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How to Teach Giving Examples

Going beyond phrases such as “like” and “for example”.

Phrases like “such as”, “to use a well-known example” and “e.g.” are vital for supporting arguments in situations such as presentations, debates and academic writing (including IELTS Academic Writing Task 2). They are also useful for clarifying meaning. Unlike much functional language, it is well worth students having a good selection of phrases for this point, as it is often necessary to give lots of examples and good English style means not repeating yourself, particularly in writing.

Phrases that have the basic “for example” meaning include:

  • for instance, …
  • …, for instance
  • …, including(:) …

There are also many general expressions with the actual word “example”, including:

  • By way of example, …
  • If I can use an example, …
  • To give an example, …
  • I’d like to illustrate my point with an example
  • An example to show (you) what I’m talking about is …

It is also possible to use the verb form: “This is exemplified by …”

Then there are phrases that come afterwards to show that the things mentioned are not the only examples:

  • … among other examples.
  • … and other things of that nature.
  • … and so forth.
  • … and so on.
  • I could give other examples (but I think I’ve made my point).
  • I’m sure there are more.
  • Those are just a few examples.

At least as useful as the example giving phrases above are phrases that give more specific information about examples. Most of these can be categorised as follows:

Comparing with the previous example

  • A better example is …
  • A different example is …
  • A less clearly connected example is …
  • A less well-known example is …
  • A similar example is …

Mentioning how often the example is used

  • A common example is …
  • A well-known example is …
  • The most famous example is …
  • A much quoted example is …
  • A typical example is …
  • An example that is often used to illustrate this point is …
  • An obscure example is …
  • This is often illustrated with the example of …

Evaluating the example

  • Perhaps the best example is …
  • By far the best illustration of this is …
  • A great example is …
  • My favourite example of this is …
  • One of the best examples is …
  • The most obvious example is …

Numbering the examples

  • An additional example is …
  • Another example is …
  • There are many examples, such as …
  • To give one example of what I mean …
  • To give just one of many examples, …
  • Just one of many examples is …

Giving additional information about the example

  • A recent example is …
  • An example (that) you might be familiar with is …
  • An example from my own experience (which I’d like to share at this point) is …
  • An example which I often use is …
  • One example that I heard is …
  • One example that springs to mind is …

You could also present questions asking for examples and phrases that explain why an example is being used, such as “This is difficult to link to our real lives without the use of an example.”

Typical student problems with example giving phrases

It’s surprising how often students are unaware of the very common abbreviation “e.g.” or at least of the fact that it can used both in speech and in most levels of formality of writing (in common with other Latin abbreviations like “i.e.” and “P.S.”). Some try to use “ex.” in its place, perhaps influenced by “Ex. 1” for “Exercise 1”.

Other common problems include:

  • confusing formal and informal example giving phrases
  • confusing example giving phrases that start new sentences and those that continue the same sentence (a typical written example being “For example, the house next door.”)
  • a missing S in “one of the” structures, resulting in “One of the best example is”
  • mixing up e.g. (for example) and i.e. (that is)

If students are likely to want to write a list of examples, they might need some help with punctuation such as when to use a colon and the difference between commas and semi-colons in lists.

Students also often have problems with the collocation “give + example”. This is usually due to direct translation from their own language, making phrases like “make an example”. It is usually easy to clear up due to the meaning of “give” being fairly literal in this collocation.

Perhaps the main problem students have in production is overusing “for example”, which is an issue not only because native speakers try to avoid repetition as far as possible, but also because “for example” is neither as precise nor as persuasive as “Perhaps the best example of this is …” or “An example from own personal experience that I’d like to share at this point is …”.

Classroom practice of giving examples

From these examples we can see that just getting students to stop repeating themselves and to use longer phrases would be a start. For the former, you could give them an activity where lots of examples are compulsory or necessary and tell them to use different phrases each time. This can be done with one person in each group of three to five students monitoring, giving points and/or noting down different phrases used. Longer phrases should naturally come out of this once they have run out of short ones, especially if you emphasise that even a slight variation (e.g. using “To give an additional example” after someone else uses “To give an example”) counts.

Another way to get longer phrases out of them is to give them key words that they should compete in groups to make longer and longer sentences with. These should be words that are used in many sentences above like “example” and “give”. They can also be given less common words that are useful for making longer sentences to add to those words in the next stage.

All those kinds of key words can be used in a game while they are speaking too, by getting them to use phrases with the words that they have on their worksheets to be able to cross them off and score a point.

By far my favourite game to practise the language of giving examples involves one student giving more and more examples of one thing (using different example giving phrases each time) until their partner guesses what the category is. This can be from a list they are given or from their own ideas. This is great both for covering lots of vocabulary and for making sure they really understand the meanings of the categories. I’ve also used this for cultural knowledge (e.g. famous Australians they should know before they go to university there), and it could also be used for revision or before brainstorming something.

The opposite of that game (and something that could follow it) is for students to compete to give examples of something (as always using different phrases each time) until one person repeats an example giving phrase, uses a phrase wrongly, repeats an example of that thing or runs out of examples of that thing.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | July 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.

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