Daniel Barber is a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and the co-author of ETpedia Grammar. We asked him 10 questions about his writing process, his favourite grammar activity, and why teachers need this resource.
1. Who are you and what have you written for the ETpedia series?
I’m Daniel Barber and I’m one half of the team, alongside Ceri Jones, behind ETpedia Grammar.
2. Why do you think teachers need this book about grammar? After all, there are lots of other books on grammar.
Not like this there aren’t. Well, there haven’t been for a while, at least. When I started teaching in nineteen hundred and ninety three, I relied on methodology books by the likes of Penny Ur and Mario Rinvolucri to spice up my lessons. I found in them activities to help me lift the lesson off the page, provide a change of pace, inject some fun or simply create a communicative reason to speak and activate the grammar.
3. How is the book organised?
I think we’ve gone one better than these books of the eighties and nineties. We’ve exploited the ETpedia 10x50 format to make it easier than ever to find the perfect grammar game or activity for your lesson. Need a speaking activity to practice too and enough? It’s right there in Unit 15. We’re providing more support for teachers, too, with clear instructions, explanations of common difficulties, photocopiable activities and ideas for out-of-class practice.
4. How did you approach planning and writing ETpedia Grammar?
It was a really interesting process. At the start the thought of coming up with 500 activities (500?!) to teach and practise grammar seemed like a mammoth task. But the experience of writing with a partner, especially one as supremely proficient and experienced as Ceri, is that 1+1= more than 2, and that by bouncing ideas off one another, we realised that between us we had loads of ideas: things we’ve done many times in class ourselves, things we’ve heard other teachers talking about, things we remember observing on training courses, things in books…
5. What kind of teacher do you think will find this book useful?
Anyone actively and communicatively teaching grammar will have something to take from ETpedia Grammar. Back in the 90s I needed ideas for my lessons because I was inexperienced, but now, even having written this book, I’ll still refer to ETpedia when planning lessons. It’s the quick and dirty way of planning lessons.
6. What’s your favourite grammar activity in the book?
There are different ways of answering this question, aren’t there? Obviously we’ve made sure to include classics in the book such as Twenty questions for yes/no question practice and Alibi for the past continuous. Activities like this are popular for a reason. Then there are a couple of activities I’m proud of; I came up with a neat activity for the pronunciation of the possessive ’s, for example. There are activities which have a special meaning for me because they belong to people I know. A friend Steve is a wonderfully creative teacher who uses grammar to make poetry. I’m really pleased one of his ideas got in the book.
But actually the activities I like most are those that Ceri wrote which generate meaningful reasons to personalise the grammar. There’s one called Somewhere I go for presenting and practising indefinite pronouns. Students respond to statements like ‘It’s somewhere I go at the end of the day where everybody knows me and I feel happy.’ and ‘There’s nothing that makes me laugh more than this!’ It’s one of those activities that contextualises the grammar clearly and economically and acts as a springboard into a real and honest exchange of opinions and personal expression. What more can you ask for?
7. What’s one piece of good advice you’d give to an inexperienced teacher when it comes to teaching grammar?
Context first, context last. Students need to meet language couched in clear situations, whether real and practical or fanciful and imaginative; then they need to practise it by saying something meaningful. Please: no out-of-context sentences.
8. What did you learn from writing the book?
A grammar expert I am not, but teaching grammar is not just about knowing the nuts and bolts, it’s also about bringing grammar to life and providing space for learners to stretch their linguistic muscles in a fun, non-threatening manner. That’s what we learn through classroom practice.
9. What other ELT books have you written before?
I’ve co-written a couple of times before; once was with Duncan Foord. We wrote From English Teacher to Learner Coach, all about giving your classes a coaching twist. Other than that, I’ve written course books, work books, teachers books, supplementary materials, digital grammar resources for young learners, online lesson plans and magazine articles, and edited collections of short stories.
10. What’s your typical day like?
If I’m not walking the dog or taking the kids to school, I’ll be most likely writing a course book. Twice a week I teach English to a bunch of nine year olds at a local after-school school. A few times a year I’ll be away at a conference. At weekends, Ceri and I often get together with our families, friends and dogs for walks and meals around the Cádiz province, where we live.
ETpedia Grammar is out soon. Find out more or pre-order your copy today.