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Word class: initial training sessions


This is an area which is tricky to approach on initial training courses because it is almost inevitable that you will find some participants, especially those who have learned English as a second or additional language and those who have had a more formal and traditional education, already know their verbs from their nouns and adjectives from adverbs.  Others will have a very tenuous grasp if any grasp at all on word-class classification.
Training sessions in this area have to cater to both sorts of people so it is often the case that it can be taught via tasks and in a workshop atmosphere, relieving the trainer of too much lecturing and talking about the topic.


The key ideas

Obviously, the names and functions of the basic classes of words will be the initial focus but you also need to bear gradience in mind and the slippery nature of many words which slide seamlessly between word classes.
The classes themselves are not entirely watertight, of course, and it is important to stretch those in the training group who need a bit more than just, This is a noun or This is an adverb.
With that in mind, here are the main ideas that form the focus of these worksheets and mini-tasks (and you may choose not to consider the item in brackets):

  • General word classes
    • open classes
    • closed classes
  • Function words
    • determiners
      • demonstratives
      • articles
      • possessives
      • quantifiers
    • pronouns
    • conjunctions
    • prepositions
  • Content words
    • nouns
    • verbs
    • adjectives
    • adverbs
    • (interjections)


Workshop tasks

Because of the variety of knowledge you are likely to find in any group of trainees regarding word class, the most productive approach is via workshop-style tasks to perform in small groups with plenary summaries interspersed to make sure everyone is keeping up.  With that in mind, here are three short tasks to start off.

Worksheet #1
This is a quick awareness-raising exercise.
Start with eliciting what people may already (vaguely) be aware of, namely that there are such things as nouns, adjectives, conjunctions and so on.
When you have established what a noun is, for example, ask each member of the group for two examples.  Once that is done, get people to work together and ask themselves how long the exercise could have been extended for.
It is, of course, virtually limitless because nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and interjections are members of open-class words to which we can add nearly infinitely.
If people are able to, elicit an example of a closed-class item such as a pronoun and get two examples of these from everyone in the group.
Now ask the same groups how long this could have gone on.  The answer is, of course that it is not limitless because determiners, pronouns, conjunctions and prepositions are members of closed classes with a finite number of members.
You will need to check that everyone has the right answers because the same examples are used in the next exercise.
There are four examples of 8 word classes so 16 in each category.
Worksheet #2
Before you do this, you will probably need to elicit or provide a little input regarding the 8 key terms (nine if you decide to include interjections).  It is important that the terms are known but the worksheet focuses on a more important issue: what the words do.
In the interests of simplicity some harm has been done to the truth.  Prepositions, for example, do more than refer to time and place but how far you want to refine the descriptions is a judgement call only you can make.
Worksheet #3
This exercise focuses on the need to see what a word is doing in context rather than trying to establish a word's class by looking at it.
A danger faced by many at the outset of their teaching is to jump to conclusions and mislead their learners.  Worse, they may encourage their learners to make the same mistake.
We are talking here about syntactical homonymy or categorical indeterminacy but those are terms with which you may not wish to trouble your trainees.
In the first exercise, the categories do not contain equal numbers.  Adjectives, because of their nature, are in the majority.
The second exercise acts as a revision and raises some awareness of where in sentences the various word classes can appear and how they may function.
Here's the key to the second exercise on this worksheet with some comment:
a compound noun formed from a prepositional verb (not a phrasal verb although at this level, the distinction is avoidable)
a verb in the past participle form which can also function as an adjective as in, e.g., a recently discovered planet.  It may be worth noting that undiscovered can only be an adjective because there is no verb to undiscover.
as soon as:
a complex subordinating time conjunction akin in meaning to when
a place preposition, part of the prepositional phrase at the office
a predicative adjective (in this case)
a simple causal subordinating conjunction
an adjective (not a participle because of the verb lay)
an adverb (not a preposition because it has no complement (or object, if you prefer)).  In this case, the adverb modifies the verb phrase lay scattered.
all the:
a complex determiner consisting of a predeterminer (all) and the definite article
a determiner (exclusive in this case)
an indeterminate pronoun
another indeterminate pronoun
a subordinating time conjunction
a preposition (not, in this case, an adverb as part of a phrasal verb, incidentally)
an amplifying adverb
an participle adjective derived from the verb
an adjective (which looks like an adverb)
a plural countable, generalised noun
a mass noun (in English)
had gone:
a verb phrase made up of a primary auxiliary and main verb forming a past perfect tense
an adverb modifying an adjective
a coordinating conjunction joining two nouns
an adverb of time (indefinite frequency, to be exact)
a pronoun standing for many nouns referred to in the text.  The pronoun often represents a number of items and is akin to stuff or things.
an adverb of time
More practice can be contrived by identifying the classes of other words in the text.



On a short, initial training course, you are unlikely to be able to devote future sessions to each word class in turn.
This means relying, at least to some extent, on people doing their own research in each of the word-class areas.  This will need some management to make sure people are looking for the right things so here's a final worksheet which can be used by dividing the tasks among the participants and then having a single workshop to share discoveries.
The first of these homework tasks focuses only on content word classes (adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs) because the assumption is that functional word classes are likely to be covered in a separate session (or more than one).

The second task focuses on personal pronouns only.  It can be done either as a homework task or as a mini-workshop task after you have presented the area.
It includes some consideration of possessive determiners.  Note that question 4d contains what some would aver is grammatically an error.


Related areas

This is a very wide area and there are guides to almost all types of word on this site.

Related guides
For trainees:
lexis for the index to the guides in the initial plus area on each word class
irregular verb list for a PDF formatted list of the most common English irregular verbs
For you (as a reminder of what you need to know)
lexis for the in-service index of the guides in this area
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms