Go and Went Grammar Errors

Posted by Nancy Callan on 10 October 2013 | 0 Comments

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Anyone who has taught grammar in a beginner level ESL or EFL class knows that the speed and accuracy with which students complete grammar worksheets is only very weakly correlated with their ability to use the given grammatical structure later in their own speech.

Take the verb “to go” in a beginner class, for example. No matter how many times you have students complete worksheets where they determine whether to write go or went, when students speak, they tend to frequently forget to use “went” when speaking about past events. This might have to do with what Stephen Krashen called the order of acquisition. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that verbs in the students’ first language may not change form in different tenses.

I think the main reason is we generally use our ears to tell us when something is wrong, not our reasoning minds. It has to sound wrong before students will correct themselves. It’s hard for something to sound wrong when students at the beginner and lower intermediate level have been exposed to so little comprehensible input in the target language.

For the teacher, though, despite this understanding, it can be frustrating to observe these errors right after having taught the structure and had students practice it repeatedly in worksheets. When should you interrupt and correct? How many times? I think classroom signs can be helpful for this correction.

I use the following sign for GO and WENT when teaching the past tense.

I’ll put it up temporarily on the board when I’ve asked students to talk about where they went yesterday or last weekend. Each time they use “go” when “went” is required, I will tap on the sign. Pretty soon, I have the whole class calling out "went". They are hearing it, too, and students are starting to correct themselves.

Does hearing ‘I went to shopping’ over and over bother you? The second sign is one I leave up in the classroom. When I hear those sorts of errors with “go to”, I tap on this sheet. I refer to it frequently.

You are welcome to download either sign for use in your own classroom by clicking on the above images. Let me know how it works!


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