Учебно-методический комплекс материалов по дисциплине «Методика преподавания иностранных языков»

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3.3 Teaching grammar

The importance of grammar in learning a FL

Grammar is a reality. A command of the structure of the language of the pupil ensures listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing. In order to understand a language and to express oneself correctly one must assimilate the grammar mechanism of the language studies.

The chief difficulty in learning a new language is that of changing from the grammatical mechanism of the native language to that of the new language.

For example, Russian pupils often violate the word order which results in bad mistakes in expressing their thoughts. The English tense system also presents a lot of trouble t Russian-speaking pupils because of the difference which exists in these languages with regard to time and tense relations. The sequence of tenses is another difficult point in English grammar for Russian-speaking pupils. There can be given some other examples. The most difficult point of English grammar is the article.

The grammar material may be classified into the following 3 groups:

  1. The grammar phenomena which do not require any explanation since there are similar phenomena in the mother tongue of the pupil.

  2. The grammar phenomena which require corrections (money – is).

  3. The grammar phenomena which are strange for Russian-speaking pupils (article, tense, modal verbs).

In teaching grammar, therefore, the teacher should approach to the material differently depending on the difficulties pupils encounter in the assimilating of grammar phenomenon.

The content of teaching grammar since school-leavers are expected to acquire language proficiency in aural comprehension, speaking and reading grammar material should be selected for the purpose. There exist principles of selecting grammar material both for teaching speaking knowledge (active minimum) and for teaching reading knowledge (passive minimum), the main one is the principle of frequency, i.e. how frequently this or that grammar item occurs.

The syllabus and the textbooks present grammar differently. The syllabus emphasizes what to teach and gives it in terms of traditional grammar. The textbook emphasize how to teach and present grammar in sentence patterns, structures.

The amount of grammar material pupils should assimilate in school, and the way it is distributed throughout the course of study, may be found in the syllabus. In teaching grammar the teacher follows the recommendations given in Teacher’s Books.

How to teach grammar

Teaching grammar should be based upon the following principles:

  1. Conscious approach to the teaching of grammar. It implies some rules for the teacher:

- Realize the difficulties the sentence pattern presents for your pupils. Comparative analysis of the grammar item in English and in Russian or within the English language may be helpful.

- Think of the shortest and simplest way for presentation of the new grammar item. Remember the more you speak about the language, the less time is left for practice.

  1. Practical approach to the assimilation of grammar. It means that pupils learn those grammar items which they need for immediate use either in oral or written language. The learner masters grammar through performing various exercises in using a given grammar item. Rule for the teacher:

- Teach pupils correct grammar usage and not grammar knowledge.

  1. Structural approach. Grammar items are introduced and drilled in structures or sentence patterns. Structural approach allows the pupil to make up sentences by analogy, to use the same pattern for various situations. Pupils learn sentence patterns and how to use them in oral and written speech. Rule for the teacher:

- Furnish pupils with words to change the lexical meaning of the sentence pattern so that pupils will be able to use it in different situations.

  1. Situational approach. Pupils learn a grammar item used in situations. Rule for the teacher:

- Select the situations for the particular grammar item you are going to present. Look through the textbook and other teaching materials and find those situations which can ensure comprehension and provide the usage of the item.

  1. Different approach to the teaching of active grammar (for conversation) and passive grammar (for reading). Rule for the teacher:

- If the grammar item belongs to those pupils need for conversation, select the oral approach method for teaching. If pupils need the grammar item for reading, start with reading and writing sentences in which the grammar item occurs.

Types of exercises for the assimilation of grammar

  1. Recognition exercises. Since pupils only observe the new grammar item the situations should be natural and communicative. Recognition exercises are indispensable as pupils retain the grammar material through auditory and visual perception. Auditory and visual memory is at work.

  2. Drill exercises.

- Repetitive drill. Pupils pronounce the sentence pattern after the teacher, both individually and in unison. Attention should be drawn to the correct pronunciation of the sentence pattern as a sense unit, as a statement (sounds, stress, and tune).

