Teach English in Baidi Zhen - Chongqing

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Teaching GrammarOne of the major contentions surrounding the teaching of grammar is the question whether teaching grammar aids in L2 acquisition. Ellis (2002) posits that it does but it ?has a delayed rather than an instant effect.? In other words, grammar takes time and it is not reasonable to expect that after a single lesson students will have mastered the grammatical structure that was taught. In fact, students will learn grammar as they become developmentally ready to absorb the grammatical structure. If this is the case, then how should a teacher teach grammar? Today?s descriptive approach to teaching grammar shies away from the practice of learning rigid grammatical rules and diagramming sentences. Instead, the task of teaching grammar focuses on correct usage, and course books provide a series of exercises to help students practice what is being taught. Ellis (2002) argues, ?So much effort has gone into devising ingenuous ways of eliciting and shaping learners? responses, more often to little or no avail as learners do not acquire the structures that they have practiced.? I disagree. I believe that practice should not be downplayed. It is through practice that students have the ability to receive corrective feedback, and this feedback is especially important for beginners and young learners. I think that a traditional approach to teaching grammar can be summarized in the steps below: A. B. A. An Introduction and explanation of the grammatical structure. C. B. Exercises (both verbal and written) to help students practice the new structure. D. C. students are given further instruction / corrections from the teacher. E. D. Open exercises that provide students the opportunity to practice using the grammar in a more creative way. F. This ?practice approach? appeals to common sense, and it seems a wholly reasonable way to teach grammar. But Ellis (1991) states that the use of practice is more or less futile, and it is through Consciousness-Raising tasks (CR-Tasks) that grammar is better taught. According to Ellis, and others, a CR-Task is meant to get language learners thinking about and discussing grammar patterns in their L2. Below is an excerpt from a sample CR Task that Ellis provides in the article ?Grammar Teaching ? Practice or Consciousness-Raising?: Study the following sentences. When is ?for? used and when is ?since? used? 1. 1. Ms. Reagan has been working for her company for most of her life. 2. 2. Mr. Bush has been working for his company since 1970. ? Which of the following sentences are ungrammatical? Why? 1. 1. Ms. Reagan has been working for her company for 1945. 2. 2. Mr. Bush has been working for his company for 20 years. 3. 3. Ms. Baker has been working for his company since 10 days. In this task, the goal is not to practice producing grammatical sentences using for and since, but the goal is to focus on and discuss grammar. It is obvious that the above CR-Task is not appropriate for beginners and young learners. But what is intriguing about the CR-Task is that it places the focus entirely on grammar, not merely the repetition of a pattern (as required by a practice exercise). Again, the completion of the CR-Task does not mean that the student has mastered this particular grammatical structure, but the student has been given the opportunity to verbalize and clarify his knowledge of that particular structure. In summary, I don?t think that any teacher would expect that after a couple of lessons featuring a grammatical structure that the proverbial switch would be flipped on inside the student?s mind, and he/she would be able to use that structure fluently, accurately or even sporadically. Instead, the flip will be switched naturally, once the student is developmentally ready. In the meantime, it is the job of the teacher to teach the grammatical structures so that the student can create meaningful utterances and sentences. Just as a coach will make a team practice the mechanics of a game, the teacher must also make sure students practice their grammar. And CR-Tasks help students in a way that practice and repetition cannot: it helps students understand the meaning of the grammar. References Fotos, S. and R. Ellis 1991. ?Communicating about Grammar: A Task-Based Approach.? tesol Quarterly, 25/4: 605-628. R. Ellis 2002. ?Grammar Teaching ? Practice or Consciousness-Raising?? Methodology in Language Teaching. 167 -174. Cambridge University Press.