The best example sentences for learners
Having the best example sentences makes a huge difference for learners whose goal is to be able to communicate well.
So what makes a good example?
Examples need to match the learner’s goals. And a good example is one that helps the learner achieve this goal.
Traditional Example Sentences
Traditional English grammar seems to basically work this way:
- Goal: Learners use English well. To do this they need to form sentences that are considered grammatically correct.
- Starting point: Rules. Rules are provided for to show the correct form and when these sentences should be used.
- Result: Example sentences support the rule. Learners make sentences that follow the rule. So, they become familiar with how to use the grammatical feature in that particular situation.
But is that what learners need? Forming grammatically correct sentences is great, but does it really need to be the main goal of grammar teaching?
The Best Example Sentences
To get better example sentences, we need a goal that reflects the main goal of the learner, and to reconsider where we start.
- Goal: Clear communication. Learners need to understand other people and be understood.
- Starting point: Examples. Learners are provided with a range of example sentences that show how people often use the structure.
- Result: A range of example sentences based on communication in real-life. Learners see what the uses of the grammatical form have in common. So, they better understand the meaning that it adds to sentences.
The best example sentences cover the full range of uses
Examples based on rules only cover the limited range of uses that the rule covers. Learners only receive part of the data they need to understand the underlying meaning. When they have a fuller range of data they can make better guesses about what the parts mean. As they get exposed to more examples, they continue to develop their understanding of what each grammar point means.
But a lot of limited examples early on may give them a false sense that the language is always used that way. They learner may make false predictions about what that part of language actually means.
Learners are trying to makes sense of the language they are learning. Through exposure to a wider range of examples, they can get a better idea of what the words mean. This help them understand others better. And when they are speaking, choosing words based on what they mean will help them communicate their ideas more clearly.
Teachers don’t need to present the full range of uses at once. It can be overwhelming for learners. But the main uses can be useful for learners to start making deductions and a teacher can have the other examples up their sleeve to help guide the student to forming a clearer understanding when they are ready.
Any explanation is approximate
No explanation can fully describe all the ins and outs of how something works. But what an explanation can do is get people thinking on the right track.
Grammar rules often aim to state the “correct way”. The rule is explained, but there are exceptions to this rule and explanation because fully explaining how something works is practically impossible. The rule is the knowledge to be learned, the examples support the rule. But often the rule fails to capture how everyday people use the language naturally.
Another approach is to start with the best example sentences that capture how people use the language naturally. Natural sentences are the knowledge to be learned. And resources can support these sentences with explanations that makes the examples easier to digest. The explanation can provide a simple framework for conceptualizing the grammar.
The best grammar books
With most grammar books, the examples are what really help the learners understand how to use the grammar point. So where these examples come from and the reason they are there is very important.
If the learners goal is to learn the rule, the examples in the book should show them sentences which follow the rule.
If the learners goal is to communicate in the language, the examples in the book should show them how people use the language in real-life.