- Substitution. Pupils substitute the words or phrases in a sentence pattern. Pupils consolidate the grammar item without thinking about it. They think of the words, phrases, but not of the form itself, therefore involuntary memory is at work.

- Completion. Pupils complete the sentences the teacher utters looking at the pictures he shows (Mike is…).

- Answering the teacher’s questions. Drill exercises may be done both orally and in written form. Pupils perform oral exercises during the lesson and written ones at home.

  1. Creative exercises (speech exercise). This type of exercises requires creative work on the part of the learners. These may be :

- Making statements either on the picture the teacher shows, or on objects.

- Asking questions with a given grammar item.

- Speaking about the situation offered by the teacher. (He is opening/has opened the door)

- Speaking o a suggested topic. For example, a pupil tells the class what he did yesterday.

- Making dialogues using the grammar item covered.

- Dramatizing the text read. For example, pupils read the text in persons.

- Telling the story.

- Translating into English.

- Participating in free conversation in which pupils are to use the grammar item.

As to the grammar items pupils need only for reading pupils assimilate them while performing drill exercises and reading texts. This is usually done only in senior grades where the grammar material is not necessarily used in oral language.

All the exercises mentioned above are designed:

  1. To develop pupil’s skills in recognizing grammar forms while auding and reading English texts.

  2. To accumulate correct sentence patterns in the pupil’s memory which they can reproduce whenever they need these patterns for speaking or writing.

  3. To help the pupils to produce sentences of their own using grammar items necessary for speaking about a situation or a topic offered, or writing an essay on the text heard or an annotation on the text read.


4.1 Teaching listening

The previous chapters dealt with the teaching of various aspects of the language, namely, pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. The knowledge of each of the aspects is of great importance to learners. However, when we say a person knows the language we first of all mean he understands the language spoken and can speak it himself. When we speak about teaching a FL we first of all have in mind teaching it as a means of communication.

Listening Dialogue

Oral language < <

Speaking Monologue

The syllabus requirements for oral language are as follows:

  1. To understand the language spoken

  2. To carry on a conversation and to speak a FL within the topics and linguistic material the syllabus sets.

This is the practical aim of teaching oral language. But oral language is not only an aim in itself; it is also a mighty means of FL instruction.

Difficulties in listening

When auding a FL pupils should be very attentive and think hard. They should strain their memory and will power to keep the sequence of sounds they hear and to decode it. Not all the pupils can cope with the difficulties entailed. The teacher should help them by making this work easier and more interesting. This is possible on condition that he will take into consideration the following three main factors which can ensure success in developing listening skills.

  1. Linguistic material

  2. The content of the material suggested for listening

  3. Conditions in which the material is presented.

Listening comprehension can be ensured when the teacher uses the material which has already been assimilated by pupils. However this does not completely eliminate the difficulties in auding. Three kinds of difficulties should be overcome: phonetic, lexical, and grammatical: the horse is slipping (sleeping); they worked (walked) till night; phrasal verbs put on, put off, put down; grammatical homonyms Past Indefinite, Past Participle.

The content of the material also influences comprehension. The topic of communication should be within the ability of the pupils to understand. Difficulties should be explained (proper names, geographical names, terminology etc.)

Description is more difficult than narration. The pupils’ readiness to listen and comprehend is very important. The title of the story may be helpful in comprehending the main idea of the text. Monologic speech is easier.

Conditions of the presenting are of great importance: the speed of the speech, the number of times of presenting the material. Pupils should be taught to listen to the text once. However they sometimes can grasp only 50% of the information and even less, so a second presentation may be helpful. The presence or the absence of the speaker is also an important factor.

Techniques the teacher uses to develop listening skills.

1. Conducting a lesson in a FL gives the teacher an opportunity to develop pupils’ abilities in listening, to demonstrate the language as a means of communication, to provide favorable conditions for the assimilation of the language.

