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PROFESSIONAL PAPER

GRAMMAR PRACTICE ACTIVITIES


Contents

Grammar Practice Activities


Introduction ..................................................................... 3
1. Guidelines ................................................................... 4
1.1. Success orientation .................................................. 4
1.2. Heterogeneity .......................................................... 4
1.3. Interest...................................................................... 5
2. The task ....................................................................... 5
2.1. Clear objective ........................................................ 5
2.2. Active language use ................................................ 6
3. Interest ........................................................................ 6
3.1. Topic ....................................................................... 6
3.2. Visual focus ............................................................ 7
3.3. Information gaps ..................................................... 8
3.4. Personalization (Involving the personality) ........... 9
3.5. Entertainment ......................................................... 10
4. Learner activation ...................................................... 11
4.1. Reception with minimum response ........................ 11
4.2. Teacher-student exchanges .................................... 14
4.3. Student-teacher exchanges .................................... 14
4.4. Brainstorm .............................................................. 14
4.5. Chain ...................................................................... 14
4.6. Pairwork (Fluid pairs) ............................................ 15
4.7. Group discussion ................................................... 15
5. Performance of grammar practice activities
in the classroom ........................................................... 16
5.1. Supplementary materials ...................................... 18
Conclusion ................................................................... 21
References ................................................................... 23

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GRAMMAR PRACTICE ACTIVITIES

INTRODUCTION

There have been many dilemmas regarding necessity for elaborate planning
of the foreign language study process. The idea that the process should
follow “natural learning“ and thus avoid preparing the programme of study,
consisting grammar as one of its essential parts, was very popular for a
while. It turned out that going to extremes in either direction would not lead
to the satisfactory result of any foreign language study course. However, the
learning of grammar has not regained its traditional position as a key part of
the learning process; it is now considered one of the means of mastering a
foreign language.

It is a broadly accepted opinion that grammar learning involves 4 phases:


• presentation
• isolation and explanation
• practice and
• test.

During the first stage, the students perceive the grammatical structure, both
orally and in writing.

Isolation and explanation imply focusing on the structure itself, regardless of


the context.

Grammar practice is considered the essential stage of grammar teaching


process. It aims for thorough acquiring of the grammatical structure and
transferring it into students’ long-term memory.

The fourth stage is supposed to provide both the teacher and his/ her
students with a reliable proof of the progress they have made during the
course.

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This stage implies that the language material has already been introduced
during the first two stages. Its function is to make students confident in using
it. One of the most common mistakes that a teacher can make is to omit the
presentation, i.e. introduction and thus make practice activities ineffective
and incomprehensible.

1. Guidelines

There are certain rules which a teacher should follow during this stage
adapting them to the specific requirements of each task and each group of
learners.

1.1. Success-orientation

This aspect of the learning process sets some demands on the part of
teachers’ general attitude toward their students as well as the essence of the
acquiring process. They should be able to harmonize the necessity for
building up self-confidence in each student and an encouraging atmosphere
with keeping up a constant challenge of aiming for better results and
creating a competitive spirit in the classroom.

This demand is related to a very delicate problem of correction techniques


which should not by any means hinder learning process. A teacher could
solve this problem by correcting an error in a number of implicite and
inobtrusive ways, such as facial expression (surprise, raised eyebrows);
gestures combined with facial expression (worried look and hands
outstretched to “hold“ the sentence – you will not let the class move on until
they deal with the sentence you are holding); finger correction (hold on to
the “error“ finger, e.g. the second word); repeating the sentence up to the
error (e.g. They looked for a ........?); drawing a time line on the board;
indicating which word is the problem (e.g. He ...............?) or writing the
problem sentence on the board for discussion. 1

None of these techniques should in any way undermine students’ self-


confidence.

1
Harmer, Jeremy, Teaching and Learning Grammar, Longman, 1986, p. 112

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1.2. Heterogeneity

This feature implies practice talks which may be done at various competence
levels.

A “homogeneous“ exercise is not suitable for all students – it may


discourage both those who will find the task too difficult ant the more
advanced ones (those who need to be challenged i norder to be motivated
enough).

A typical example of such an exercise is a multiple choice exercise:

• If you ever were in trouble, I would give you all the help you needed.

A) will B) shall C) ought D) would

On the other hand, a “heterogeneous“ task should present a model sentence


which may be creatively varied by the students:

Student A: If you were ever in trouble, I would give you all the help you
needed.
Student B: What exactly would you do for me?

Student A may respond with a simple sentence:


I would lend you (the) money (you needed),

or with a lexically and grammatically more complicated one:

I would side with you in any conflict you had with others,

or think of more than one sentence, including more difficult ones.

1.3. Interest

By interest in grammar practice activities most linguists mean so-called


intrinsic motivation, i.e. the challenge and appeal of the activity itself. This

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is considered an essential feature of successful grammar practice. Boredom
results in lack of concentration, absent-mindedness and discipline problems.

2. The task

A good grammar practice activity should have a clear objective


accompanied by active language use. Activity implies not only the
production of various examples of the grammatical structure but
understanding and interpreting it as well. The essential features of all these
types of exercises should be a high degree of learners’ activation stimulated
by the interest of the activity itself.

2.1. Clear objective

The obvious task resulting from this activity feature is that a teacher should
have the objective in mind while preparing the lesson and during the
learning process. If this demand is not met, it will be impossible to lead
students toward the completion of the task. The ideal kind of the task
objective is the one which combines language manipulation exercises (such
as Yes/ No questions practice) with a non-linguistic result which may be to
solve a problem such as following:

Feargal McDonald lived on the twentieth floor of a block of flats and every
morning took the lift down to the ground floor and caught the bus into town.
When he came home he took the lift to the seventh floor and then climbed
the stairs all the way to the twentieth floor. Why?

Students ask questions to which a teacher can only answer yes or no.
(Answer: He was a schoolboy and could not reach the lift control buttons
higher than floor seven.)

In any case, the objective should be a simple one so that students are clear at
all stages what the point of the task is.

2.2. Active language use

A teacher should always insist on using language instead of spending too


much time on other activities, e.g. mime or solving a logical problem in

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silence. By involving “information gap“ as the essential feature of the task,
we can be sure that maximum language use will take place.

The following exercise includes oral work (both interrogative and


affirmative forms) based on an already introduced grammatical structure:

Ask the students to write on a blank piece of paper four sentences that are
true about themselves and one that is false using the structure:

I have got a (colour) (noun).

e.g.

I have got a blue bike.


I have got a red book.
I have got a green radio.
I have got a white cat.
I have got a black camera.

Collect the pieces of paper and redistribute making sure no one receives
their own piece of paper back. The students then stand up with their new
piece of paper and mix and mill in a given space trying to find the owner of
the piece of paper by asking questions like:

Have you got a black camera?


(Yes, I have.)

Have you got a white cat?


(No, I haven’t).

When they find the owner they must decide which is the false statement. 2

3. Interest

One of the most intriguing questions for a foreign language teacher is:

2
Booklet for Montenegro State School Teachers, Level 1, Longman, p.8

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What is it within itself that arouses students’ interest and motivation for
studing?

3.1. Topic

It is very important for teachers to distinguish topics which might stimulate


their own imagination from those which arouse learners’ interest and
curiosity. The latter implies a careful choice of language material regarding
age, personal interests, previous knowledge and presumable positive or
negative reaction of the class.

I seriously doubt that the next monologue could be useful for practicing
interrogative short answers (auxiliary verb + pronoun; Past Tense) with a
teenage students’ group:

(Task: Rewrite this as a conversation putting in interrogative short answers.


Example:
“It was a lovely wedding.“
“Was it?“
“Yes. Though ..... )

It was a lovely wedding. Though I didn’t think much of Maggie’s dress.


That colour doesn’t suit her at all. Anyway, I don’t really go for church
weddings. The service went on for ages. The music was nice, though. I must
say I didn’t enjoy the reception much. The food wasn’t very good. And the
bride’s father made such a stupid speech. And I got one of my headaches.
And I was sitting next to that Mrs Foster from down the road. I can’t stand
that woman. She’s always criticising. Anyway, I must go. Nice to talk to
you. It really was a lovely wedding. 3

It might be a highly amusing exercise for an adult learner but it could hardly
hold a teenager’s attention.

The following lines, however, have never failed to stimulate my teenage


students’ imagination and curiosity (the use of modal Shall I/ we in asking
for instructions and decisions):

What shall I say


when our neighbours
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E. M. Delafield, Modern Humour, Everyman’s Library LTD, p. 225

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want us to come to tea?
They don’t know you’re not with me
What shall I say?

What shall I say


when the phone rings
and someone asks for you?
They don’t know I ask for you too.
What shall I say?

How can I hide the tears inside?


How can I face the crowd?
I can make lips of mine be still,
but my heart sighs too loud.

I could explain that


you’re gone for only
a week to shop.
But after the week is up
What shall I say? 4

Peter Tinturin

(Task: Write three questions asking for advice for yourself.)

However, there is always a possibility of an absolutely unexpected reaction


of the students to a certain topic. That is why varying topics upon grammar
practice is based is the best way for maintaining attention and interest in the
classroom.

3.2. Visual focus

It is well-known that grammar practice activities which include visual aids


sucs as posters, magayine cut-outs or diagrams help learners (especially
younger ones) to concentrate on the task. Teachers who use various facial
expressions, physical movements could be a perfect visual aid. Some of
4
International Music Publications Ltd, extract from the lyric “What Shall I Say?” by Peter Tinturin, 1973,
p. 121

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them use hands and fingers to demonstrate a grammatical structure. The
contracted verbs can be visually demonstrated in this way:

The teacher models a sentence:


She will arrive tomorrow
and holds up four fingers saying the sentence and pointing to a finger for
each word. The teacher then puts fingers 1 and 2 together and says (pointing
to the fingers):
She’ll arrive tomorrow.

3.3. Information gaps

Learners may find practicing the interrogative by taking an answer and


reconstructing the question a useful exercise; but if they interrogate each
other in order to get necessary information, to fill out a form or win in a
competitive structured game, they are asking questions the answers to which
they do not know in advance. Their interest in performing the latter exercise
is likely to be much greater.

The following activity might be performed with the younger learners:

The teacher draws on the blackboard a cat, a mouse, a table, a chair and a
hat. The students must draw a room that contains these things but they can
be arranged in any way they like, e.g:

The cat can wear the hat,


or
The hat can be on the table,
or
The mouse can be inside the hat,
or
The hat can be on/ under the chair,
etc.

The students work in pairs. They must not look at each other’s pictures but
must try to draw the same picture as their partner. They ask each other
questions which can only be answered by yes/ no.

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3.4. Personalization (Involving the personality)

A well-planned grammar practice activity should involve students’ personal


experiences, ideas and feelings.

A non-personalized practice of Present Perfect Formes could be based on


supplementary material such as pictures and posters. A personalized one
should result in the conversation about the things the students themselves
have done or have been doing. For example, the students may practice
Present Perfect tenses by taking part in a highly personalized chain activity
Crimes and saying:

I am (name) and I’ve never (crime):

e.g.

I am Maria and I’ve never robbed a bank.

Some think that this degree of personalization is too high and may cause
embarrassment.

3.5. Entertainment

Pleasure created by listening to songs, watching films and plays or by the


students’ own contribution is highly effective in performing grammar
practice activities.

