Meaning, form and use: The past

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The role of grammar in English language teaching

For many teachers, grammar plays a central role in their classroom methodology. However, in 1980s there was an anti-grammar movement which was influenced from the idea of Krashen that ' grammar can be acquired naturally from meaningful input and opportunity to interact in the classroom: in other words, the grammartical competence can be developed in a fluency-oriented environment without conscious focus on language forms. For Hymes, said that... rules of use without which the ruled of grammar would be useless. Just as rules of syntax can control aspects of phonology, and just as rules of semantics perhaps control aspects of syntax, so rules of speech acts enter as a controlling factor for linguistic form as a whole...( Hymes 1972 : 278 )From his suggestion, the grammar is one of the most important factors in language teaching and learning, especially it is the ' communicative' element to communicative language ability.

The components of communicative language ability are linguistic competence, pragmatic competence, discourse competence strategic competence and fluency. The linguistics competence is composed from a knowledge of spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, grammatical structure and linguistic semantics.

Meaning, form and use : The past

Course description

This course is involved the past tense which refers to the meaning of the tense, the form of the tense and the use of the tense. The learners must know the rules of the tense and can form the patterns of the tense and can use it correctly. The learners are able to apply the tense in the real situations.


The past tense is divided into 3 categories which are:

  • Past simple tense
  • past continuous tense
  • Past perfect tense
  • Past perfect continuous tense

The four types have their own forms, meanings and uses.

  1. Past Simple is used to indicate the actions which already happened in the past and finished at the specific time in the past. The actions might be long or short. And there are some kinds of rules should be remembered about this tense : regular verb , irregular verbs, questions and negative sentences.
  2. Past Continuous is used to describe the past actions in progress.
  3. Past Perfect is used to talk about the situations which begin in the past and continue to the period of time in the past and then finish at the time.

The Model of teaching grammar: the PPP model

There are 3 stages to teach grammar: presentation, practice and production.The first stage is presentation. These are some kinds of activities of teachers to apply in their teaching, for example, the teachers present new language in context so that meaning is clear. The teachers may present the new form in a natural spoken or written text so that students can see its use in discourse. Then, he/ she links the new form to what students already know. Next, he/ she checks comprehension.

The teacher elicits the form from students where possible and exploit their existing knowledge.The second stage is practice. The teacher helps the students memorize the form and produce the word order. Then, he/she give intensive practice through repetition and provide opportunities for feedback and error correction.

Next, the teacher develop confidence of the students.The last stage is production. The teacher reduces control and encourage students to find out what they can do. Then, the teacher encourage the students to use the forms in expressing their own content and teacher helps students see the usefulness of what they have learned and then to check what has been learned and diagnose problems.Example of the lesson planThis is a good example of the lesson plan which is a very interesting one and can help all language teacher to teach and try new way to teach grammar through narrative.

Narratives in the Simple Past

Teacher: Catherine Eslinger
Class: Linguistics 577
Date of Explanation: October 14th, 1997
Proficiency Level: Beginning
Age of Learners: High School Age and Above


  • Students will be able to compliment others' past actions.
  • Students will be able to describe actions in the past using the simple past tense.
  • Students will be able to understand and recognize the simple past forms in a folktale. They will be able to supply some of these forms when asked.

Materials Required:

A simple folk tale, colored markers, 11x17 paper, a personal photograph, photographs that students have brought from home.

Warm up/Review:

Model giving compliments in the present tense, which students have recently studied. Give several examples and write them on the board, such as "I like your smile" and "I like the way you read aloud." Have students move around the room giving compliments to each other, following this model (in addition to listening to Students as they practice, give class members compliments).

Presentation Practice Evaluation:

Stop the fluid pair activity and model giving compliments that use the past tense: "I appreciated the way you helped return papers to the class yesterday" or "I loved the food you cooked for our class party last week." Write these forms on the board, underlining the time expression. Write some of the compliments students gave each other that use the same verbs in the present tense. Underline the verbs. Have students induce the rule. Include auxiliaries in the past, particularly in question formation.

Play "Alibi." Have two students leave the room, pretending to be suspects of a crime. Model the types of questions students could ask of a suspect, writing some patterns on the board. One "suspect" returns when called and students ask questions about his or her whereabouts at the time of the "crime." When they have exhausted the questioning possibilities, the first student again leaves the room and the second is asked the same questions to see if their alibis match. Pay attention to students' use of the past tense. Are they able to use it correctly?

Note any irregular verbs for which students have overgeneralized the rule for putting in the past tense.Present patterns for types of irregular past tense verbs that students have used in "Alibi." If students have used these and overgeneralized, present categories like feel-felt, steal-stole, bring-brought and begin-began. Preview "Llama and the Great Flood" by talking about legends and folk tales in other cultures, finding Peru on a map, etc. Read it aloud, leaving out regular and irregular verbs the students have just studied in the past tense. Ask them to supply those verbs.

Cue them with the present tense of the verb. Listen to the students. Are they able to supply the correct form of the verb in the simple past tense?If other irregular forms have come up in the folktale, present these exceptions to the rule.

Show students a personal photo of some interesting past event. Describe it using the simple past tense. Have the students write a short description of their own photo in the simple past. In pairs, they will share their description and photo with another class member.

Contingency plan:

If some students have forgotten photos, have them imagine the scene of a photo they have at home. Listen to the pairs practice. Are the students able to use the past tense fluently and accurately? Note any new irregular past tense forms that come up.

If other irregular verb forms have come up in the descriptions of photos, present those exceptions to the rule. If not, I will not present any new material at this time. Although this activity provides more practice, it is primarily intended to evaluate students' learning. Post six pieces of 11 x 17 paper around the room. Each page has a different sentence prompt on it.

These include: "When I was a child. . . ," "When I first started to learn English. . . ," "Last week. . . ," "After my last birthday . . . ," "Yesterday. . . ," and "This morning . . . ." In teams of three, each team with a different colored marker, students go around the room to the various papers and write narrative endings to these prompts. To correct serious errors, send a student from a team that is doing that aspect of the activity correctly to help the struggling team for a moment. Note the names of team members using particular colors and examine the papers after class to see which students are struggling with the forms.If students have again overgeneralized the rule for the simple past in other categories of verbs, present those verbs to them. Allow students to add to the sheets of paper with prompts on them using the irregular verbs they have just learned.

Pay attention to how students are forming all past forms, particularly the irregular ones. Again, note who is struggling by identifying teams using particular colored markers.


Assign students to find a picture from a magazine or book of a fashionable item of clothing people wore in the past. It can be from any time period in the past, whether the nineteen sixties in the U.S. or the fifteenth century in their own countries. Students will show the class the picture of this clothing, tell who wore it, in what time period, and in what place. They must also tell the class for what occasions they believe the clothing was worn, and any other information they know or have found out about the clothing.Finally, they should tell the class whether or not they would like to wear it, and where and when they would wear it. Self-evaluation: This lesson is too long and has too little focus on narratives to really be effective.

I have underestimated the time required for students to induce rules, be able to apply them in the story, and especially write and then tell their own past narrative about a photograph. I don't want to have to rush that; I'm hoping it will be interesting and important enough to them that they will want to tell the full story, and tell it well. I have decided that although "Alibi" is a good game for practice of the past tense, it doesn't belong in this lesson.

It can come in a later lesson.

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