Trouble With? series

Titles: Trouble with Verbs?
Trouble with Adjectives, Adverbs and Pronouns?
Trouble with Prepositions, Articles, Nouns and Word Order?
Authors: David Bolton and Noel Goodey
Publisher: Delta Publishing/English Teaching Professional
Summary: A classroom version of Murphy's English Grammar in Use
Reviewed by: Alex Case
Review date: May 2003

Trouble with prepositions, articles, word order, verbs, adverbs and pronouns? No kidding! Although as the years go by I seem to have less difficulty teaching these points, my students seem to have as much trouble as ever learning them. These books claim to offer "varied and interesting" photocopiable activities for selected "trouble spots" at Elementary and Intermediate levels. Worth a try!

Each of the books has 15 chapters covering topics such as "How do we talk about habits (usually and used to)?", "Present perfect simple or present perfect continuous?" and "Time prepositions". They certainly cover the problems that commonly come up. Most of the chapters contrast two different forms, which I liked. Each chapter consists of 4 pages, of which half are photocopiable materials and half teaching notes. The photocopiable materials follow a simple format of one page of "What's the rule?" followed by one page of practise exercises. The rules sections follow a strict "discovery approach" where the students are asked to work out the rules for themselves. Cartoons are used to break up the pages and provide context. What seems less modern about this part is that although all the sentences seem fairly natural there are obviously not taken, or even adapted, from real life sources.

Each "What's the rule?" page finishes with a "Remember" section where students make complete reference notes on form and meaning. The teaching notes on the facing page provides a one line summary of "the problem" and typical mistakes, and then move on to various teaching ideas. The best point about these teaching ideas and the discovery approach activities is that they lead the students slowly and carefully through the language, treading the fine line between simplifying and over-simplifying the rules. Despite what the book claims, very few of the activities are particularly original, but there is a fair amount of variation among the classic exercise types (put into the correct tense, True/ false grammar rules etc.) and presentation techniques. The biggest problem is that occasionally the teaching idea is virtually the same as the photocopiable exercise.

The lack of originality continues somewhat in the "Classroom activities" suggestions facing the exercises page, with the phrase "write sentences on the board" being used a bit too often for my liking. Examples of activities include: sentence completion, find someone who, talking about famous inventions, deciding who objects belong to, variations on dictation, and a role-play of being a jealous boy/girlfriend. All certainly cover the correct language and there is a fair amount of speaking and personalised practise. Between 3 and 5 activities are provided for each language point, and the instructions are very clear considering the lack of space available for them.

These books do not really provide any radical ideas as to how we can stop our students making mistakes with tenses etc. but if you are experimenting with other (non-PPP) approaches such as task-based learning and suddenly stop and think "Wait a minute, what this group really needs is a bit of a grammar explanation and practise", then this series is as easy-to-use as any photocopiable material you will find to deal with such remedial work. It is also provides perfect examples of such an approach for a trainee teacher. In summary, if you like Murphy's English Grammar in Use for self-study, then you'll like this for classroom work.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesAlex Case has worked as an EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, Director of Studies and EFL Editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, the UK and Japan. Alex Case is Reviews Editor of TEFL.net.