Sunday, 31 January 2016

#ELTchat Summary 27th January 2016 Teaching C2 level grammar

#ELTchat is where English language Teachers hang out on twitter each Wednesday, to share ideas and discuss the topic of the week.

Last Wednesday, teachers from a variety of countries around the world met to discuss the teaching of grammar at C2 level. As usual, the discussion allowed teachers to share problems and suggest ideas and ways of dealing with them. 

Although the point was made several times about vocabulary being the main reason that students become advanced, there was an agreement that there is a high value in using correct grammar when it comes to EAP or ESP written work in particular. It was also thought that lots of grammar is related to fixed expressions for writing, so chunks are invaluable.

1. Always share your aims.

The expertise of the teacher is not always respected and students often have expectations of quantity  rather than quality or depth which need to be tempered.

Teaching should be focussed on consolidation at this level. 
 As much of the grammar in advanced coursebooks centres around very low-frequency exponents, it is a more efficient use of the teacher's time to make sure that students can use more high frequency items effectively.

The chat members felt that teaching grammar at this level might be part of the problem. Although there are advanced grammars available, part of the problem is the paucity of speaking practice available to the learners. Students actually need to use the language, in preference to learning about it.

2. What kind of errors do our high-level students produce?

So which errors have we heard, and why?
  • the mismatch of tense and time
  • the overuse or avoidance of the passive voice
  • the use of articles
  • modality
  • dependent prepositions 
  • expressing tentativeness
  • fossilised errors of pronunciation and intonation
  • discourse analysis in general
  • pragmatics 
  • subordination 
Some of these will have been overlooked by students who were concentrated on acquiring more structure, rather than a deeper understanding of already taught material.

Some of these may have been omitted owing to the lack of expertise of the teacher. NatiBrandi suggested that, in schools she was familiar with, discourse analysis was not always taught because the teachers found it difficult, or were themselves unaware of it. 

3. Isn't 90% of English used in the present or past simple, anyway?

As Marisa pointed out, Present Simple is not so simple. It is a high complex structure, both morphologically and semantically, with 13 different uses and meanings. The collocations alone make it a complex structure to handle.

4. So, how do we handle the students who request grammar?

Rachel Daw suggested using a dictogloss with a discussion at the end about any errors made. The error correction  phase would need an experienced teacher, though, according to Marisa.
Mike Harrison thought that challenging them to produce work with no errors would help them realise the importance of consolidation. He felt that cognitively-challenging material is very important. (see links below)
NatiBrandi related a problem she had had herself with pragmatics, and felt that it was a must to teach.
Marisa felt that work on comparing and contrasting structures would help develop a deeper understanding of the nuances of the language. She also mentioned the importance of discourse aspects. 
Both Glenys Hanson and I felt that work on adapting register to the situation was important.
Genre analysis, using authentic material was an idea from NatiBrandi.
Mike suggested transformations would help, or asking students to say X in 5 words.
Translation was suggested as a way to highlight sentence structure and help with complex forms.

James Taylor made the point that development is not easy to perceive at such high levels.
Glenys suggested testing at the beginning of the course and review at the end to show improvement.


Glenys Hanson:

Index of grammar at advanced level, courtesy of Marisa,

As always, the teacher will know their students and can negotiate course content with them. Challenging material, and good error analysis will go a long way- but don't forget to offer as many opportunities to speak and use the language as possible.

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