Various games have been used in order to create this effect for a long time.
One of them, which is called Dilemmas, could be an entertaining homework
assignment:

Students are asked to write a few sentences responding to a given situation


or problem. The title of the assignment indicates the modal which should be
used, for example:
What should I do?
What might happen?

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Dilemmas:

1. You have noticed your best friend cheating in an end-of-term exam. A lot
of kids cheat, but you and your friend have always been against it, up to
now.

2. Your parents prefer your younger brother to you; they buy him more new
things, and generally discriminate in his favour. If you protest, they get
angry.

3. Your boyfriend/ girlfriend said he or she could not come out with you this
evening because of work; but you’ve just seen him or her coming out of a
cinema hand in hand with another girl/ boy.

General knowledge quizzes can be used in practicing various grammatical


items such as the comparative forms of adjectives or past tenses practice, or
both of them:

Answer the questions:


Who was the first man on the Moon?
Which is heavier: an elephant or a whale?

A highly amusing game is Election campaign which can be used for


practicing future passives to express promises:

The class should be divided into groups each of which is supporting a


different candidate; they work out a programme of what will be done if their
candidate is elected, and write it out, for example:

The main road in this town will be widened.


A new school will be built.
More jobs will be provided for young school-leavers.

(Finally, one of the candidates may be selected by the class in a democratic


election.)

Adult learners may find the following exercise both useful and amusing
(modal must reflecting the hearer’s wishes):

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In a dream, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard is talking to her two dead husbands, Mr
Ogmore and Mr Pritchard.
Mrs O-P: Tell me your tasks in order.
Mr O: I must put my pyjamas in the drawer marked pyjamas.
Mr P: I must take my cold bath which is good for me.
Mr O: I must wear my flannel band to ward off sciatica.
Mr P: I must dress behind the curtain and put on my apron.
Mr O: I must boil the drinking water because of germs.
Mr P: I must dust the blinds and then I must raise them.
Mrs O-P: And before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes. 5

4. Learner activation
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Thomas, Dylan, Under Milk Wood, I. M. Dent, 1954,1955, p. 112

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One of the main problems during the grammar practice activities is to get as
many students as possible to speak. Silent listening or reading can be boring
and therefore is suggested as an acceptable activity during the initial
presentation only.

4.1. Reception with minimum response

During the minimum response activities the students react to a written or


spoken text by physical gestures, mime or silent problem solving.

One of the most popular activities of this kind is Simon says game which is
used in simple commands practice.

The teacher utters simple commands such as:


Stand up!
Sit down!
Turn around!
Open you books!
etc.

If the utterance is preceded by the phrase “Simon says“, the students are
obliged to follow the command. If not, they mustn’t follow it, otherwise they
“lose a life.“ They have three lives, after which they are “out“.

4.2. Teacher-student exchange

This activity is frequently used at an early stage in practice, since the


students need some time for repetition in order to gain self-confidence and
proceed without teacher’s direct help.

4.3. Student-teacher exchanges

During this activity the student is the one who takes the initiative. The fact
that students are usually much more careful in listening to their classmates
than to the conventional T-S exchange is a precious advantage of this
technique. It is particularly suitable for practicing interrogative forms.

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For example, students might be asked to interview a teacher for a TV “chat“
programme and prepare 10-20 questions. They have 10-15 minutes to do so.
Then they interview the teacher. They may later describe to the class some
of the questions they asked or write them up for homework.

4.4. Brainstorm

The practice of providing the students with a stimulus to which they provide
as many answers as possible is very challenging and may result in maximum
students’ creativity. It implies a high degree of learner activation,
encouraging originality and creating amusing situations.

For example, practicing the first or second conditional can be done in the
form of finishing conditional sentences the beginnings of which have been
provided.

Finish conditional sentences:


First conditional
1. If I go away on holiday this year, ..........
2. If we get too much homework, .............
3. If my friend gets into trouble, ...............
4. If we finish early today, ........................

