Wednesday 27 November 2013

# ELTchat of 20th November 2013: Teaching Grammar at (zero) Beginner Level

First #ELTchat of 20 th November 2013:

Teaching Grammar at (zero) Beginner Level

The first question raised was: Should we?
@esolcourses suggested that teaching grammar explicitly was not productive when working with beginners. Although she thought her ideas were unconventional, she has vast experience in this area. She explained that she believed chunks of high frequency vocabulary should come first, before learners are ready for explicit grammar forms. @JoHart agreed that having functional language was more important than being elegant. In fact, @Marisa_C thought that @esolcourses was using a lexical approach, in company with many other teachers.

So, is there a perfect approach?
@OUPELTGlobal was correct: In a way, even grammatical items are lexical at beginner level.
@Marisa_C agreed that beginning with chunks still provided a doorway to grammar during the feedback or error correction stages. She argued that grammar could be seen as generative, where functions and phrases aren’t.
It appeared that an inductive, non-explicit approach, with the target language in context, and providing opportunities for use, came top of the list. The practice occasions would be especially important, as many comments were made about giving ownership of the material to the students, and avoiding having them parrot exact phrases. Being able to manipulate chunks of functional phrases, after memorising them, would be the desired effect for the learners.
@leedsacademy felt that it was important to give learners the tools to make the language work for them.
@OUPELTGlobal: Yes, so inductive rather than deductive approach
@Marisa_C made us smile with her idea of the mythical grammarless pidgin creature, but was right when she asserted that students need to Observe, Hypothesise, and Experiment.

Is there, perhaps, a need for learner training?
@Marisa_C thought that it might prove useful to ask students how they think they learn best, and how they expect to learn grammar, even before they start their course. She said that a good idea was to fill them up with lots of rules and when they are unable to communicate, this provided an opportunity to discuss the best way. (This might have been tongue-in-cheek). She asked whether it was possible to provide functional chunks and yet check grammar awareness at the same time. @esolcourses believes that uncovering grammar at a leisurely pace often works better.

Do we need different approaches for YL and Adults?
There was consensus on this point. Young Learners are often non-analytical and unable to grasp abstractions. @HanaTicha suggested that if children wrote their own course books, they wouldn't contain explicit grammar structures. It is a sad fact, however, that without some parent education, there will be occasions when even toddlers are expected to learn rules.
Adults would, generally, be more open to thinking about the grammar. @leedsacademy mentioned that many of her students expected explicit grammar tuition.
 @esolcourses provided a word of caution, though. She said that adult learners often learnt complex structures in their ‘chunks’, which conventional courses would not teach until a certain level of proficiency had been arrived at.
 @Marisa_C suggested explaining the rule briefly and then moving on to meaningful, contextualised practice, although the odd analytical learner would have a great time with a grammar book in hand.

Should we use metalanguage?
Is grammatical terminology useful at beginner level?
@OUPELTGlobal thought that adults might appreciate it, although he wasn’t convinced that it was appropriate for real beginners. But do learners have to know the term ‘verb’ to use one? @leedsacademy thought that it was useful, as knowing the word classes could help students generate new utterances of their own.
@leedsacademy and ‘esolcourses reminded us that students may have varying degrees of literacy in their own language and that the teaching of grammar could easily depend on what they bring to the classroom in terms of previous knowledge.
‘Students have beginner English, not beginner brains’
@VeerleGrauwmans suggested that the grammatical terms could be translated into the students L1, or @OUPELTGlobal thought that explanations in the L1 could be given at the end of the lesson. @Marisa_C also mentioned Google Translate in cases where the class was multilingual.

Is it easier to create materials or use a coursebook?
Using material created for the students appears to be more effective than using a coursebook. @ddeubel reminded us of a very old classic series for teaching conversation
 (and grammar).
@Marisa agreed that she usually prepared her own. @esolcourses has an excellent website for students to use, which is continually updated.

Our discussion was really about how to teach grammar well, not whether we should worry about the terminology J
So, what works in class?
@Marisa_C pointed out that highly complex free activities, such as problem solving, are often beyond the language capabilities of beginners.
There were many good suggestions of things which could work:
  1. ·        Diagrams
  2. ·        Video clips
  3. ·        Animations (goanimate etc.)
  4. ·        Objects
  5. ·        Visuals in context: magazines, newspapers,photographs
  6. ·        Substitution tables
  7. ·        Cards with pictures or words for students to assemble
  8. ·        Start with chunks and add words to form more complex sentences
  9. ·        Mingling activities (e.g. Find someone who)
  10. ·        Pictures ( came up time and again)
  11. ·        Contextualised dialogues (if well-scaffolded)
  12. ·        Application drills
  13. ·        The disappearing dialogue, (also known as the vanishing technique)
  14. ·        Role-play
  15. ·        Scrambled sentences
  16. ·        Simple cloze or gapped dialogue
  17. ·        Chants ( Jazz Chants is excellent for ALL levels as long as not overdone)

A good point from @face_english : Context should always be the focus, right?

 I’ll leave you with some links from @face_english:

battleships: using a picture grid

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