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In this section you will find lesson plans and/or linguistic essays that have been created by outstanding students in courses I have taught in the Bay Area, Egypt and South Korea since 1999.  These students already are or are soon to become teachers of English Learners (ELs) from the Kindergarten level up to advanced levels of adult ESL courses.  In every case, the writers have gone to the cutting edge of creativity in that fertile middle ground between the best of the field of linguistics and what is actually useful in the classroom.
Each lesson plan or essay will stem from one of the four main fields of linguistics (phonology, morphology, semantics and syntax) and will show the student’s thoughtful “placement” of the teaching process within one of these four fields.  Every EL classroom in the world has challenges or problems to address, and within these four fields, linguistics is capable of providing a framework of understanding as to how best to solve these challenges or problems.  Naturally, the four fields overlap with one another such that it would be rare to see only one of the fields at work in isolation. 
Please visit this page again as I will be adding new material from time to time.  If you have any questions or comments please contact me at the following email address:


Introduction to Ms. Kianidehkian's Lesson Plan
by Dr. West
It is well known that students must acquire age and grade appropriate control of English by the 3rd or 4th grades if they are to stay on track for mastery of English.  Concrete metacognitive language skills must be in place by these grades, or the child may begin to fall behind and may never be able to stay on top of the fast-moving expectations placed upon them by the educational process.  Children must quickly begin to acquire a genuine sense of confidence in their ability to traverse the “linguistic minefield” bordered by listening, understanding and speaking English at one end with reading and writing at the extreme other end.  The two sides of the minefield are two very different worlds, and in order to be effective teachers we must be able to guide our young students in a clear path of control to get to the other side.
The best way to build up this linguistic confidence in young learners is to begin with the relatively consistent connections between the sounds and the written symbols of English, and then to move on to more inconsistent patterns later.  Ms. Kim Kianidehkian does just this in the following lesson plan, building words using 2 vowels and 5 consonants.  Once children sense that they can begin to generate more knowledge of English from the patterns they already know, then they can start their “metacognitive engines” with which to face more difficult connections between sound and symbol, such as the pronunciation and spelling for laugh, answer, should, debt, through, rough, sword, etc.  It is crucial that children not become discouraged before they reach such words, and Ms. Kianidehkian is working through the very process that will maximize their confidence.  She has “placed” this learning process very well within a linguistic structure.


Phonemic Awareness for 1st Graders

by Kim Kianidehkian


Most educators agree that in order for children to achieve reading and writing success, they must develop phonological awareness.  Since successful, fluent readers can simultaneously process visual, syntactic and semantic cues while reading for meaning, my job as a first grade teacher is to provide direct, explicit instructions in phonics and phonemic awareness in order for my students to achieve this goal. 

Of course, one of the key components to getting my students to become fluent readers is to engage them in experiences that have meaning and use what they are learning in an authentic way.  In order to understand our rule structured system, students need an ever increasing vocabulary, knowledge of patterns that occur in words and strategies for solving words.  As Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Founas state in Word Matters, they need to become “word solvers.”  Eventually children must become able to do this in a largely unconscious manner so that they can concentrate on the meaning of what they are reading.

The following lesson is designed as a mid-year activity for first graders.  At this point in the year, most of the children are readers.  Though some may still be at the decoding level, many will be ready to see patterns in words and will be increasing their vocabularies daily.  Their writing skills are developing simultaneously.  As they become better readers, they also transfer that word knowledge to their writing.  In an effort to help this process, I use the “Making Words” approach to word solving in order to explicitly show the connections between words and the crucial element of letter placement in the construction of words.

Making Words


The teacher will determine what the final word in the lesson will be.  The teacher considers several factors such as number of vowels, letter-sound patterns, curriculum and standards, interest level of the students.  Once that determination has been made, the teacher then brainstorms a list 2, 3, and 4 (or more, depending on the ability level of the class) letter words that can be made using only the letters in the final word.  The teacher then narrows down the list to a size that is compatible with the age and ability level of the class.  The list is made of words that contain the concept that the teacher wishes to reinforce, such as letter-sound patterns, that will be sorted in the end.  The list should include words that use the same letters in different places to emphasize that words are different based on the placement of the letters and that changing the position of the letters creates a new word.

