The horror! 😛
I’ve always dreaded teaching grammar. Am I the only one?
Although I understand it very well myself and truly enjoy learning the grammar of a new language, I can’t stand those blank faces of my students when I put on my grammar-teacher hat!
The reason for this uncomfortable feeling is perhaps that ever since I started teaching, I relied on PPP ,which I guess is the least original method! If you’ve been doing the same, perhaps you can relate!
Despite my feelings for grammar, it was my LSA4 focus. I didn’t get any feedback from Cambridge, but I got a distinction in Module 2, so it can’t have been bad.
If you’re planning on teaching a grammar LSA, have a read.
I chose to focus on modal verbs. Not all of them, just might, must and can’t. I justified in my BE intro why I chose these and left out others.
Here’s a part of my intro:
This essay focuses on helping intermediate learners understand and use speculative might, deductive must and can’t, to talk about the present. These modals are epistemic or extrinsic (Biber et al, 1999), i.e. they express speakers’ assessment of the logical status of present or past facts.
I will not focus on the speculative or assumptive function of other central modals, as they:
- are less frequent at intermediate level (should) or more formal than the target ones (may).
- have other functions that are more useful at intermediate level, e.g. should for advice, will for futurity, would for hypotheses and can/could for ability
I had a far better time teaching LSA4 than my pre-Delta grammar lessons. Why? Because I mixed up a few ingredients and cooked up a better (in my opinion) sequence than PPP.
Here’s a part of my commentary:
I will combine several elements, as I agree with Prabhu’s (1999) view of eclecticism. Different procedures can be combined and bring balance in a lesson, as long as they are selected with our learners and their needs in mind.
1)A task-teach-task approach: this group is eager to learn through output-based tasks and they have bonded with each other, They enjoy working together to complete a task.
2) a model text : It is short and appropriate to prevent difficulties with reading skills, as it is a systems lesson. The input flood (Benati, 2009) will help learners notice the modals. Older learners in this group feel safer with a written record of the target language in short texts in my experience.
3) exploring reasons as a language focus: As mentioned in my B.E., I agree with Norrington-Davies (2016) that:
- learners will realise that modals are polysemous and used to express multiple meanings. Therefore, they will focus on today’s examples instead of modals in general.
- learners will create their own explicit knowledge, i.e. descriptions of language, which will be more memorable to them than fixed rules.
Furthermore, these learners have responded very well to the approach in a previous lesson.
- The what you say-what you could say technique (Meddings and Thornbury, 2017) to compare previous output to the example sentences. As I stated in my BE, I contend it will raise learners’ awareness of how they can improve their output using target modals.
- Matching task to check understanding has proven effective in previous classes; it was a time-efficient way to clarify meaning.
- Cauldwell’s (2018) garden form is something these learners enjoy . They have asked me to allow them to practise it themselves before I tell them the features of connected speech that occur. They enjoy discovering what happens when words gently “touch each other”.
When eliciting responses, as Dellar and Walkley (2017) mention, I will concept check by asking specific questions, e.g.: Is Diana certain? Which word shows that?
During the DELTA, my tutor taught me the value of metacognition, i.e. encouraging learners to reflect on their learning. As Tomlinson (2001) says, by doing so, they take responsibility for their learning. These learners sounded very aware of the learning that happened or did not happen in previous metacognitive tasks e.g. acknowledging problems they have with the language. I will include two such tasks, to encourage reflection at two different stages, thus increasing chances of them noticing the language. If there are problems with meaning, I will encourage translation and comparison, which these learners tend to do in order to understand new language.
The essay wasn’t easy to write. As always, I started out with a long analysis which I had to reduce by half. My learning issues focused on form, meaning, use and pronunciation. My teaching issue, which you can read below, was ineffective grammar-teaching coursebook activities.
Teaching issue: ineffective tasks
Many coursebooks present form and meaning of the target modals using confusing “grammar boxes” and then include a number of controlled and free practice tasks. In my experience, this is ineffective with teenagers, as:
- they tend to “switch off” at the sight of grammar boxes and rules. After teaching them for five years, I believe adolescents need more active involvement to understand language.
- teenagers feel they are tested through a series of tasks, e.g. ordering words or gap-fills; their anxiety often affects performance.
- learners barely produced modals spontaneously in freer tasks.
From rules to reasons
To address this issue, I combine Task-Teach-Task and Norrington-Davies’s (2018:72) exploring reasons to present modals.
- show learners your photographs. They must guess/conclude who the people are and what their relationship is with you.
- Students do task in groups.
- Elicit answers in open-class.
- Provide a language model (text-appendix 6).
- Ask them why speakers use might, must and can’t
- Elicit and discuss reasons. Clarify meaning form and pronunciation.
- Task repetition with different sets of photographs, using the target modals.
