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TEFL Masterclass – Will You Or Won’t You – The Challenge Of Future Forms

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Neil Harris – Teacher Trainer & Director of Marketing at CELT Language School

Neil Harris started his career in ELT in 1993 after completing a CTEFLA with IH London. He quickly realized that language learning and teaching was his true passion. Neil has worked in a variety of roles in the UK and Italy, including as a teacher, Senior Teacher, EAP Lecturer, DoS, Teacher Trainer, Business Development Manager, and Director of Marketing. Currently, Neil focuses on developing online ESP medical English and teacher development programmes in his role in agent-based marketing and course development.

What you will learn

Will you attend the forthcoming Gallery Teachers Masterclass on future forms in English? Are you keeping Friday afternoon on September 15th free as a result? Are you going to use this opportunity to undertake some valuable CPD? Hopefully so! 

You may even have noticed how we have played with three ways of talking about the future to begin this introduction to our masterclass on future forms! In fact, if you were to ask learners or teachers of English which aspects of grammar provide the most challenge, it is likely that a large number would give the answer “future forms”. Futurity is a highly nuanced area of English grammar and all too often, speakers resort to the will future, perhaps believing that this corresponds more closely than in fact it does to a so-called future tense in their L1. The problem is that there is no future tense in English; instead English makes use of verb forms and lexical phrases to express subtleties of meaning. 

This workshop reviews some of the reasons why will is misused so frequently in this respect and then provides a brief demonstration of two contrasting future forms, in order to make some observations on how we can best approach this area of grammar. Come along, prepare to be challenged and enlightened – you will/are going to have a great afternoon! 

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Future Forms:

Neil Harris’s Masterclass focuses on the intricacies of future forms in English. This topic, while crucial, often puzzles educators and learners alike. He argues against the over-reliance on the word ‘Will’ and suggests that the way forward is to emphasise function and meaning over complex grammar rules.

Neil highlights that the term ‘Will’ is often overused:

Through various example sentences, he makes it evident that phrases such as ‘going to’ and the present simple tense may often be more appropriate. The overuse of ‘Will’ arises from misunderstandings, poor teaching methods, and learners getting stuck in erroneous ways, termed as fossilisation. Neil also brings attention to Michael Lewis’s assertion that English doesn’t genuinely possess a ‘future tense’, adding to the subject’s complexity.

Delving into Fixed Plans and Intentions:

Using visual cues and real-life scenarios, Neil emphasises the distinction between ‘going to’ (used for discussions or plans) and ‘I am + ING’ (for fixed plans). For effective learning, he recommends personalised student tasks centred around their future plans and appointments.

Prioritising Meaning Over Strict Grammar:

The overarching message is that teaching future forms should stress their function and meaning. By doing so, learners can more intuitively grasp the essence of the language. This notion of focusing on meaning over form resonates with the teachings of Richard Chin and Danny Norrington Davis. They argue that understanding why a speaker opts for a specific grammatical structure is more vital than just memorising rules.

The Debate:

Inductive vs Deductive Learning – The discussion touches upon two primary teaching methods: inductive and deductive. The former lets students derive rules from given examples, while the latter presents rules for students to practise subsequently. Despite the rising popularity of inductive methods, research suggests that beginners may benefit more from direct, deductive teaching, while advanced learners could leverage inductive techniques for better comprehension.

Teaching Tactics for English Futurity:

Neil stresses the importance of understanding the challenges tied to teaching diverse future forms in English. While a summarised approach touching upon meaning and form can aid experienced learners or educators, beginners need a more interactive experience. A blend of teaching in English and judicious use of students’ native language can prove effective.

Final Thoughts:

The key lies in prioritising meaning over form, ensuring clarity in context, and understanding the rationale behind grammar choices. The ultimate goal is to move beyond the mere use of ‘will’ and delve deeper into the language’s nuances.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. How confident are you in your own ability to express subtleties of meaning when talking about the future?
  2. How to encourage your learners (and maybe yourself) to venture beyond will as a way of talking about the future?
  3. How should we view meaning v form-focused presentations of future forms? 
  4. When and how can we make best use of inductive and deductive approaches to grammar teaching?
  • Aitken, R. (2002). Teaching tenses: Ideas for presenting and practising tenses in English. ELB Publishing.
  • Carter, R. and McCarthy, M., 2006. Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide ; Spoken and Written English Grammar and Usage. Cambridge University Press.
  • Lethaby, C,. Mayne, R, & Harries, P. (2021). An introduction to evidence-based teaching in the English language classroom. Pavilion ELT.
  • Norrington-Davies, D. (2016). Teaching grammar: From Rules to reasons. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English language teachers (2nd Ed). Cambridge University PressScrivener, J. (2010). Teaching English grammar: What to teach and how to teach it. Macmillan.

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