In order to make this a multi-level lesson, the teacher should include words that are short and long and that most of the children have in their listening vocabulary.  The final list of words are each transferred to individual index cards and ordered from smallest to biggest.  They are then further ordered to emphasize the letter patterns.  Make a list of the words, in the order that they will be presented, on the outside of an envelope that the cards will be stored in for future use.

Supplies Needed

Teacher:          Pocket Chart, Large individual letter cards, Word cards

Students:         Small individual letter cards; vowels, and consonants, designated by different colors, i.e. red vowels, black consonants.

Sample Lesson

Letters:             i   e  b  g  g  s  t

Words to
Make:                iit  sit  bit  big  beg bet

                            set get  bets  best  biggest


Sort For:            b  it  et

Teaching the Making Words Lesson

1.  The teacher places the letter cards that are going to be used in the pocket chart.  Students are designated to pass out each letter needed; one student per letter.  The teacher holds up each letter and reviews the name and sound of each letter.

2.  The teacher then holds up two fingers and states “we will be making a two-letter word.  The word is ‘it.’”  The teacher chooses a student who has made the words correctly to come to the pocket chart and make the word using the large individual letters. 

The teacher then continues the lesson by saying, “Let’s change one  letter in the word and make the word, “is.” Each time a new words is to be made, the teacher must give clues such as “Hold up three  fingers.  The next word will have three letters.  The word is ‘sit.’

Now change one letter and make the word ‘bit.’”  The process is repeated continuously, making three, four and five letter words until the class arrives at the last word.  The teacher then tells the student that they are going to use all six of their letters to make a new word.  

If the class is not able to figure out the word, the teacher can give clues such as “It has the word ‘big’ in it,” can eventually make the  word with them if they are unable to find the word “biggest.”

3.  To conclude the lesson, the teacher draws their attention to the word cards that are now in the pocket chart and the class begins sorting the words for rhyming words, words that end in ‘s,’ words that have the same beginning letter, etc.  The sorting is determined by the letter-sound patterns the teacher is emphasizing that day.

4.  At the conclusion of the lesson, the same students who passed out the letters collect them.


Making words is a multi-level activity because there are endless possibilities for word solving.  This type of lesson can be tailored to the needs of the whole class, or it can be used for small group instruction.  It is a versatile activity that can provide structure in short words for the lower level students as well as a challenge for the advanced students.  It includes explicit instruction that children need at this stage of their development by increasing their phonemic awareness in letter sound correspondence as well as spelling patterns.  It also provides the opportunity for students to discover the patterns in the way words are pronounced and spelled.  There are many areas of research that support the idea that once children can read and spell some words, they can use the known words to help solve new, unknown words.

Word sorting is also a powerful activity for developing spelling in these areas.  This lesson provides practice in all of these areas.  Ultimately this is a fifteen-minute lesson that children love.  Since the students actually manipulate the letters and see the transformation of the words, it addresses the different learning modalities as well. 

All children experience success while participating in this engaging activity and that is the ultimate goal.



Introduction to Mr. Brook's Lesson Plan
by Dr. West
There are very few grammatical rules in English that are truly consistent.  In particular, advanced ESL adult learners will point out inconsistencies and exceptions to the rules they have been taught.  We teachers must be prepared for this, and one way to do so is to become aware of secondary patterns that emerge when the first general rules break down.  This is precisely what Mr. James Brook is exploring in this lesson plan on the formation of the plural of compound nouns.
The inflectional morpheme –s is one of very few suffixes that are extremely powerful in the formation of correct grammar in English.  It is so widespread throughout the language that all students must and will learn it in an almost a second-nature manner.  Once they have learned it well, they may apply it too often.  When the inevitable pitfalls emerge, learners may be taken aback.  Mr. Brook’s lesson explores the secondary patterns which will allow learners to understand the sometimes surprising results that they must be able to create in order to gain mastery of English. 