As Willis proposes (2005), I contend tasks engage learners because they focus on communication and interaction; something teenagers and social cultures like Catalans prefer in my experience. When uncovering reasons, teachers direct learners to “think” instead of simply expect the teacher to transmit knowledge (Norrington-Davies, 2018); adults but also teenagers, who crave independence, prefer this autonomy. Moreover, by avoiding terminology we reduce anxiety and allow them to create their own explicit knowledge (Ellis, 2006), i.e awareness, producing reasons such as:
“..the speaker is not sure, she has doubts, so she uses might.”
This approach is in my experience a quicker, less confusing and more effective way to clarify meaning . At intermediate level, discovering reasons is done in L2, thus also improving communication.
If learners are challenged, I provide sets of cards to match , thus guiding learners to the answers, i.e. providing more scaffolding. Additionally, although meaning is primary, teachers should monitor to ensure learners are using the modals when repeating the task; if they are not, teachers should prompt them to.
The plan was about 50 pages long! My apologies, Cambridge!
I used two pages for my aims, as I also differentiated them to cater for different levels. My main aims were grammatical and my sub-aims were lexical and phonological. Here’s how I stated my main aims.
I made a whiteboard plan I planned how I would use it and where I was going to write e.g. emergent language, where to highlight form and where to do the matching activity. This is something I did for all my LSAs and I found that it was incredibly helpful.
Make sure that in each stage you mention more than one aim, to show deep awareness of how each task benefits learners. So, for instance, my aims for the first task, looking at photos and guessing what/who students see, were the following:
- To start the lesson in a dynamic way
- To check if any learners produce the target language, i.e. deductive modals can’t and must and speculative might.
- To take notes of inaccuracies or examples of good language use for the feedback stage.
- To help learners develop further vocabulary
Don’t forget to append your materials; in my case they took up about 7 pages.
As with every task-based lesson, (even though this was more Task-Teach-Task than TBL) students tend to focus more on meaning and don’t always remember to use the target structures. In other words, they were excited and wanted to describe the photos but were not so consistent in using the modals. So, I really had to push and remind them to use them. This part was exhausting. However, I was able to write in my evaluation that I ensured learners were focused on the lesson aims, which was a strength.
The topic was super-engaging! I also felt more comfortable teaching my LSA4 showing pictures of my loved ones and it was a realistic task too, as then , they also showed each other pictures and talked about who they thought the people were.
If you’re preparing for a grammar LSA and you’re dreading it, the best piece of advice I can give you is this: read books/journals and research new approaches to teaching grammar. A grammar lesson doesn’t have to be PPP and it certainly doesn’t have to be a negative experience!
Special thanks to..
Emma from IH Barcelona; I wouldn’t have got that distinction without her support and constructive feedback.
Here’s the bibliography:
Benati, A. (2009). Issues in second language proficiency. London: Continuum.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and Finegan, E. (1999).
Brown, H. (2000). Teaching by principles. San Fransisco: Pearson.
Buckmaster, R. (2001). The ELT verb- Positive and Negative Grammar. [ebook] samizdat publications worldwide. Available at: http://www.rbuckmaster.com/the%20elt%20verb.pdf [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019].
Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2007). Cambridge grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening. Birmingham: speechinaction.
Dellar, H. and Walkley, A. (2017). Teaching lexically. Stuttgart: DELTA publishing.
Dörnyei, Z. and Thurrell, S. (1994). Teaching conversational skills intensively: course content and rationale. ELT Journal, 48(1), pp.40-49.
Dörnyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching motivation. Harlow: Pearson.
Ellis R. (2006) Current issues in the teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective. Tesol Quarterly, 40(1), 83-107.
Hashemi, L. and Thomas, B. (2010). Objective PET. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hedge, T. (2014). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kay, S. (2002). Inside out Intermediate. Oxford: Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.
Kerr, P. (2012). translationhandout. [online] translationhandout. Available at: https://translationhandout.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 1 Aug. 2019].
Leech, G. (2004). Meaning and the English verb. Harlow: Longman.
Lewis, M. (1986). The English verb. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.
Longman student grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Pearson.
Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2017). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Ernst Klett Sprachen GmbH.
Norrington-Davies, D. (2016). Teaching grammar- From rules to reasons. Hove: Pavilion Publishing and Media.
Nunan, D. and Carter, R. (2013). The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Palmer, F. (2001). Mood and Modality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Parrot, M. (2007). Grammar for English language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prabhu, N. (1999). Second language pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Redston, C. and Cunningham, G. (2013). Face2face. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J.C. and Schmidt, P. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Richards, J. (n.d.). Moving beyond the plateau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scrivener, J. (2014). Teaching English grammar. Oxford: Macmillan Education.
Swan, M. and Smith, B. (2001). Learner English. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, S. (2014). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.
Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. 2NdEdition. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Yule, G. (1998). Explaining English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Woolard, G. (2019). Messaging: beyond a lexical approach in ELT by George Woolard – Book – Read Online. [online] Scribd. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/book/194986984/Messaging-beyond-a-lexical-approach-in-ELT [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019].
Willis, J. (2005). A framework for task-based learning. Harlow: Pearson Education.
Yalcin, S. (2007). Epistemic Modals. Mind, 116(464), pp.983-1026.
Yule, G. (1998). Explaining English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.