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How to put Grammar into practice
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LarryLatham



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1195
Location: Aguanga, California (near San Diego)

PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2003 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey, Norm, it's good to hear from you.

I'm afraid I've never heard of Manfred Pienemann, nor of Malcolm Johnson. Perhaps that's because I'm not in Oz (although I've done some reading of some of the Australian thinkers in this area of language acquisition--Christopher Candlin springs to mind). I have, however, heard something about the ideas you've expressed here regarding order of learning. Although I gather that research in this area is barely begun, it seems reasonable to me that while there may be some kind of overall organization to learning order as you've suggested, the notion that particular learners will deviate from the normal pathway is hardly surprising. If true, one wonders then, of what real value would research in this area be if all we could say was that learners often follow this path, but many do not.

It all seems to support the reality we all experience, as teachers, that whatever we "cover" in our classes, many particular students will not pick it up. What is universally required for all students is to revisit what they have been exposed to before--often many times over. We simply must not conclude that because we had a unit on present simple tense at the beginning of the term, our students therefore, now, near the term's end, know present simple tense--or even that they should. A language is an organic whole. It is artificial to break it down into many "parts" to be studied individually, then expect students to be able to put all these "parts" together again in some sort of synthesis of the language. In a very real sense, one cannot understand present simple tense until one first understands all the other tenses and how they differ from present simple. So, we and our students are compelled to go round and round in pursuit of mastery of our subject. In that process, particular students will learn parts of it in different orders than others. But there seems to be no way to avoid the circular studying and learning process. Sadly, our methods do not reflect this apparent reality. We insist on labelling students with 'level's and on using materials which progress in rather linear fashion from "beginning" to "advanced".

Am I misrepresenting the situation here, do you think? Confused

Larry Latham
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Celeste



Joined: 20 Jan 2003
Posts: 74
Location: Fukuoka City, Japan

PostPosted: Mon Feb 24, 2003 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would definitely agree with both Norm and Larry. I do think that English must be learned in a certain order, but not necessarily the same order for all. One problem that I have found with textbooks for "beginners" is that they seem to hit the ground running (The interchange series comes to mind here). I do agree that we need to take an integrated skills approach to teaching, but with some books, I find that the connections between the parts are too tenuous, and there isn't enough chance for review. I get the feeling that many course books for adults were designed to teach a little of everything, but never cover any area of language fully enough for the students to be able to use it in their speaking or writing. (Perhaps this is done purposely to keep them bying more books?)

When I teach without a strict curriculum, I like to start with simple one clause sentences, and work my way up to things that are more complex. I really find it frustrating that so many of my adult students claim to "know" various tenses and structures, but can't seem to get the word order right in a simple 3 word sentence. I also find it infuriating that students can go through many years of English classes and still only use the simple present tense when they speak. These are clear examples of not having been allowed enough time for both closed and open practice in their grammar lessons.

Hmmm. I am starting to sound like I am on a bit of a rant, so I should probably sign off. Interesting thread. Hope to read more on it soon.
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LarryLatham



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1195
Location: Aguanga, California (near San Diego)

PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2003 5:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi, Celeste,

Good to have you in this thread.

Quote:
One problem that I have found with textbooks for "beginners" is that they seem to hit the ground running


Although I understand your point, it doesn't bother me so much because I so rarely find a true beginner in my classes. What bothers me much more is "advanced" materials which only seem to me not to be advanced, but rather obscure!

Quote:
many course books for adults were designed to teach a little of everything, but never cover any area of language fully enough for the students to be able to use it


Quite to the point! We are forced, it would seem, to augment any course book--at least any that I've seen. Confused

Larry Latham
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stephen



Joined: 25 Feb 2003
Posts: 97

PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2003 6:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi all

I'm joining this thread a bit late, but I'd like to add a couple of thoughts on the discussion of my own.

Firstly, why must communication and grammar teaching be seen as seperate? While with certain students at certain levels it may be better to have a considerable emphasis on fluency, due to cultural barriers on speaking out in class; (insert Asian nationality of your choice) will need to gradually adjust to how you expect them to behave and study in class. Once such barriers have been broken, a balance must be struck between fluency and accuracy. However, teaching grammar does not imply that activities need not be communicative. For example, via such methods as simple oral information exchange, communal writing or oral mixing activities, accuracy and fluency can be combined in the classroom. In my view the most effective way of teaching grammar is by speaking and writing. However, to be truely effective self and peer correction is essential. In terms of writing this is undeniably easier, for instance, symbols correction provides a great medium. In speaking, establishing peer correction may require the breaking of cultural barriers and may take time and effort, but it is very worthwhile.

