Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 30, 2009

Using Modal verbs – part one

Modal verbs in English loom large as an area for study. They can be categorised in terms of function, intensity and meaning. Modals can be confusing as individual verbs can be used in many different ways.

The best way to tackle these verbs is to split them up into batches and learn the different usages of these groups of verbs.

Let’s begin with a definition.

What is a modal verb? –  a modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb, they can be used to express a certain functions such as possibility, necessity, ability etc.. or make an utterance more polite or tactful.

How are sentences with modal verbs constructed? – the modal verb is the first verb in the verb phrase and is followed by the infinitive (without to) of the main verb.

  • People may (modal verb ‘may’) arrive (main verb – infinitive without ‘to’) late because of the snow.

Modal verbs:

can, could, may, might, shall, should, will would, must, dare, be able to, ought to, need to, have to

Try this Gapfillers exercise on mixed modals to see if you can choose the correct one in each sentence.

In this first post on Modal verbs we will look at the following functions and explore which verbs can be used and how they differ.

  • ability
  • prediction
  • permission
  • deduction

Ability – being able to do something

Can is used to describe ability and can’t/cannot the lack of ability.

  • Joe can help us with this problem but Paula can’t.

We can also use  able to

  • Joe is able to help us with this. (there is a sense of surprise or confirmation when using this form).

NB: don’t use able to with the passive

For the future, present perfect, past, gerunds and infinitives  we use be able to –

  • They will be able to fix the pipes.
  • I wasn’t able to visit them over Christmas.
  • I haven’t been able to get out of the house since Tuesday.
  • I like being able to arrange my own timetable.

Unable to – is used for absence of ability in formal situations – We regret that we are unable to agree to your terms.

Could is used for possessing an ability in the past and in questions, and sentences with adverbs such as hardly or only

  • She could speak before she was a year old.
  • Could the doctor see you? 
  • I could only see the nurse.

Other uses of could for ability are:

  • inability – Even though he was a vet he couldn’t cure his dog.
  • missed opportunity – We could have visited them but we didn’t have enough time.
  • disappointment – You could have told me that they had divorced!

Prediction – making statements about what will happen in the future

Will and won’t are used for prediction in the present tense:

  • You should take warm clothes – it will be cold in December.
  • Maisie won’t be home yet she doesn’t finish work until 6.00.

Would is used for the past:

  • We always knew they would marry eventually!

Must, should and have (got) to can also be used for prediction.

  • That must be Stephen’s brother. (deduced from information you have)
  • That has got to be Stephen’s brother! (He looks just like him)
  • We shouldn’t have a problem recognising Stephen. (We have a very good description)

Try this Gapfillers exercise on prediction


Can, can’t, could, may and might are usually used for expressing permission or absence thereof. There are degrees of politeness inherent in the choice of verb.

  • Can I borrow your pen? – Yes, you can/Sorry, I’m afraid  you can’t, I’m using it.
  • Could I borrow your pen? (more polite) (answer with can/may or can’t)
  • May I borrow your pen? (more formal) (answer with may/can’t)
  • Might I borrow your pen? (very formal – perhaps the person is a stranger) (answer as before)

Deduction – drawing a conclusions

Can, could, may, might, must, have (got) to, should

  • Take sandwiches as food can be very expensive on the train.
  •  A temperature could be a sign of something more serious.
  • The trains may be running late with all this snow.
  • That might be Jasper he said he would call.
  • He must be on his way.
  • He has got to be at least fifty years old now.
  • We should all get decent bonuses this year judging by the company results.

Remember this is a quick summary to help you test your knowledge of the rules and how to apply them. It is worth checking for more detailed information in your grammar book.  (see my post on choosing dictionaries and grammar books)

You may like to look at these posts:

Doing a language audit

Making progress as an Advanced learner

Advanced learners – a Pecha Kucha

December 21, 2009

Using narrative tenses

This morning I woke up bright and early. The ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow and everything looked so beautiful outside. I pulled on warm clothes and boots and took my two dogs Duffy and Maguire for a  snowy walk.

