The Subject Complement

There was a debate among some teachers on Facebook last night about the sentence “I am too tired.” The initial question was why is ‘too’ considered an adverb? But this quickly turned into a debate about the word ‘tired’.

Usually if I disagree with what others are saying I’ll offer my opinion and then step back. Life is too short to spend it arguing with people I have never met when I could be spending the time with people I love. This time I can’t do that because I’m worried by the number of people teaching their classes that ‘tired’ is a verb in this sentence. It isn’t. It’s an adjective.

There seems to be two main reasons for the misconception. One is that people were confusing the adjective ‘tired’ with the past participle of the verb ‘to tire’, which is also ‘tired’. The other is that many people believe that adverbs only modify verbs.

The second is easy to sort out. Check out any English grammar book, or just Google ‘adverb’, and you will discover it’s a word which can modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb. And the first? Well, as languages are my passion, let’s look at some foreign languages first, and then let me take you on to a journey into the unknown.

If you want to say ‘I am tired’ in French, as a man you would say, “je suis fatigué” and as a woman you would say, “je suis fatiguée”. The extra ‘e’ is because the word for tired is an adjective and in French adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun. It’s the same in Spanish with estoy cansado / estoy cansada, where the final letter changes depending on whether you are a man or a woman – because it’s an adjective, and adjectives have to agree with the gender of the noun. If I want to use ‘fatigué’ as a past participle, eg I tired my dog (by walking him too far) I don’t even use ‘suis’ (am) as the auxiliary verb, I used ‘ai’ (have): ‘j’ai fatigue mon chien…..’

Ok, French and Spanish are romance languages and English is Germanic, so let’s look at German too.
I am tired: “Ich bin müde.”
I tired him out: “Ich habe ihn ermüdet.”
They use ‘habe’ (have) not ‘bin’ (am) as the auxiliary verb and adjective ‘müde’ and past participle ‘ermüdet’ don’t even have the same form. Hopefully this helps to explain that even though in English ‘tired’ can be both an adjective and the past participle of ‘to tire’, context is everything!

If you’re still not convinced, then come on that journey I promised you – a journey to the land of the subject complement.

A subject complement is the noun, adjective, pronoun or preposition that follows a ‘linking verb’, ie the verb that links two things together. Examples of linking verbs are ‘to be’, ‘to seem’, ‘to become’ and ‘to feel’.

In the sentence “I am tired”, ‘I’ is the subject, ‘am’ is the linking verb and ‘tired’ is the subject complement – in this case an adjective. If the example sentence had been ‘I am here’ or ‘I am a girl’, I doubt that anyone would be arguing that ‘here’ or ‘a girl’ were verbs. Imagine the example had used a different adjective, eg “He is angry.” “She is sweet.” I would be surprised if people had argued that ‘angry’ or ‘sweet’ were verbs.

Let’s try putting that ‘too’ back into the sentence as that seems to be the word that caused the confusion. “I am too angry to listen to you.” “She is too sweet for her own good.” “That shade of red is too gaudy for my taste.” It’s quite clear in these sentences that ‘angry’, ‘sweet’ and ‘gaudy’ are not verbs.

“I am too tired to continue this argument.”
‘I’ is the subject,
‘am’ is the linking verb,
‘too tired to continue this argument’ is the subject complement, which is also an adjectival phrase
Since ‘too’ tells us more about the adjective ‘tired’ it’s an adverb.

I hope this has helped and that you now feel more confident to teach your classes. Oh and be happy that ‘subject complement’ isn’t (yet) a grammatical term that Year 6 need to know 🙂

Why MFL is good for children with SEN

A few days ago I read something that made me really angry. It was an article written by a parent about how the education system is letting her children down. At first I was sympathetic, and found myself nodding along with what she was saying. I agree that the education system isn’t perfect. I agree that sometimes, some children slip through the net and don’t get the help they need. But then she used the words that are guaranteed to infuriate me: “What’s the point in making them study French when they can’t even read and write English?”

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this attitude, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it makes me cross and it makes me sad. I’m an MFL specialist so maybe I’m biased, but I can see plenty of reasons not to withdraw children from MFL lessons – including and especially those with learning difficulties. Let me explain….

