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Action Steps

  1. Learn how to recognize the patterning of SUBJECTS, VERBS, and OBJECTS in English sentences.
  2. Learn how to recognize structures that more or less conform to SVO word order and those that deviate from SVO word order in various ways.
  3. In developing quiz and examination questions, avoid sentence structures that deviate significantly from SVO word order. Using simpler SVO structures (where possible) will help to ensure that students' errors will indicate lack of mastery of the content rather than an inability to understand the English structures contained in the questions.
  4. Review course handouts, assignments, and other curricular materials that you have developed. Keeping the language as natural as possible, revise the materials by replacing structures that deviate significantly from SVO word order with structures that conform to a greater extent to SVO word order. In order to maximize the use of SVO word order:
    • avoid, where possible, the VERB-ing forms that serve as participles and gerunds and that do not have explicit subjects;
    • avoid structures in which the main SUBJECT and VERB are interrupted by other elements such as relative clauses;
    • avoid questions and other WH-structures in which a WH-word or phrase has moved a long way from its logical position to get to the beginning of its clause.
  5. It is impossible to replace all difficult structures with simple SVO structures and still have natural English. A minimum goal would be to replace more complex sentences selectively so that students will have a greater likelihood of understanding course content.
  6. With textbooks and other published materials, assess their readability on the basis of how much the sentences contained in these materials appear, on average, to deviate from explicit SVO word order. Focus on select critical sections and paraphrase, in writing and class discussions, more complex passages using simpler English structures.
  7. Help students to improve in their English language knowledge by focusing, from time to time, on a more difficult structure that is encountered frequently in course readings. Help students learn to interpret the meanings of sentences containing such structures by paraphrasing the sentences using alternative, simpler structures. For example, if your materials have sentences like the following,

    While browsing the web, you might not notice secondary windows that pop up.

    You can paraphrase such sentences to help students understand who is the logical subject of the VERB-ing form browsing:

    While you are browsing the web, you might not notice secondary windows that pop up.

  8. If you've targeted a specific problematic structure encountered in your course materials, return to it intermittently as it is encountered in class readings and assignments. Reinforcing the understanding of a structure that occurs naturalistically in the context of course content will help students tremendously in their ongoing English language acquisition.