Two weeks ago, I was listening to several excellent speakers at our Reaching Out With English course. I was inspired by the content and the well thought out presentations. But I also sensed that some of the participants were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and the realization of how much in involved in teaching a language. I wanted to say, “Be not overwhelmed”. We needn’t feel inadequate to teach content, grammar, or pronunciation.

In our classes we need to talk about something, so we need to have some content, preferably content that will be useful to our learners. With the federal election approaching, I wanted to talk about government, and our electoral system. Someone had said that she couldn’t do that, because she didn’t know enough about the topic. Well, my secret source was my good old faithful Oxford Picture Dictionary, Canadian edition. If you have that resource, you can do almost any topic! I began by dividing learners into national groups, and asked them to describe: the government of their country, how the government got into power, and what services that government provides. From the discussion, we created a vocabulary list. I handed out a chart with headings of Federal, Provincial, and City, and  topics such as head of government, elected representative, etc. (enclosed)  Then, together, we filled out the chart, using the O.P.D. Pages 138-9. That was all we needed! For an advanced class, I would have asked the learners to identify the issues that matter to them, and then look at different candidate or party materials to see who would best represent them.  The O.P.D. provides so much information, especially on health, jobs and community services that you can find anything you need for an entire year.

Grammar is another overwhelming area. In our conversation classes, we rarely have to do many advanced explanations for grammatical choices. Most often, we can reinforce grammar by the questions we give. I have found that “Wh” questions are a major challenge. Learners say correctly “Do you like hockey?” etc, but will say “What you like?”, “Where you live?’’etc. So I like to give them question strips where they have to ask their partners the questions. In our introduction class, I gave strips with the answer, and asked them to give the question. e.g. “I was born in Ontario”, and they asked their partner “Where were you born?” Simple conversation with good modelling and feed-back can help a lot.

Pronunciation is another challenge. As I was developing my government vocabulary list, I added different word forms. For example, for democracy, I added democratic, and democratically. Then I pointed out how the stressed syllable shifted when suffixes are added. We practiced saying the words together, punching the air on the stressed syllable. Then I used the example artist and artistic. I always use the same example, believing that if you memorize the example, you memorize the rule. If a word defies all rules for pronunciation, I will say it “doesn’t play fair”, and put the pronunciation inside two dashes. For example, “does” really sounds like /duz/,”would you” really sounds like /woodju/. I encourage them to write down the pronunciation so they can practice it. Don’t worry about correct linguistic terms.

We don’t need a lot of content, grammar, or pronunciation in our conversation classes, but a bit of each adds up over the year, and adds to our learners’ confidence and sense of accomplishment.


Describe the government of your country

How did the government get power?

What services does that government provide?

Head of state
Head of government
Legislative Assembly
Voting district

And powers

Revenue  ($)


Download the Government chart for use in your classroom


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