, then it's probably a collocation every other writer would use. So find something different.
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August 2010 - Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener
This month, ajarn's vote goes to Teaching English Grammar (What to Teach and How to Teach it) by Jim Scrivener. It's published by Macmillan Education and weighs in at 288 pages. Jim Scrivener has taught EFL in many countries including Kenya, Russia and Hungary. He's also something of a Bob Dylan fanatic apparently.
Like most, if not all grammar reference books, Teaching English Grammar is divided into logical units, starting with singular and plural and countable and uncountable nouns before eventually reaching the dizzy heights of defining and non-defining relative clauses.
But whereas most grammar books tend to present the grammar structure first and then provide you with an assortment of gap-fill exercises that you can rush away and photocopy, Teaching English Grammar presents you with ideas on how to deliver an enjoyable grammar lesson without a single dull and boring cloze exercise in sight.
Let's take unit 18 as an example, which happens to be on prepositions of place (in front of, on top of, opposite, etc) I choose this topic because my mind always goes blank whenever I have to teach it.
The unit starts off with a selection of prepositions of place, along with an accompanying diagram, but how are you going to teach it? Well, it's the practice ideas part of the book that teachers will love.
The book suggests telling a story with lots of prepositions in it - when the robot walked into the room he saw a desk. In front of the desk was a green bucket. There was a chicken in the bucket. On top of the desk there were three eggs. etc, etc. After you tell the story, start again and see if the the students can help you by telling you where things were.
Or what about a teacher picture dictation where you describe a picture and the students draw it from scratch? There is a tree next to a building. There is a car near the tree. On top of the car is a bird. etc, etc.
There's an hour lesson there for even the most jaded and hungover Monday morning teacher looking for a bit of divine inspiration and minimal time to prepare. The mind can go blank for even the most experienced teachers.
Although I think the activities are undoubtedly the strength of the book, there are neat sections in each unit on what student mistakes to look out for, and also sections on teaching tips and concept questions.
This isn't just a grammar book. It's a whole teacher's survival kit. I never thought I'd see a grammar book to better Murphy's Basic Grammar in Use or Swann's Practical English Usage but by jove, Mr Scrivener has raised the bar with this little beauty.
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