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‘Have Something Done’: Grammar for Teachers

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A question we are often asked by trainee teachers on the EC London CELTA course is how much metalanguage (language about language) to use with our learners. Will they know these linguistic terms? Will I be overloading them by telling them what they are? Is it really helpful for them? These are all questions teachers ask themselves and the answer may not always be the same, depending on who we are teaching. What we do know for sure is that human brains are naturally wired to spot patterns.This built-in ability is a huge advantage when it comes to teaching grammar, as recognizing patterns in language can make learning and teaching grammar rules much more intuitive and effective without lots of linguistic terminology.

Let’s take a real-life example of language from a snippet of a conversation I had the other day. I bumped into a friend the who looked different. I said to her ‘Nita, you look great! Have you had your hair cut?’ She replied ‘Thanks. Actually, I cut it myself’.

How did Nita know that I was asking if she’d been to the hairdresser’s if I didn’t mention the hairdresser or the salon? Look at the question again and let’s look at some more examples.

Have you had your hair cut?

  • have your hair cut
  • have my car fixed
  • have your blood pressure taken

What do these examples have in common? In terms of meaning, all these structures tell us that someone performs the service for us. Can you think of any more examples of services that follow this structure?

Perhaps these:

  • have a new set of keys cut
  • have my shoes reheeled
  • have my jacket dry cleaned

In terms of the structure, we can see that there is a pattern with the order of the words:

have + object + verb

have + your hair + cut

have + my car + fixed

have + your blood pressure + taken

have + my jacket + dry cleaned

The verb used at the end of this structure is called the past participle (cut, fixed, taken, cleaned). This might be a familiar term for some learners as we use the past participle in other structures too, so this is often worth pointing out.

How can we help our learners with this particular structure in the classroom? You could ask learners to think of some more examples of services that might fit with this pattern. If you think they’ll need some help, you could use some pictures to prompt them and see if they can come up with some examples.

When using several examples like this in class, ask your learners to look at the structures and see if they can see the pattern themselves before telling them.

To then practise and reinforce the language further, you can get learners to ask each each other questions to help them remember it and use it in conversation:

When was the last time you…

  • had your eyes tested?
  • had your car serviced?
  • had your house redecorated?
  • had your nails done?
  • had a device repaired?

Repeating a structure like this with various examples can be incredibly useful for learners. It helps reinforce the pattern, making it easier for them to recognise and use.

Some learners will want to know the grammar terminology and that can also give them more autonomy when it comes to studying outside of the classroom. Not all learners will need or want this and so you can keep it useful by focusing on a recognisable pattern that everyone can see. Nevertheless, doing your research before a lesson can help you be prepared and become more confident with terminology bit by bit.

The structure we have been looking at here is known as the ‘causative passive construction’. You can find out more about it in this EC English online lesson and give your learners some extra practice with it.

Find out more about learning to teach with EC’s CELTA and DELTA courses. We run online, face-to-face and mixed-mode courses at EC London CELTA and EC Toronto CELTA. You can also see what previous participants have said about our courses here.

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