Second conditional
1. If I were a millionaire, .......................................
2. If I went to live in another country, ...................
3. If you came to visit me, .....................................
4. If we were all geniuses, .....................................

4.5. Chain

The difference between the previous activity and this one is that during the
first one all the responses relate to the original stimuluswhereas in a chain
activity each learner’s utterance responds to the one before. It can be used
while practicing the Past Tense for narrative:
Each student is given a single past form (“lived“ or “gave“ or “slept“); The
teacher begins a story, for example:

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Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess.
Student 1: She lived in an old castle.
Student 2: One day her stepmother gave her a poisonous apple.
Student 3. The princess fell asleep.
Student 4: She slept for many years...

4.6. Pairwork (Fluid pairs)

This activity can be performed either in the form of a prescribed dialogue or


in the exchange which is based on individual tastes or opinions. In the latter
exercise the same question will produce various answers with different
people. Learners go from one to another of the classmates and ask them the
same question. This activity can be used in practicingverbs that take
following verb + ing (e.g. I enjoy swimming.) The teacher prepares brief
questionnaries such as:

1. Do you enjoy YES NO


listening to pop music?
2. (If so) at what age
did you start enjoying
it?
3. Do you mind other
people listening to loud
pop music near you?
4. Do you like singing
pop songs yourself?
5. Do you prefer
listening to pop music
to watching TV?

The class is divided into groups, each of which gets a different


questionnaire. The groups then re-form and participants take turns to ask all
other members of the new group the questions from their original groupings
to pool the answers they have collected and formulate their results, such as:
40% of our population likes listening to pop music.

4.7. Group discussion

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This activity can develop from a relatively controlled exercise during which
the teacher provides a “skeleton“ dialogue into a free group discussion. The
teacher preapares a task which involves use of a grammatical structure and
lets the students perform on their own with minimum intervention.

It can be used in practicing comparative adjectives (as.....as; not so ..... as) to


rank items on a scale. The teacher prepares sets of 5 or 6 nouns and another
4 or 5 adjectives relating to them, in a form of a grid, such as:

healthy tiring productive enjoyable


watching TV
swimming
driving
studying
sleeping

Some of these activities might be marked as healthy, tiring and so on. The
students get hand-outs in the form of grids and discuss in what order the
activities should be rated under each adjective. If they think that swimming
is the most healthy, they will insert number 1 in the appropriate column by
“swimmnig“. After discussion, they will decide on a final order fro each
activity until the grid is completed.

5. Performance of grammar practice activities in the classroom

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In spite of thorough preparation (long-term planning and short-term
preparing), there is always a possibility that something goes wrong and turns
into a problem which has to be solved immediately for the sake of the
learning process.

5.1. Supplementary materials

If a teacher does not have all materials, including visuals ready at hand, it
may cause a delay and upset the pace of the learning process. However,
teachers can make up for lack of visual aids in a very simple way, by
drawing mini-situations, scenes or characters on the board. In the following
example the teacher draws two faces on the board and gives them names.
Then he/ she writes what the characters have to do and what they would like
to do. For example:

John Alice:
Obligations: Obligations:
Wash windows Type letters
Clean floors Answer the telephone

Desires: Desires:
Marry Alice Earn more money
Get a better job Marry her boss

Students now practice asking and answering.


S1: What does John have to do at work?
S2: He has to wash windows.
S3: What would he like to do?
S4: He’d like to marry Alice.

Apart from visual aids, there is a powerful means for practicing grammar in
an effective way, i.e. music, especially lyrics or titles of famous songs or
poems.

Carefully selected titles of famous pop songs may be used in practicing


wish + would structures
(if only) (Past Tense)
expressing regrets and wishes for unlikely or impossible things:

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(Task: Who performed these songs?)
I wish I was eighteen again
I wish I were Aladdin
I wish I were in love again
I wish I were twins (so I could love you twice as much)
I wish it would rain. 6

A poem might be used for practicing the contracted forms of the verbs:

(Task: Complete the poem by putting in the contracted forms of the verbs in
the box

cannot he has he would I will that is there is we have you have

and rewrite it):

Mother, there’s a strange man


Waiting at the door
With a familiar sort of face
You feel you’ve seen before.