At the end of our walk I let them off their respective leads and into a small paddock at the side of our house where they could run freely. As I stood looking at the scenery I thought how marvelous it would be to have more students come to stay and study with us in 2010.  In any season the scenery is wonderful, the place welcoming and the opportunity for making excellent improvement in English language skills assured.

As I was thus looking and contemplating, I heard a loud meow and there, atop the gate was our little black cat, Nip (her brother, Tuck,  has gone walkabout again). I called to her and she came bouncing over the snow towards me. All of a sudden Maguire spotted her and leapt across to join us followed, in a flash, by Duffy.  All three animals began gambolling in the snow – it was a lovely scene and I hadn’t a camera!

Leaving the cat and dogs I flew into the house to get the camera. It hadn’t been put back in its usual place so took a while to track down. After a frantic hunt, I rushed back to the paddock camera in hand to find the animals scattered!

The perfect picture of animals having fun in the snow had gone! I did manage a few shots which you can see here but sadly the original masterpiece will remain forever in my head only!!

OK,  let’s get down to the topic. I’ve highlighted my use of tenses in the piece.

Can you identify them all and consider why each one was used?

I wrote the piece ‘off the cuff’ and completely spontaneously so the tense usage is random.

  • Past simple – you will see that this tense is used far more than any other. This makes sense, the incident is in the past and the ‘story’ mostly relates the events that happened in a sequential way.
  • Present perfect – there is only one use here – in a reference to the missing cat. The cat is missing , we only know this – no other information is provided.  He may return. This is a classic Present perfect use. (see posts on Present perfect  and choosing simple or continuous )
  • Present simple –  again one use when describing the scenery. This is a state and unchanging.
  • Past perfect – two occurences; when referring to the whereabouts of the camera – clearly the camera was used by someone else before the events of this story took place and on returning to the paddock – the frolicking of the animals in the snow is now relegated to the past.
  • Future tense – this is the final tense used referring to a missed chance to capture the scene and preserve it for the future.

When relating stories and events we tend to use mostly the past simple,  present perfect and past perfect tenses as a frame work and hang on the other tenses where required. It is important to sequence the events in order to choose the correct tense.

Try this Gapfillers exercise on narrative tense use.

This post is the second of six on English verbs and tenses.

More information on English courses at Fleetham Lodge  and see here on the blog Fleetham Life

December 14, 2009

English Verbs that Confuse!

Before I begin this post I have to report that a few days ago I was asked ‘What is a tamper-evident-seal? I was thrilled at this question. It proves that some of what I am saying about language exposure is right!! So flowers for me. Hurray!!! If you have read my posts on increasing vocabulary you will know what I am talking about if not then you can find out here (More Vocabulary on the go)

I thought it was time to say something about verbs in English. This is a daunting task as there is so much to say! I decided to begin with two thorny verb problems

  • verbs that are similar in usage and as a result often confused
  • verbs which are confused although they are in fact opposites

Verbs with similar meanings

make/do, take/bring, been/gone etc..

The difference between these verbs is often quite subtle. They often have similar meanings but are used in different ways.  Sometimes the meaning is identical but a preference for one has been made in English (see post on collocation)

Here is a list of the most commonly confused verbs:

These verbs collocate with certain words. Find a list of these in your grammar book and make sure you know which to use when. 

  • lay/lie

Lay describes an action – They laid out the papers for signing.

 lie a state  – He found the papers lying on the table.

Lay takes a direct object.

  • raise/rise

Raise describes an action done by someone – to raise tax

rise describes the action itself  – taxes will rise 

Raise always has a direct object.

  • talk/speak

These have very similar meanings and can be used interchangeably. – I’ll talk/speak to her about it.

 However there are some differences;  

a formal speech uses speak – He spoke to the Board of Directors.

Also when referring to languages – She speaks French, Italian and Japanese.