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with giving students the grammar, then practising it. This is not always the best way, but for some students eliciting the subject of the lesson at the start as taught in a CELTA course (or equivalent) simply will not work. Their educational background's prohibit it; this was not how they studied at school and changes in study habits must be developed gradually. In my experience at lower levels where students have not studied the grammar before it can at times be helpful. Equally, in some cases it is better to let students work it out in groups or individually, for example, by using discovery techniques. Basically, I guess I am saying that this will vary according to the students.

Thirdly, regarding the conversation earlier in the thread about many students failing to understand normal or informal speech. Is this a grammar problem or a listening problem?
For example
"I am going to go to the shop to buy a apple"
"I'm gonna go tu thu shop tu buy u apple"

The first is how it would be written, the second spoken. Notice in the second sentence the shwar is indicated by the letter u (except in buy). How many students hear this? So, is this a grammar or a listening problem? It maybe, for instance, that students do not say "a" because they don't hear it.

Thanks for reading, and please tell me what you think.
Stephen
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LarryLatham



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1195
Location: Aguanga, California (near San Diego)

PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2003 5:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Stephen, and welcome,

I think you must be an experienced and careful teacher. Nothing in your post I wouldn't agree with. Sounds like you have a few years under your belt.

Larry Latham
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Teachito



Joined: 08 Mar 2003
Posts: 1
Location: New York City

PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 8:09 am    Post subject: To G or not to G Reply with quote

Idea Just to put my two cents worth. This is my first post in this forum. I agree with you all that it depends on the kind of class you have, and what the aim of the students who are learning the language is. For me it is important to talk about grammar with my students not so much to learn the names of components as to understanding and being able to use the functions the names represent. My approach to teaching is like that of any instructor, first I show them the waters, then I have them jump in. Feel what floating feels like, then learn to swim. Later we can worry about style. I find that the beginning of the class is a great time for discussions. I like to introduce the grammar points to be presented in that day's class in a conversational way. Later, in the class we work with time-lines as visual aids for example, in the case of tenses. This has helped me help them. Wink Be well, be safe. Bob
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noonlite



Joined: 23 Feb 2003
Posts: 23

PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2003 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello all:

Great discussion! Lots of good stuff here!

I agree with Gary B. that ESL teachers have been trained to be overly "communicative" They get good atmosphere and communication, but their students seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually they start asking themselves "Is what I'm doing really effective?"

I also agree with Larry that getting into grammatical structure is not the solution.

What has worked for me is balance between time spent being communicative and time spent requiring accuracy. In the beginning levels, however, spending more or even most of your time with accuracy is the way to go because if they are new to the language they are just beginning to establish certain patterns and their lack of vocabulary gives them very little to say anyway.

If explaining grammatical structure is not how to get students be accurate than what is?

What has worked for me is to require students to produce a grammatically correct sentence on the spot and not go away until they do so. This has to be done in a sensitive way, however, and there will be times when you need to go away and come back. The idea is to let the students know what you expect for a response and then guide them to that response without directly correcting them and without letting other students interfere by providing an answer. You have to be in control of the wait time and you have to be comfortable with silence.

Let's say you are practicing simple past. Say something like this: "I am going to ask you questions to practice the simple past tense. When you answer my question, be very aware of your grammar and try to answer me with a complete and grammatical sentence." There are a thousand ways to do this and all of them depend on you, the student, the situation your past interactions. Here is a possible example:

T: Edna, what did you eat for dinner last night?
E: I eated chicken with the rice.
T: I eated?
E: Oh, ate
T: Excellent, you remembered the irregular of eat. Ok now listen carefully to my sentence and try again. What did you eat for dinner last night?
E: I ...ate chicken with the rice my dinner last night.
T: Hmm... You ate chicken with rice for dinner last night?
E: Yes.
T: Ok Edna, now try to say the whole sentence again. Repeat after me. I ate chicken with rice for dinner last night.
E: I ate chicken with the rice for dinner last night.
T: Almost perfect, but you added something there (at this point Jose is jumping out if his seat so i ask him "Jose, what did Edna put in there? and he says "she said the rice, but she doesn't need the." Excellent Jose) Alright Edna try again. I ate chicken with rice for dinner last night.
E: I ate chicken with...rice for dinner last night.
T: Perfect! You got it. Way to go Edna! You're my hero! Ok Jose, since you know so much I'm going to give you a hard one...

It is important that you do this with all of the students. You have to have a good attitude. You have to know that there are no mistakes, only steps toward correctness. You have to estsablish a trusting, safe, fun atmosphere. You have to know when to keep trying and when to give it a rest. That knowledge comes with experience and practice. Don't think that your students won't appreciate this. They will love you to death. Students tell me over and over again. You're a great teacher. I learn so much in your class. My English is really improving.
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