Some Perils and Plurals of Compound Nouns

 by James Brook

A. Introduction

Learning to form the plurals of English nouns would seem to be easy enough. After all, in most cases you just add -s or one of its allomorphs as the last suffix to a noun (e.g., stop > stops, hand > hands, language > languages). The plurals of a few nouns must be memorized because they obey older, now forgotten rules. These include the seven nouns that require the Germanic vowel shift (analogous to the umlauting in Mann > Männer in modern German) and the three nouns that use the Anglo-Saxon -en suffix to form their plurals. (Of course, there are other, less common ways of forming plurals as well, which students will briefly review in the lesson.) Now, while the basic rule of adding -s (and its predictable Germanic and Anglo-Saxon exceptions) generally applies just as well to compound nouns, compounds do present – or foreground – at least two problems for even advanced English learners and native speakers alike: (1) They have to determine which part of the compound is to be inflected. (2) And they must determine the form of the inflection to be used. Native speakers usually do this work automatically and unconsciously.

This lesson – one of a series devoted to plural nouns – helps English learners solve both these problems in conscious, systematic ways.

To this end, the grammar of compound nouns is introduced along with the key linguistic concept of the head of a compound noun. This minimum of technical knowledge will help adolescent and adult students quickly analyze compound nouns and take some of the guesswork out of forming their plurals. (NB: This lesson does not address some even more difficult compound plurals, e.g., Greek and Latin plurals, long phrases. Nor does it address distinctions between count nouns and mass nouns.)

B. Lesson Plan


The plurals of regular and irregular compound nouns can be formed systematically without constant resort to guesswork or the dictionary. The grammar of the compound – the parts of speech of its constituents and the position of the head – reliably supplies the correct plural form. But some compound nouns present special difficulties because of their atypical formation – that is, they are headless.


By the end of this lesson, advanced ESL students will have reviewed the principal ways of forming noun plurals (presented in earlier lessons in this unit). They will be able to apply this prior knowledge to compound nouns by learning how to find and inflect the head of a compound noun. They will also know how to form the plurals of headless compound nouns and begin to understand more ambiguous instances of compound nouns. Understanding the grammar of compound nouns in English will help them understand how to form their plurals without guessing or memorizing. (A small, well-prepared class could do this lesson in a single one-hour period. But you may want to extend the material over two 45-minute sessions, with a break after Part III.)


I.  Introduce the problems of compounds and their plurals by presenting examples of compound nouns of several types: noun + noun (stone wall, baby blanket, rainbow), noun + verb (baby-sitter, can opener, screwdriver), adjective + noun (blackbird, greenhouse, cold cream), preposition + noun (overlord, underdog, underworld), verb + particle (breakdown, stakeout) (Celce-Murcia 55). Ask students to identify the parts of speech of the words making up each compound.

II.  Quickly review the principal ways of forming plurals of nouns (this is should merely be a refresher for the students and a bridge into new material):

               -s [s], [z], [əz] 

                books, bugs, buses


                0 (many animals)

                 deer, fish



 Irregulars (Anglo-Saxon, Germanic)

  children, feet

Note that some nouns in the first category also have an additional consonant shift: calf > calves, life > lives. If there is time, review the three Anglo-Saxon plural nouns in -en (children, oxen, brethren) and the seven Germanic nouns with vowel shifts (man > men, woman > women, foot > feet, goose > geese, tooth > teeth, mouse > mice, louse > lice) (Pinker, Words 51–52). (You may note that there are foreign plurals, especially Greek and Latin (e.g., bacterium > bacteria, criterion > criteria) (Crystal 201), which students should just look up (at this stage). Don’t open up the question here.)

III.  Ask students to pluralize the compound noun examples presented in Part I. Correct on the fly any errors they make, without explanation – the explanations will come later. Ask students why they added -s to the rightmost part of each compound. Now give them a few examples of compounds based on nouns that either (a) vowel-shift in the plural or (b) end in -en: (a) workman, superwoman, clubfoot, blue-wing goose, baby tooth, field mouse, book louse; (b) stepchild. Ask students to form the plurals. Here, it is more important that students understand the structure of the words and their plurals and less important that they understand their meanings. The main objective throughout this lesson is for students to learn how to apply rules and analysis.

