My Dream: English Grammar Learning Mooc

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Charles Voth
13 January 2013

English Grammar Learning Mooc

Tags: English Grammar ESL

Your situation (context)

I am a stay-at-home dad and a part-time college professor (adjunct) in ESL. I used to teach TESL pre-service. The college where I work uses Blackboard, and there is limited openness to blended classes, but as an adjunct I have no clout to move things forward. Grammar teachers in my department are still using materials and textbooks that are 20 years old, and our deptment just gave up 20 hours of computer lab time because the grammar teachers admitted to not using the labs for the grammar curriculum. I would like to branch out on my own and develop an online learning course that focuses on grammar for academic writing and presentation skills for learners who need to move beyond conversational English and email and basic anecdote composition skills.

The change you would like to see (challenge)

I hope to design an online pre-university (undergrad or post-grad) course for what some would call grammar therapy (unlearning the fossilized areas or moving beyond a few trite rehashed sentence patterns) and creative grammar analysis.

How you might go about bringing that change

I teach with a blended deductive/inductive approach focusing on lexicogrammar and collocations. I need to learn about platforms that I could use wherein I don't have to learn html5, etc, so that I can set up a course. I was thinking about Udemy. I also want to learn more about Learning Design because from what I've read so far, it's how I've always carried out my curriculum design, but now there's a nice term for it.

Extra content

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Briar Jamieson
2:30am 14 January 2013

Charles, I am following because I can't wait to see how this will be developed and excited that there might be a new resource to send my learners too! Thanks for taking this on. Briar

Mark Johnstone
6:28am 14 January 2013 (Edited 6:35am 14 January 2013)

Hi Charles,

This is interesting. I like your ideas of applying elements of Halliday's work to English "grammar" teaching. I agree, it is more about syntax than about minutae of arbitrary and perscriptive rules for "correctness". I teach English in Saudi Arabia and have been using this approach for several years and can see subatantive improvement in students' writing after only a few weeks' work

Two resources you may like to look at, if you haven't already found them:

  1. Functional Grammar for Teachers a Moodle course being developed by Alan Hess, who teaches English at a Swiss secondary school. I met Alan on the Systemic Functional Linguistics listserve hosted at Cardiff. I read that list sometimes but most contributors' interests are theoretical and not well suited to  my needs.
  2. Ed Vavra's KISS Grammar Site a very rich resource aimed at home US homeschoolers. Vavra teaches freshman composition at Pennsylvania College of Technology and has a background in modern languages (Russian). His method closely resembles Halliday et al but is not directly built on it. Since he's a teacher, not a theoretical linguist, his materials have a much more straightforward and practical tenor. The method is designed to enable students to make deliberate choices while writing and to explain those choices rationally. It is mostly focused on syntax. All materials are public domain, examples are all published prose, no canned or contrived stuff here. The materials are easy to use but the site is mid-90s frame based and challenging to navigate. I found Vavra on the ATEG (Assembly for Teachers of English Grammar) listserve. This organization is affilited with the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), the largest professional organization for English teachers in the US.

I looked at Udemy but was not impressed and suspect that they might claim ownership of what you build there and then charge you for using it.  Their "added value" will be an established clientelle ....  or so they will claim ... caveat emptor.

If you are comfortable using Blackboard, you can have up to five free courses on their public server. Sign up for that at    There are no apparent strings here. This is actually less fuss than Moodle, which you'll either have to pay for or administer yourself. I use Moodle because its open source. There is a steep learning curve though.

I'd be interested in working with you on this if you decide to use Vavra's method. I haven't found a good way to set up his mark up / analysis exercise protocol on line. Maybe you have some ideas?


Charles Voth
3:12pm 14 January 2013

Mark. Thanks for the links to the resources. I will spend some time tomorrow studying both links, Vavra's in particular. I see what you mean about Udemy. I've used Moodle before and have taken a stab at installing it and getting it set-up, but didn't spend too much time on it. I think it will be doable. The 5-free on Blackboard is encouraging. My dilemma is that without a full-time teaching job, at some point I need to figure out how to monetize this venture and if that is even feasible because of all the free options out there. Or I have to find an online institution that would hire me to teach only in an online environment so that I could work on this project while teaching, but I don't know of any other than University of Athabaska and University of Arizona, and they don't appear to have online EFL programs.

I'll comment on your dream over there.

Charles Voth
4:18pm 14 January 2013


Just saw this article by chance because of a link:

Alan Hess
6:23pm 16 April 2013

Hi Charles

You might be interested in recent developments on my '' site.  The FG Stories for Learning Webtexts can now be loaded on any SCORM compatible platform i.e. Moodle OR Blackboard.

The Webtext has a 'Lexical Density' report which students can use to improve their academic writing styles. There are video tutorials on using the system too.

Mail via site if of any use.



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