Says his name is Jesus


Can we spare a couple of bob
Says he’s been made redundant
And now can’t find a job.

Yes, I think he is a foreigner


Egyptian or a Jew
Oh, aye, and that reminds me
He’d like some water too.

Well, shall I give him what he wants


Or send him on his way?
OK, I’ll give him 5p

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Writers Digest Books (extract from Who wrote that song?), Jacobs, Dick and Harriet, Cincinnati, Ohio,
1994, p. 269

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Say that’s all we’ve got today. 7

This activity, apart from its long-term memory effects, provides an extra
quality of a game precisely governed by the respective grammar rules.

CONCLUSION

7
Mc Gough Roger, Three Rusty Nails, Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1976, p. 297

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Grammar is central to the teaching and learning of languages. It is also one
of the more difficult aspects of language to teach well.
Many people, including language teachers, hear the word "grammar" and
think of a fixed set of word forms and rules of usage. They associate "good"
grammar with the prestige forms of the language, such as those used in
writing and in formal oral presentations, and "bad" or "no" grammar with the
language used in everyday conversation or used by speakers of nonprestige
forms.

Language teachers who adopt this definition focus on grammar as a set of


forms and rules. They teach grammar by explaining the forms and rules and
then drilling students on them. This results in bored, disaffected students
who can produce correct forms on exercises and tests, but consistently make
errors when they try to use the language in context.

Other language teachers, influenced by recent theoretical work on the


difference between language learning and language acquisition, tend not to
teach grammar at all. Believing that children acquire their first language
without overt grammar instruction, they expect students to learn their second
language the same way. They assume that students will absorb grammar
rules as they hear, read, and use the language in communication activities.
This approach does not allow students to use one of the major tools they
have as learners: their active understanding of what grammar is and how it
works in the language they already know.

The communicative competence model balances these extremes. The model


recognizes that overt grammar instruction helps students acquire the
language more efficiently, but it incorporates grammar teaching and learning
into the larger context of teaching students to use the language. Teachers
using this model teach students the grammar they need to know to
accomplish defined communication tasks.

The goal of grammar instruction is to enable students to carry out their


communication purposes. This goal has three implications:
• students need overt instruction that connects grammar points with
larger communication contexts;
• students do not need to master every aspect of each grammar point,
only those that are relevant to the immediate communication task;
• error correction is not always the teacher's first responsibility
(teachers can use error correction to support language acquisition, and

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avoid using it in ways that undermine students' desire to communicate
in the language, by taking cues from context).

Adult students appreciate and benefit from direct instruction that allows
them to apply critical thinking skills to language learning. Teachers can take
advantage of this by providing explanations that give students a descriptive
understanding of each point of grammar.

Only the grammar point in the target language or the students' first language
should be taught. The goal is to facilitate understanding. The time we devote
to grammar explanations should be limited to 10 minutes, especially for
lower level students whose ability to sustain attention can be limited.
Grammar points should be presented in written and oral ways to address the
needs of students with different learning styles.

An important part of grammar instruction is providing examples which have


to be focused on a particular theme or topic so that students have more
contact with specific information and vocabulary.

REFERENCES

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1. Booklet for Montenegro State School Teachers, Level 1, Longman
2. Delafield, E. M, Modern Humour, Everyman’s Library LTD
3. Dylan, Thomas, Under Milk Wood, I. M. Dent 1954-55
4. Harmer, Jeremy, Teaching and Learning Grammar, Longman, 1986
5. International Music Publication Ltd, 1973
6. Jacobs, Dick and Harriet, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1994
7. Mc Gough, Roger, Three Rusty Nails, Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1976

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