IV. Introduce the concept of head – the rightmost word in a compound, which “generally indicates the category and general meaning of the compound” (Fromkin 547). Illustrate with this example from Pinker:

workman is a singular noun, because man, its head, is a singular noun, and it refers to a kind of man, not a kind of work” (Language 142). Ask students to illustrate this by identifying the head of each compound in Part I. Give the students a few contrary examples: notary public, court-martial, attorney general, passerby, right-of-way, mother-in-law. Where are the heads? How do we know? By reading the compound for its meaning as well as its structure. Ask students to form plurals of these words. In the process, inform them that two forms may be permitted, depending on social context – and contrary to the grammar of the word. Example: attorneys general / attorney generals.

V.  What is a headless compound? Teach by example: low-life (a person who leads a low life), still life (a kind of painting), sabertooth (an extinct tiger), tenderfoot (a novice), flatfoot (a police officer).

Analysis based on meaning: what appears to be the head (e.g., life, tooth, foot) is not key to the meaning of the word – and so cannot determine its inflection (Pinker, Words 143). Ask students to provide plurals – and to justify their choices. Nouns based on names are similar in that the rule of adding -s applies to them, too: Mickey Mouses (fools), Batmans (movies), the Childs (family) (145). 


A reinforcing game to involve the whole class kinesthetically. Make up a set of large cards – big enough to be seen by everyone – that show the elements of some of the compound nouns discussed in the lesson (e.g., rainbow, can opener, underdog, superwoman, baby tooth, still life, mother-in-law). Put each element on a separate card and color code the cards so that it is easy to assemble the compounds. (For example, the two cards for super + woman are in red; the cards for still + life are in green.) Make up a second set of cards that includes the principal plural inflections (-s, -en, “vowel shift”). 

Play the game in two moves: (1) Students holding compound cards move to assemble viable compounds (with the class offering suggestions and critique). Call on students to read aloud the singular forms of these compounds.

(2) Students holding inflection cards move to make the assembled compounds plural (again, with the class offering suggestions and critique). Call on students to read aloud the plural forms of these compounds.


Students will collect 8–10 compound nouns from their conversation, their reading, and the media and analyze them. These examples should include at least one instance of each of the types presented in Part I. And they should include headless compounds. Students will identify the following components of each compound noun: (1) the part of speech of each word making up the compound, (2) the head of the compound (if any), (3) the basic meaning of the compound, (4) the plural of the compound. They will share these with the class at the next meeting.

C. Conclusion

In this lesson, students build on what they already know about forming plural nouns in English to extend that knowledge to understanding how compounds are constructed – in order to gain confidence in forming the plurals of compound nouns. The knowledge itself is empowering and gives students greater ease in the written and spoken language. But students are also encouraged to adopt a systematic, rules-based approach to the language conundrums presented – which is a valuable approach to language learning in general, especially for ESL learners, who do not yet have well developed “intuitions” about what “feels right” in English. For a time, they must do consciously what native speakers do unconsciously (and sometimes badly). This analytical approach reduces the amount of memorization of “special cases” and enables students to handle better new compounds (whether just new to them or newly coined).

D. Works Cited

Celce-Murcia, Marianne, and Diane Larsen-Freeman (with Howard Williams). The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1999 (2nd edition).

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997 (2nd edition).

Fromkin, Victoria, et al. An Introduction to Language. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007 (8th edition).

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: HarperCollins, 1995 [New York: William Morrow, 1994].

———. Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. New York: Basic Books, 1999.


Syntax – Using a Syntactic Tree Diagram in English-Korean Translation

   by Philip Johnson

Dr. Steven West's linguistics class at Gyeongsang National University, Seoul, South Korea, August, 2005

   This paper is available for download by clicking on link below. 




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