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Simon's ELT Activity Land

Language connections

Word mnemonics
using logic
Grammar poems
grammar loops
using stories to explain grammar
Language connections
Sentence Games
Simultaneous games
Reading aloud
Professional interests and articles
Photo Album
Favorite Links



We can help students make connections between  two different, seemingly unconnected language items, and so reinforce both items. This may have a mnemonic effect, since items not normally linked become connected in the students' minds.



Read on...


Used to and the present perfect


These can be considered opposites in a sense because the present perfect stresses continuity, whereas used to stresses discontinuity. The structures can be represented by symbols as follows:

I’ve always played: (continuing)

I’ve never played: (no symbol)

I used to play:  + - (Positive then negative, an activity has been discontinued)

I didn’t use to play: - +  (Negative then positive, an activity has started)


Students ask each other questions: Do you play football/tennis. Can you swim/ speak English? Parters reply by holding up a piece of  paper with appropriate symbols, as shown below. Side one of the paper has an arrow (representing  present perfect for continuity), side two, a plus and minus sign (representing a change. Note that this can represent either used to or didn’t use to, according to which way  up the paper is held.)


side 1→  side 2  + -


The questioner  has to interpret the paper, for example:


S1: Do you ever go camping?

S2: (Shows side 2, + -)

S1: Oh, You don’t, but you used to.


S2: (shows side 2 -+)

S1: You do, but you didn’t used to.


S1: Do you play tennis?

S2:  (shows arrow)

S1:  Oh, you’ve always played


S1: Do you sing?

S2: (No symbol)

S1: You have never sung.


Jobs, comparatives and superlatives.

The suffix –er has two roles in English, to make comparatives (faster, older) and to make verbs into people or things that perform a certain function or action, often jobs (manager, runner). We can therefore contrast occupations:


A runner is faster than a planner.

A manager is older than a teenager.

A weightlifter is stronger than a baby sitter.

A farmer is happier than a begger.

A  rider is higher than a walker.

A footballer runs further than a tennis player.


This parallel can be taken a stage further, because the superlative  suffix –est, as in longest, fastest, newest, sounds very  similar to -ist, which also denotes people who have a certain function: typist, dentist, violinist, stylist.


Eg the best biologist, the nicest scientist, the cleverest chemist, the coolest clarinetist, the greatest geologist, the happiest novelist, the shortest naturalist, the tallest typist.


The rhyme and similarity between the forms could act as a mnemonic for both comparative and superlative, and  forms which denote specialities/jobs.



In on at and irregular verbs

It might be useful to think of these  prepositions as three different forms of the same word. They sound rather like an irregular verb, with three different forms, e.g. go went gone/ in at on.  Like irregular verbs  they represent different aspects of related concepts. In the case of verbs, time is different,  but for prepositions, the location is different.