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Make Connections Between Grammar and Vocabulary

Submitted by Rodney and Graham UK/Hong Kong

A simple activity that helps strengthen knowledge of connections between grammar and vocabulary is gap-filling. Having learners either listen for the missing ‘bits’ in the transcript of a spoken text, or try to work out from the context what is missing in a written text can be a good way of drawing their attention to the use of particular forms in particular contexts, and can provide a starting point for exploration of their functions. Also, having them compare ways that they have filled in blanks with the original version of a text or conversation can help them notice where they are having difficulties producing appropriate forms and to explore why certain forms are appropriate and certain forms are not.

The following procedure can be used:

  1. Find, adapt or write a text containing occurrences of a particular feature you would like your students to work on.
  2. Prepare a version of the text with some or all of the occurrences of this feature blanked They may be single words or longer stretches of text like phrases or clauses.
  3. Have the students fill in as many gaps as they can, either based on some limited exposure to the original text (listening to it or reading through it once) or based on their own contextual or grammatical knowledge.
  4. Present the original text to the students (either in spoken or written form) and have them compare the ways they filled in the gaps with the occurrences of the feature in the original text and notice the kinds of forms that are used and where their answers are different from the original.
  5. Have students explore the reasons why certain forms are appropriate or inappropriate by trying to either justify what they wrote or explain why it should be changed.
  6. Have students practice producing the feature in an appropriate way in similar conversations or texts.

Further reading: Jones RH, Lock G (2011) Functional Grammar in the ESL Classroom: Noticing, Exploring and Practicing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Use Elaborating Texts as Way of Expanding Grammatical Knowledge

Submitted by Rodney and Graham, UK/Hong Kong

Elaborating refers to activities in which students add to and expand the information contained in a text, and in the process, need to use more sophisticated grammatical features. Elaborating activities can help to dramatize for them the fact that learning grammar is not just about “correctness” but that it is first and foremost about gaining control over resources for making communication more effective. The general procedures used in elaborating are:

  1. Present students with a simple text.
  2. Create a situation in which questions are asked about the text in a way that students notice that additional information would make the text better and that this new information is typically associated with certain grammatical features.
  3. Explore with students why certain kinds of additions in the text require certain grammatical features and others require different ones.
  4. Have students practice by continuing to elaborate on the same text or elaborating on a similar text.
  5. Explore with students why certain kinds of additions in the text require certain grammatical features and others require different ones.
  6. Have students practice by continuing to elaborate on the same text or elaborating on a similar text.

Further reading: Jones RH, Lock G (2011) Functional Grammar in the ESL Classroom: Noticing, Exploring and Practicing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Use Sequencing Activities to Encourage Noticing

Submitted by Rodney and Graham, UK/Hong Kong

Sequencing activities are those in which learners are presented with a text that has been altered in terms of the sequence of elements, including paragraphs, sentences within paragraphs, clauses within sentences, and words and phrases within clauses. Sequencing activities guide the learners to notice and to explore either (a) grammatical or lexical features in texts that give information about the sequence of elements (e.g. articles, pronouns and conjunctions) or (b) larger patterns of textual organization’. The general procedure involved in sequencing, are as follows.

  1. Choose a text or series of texts and change the sequence of some of the paragraphs or sentences within paragraphs or of certain elements within sentences.
  2. Have students work out what the original sequence might have been in one text or a portion of one text through noticing a particular grammatical feature or set of grammatical features.
  3. Work with the students to explore further the kinds of grammatical features that can be used as clues to help determine the original sequence and why the original sequence is
  4. Have the students practice this procedure on their own with the rest of the text or another similar text.

Further reading: Jones RH, Lock G (2011) Functional Grammar in the ESL Classroom: Noticing, Exploring and Practicing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Use Activities That Encourage Noticing

Sumitted by Rosa, USA

The noticing hypothesis suggests that unless learners notice the way language is used, their grammatical proficiency will not develop. Noticing can be the focus of activities such as the following:

An example of a guided noticing activity is for the teacher to give out extracts from texts (e.g. magazine or newspaper articles) and to ask students to see how many examples they can find of a particular form or grammatical pattern. These are then examined more closely to observe the functions they perform at both the sentence and text level.

An example of taking a noticing activity outside the classroom is when students act as ‘language detectives’: they can be asked to observe and notice target forms in use in the ‘real world’, such as by watching interviews and other speech events on the internet or on television and documenting the use of particular grammatical features they have been asked to focus on. This can serve to reinforce vocabulary or particular forms, but it can also be used to help more advanced students become aware of how grammar works together at a textual level instead of focusing only on vocabulary or on sentence-level structures. Students can use a notebook or mobile device for recording examples and can bring these to class for further discussion or clarification.

Further reading: Jones RH, Lock G (2011) Functional Grammar in the ESL Classroom: Noticing, Exploring and Practicing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Helping Students Understand the Nature of Texts

Submitted by Rosa, USA

It is important for learners to understand the role of grammar within the context of longer stretches of discourse – or “texts”. There are several ways in which students can be introduced to the concept of text, the ways in which texts work and how they reflect grammatical choices. For example:

  • Have students read two texts with the same content and identify what makes one an effective text and the other not effective;
  • Have students compare written and spoken texts on the same topic (e.g. a news event) to compare how they are organized and how the grammar of the texts
  • Have students listen to or read examples of transactions such as requests made in different contexts (e.g. among friends with a boss) and see how features such as modals and pronouns work together to create politeness.
  • In more advanced academic contexts, give students examples or model texts of different types of writing and have them analyze how the text is put together and to use the information to inform their writing, e. by studying the different ‘moves’ or sections that make up a text. Students focus on questions such as: how does a text begin? Where is the main idea introduced?

Teaching Teenagers Grammar

Submitted by Efren Garcia Huerta, Puebla, Mexico

Right before I start presenting new grammar. I usually find a short paragraph where the grammar that I am going to present is being used. Next, I organize the class into pairs and have them play a dictation game. One of the students is going to write the paragraph and the other student is going to dictate. The paragraph is printed in a piece of paper, and I place the text away from the students who are writing and the partner who is going to dictate will have to go to the text and memorize as much as possible, then, go back to his partner and dictate what she/he remembers, if the student does not remember. She/he will have to go back and read the text again.

During the game I use a “switch call” so that the students can change roles until they finish the paragraph. At the same time I try to find music beats that motivate my students. The students who finish first will be congratulated by the class.

This activity energizes students, but most importantly students become more interested in grammar activities.