Of all of the courses at our school, Intermediate 1 (I1) is the most unique. There is, quite literally, one piece of new grammar and it is a piece that they all already know anyway, past perfect. It is a course of complete grammar review so the exercises in the book reviewing grammar are very easy, but the vocabulary jump from our Pre-Intermediate 2 (P2) materials to I1 materials is vast. So while students are bored by the grammar, they’re intimidated and frustrated by the vocabulary.
I’m not going to break this course down for you week by week because all it would say is review present tenses, review past tenses, review future tenses.
In the hands of the wrong teacher, this can be the absolute worst class ever. It is a complete repeat of Pre-Intermediate 1 and P2 jammed into half the time with vocabulary such as: porter, his royal highness, lavish, self-mutilation, revulsion, revenge, avenge, municipal, aromatic, open-plan and petite.
I generally teach this class with the following format: basic review of the grammar topic, an exercise or two to make sure they get it, a reading that uses the grammar point and introduces 50 new words, and speaking prompts, encouraging speaking skills, but more importantly thinking in English.
As students reach this level, they know all of the grammar they need to have conversations. They need to speak. They need to hear their own voices and be corrected on repetitive mistakes. From P2 to I1 is where students either get stuck in their speaking or progress into language learners that have confidence.
For the right student, I1 is the absolute best course offered; for others, the absolute worst. The last I1 class I taught was a class of five regular attendees. Three of them had impeccable grammar, self-correcting and seldom getting any questions wrong. Two of them had good grammar, but they still made common mistakes. One of the impeccable grammar students wanted more grammar and no speaking. She didn’t do well in my class. She was continually frustrated by the difficult vocabulary and bored by the easy grammar. The other two with impeccable grammar loved the course. They talked non-stop for six weeks and from the time they walked into my door to the time they walked out six weeks later, they’re speaking had jumped from an I1 level to an advanced level. They embraced the speaking prompts and the new vocabulary, using it as frequently as they could in conversations.
The two who were a little less good were not shy about speaking and let their voices be heard and while their speaking didn’t catch up to the others, their grammar nearly did.
As a native speaker, the way we can tell if grammar is correct is by using our ears. If it sounds right, it is probably right. If it sounds wrong, it is probably wrong. When you don’t speak, you can’t use your ear to correct your own grammar. As these two kept speaking, they began to use their ears more in grammar exercises. They’d say sentences out loud and be able to say, “That sounds wrong.” Then fix their mistakes.
With a good group of students, willing to speak and accept the vocabulary challenge, I1 is a great course. With a group of students who are focused on grammar, it is the worst course at our school. I’ve only taught this course three times and was blessed with enough students who were interested in speaking to make each class interesting.
Sadly, the exam is really difficult. Despite the fact that there is no new grammar, the exam is simply so comprehensive that students have to recall everything they’ve ever learned in this exam. Typical scores are in the 70s. My favorite student of all-time got an 89. She’s only 15 and has a lot of potential.