By Katherine Reilly, Author, Teacher Trainer
Originally Published in ELT NEWS Magazine.
Grammar and Vocabulary are deemed by many as the cornerstones of language learning. Although this claim does have merit, as these two elements will establish a sound foundation to build upon, both educators and students alike must also acknowledge the fact that there is a broader picture to examine. What about productive skills like writing or speaking? Not to mention receptive ones such as reading and listening? Focusing exclusively on enhancing specific facets will prove detrimental in the long run – not to mention boring. If a balance is struck between all aspects of a language, then the result will most certainly reward the learner, bringing him one step closer to achieving his goal. To this end, grammar and vocabulary must be implemented in such a way, as to inspire the learner and stimulate his approach in a constructive manner; one which will enable him to master the language more effectively.
Should we change the way we teach?
It would be an insult to imply we should completely disregard our way of teaching. Coursebooks also follow a specific flow which most educators are rightfully accustomed to. Straying from our lesson plans might seem counterproductive – even intimidating. However, implementing a few refreshing practices here and there could prove more efficient in the long run.
Via productive skills like speaking and writing
Focus on the lesson goal of the day. Can grammar and vocabulary be integrated into the task at hand? A writing assignment for example can be accompanied by a complimentary exercise of grammar to reinforce it. Depending on the task goal and format of the assignment, specific grammar structure can be incorporated. Having the student actually use these structures provides them not only with the clarity to appreciate its significance but also the experience needed to implement it.
Brainstorming for key vocabulary is also a tried and welcome method; one which will actively engage your students, stimulating their desire to participate and assimilate said vocabulary. Group vocabulary inspired by specific themes is easier to embed if used in both verbal and written form. Rote learning serves no purpose other than to tire and frustrate the learner. So why have them learn them by heart when the more practical approach of integration has been proven more effective?
How to avoid ‘boring’ grammar lessons
It’s tricky when the time comes to delivering a grammar lesson. Rules after rules are tedious to follow and a young learner’s mind will in many cases reject them. The key here is to make the material relevant to your learners. Pop culture references, role models, anything which appeals to them could be embodied in the delivery material, but that’s not all. Do you use worksheets in your lessons? They will of course offer them the hands-on experience required to adopt the key points of the lesson, but many a time they lack the originality and stimulation needed to keep them invested. Implement funny examples which use sassy adjectives and have them follow suite. If students see learning as a game, they will make an extra effort to comply to the demands of the lesson and have fun while doing so.
Speaking of having fun, how about gamification?
Yes, you have probably heard of gamification but there is a broad range of propositions which can be adapted to the needs of the students. Gamification is not only about watching videos or playing word game quizzes on your whiteboard. It also employs non-digital games with the purpose of enhancing their problem-solving skills and at the same time, practicing new language elements. Narratives, word playing, even trivia question games can all be tailored effortlessly to the task at hand. By setting clear goals, one could easily guide them towards embracing the lesson’s potential outcome; the use of new words and language structures. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this is the minimal stress experienced. Students are having fun and even if they do make mistakes, they self-correct themselves and embed the new target material more efficiently.
Inductive learning with Reading and Listening
Searching for examples in texts will most certainly help students better comprehend what they are supposed to learn. You’d be surprised by how perceptive they could be if given the chance to identify and analyze the key points of grammar within a narrative. Have them read the texts aloud and point out proper intonation. Processing grammar via aural mediums is an essential aspect of learning a foreign language, one that should not be disregarded.
Listening can be successfully implemented as an inductive approach to learning, by having the students themselves examine a structure and figuring out the grammar rules. Simple tasks such as sentence puzzles are effective in doing so. Have a sentence written in an incorrect order on the board. Split the elements of a sentence in the categories you wish to focus on based on the focus grammar elements. After dictating the sentence in the correct order, have your students place the words in the proper sequence. Let them figure out the importance of the grammar phenomenon on their own.
This also works wonders when embedding new key vocabulary, as word stress and intonation offer clues to the elusive nature of an unknown word’s meaning. Learning a word in the text itself has more potential to being adopted by the learner than by simply looking it up in the dictionary, never to be used again.
So, what’s the bottom line?
The whole idea to teaching grammar and vocabulary is to consolidate new approaches that will spark the learner’s interest in such a way, that he will be able to subsume new language structures to his own. Just give it a try and let the results speak for themselves.