Teaching grammar can be one of the most frustrating aspects of an English teacher?s job description. Teaching grammar can be divided into two categories, declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge can be summed up as knowledge about a thing such as the rules of grammar whereas procedural knowledge is being able to apply the knowledge to communicate effectively. To illustrate the difference declarative knowledge would be being able to understand the instruction manual on how to assemble a bicycle where as procedural knowledge would be what you demonstrate when you actually put the bicycle together. Being good at one does not necessarily make one good at the other. Many of us native English speakers can use our native tongue correctly but can not explain the grammatical structure. Thai students in particular may have a good declarative knowledge of the English language already but can not use it correctly to communicate effectively.
Many older styles of teaching grammar rely heavily on the teacher giving the student all of the knowledge with the student being the passive recipient of this knowledge. This teacher centered model has given way to the learner or student centered model in many progressive schools. The learner centered focus presents learning as a discovery experience with active participation and responsibility of learning placed on both the teacher and the student. The advantage of a learner centered model is that it makes the classroom a more exciting and dynamic environment for learning and teaches grammar through true communication practice. One of the few disadvantages is that it is more work for the teacher. It will require more lesson preparation time and more creativity on the part of the instructor. More real world materials, authentic materials, will need to be collected and analyzed by the instructor to supplement course books. Students however will receive more instant gratifications as they experience the art of truly communicating about real life events now.
Following are some of the guidelines for developing learner centered, communications based instruction. Students are provided with what is called finely tuned and roughly tuned input material from their teacher. Finely tuned input material can be defined as material at their current learning level and specific to an exact point controlled by their instructor or the course book author. This type of material is used in the presentation phase or what a TEFL instructor would call the study phase. The roughly tuned phase uses material just one level higher than the student?s current level to stimulate student knowledge growth and provide a challenging experience. The instructor should introduce context, new vocabulary and grammar points before handing out the new authentic input material. Authentic material can come from current newspapers, magazines or the resource rich internet.
It is also important to make sure your lessons have a purpose. What is the use of language if not to convey meaningful information with a purpose? The idea is to simulate a real conversation that could occur outside the classroom. Besides having a general purpose the lessons can used to accomplish a complex task as used in planning development and organizing a major event or project. You can ascertain the student?s interests or profession and role play problem solving tasks related to the student?s field of study or interest which will again reinforce the usefulness of the lesson as it relates to real life meaningful conversation used in the workplace.
Another difference in the learner based education model is the use of collaboration among students. Students are broken up into pairs or small groups to facilitate more practice conversations utilizing the specific grammar point of study. Your activities must have a defined outcome such as solving a problem or making a diagram or map. Each activity must also have a time limit. You must also show when applicable the difference between how the grammar point will be used in written form and how it may change in conversational speech of a fluent native speaker.
In the feedback and correction phase it is important to allow the student a sufficient chance for self correction. This is very important to facilitate the self discovery of language grammar and to make the student less and less dependant upon the teacher for his growth in language acquisition.
Grace Stoval Burkart. Center for linguistics 1998 Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages
Catherine Keatley and Deborah Kennedy The National Capital Language Resource Center Washington DC 2003
Author: Eugene Busch
Date of post: 2007-03-29