What do French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch have in common? That’s right…they are all languages. So is English, so already we have identified something that English and whatever foreign language the child is studying have in common!

As languages, French, Spanish, German etc use grammar – just like English. And so here is my first reason for not withdrawing a child from their MFL lessons: in MFL we talk about grammar. We use words such as noun, verb, adjective, definite article, preposition….all the words the child is being taught in their English lessons are being reinforced in their MFL lesson. If they didn’t understand it first time, here is a golden opportunity to go over it again, in a different context. In MFL lessons we talk about the fact that verbs change their endings depending on who is doing them, and compare this to English “I look, you look” but “he looks”, so again there is more reinforcement of grammar. We talk about the different tenses and when to use them, and we look at how to structure a sentence and guess what…..we compare all this to English too. We look at similes and alliteration. We practise dictionary skills. In MFL, more than in probably any other lesson, we reinforce what they are learning in their English lessons.

It’s not just grammar that MFL helps with; it’s spelling too. In MFL lessons we look at spelling patterns and we talk about which ones are similar to English and which ones are completely different. More importantly, we think about how to remember the spellings of the words, and these techniques can be transferred to their English lessons.

It’s not just their English that benefits. When we learn how to count in a different language, or how to tell the time, we’re reinforcing their maths. When we look at countries where that language is spoken we are reinforcing their geography. The children study the culture of those countries (PSHE and RE), investigate the rhythm of language (music) and perform role plays (drama).

The other important thing about language – all languages – is that they are a means of communication. It isn’t just about reading and writing. Communication also involves speaking and listening, and we do plenty of that in MFL lessons. Just because a child struggles to spell, or to hold a pencil, doesn’t mean that they can’t excel at speaking, and just because a child finds speaking and listening difficult doesn’t mean they can’t do well with reading and writing. Last year I taught Spanish to a child who had several learning disabilities including dyslexia. He found writing difficult, but he really got the concept of adjective agreement and was able to show his understanding with the way he pronounced words when speaking, and he was really proud of his achievement. I’ve taught French to Deaf children because the school believed that they should have the same opportunities as hearing children. Some of them found it difficult, but some of them did really, really well with it. What a shame it would have been for those children if they’d been pulled out of language lessons because somebody decided it would be too hard for them.

My dream is for more people to take this attitude. To stop saying “What’s the point?” and to start saying “Why not?” Because maybe, just maybe, MFL could be the one subject the child excels at.

Addition 17-08-16
I came across this article recently, which gives a few more reasons: Why foreign languages have a place in autism education

Grapefruit Grammar

A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a lesson on adjectives, in preparation for the children writing a poem later in the week. The plan I’d been given said “have a selection of different coloured items at the front of the classroom and get the children to describe them.”

First item up was a grapefruit. Now the children in this class are all EAL, and having just come back from a long summer holiday, none of them have been using English for several weeks, so this task was difficult. After pair talk and group discussion, they had come up with…… “yellow”! There the word sat, all alone in the middle of the board.

I managed to get them to add a few more to it by giving them choices: Does it feel rough or smooth? Is it heavy or light? Hard or soft? Warm or cold? “Yellow” was slightly less alone on the board, but we still weren’t awash with ideas.

In desperation I asked the TA if she could find a knife, and we cut the grapefruit into chunks and handed it round. Luckily it was a small class so everybody had a bit.

Suddenly the classroom was exploding with ideas. “Oooh, this is sour,” said one child screwing his face up.

“I like it – it’s juicy!” said another.

“It’s wet inside. I thought it would be dry.”

“It’s delicious.”

“My mouth feels funny – it’s all tingly.”

“Please can I wash my hands, Miss? They’re sticky.”

The board filled up really quickly – in fact I ran out of space – which just goes to prove that well-known rule. If you want to inspire children, bring food into your lessons.

 

 

Literacy in a School for the Deaf

Lessons are taught in a mixture of English, SSE (Sign Supported English) and BSL (British Sign Language) depending on the subject being taught and the needs of the class.

Literacy lessons are very visual. Just like in a mainstream school, teachers make use of cartoons and film clips to stimulate writing – the only difference is that here they  have to stand at the front of the classroom and interpret the film.