Talk would be used for speaking at length – He talked to them about his war experiences.

  • steal/rob

Again very similar in meaning. We use rob for the place that suffered the theft and steal for the items taken.

They robbed the shop and stole cash.

Check in your grammar book to make sure you have them right.

Verbs with opposite meanings

Although this may sound strange some verbs with opposite meanings can be confused. The two most common pairs are;

  • lend/borrow

Borrow from (you take the item) –  Can I borrow your pen?

Lend to (they give the item) – Can you lend me your pen?

  • bring/take/fetch

Bring means that you carry the item with you here – Can you bring some salad with you to the picnic? (towards the speaker – the picnic may be at the speaker’s home)

Take means you carry the item with you there – Can you take some salad to the picnic?  (away from the speaker – the picnic is in some other place)

Fetch is used when you have to collect something and then bring it with you. – Can you fetch the car from the garage tomorrow?

Make sure you understand the difference and then memorise and practise!!

Try these exercises on Gapfillers

December 9, 2009

Will a longer school day/year increase student achievement? #edchat summary

Filed under: Edchat — rliberni @ 11:41 am
Tags: , ,

6pm CET/ 12pm EST Edchat Summary

Last evening’s #edchat summary was another lively event with fast and furious discussion and lots of ideas, opinions and information shared as ever! This topic comes up often with teachers, learners and parents constantly struggling to fit all they have to do into a day and still have time to ‘stand and stare’.

I’m not sure there was a consensus, but the main points which recurred were:

  • Shouldn’t we be looking at the whole school day/year concept and decide if it is still a suitable model for the 21 century?
  • How would the extra hours/days be used – we don’t want/need more of the same
  • Use extra time for teacher development and learning
  • Consider year-round schooling
  • The importance of good discussion before considering change and involving all parties (parents, learners, teachers, admin, authorities)
  • The use of technology as away of extending learning beyond the school/college gates

What some participants had to say.

colonelb   –  @ShellTerrell Yes, but only if quality of learning improves along with it. #edchat
colonelb   –  I’m also wondering why we have to continue to think in terms of traditional school days and years. Progress as you learn. #edchat
clarkmusic   School day is already long, if you include homework. Retention might improve if year is broken up differently. #edchat
DeronDurflinger – #edchat I don’t know if the answer is a longer day/year, but we need to be more flexible in how we use our time.
kmadolf    –  Eistein’s def of insanity: Doing things the way we’ve always done them & expecting diff results. Longer school day/year fits def. #edchat
malcolmbellamy   –  p upils are better off with short bursts of quality than long periods of boredom #edchat
web20classroom   –  I believe many teachers would favor a long day or year if it meant more time for meaningful instruction… #edchat
bgillett   –  Learning needs to encompass more than just 7:30-2:30 each day. #edchat
cybraryman1   –  The real answer is what and how knowledge is being taught. The length of day & year is not the problem. #edchat
irasocol   –  @rliberni Only if it is a completely different school: architecturally, systematically, curricularly, assessmentally #edchat
kmadolf   –  Rather than lengthening day/year, should consider year-round schooling. #edchat
kylepace   –  @ShellTerrell Some teachers say they would be in favor of year round school with multiple 2-3 week breaks. Anyone doing this? #edchat
web20classroom   RT @colonelb:Im also wondering why we have to continue to think in terms of traditional school days and years.Progress as you learn. #edchat
andi1984   –   All the organisatorical stuff can be better discussed without wasting too much precious time. #edchat
esolcourses   –  @rliberni Not in favour of it. Don’t think a longer school day is the answer. IME, many kids struggle to maintain focus as it is #edchat
hadleyjf   –  #edchat Following the conversation with my 8th graders
SimpleK   –  @ShellTerrell We had year-round school here a few years ago. it was great. My son did much better with shorter more frequent brks #edchat
web20classroom   –  RT @bgillett: Learning needs to encompass more than just 7:30-2:30 each day. #edchat
edtechsteve   We need to prove we can use the time we NOW have right before we add a single minute #edchat
mtrump 12/8/2009 12:04 PM RT @ShellTerrell: Which do you prefer a longer day or year? #edchat – Neither
MatthiasHeil   –  Ideally, borders between “learning” and “holidays” should dissolve. #edchat
SErwin   I think we need to become more efficient. #edchat
kmadolf   Traditional model based on agrarian calendar – what a concept to design schools to fit THIS century’s realities. #edchat
sudam09   –  Eduation should not be a commercial activity and hence private participation should be discouraged. Govt should run the ed Instns. #edchat
tamaslorincz   Unfortunately in my neck of the woods the less time students spend at school the more they can learn ;-( #edchat
daveandcori   –  #edchat effective use of time is needed too. And, use technology to “extend the school day”
MrR0g3rs    –  @kylepace no! less physical time in school. schedule now is based on an ancient paradigm set up to protect sacred cows #edchat
irasocol   –  I favor 24/7 year-round secondary school buildings, but with student choice of hours-like unis-and lots of study/recreation options #edchat
tamaslorincz   –  The more I look at the damage we do to tyhe students the less I believe in schools.Schools should’ve redefinded themselves by now. #edchat
SErwin   –  I have gained more knowledge outside of my normal schooling than within. Ex – Why r we using twitter? Students must do same #edchat
kylepace   –  If e-learning for students isn’t a way to go, maybe e-learning PD for teachers to give more instructional time and less pull out? #edchat
EnglishProfi   –  @rliberni A longer school day/year would have to have more pay or more teachers. #edchat
evab2001   –  RT @ShellTerrell The problem with longer hrs is that children have less time with their families #edchat
iMrsF   –  RT @rliberni: How about virtual classrooms that offer options to kids/students after ‘school’? #edchat
cristinaluminea    –  RT @colonelb: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein #edchat

