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#2 / What comes first? / natural order hypothesis


To goal of this article is to help students understand that elements of language are acquired in a predictable order, which cannot be changed by study. For example, the present continuous verb tense is acquired before the rule for the rule for the third-person singular present tense (adding the "s").

At first it may seem that this is more important for teachers to know than students. However, it does help students in two ways:

  • It helps explain why they continue to be frustrated by certain elements of language -- like the third-person singular simple present verb form, which requires the added letter “s” -- even after they have studied them, because they are acquired late in the acquisition process.
  • It provides encouragement for students, because it helps change the way they think about "mistakes." Most of the “mistakes” that frustrate them will simply disappear as they continue to acquire more language through additional comprehensible, or understandable, input (see #4 below).

Ideas for Teaching

  • It would be appropriate to teach these concepts in the students' L1 for classes with low English L2 proficiency.

Into (before)
Through (during)
  • Do as a teacher read-aloud. Stop as appropriate to (a) clarify vocabulary or ideas and/or (b) to "think aloud" about the ideas, expanding them, applying them, etc.

Beyond (after)
  • Ask students appropriate questions to check comprehension.
  • Engage students in a summarizing (not retelling) discussion, saying it again in their own words.
  • Use Think/Pair/Share (TPS), Write/Pair/Share (WPS) to answer and discuss, "How can I personally use this information to improve my English?"