Independent activities are the same as ones you would see in a mainstream school: sequencing activities from film stills, comparing and contrasting two settings from a film and writing a word or sentence about them, drawing and labelling a superhero. The younger children copy words from a mini whiteboard (lower ability) or find the words they need in their own wordbooks. Older children write by themselves, asking for spelling as required. Words are recorded in wordbooks in writing (for spelling) and with a picture of the relevant sign (for recognition and understanding).

The children are also taught sentence construction, just as they would be in a mainstream school. They begin in the lower years by identifying the subject, verb and object and constructing simple sentences like “Jack plays ball”. Those children who have been brought up in a BSL household need practise with this order as it is different in BSL (which has the object first, then the subject then the verb). Each word is colour-coded, and the children have coloured cards blu-tacked to their tables to help them remember English word order.

Higher up the school they will come across words such as “a”, “the” and “is” – all tricky words for deaf children because they just don’t exist in BSL.

Many deaf children find it hard to understand that a thing (not just a person) can be the subject of a sentence, so this is something else that is covered in grammar lessons: The teddy bear is old. The ice-cream is cold.

Further up the school they learn how to use connectives, but again in a very visual way – for example pictures of various objects to choose one they like and one they don’t: I like ice-cream but I don’t like carrots. Connectives are also colour-coded, and those children that understand how to use them have the relevant coloured cards blu-tacked to their desks to help them order words correctly.

Related posts: Phonics in a School for the Deaf   Numeracy in a School for the Deaf xx

The Language Show Live 2012 – What I learnt from Helen Myers

Helen Myers gave a run-down of her favourite language learning ICT tools.

Subscription ones

  • Linguascope: I’ve tried this one myself, and personally I don’t like it, but I know that other MFL teachers love it. What I didn’t realise, that I learnt from Helen Myers, is that once you have paid your subscription, you can use their images in your own resources within the school.
  • Task Magic: I’ve never used this, but it looked quite versatile for creating games – and unlike some MFL software which is biased towards learning vocabulary and set phrases, this one can be used for practising grammar, such as conjugating verbs, as well.
  • Vocab Express: this looked like a good way to help pupils learn vocabulary. There are pictures and audio to go with the written words to aid memorisation. While they are revising, pupils can group the words in any way that makes sense to them, which I think is a great idea. It has automated tests for blocks of words, which means you can set vocab tests to be done in individual learning time and free up lesson time which would have been spent of tests teaching instead.
  • Euro Talk: not much was said about this one, and after looking at the Euro Talk website I still can’t work out how useful it would be. If anyone has used this, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Free Ones

  • Mylo: I’ve tried this since the show. You can just go to the website and start playing, or sign up for an account to earn points that you can spend on styling your avatar.  I tried a few activities and found it…how shall I put this?….boring. I thought the graphics were odd at best and extremely confusing at worst (a cube wearing 3D glasses and holding a tub of popcorn to represent “brother”). It’s possibly useful for reading and listening activities, but over the Language Show weekend I saw ICT used in so many new and exciting ways that I was underwhelmed by this one. Having said that – it is free so you have nothing to lose by trying it yourself.
  • Quizlet: I’ve tried this since the show as well. This has a few different types of activity, from flashcards to race against the clock games.  I liked the variety and I can imagine younger children would enjoy some of the games. My only criticism would be that there are no visuals, and I think for some children (and adults!) having a picture alongside the word is an important part of learning new words.
  • MS Office, Windows Movie Maker and Audacity combination: The end product of using a combination of these three tools was a really professional looking video which could be used for introducing or revising vocabulary. It looked quite a time-consuming process, and over on the iPad stand the demonstrator showed how children could create a really similar end product on their own in about 30 minutes. However, if you don’t have an iPad and you do have time to invest then this process would definitely be worth looking into. It involved creating a PowerPoint presentation for the words and pictures, and then combining these pictures and music to make a video. The one they showed had vocabulary for clothing, but they suggested it could also be used for songs, poems, raps, recording news items and modelling conversations.

To see how their school is using ICT in language learning pay a visit to www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk

Have you used any of these suggestions in our own classroom? If so what do you think of them? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

For language teaching and tuition from beginner to GCSE, visit my website www.sjbteaching.com.

Related posts: The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Rachel Hawkes
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Isabelle Jones
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from everyone else
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