This is just a flavour. For the complete transcript see here

If you want stats on participation in #edchat see here

@hadleyjf  was participating with Grade 8 students and we look forward to her survey results on their opinions of #edchat (they liked the idea of 4 days of school followed by 3 days off and a shorter summer holiday)

@techmunoz  polled a middle school class (also watching – I think) and they preferred a longer day to changing the summer holiday

We also had some fabulous links provided – great information!

Links shared

socratech   –  Our charter network: http://www.kipp.org has been successful implementing longer school days: 7:00-5:00 everyday with Sat schools. #edchat
timesed   –  #edchat Much discussion in the UK has been about starting the school day *later* to suit teenagers’ body-clocks http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6018000
socratech   –  RT @PostSchools JAY MATHEWS school day is too short. If we’re serious about achievement, need more time. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/12/why_cant_regular_schools_expan.html#edchat
elanaleoni   –  The Race to Nowhere talks about the issues we’ve talked about on #edchat. You can request a screening 4 your school. http://www.racetonowhere.com/
kylepace   –  RT @socratech: Tracking An Emerging Movement: A Report on Expanded Time Schools in America #edchat http://ow.ly/JXh8
ShellTerrell   –  I also believe stdts need to spend time away fr desks! Here are some ideas http://prestwickhouse.blogspot.com/2009/12/step-outside-of-classroom.html#edchat
timesed   –  @nothingfuture #edchat – Some historians think the link between agriculture and the school year is a myth, anyway http://bit.ly/5BNkPa
MrR0g3rs   –  @ShellTerrell i agree. we should use stuff like this from @mrrobbo http://mrrobbo.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/a-kinesthetic-reading-adventure/#edchat
frankcrawford   –  @ShellTerrell #edchat Online PD available (professional development link) here. http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/journeytoexcellence/
kmadolf    – @misterlamb Exactly! “Not knowing how to apply the knowledge is no knowledge at all.” http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/11/why-i-prefer-canadas-education-system-world-ranking-or-not/ #edchat
TheoOliveira   i’m not sure if u guys know about, bu here’s go http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/summer2002/askcognitivescientist.html#edchat

New to Edchat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts!

