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Writing Advice for College Students

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Remember the 3 little piglets story? The last brother’s house stood because of its good foundation on which strong walls were built. The foundation is platform on which you build the rest. Foundation is important in any area of life, especially learning or language learning.

When learning a foreign language there will be some similarities with the native language but also major differences. For example, in languages different to English the verb to be does not exist or not to such an extent or there is no difference between Progressive and Indefinite tense. So how can you build this strong foundation for a student to excel in learning English, or some other languages?

One way to lay that foundation is through rhythm and rhyme. In English key grammar topics for non-native English speakers would be the verb to be,  Simple \ Indefinite tense, Progressive / Continuous tense. As the students will progress in learning their basics they will be laying foundation for other complex grammar points.

Let’s lay foundation using the verb to be and its matching pronouns. Just learning the list may be boring or something students are not used to. Why not learn it as a rhyme?

For students who struggle to remember the words it’s easier to learn a rhyme or a short poem than just a list of words. You can ask your students to rap it. Singing in a foreign language is considered important and helpful in learning. The tune will stay in students’ heads and so will the words which may lead to their independent play with language. Here’s this catchy rhyme to remember which pronouns go with various forms of the verb to be:

“I am,

You are,

He  is,

She is,

We are,

They are,

You are,

It is”.

Next step is to build upon it. Play games to use this structure. Who (if you have 2-3 students) or which team (if you have a bigger number of people in class) will come up with the most real life or craziest ending of “I am…” sentence? When students master that, you’ve laid foundations for a few English tenses. You can review this structure with various topics like: “jobs, occupations” (I am a builder, I am a fitness instructor, etc..), “feelings, emotions (I am happy, He is sad, etc.), “places in town” (I am at the bank, Greta is at the mall) and others.

Build on this basic structure (pronoun + to be) to form negative sentences and questions.

This technique may work with other languages, German for example.

Another foundation that has to be laid is Simple / Indefinite present tense in 3d person singular. Firstly learn the rule with a rhyme.

For example:

“I read,

He reads,

She reads too,

We read,

They read,

How about you?”

Use a verb that students know very well. If your students can, they may rap it. Then use any other verb in this structure and it will continue to rhyme.

Your students can compete which team will write most poems with this structure in 1-2 minutes. Creating little something in a language they haven’t mastered yet will be an encouragement, a chance to play and explore the language.

After this you start teaching them negatives and questions.

The verb ‘have’ proves to be a bit difficult in 3d person singular to non-English speakers.

Here’s a poem to teach, rap, and play with.

I have an apple,

He has an apple,

She has an apple too.

We have an apple,

They have an apple

How about you?

Use various games as provided above to teach this structure. It’s helpful when teaching any kinds of nouns on such topics as “food”, “fruit & vegetables”, “school supplies”, “pets”, “vehicles”, etc. the key is to change the noun in this rhyme.

You can use same technique in teaching Progressive / continuous tense to your students. Already at this stage students will be able to rip the benefits of learning to use the verb to be with correct pronouns.

The rhyme to use here is following:

I am smiling,

He is smiling,

She is smiling too.

We are smiling,

They are smiling.

How about you?

The key here is to change the verb. You can use “read”, “sleep”, “sing”, etc., instead of “smiling”. Also it’s possible to play “Tennis”, a game descried below.

While teaching any of these structures it’s possible to play a game of tennis. In this game one person or team (depending on the number of your students) calls out a pronoun and the other person or team provide a verb in the correct form. For example:

Student A: I

Student B: am smiling

Student A: He

Student B…


When to be and simple present are mastered you can give little quizzes where the pronouns are given in the mixed order (not like in the rhyme) and then they have to write the correct form of the verb with each pronoun. You can give them a little choice by telling to choose a verb from sports vocabulary or morning routine.

It’s possible to use these various structures when teaching one topic, ex “food and cooking”. Use rhyme with the verb “have” to review which fruit, veggies or other products use need to make soup or prepare breakfast. Use rhymes for Continuous / Progressive or Simple / Indefinite to show what you usually or at the moment do to make a meal happen. Possible verbs to use here are cook, bake, wash, etc.

Now how many times you remember a phrase or slogan just by seeing it a million times on the billboard, on a card, in the store window? So why not use same principle and make an educational visual?! These rhymes can be put on things student see every day: shirts, bags, water bottles, mugs and more. In fact it has been done for you. You can find some of these catchy rhymes on shirts. This is what you can find at

Things cost money, of course. So what to do if you want to buy a product from the shop and need extra funding? You can put it on your wishlist or share with friends.

You can tell your students about this opportunity.

If you’d like to reward a student maybe you can charge a small fee for speaking native language in class and fund with it a prize for the best or struggling student.

If you run a private school or work for somebody else then maybe your fee can include the cost of the product.

Have fun laying down language foundations.