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Dispel Your Students' Doubts with This ESL Lesson

written by: JKLlewthor • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 2/8/2012

Teaching the usage of the "neither, either and too" terms can be, in the opinion of a select few, too taxing. However, transferring the knowledge to your ESL students need not be an arduous process. This ESL lesson plan will engage your students and consolidate their grammatical knowledge.

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    In comparison to the relatively simple and straightforward process of teaching, say, the use of the word “some” in English, the use of the terms “neither” and “either” can be something of a grammatical war zone. Even relatively advanced ESL students and a handful of teachers will have to stop and think when using these constructions, as do a few native speakers! The following lesson plan enables students to differentiate for themselves between these two fiendishly similar grammatical terms, in addition to allowing them to engage personally with the subject matter. If there is enough time within the allocated lesson slot, there is also the opportunity to teach your students the nuances of the relatively simple use of the “too” term.

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    Learning Objectives

    As always, it is vital to enlighten your students as to the objectives of every lesson, so that they know exactly what they are going to learn and how they’re going to go about learning it. Gather your students together and begin with a quick brainstorming activity to see if any of them can grasp the fundamental difference between neither or either. Regardless of whether they can, stipulate that neither is used to deny both possibilities in a sentence, whereas either is used to differentiate between the two. A simple and condensed “yardstick” of sorts when deciding which one to use is the idea that either is referring to one object, whereas neither is referring to, effectively, nothing.

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    The Six Facets of the ''Neither-Either'' Terms

    Walk your students through the fundamental rules of these terms, with the assistance of a whiteboard. Split the board into two columns, titled “either...or” and “neither...nor” and then invite your students to provide simple sentences that illustrate the rule put into action. If this is the first time that they have come across these terms, it is unlikely that they will have many to offer, and this is where you come in. There are approximately three different ways to use neither and either respectively, and it is greatly helpful to students when these different rules are split into bite size, manageable chunks. Split the board up into six numbered sections, and then walk them through the following rules with examples:

    1. “Either...or” reflects a choice of two possibilities, i.e. either Mom or Dad will play football with you.
    2. “Either” can be followed by a direct object, i.e. either of them will be suitable, or either of us could help you.
    3. “Not...either” is used after a negative statement, i.e. Jack can’t play football. I can’t either. NB: This is also an effective way to “avoid” the use of neither, should it prove an issue with some students.
    4. “Neither” is the equivalent of “not...either,” It has simply been condensed into one word, i.e. neither of us can play football.
    5. “Neither” can be used informally, sometimes leading to confusion amongst non-native speakers, i.e. I can’t play football... Me neither. Stipulate that this is familiar and should not be used in writing, unless reporting speech.
    6. “Neither” can also be followed by a direct object, but the “or” is replaced with the negative form “nor.” i.e. Neither Mom nor Dad can play football with you.

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    The Usage of the ''Too'' Term

    This is also an excellent opportunity to incorporate the use of the “too” term in English by teaching phrases such as “those bananas are too expensive, or too ripe, etc.” Stress the fact that the “too” term is defining a quality as excessive, unnecessary and undesirable. Students generally get to grips with this term quickly, whereas the neither and either terms will of course take a little more time.

    At this point, it might be tempting to dwell for too long on the nuances of the “too” term, but it is unlikely that your students will come across many of them at this stage. Instead of bogging the minds of the pupils with ancillary knowledge, try to keep this section of the plan as condensed as possible. There will always be more time to go over any odd exceptions to the rule later.

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    Consolidation of Knowledge

    Now it is time for a simple, practical demonstration to cement the difference in the minds of your students. Grab some fruit, whatever you can find lying around at home, and place them on a desk in front of the students. Ask for a volunteer, who will pose as a shopkeeper in an imagined situation. If your students are as young as first graders, then perhaps you could give the lucky a volunteer an apron to denote his shopkeeper status, but this is simply to give the lesson a more light-hearted feel. You, the customer/teacher then ask to see the apples, bananas or pears. At this point, the “shopkeeper” shows you the items, and asks, “Which ones would you like?” This is where the knowledge of grammar manifests itself. Respond that you would like “either of them” or “neither of them” to our “shopkeeper” and then wait to see if he understands and hands you either one of the items, or does not hand you anything at all.

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    Summary

    Check with your students that everyone has grasped the concept, and then sum up the course of the lesson, with a reiteration of the difference between neither and either. It would be prudent to return to these terms briefly in a few days, just to confirm that the difference has been understood. By the same token, when the terms crop up in reading material during other lessons, one should make sure to draw attention to it, as this can also help consolidate knowledge.