More Edchat


If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.

What do you think makes an effective digital portfolio? Leave a comment!

December 8, 2009

My Edublog Award nominations

Filed under: Education — rliberni @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , ,

A bit of a ‘last minute Larry’ but at the eleventh-hour here are my personal nominations.

There is so much out there and the list of  educators producing valuable and thought-provoking content is growing so fast that it’s difficult to keep up!!

My Personal Recommendations for the Edublog Awards 2009

Best individual blog –  Shelly Terrell  Teacher reboot camp

Best new blog –  Teaching village 

Best individual tweeter  – Tom Whitby 

Best group blog – The Afghan Women’s writing project

Best class blog –  Writing4Business   

Best student blog – Marcus Brendel   Der Englisch Blog 

Best resource sharing blog  – Larry Ferlazzo 

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion  #edchat 

Best teacher blog –    Kalinago English

Best librarian / library blog – Bright Ideas 

Best elearning / corporate education blog  Sue Waters

Best educational use of audio – Sean Banville

Best educational use of video / visualRussell Stannard

Best educational use of a social networking service –  Heike Philp’s Virtual Round Table

 Best of luck everybody!!

December 1, 2009

Create a PLN

You may have come across this acronym which is being talked about a lot at the moment but if not, it stands for Personal Learning Network. This is a group of people with whom you have a connection and from whom you are able to progress your learning.   Many of  these networks are found on social media sites such as twitter but learning networks can effectively be anywhere. Your network might be at school or work or you may find them at a club or social group. You may have several networks all for different aspects of your personal learning development.

Your PLN can even be anonymous!!

I discovered a great new PLN last week ! I live on the outskirts of a small village in North Yorkshire (see my blog Fleetham Life) and last week I took my first ever ride on the local bus to the nearest town about 12 miles away and what a journey it was!!

For the first couple  miles we were just two passengers plus the bus driver.  After getting to the village a few more people boarded and then the information share began!

1.   First on the agenda was an update on the secondary school run and how the children had dressed up and one had left some money on his bus. He knew it was one of two children and had made arrangements for it to be returned by the evening driver!

  • Lots of good examples of conditional sentences here, narrative tenses and some modals too: She must have been worried.  If only I’d seen it before they all left.  The children had been told to dress up,

2. We then moved on to the local weather. Our bus driver/PLN moderator gave us the low-down on which areas had been flooded, which bridges and roads were closed and the local forecast in the coming days.

  • Present continuous for weatherIt’s raining in Thirsk. More modalsRichmond should be clear by this afternoon. FutureThe next few days will be fine.

3.   Next we had a few jokes just to jolly the journey along. These mostly from the driver but one or two ‘regulars’ joined in too! I was a lurker, listening and laughing.

  • Jokes can be very useful listening practice, do you get it? Do you understand the puns (check out Gapfillers joke section)

4.   The next topic of conversation was about a recent large lottery win and this sparked a discussion about ‘What I would do if I won the lottery’ I’m sure you’ve all done this exercise in class at some stage but here it was in real life!

  • Good uses of conditionals!!

5.   The next topic was about the local housing market – which houses had been sold, which were for sale, how much etc…

  • Great use of passive, That cottage was sold last week. Present perfects They have been trying to sell for 6 months.

6.   We just had time to discuss health and fitness before we reached our destination! The driver, it turned out was a bit of a jogger! Other people proffered their own preferred methods of keeping fit.

  • A lot of present perfectI’ve been …. for ….. use of the present simple for routines I run 5 miles every day.

This is all well and good you may say but what is the significance?

For me it was a true PLN giving me all the local news and information that might be important to someone living in the area. It was also a very jolly and enjoyable journey.

For learners – never under-estimate the value of any language experience (this could be on TV or online too). The use of language that you have learned in class in a real context reinforces it and you are also likely to pick up something new!!!

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