  1. The teacher uses drill and speech exercises to develop listening comprehension.

  2. The teacher organizes activities in listening to texts

Guidelines for organizing listening activities

1. Listening texts

Informal talk. Most listening texts should be based on discourse that is either genuine improvised, spontaneous speech, or at least a fair imitation of it. A typical written text that is read aloud as a basis for classroom listening activity is unlikely to incorporate the characteristics of informal speech and will thus provide the learners with no practice in understanding the most common form of spoken discourse.

Speaker visibility; direct speaker-listener interaction. The fact that in most listening situations the speaker is visible and directly interacting with the listener should make us think twice about the conventional use of audio recordings for listening comprehension exercises. It is useful to the learners if you improvise at least some of the listening texts yourself in their presence (or, if feasible, get another competent speaker of the language to do so). Video also makes a positive contribution to the effectiveness of listening practice, in that it supplies the aspect of speaker visibility and the general visual environment of the text.

Single exposure. If real-life discourse is rarely 'replayed' then learners should be encouraged to develop the ability to extract the information they need from a single hearing. The discourse, therefore, must be redundant enough to provide this information more than once within the original text; and where possible hearers should be able to stop the speaker to request a repeat or explanation.

2. Listening tasks

Expectations. Learners should have in advance some idea about the kind of text they are going to hear. Thus the mere instruction 'Listen to the passage ...' is less useful than something like: 'You are going to hear a husband and wife discussing their plans for the summer ...'. The latter instruction activates learners' relevant schemata (their own previous knowledge and concepts of facts, scenes, events, etc.) and enables them to use this previous knowledge to build anticipatory 'scaffolding' that will help them understand.

Purpose. Similarly, a listening purpose should be provided by the definition of a pre-set task, which should involve some kind of clear visible or audible response. Thus, rather than say simply: 'Listen and understand ...' we should give a specific instruction such as: 'Listen and find out where the family are going for their summer holidays. Mark the places on your map.' The definition of a purpose enables the listener to listen selectively for significant information - easier, as well as more natural, than trying to understand everything.

Ongoing listener response. Finally, the task should usually involve intermittent responses during the listening; learners should be encouraged to respond to the information they are looking for as they hear it, not to wait to the end.

Listening to texts

Before pupils are invited to listen to the text the teacher should ensure that all the words and grammar are familiar to the pupils. If there are some important words the teacher introduces them beforehand (the words on the board in the sequence they appear in the text). Then the teacher should direct his pupils’ attention to what they are going to listen to. This stimulates their thinking and facilitates their comprehension of the text.

Pre-listening tasks stimulate the pupil’s attention:

- Try to grasp the main idea

- Make a plan of the story

- Try to finish the story

Pictures can facilitate comprehension. After they have listened, the teacher may ask questions; make statements on the text for pupils to agree or reject them.

Extensive and intensive listening

Listening of both kinds is especially important since it provides the perfect opportunity to hear voices other than the teacher’s, enables students to acquire good speaking habits as a result of the spoken language they absorb and helps to improve their own pronunciation.

Extensive listening (the teacher encourages students to choose for themselves what they listen to and to do so for pleasure and general language improvement).

Extensive listening will usually take place outside the classroom, material for extensive listening can be found from a number of sources (tapes that accompany different books, songs, video-films).

Intensive listening are taped materials and material on disk. Most coursebooks include tapes and many teachers rely on tapes to provide significant source of language input. The teacher uses taped material at various stages in a sequence of lessons.

Types of listening activities

1. No overt response

The learners do not have to do anything in response to the listening; however, facial expression and body language often show if they are following or not.

Stories. Tell a joke or real-life anecdote, retell a well-known story, read a story from a book; or play a recording of a story. If the story is well-chosen, learners are likely to be motivated to attend and understand in order to enjoy it.

Songs. Sing a song yourself, or play a recording of one. Note, however, that if no response is required learners may simply enjoy the music without understanding the words.

Entertainment: films, theatre, video. As with stories, if the content is really entertaining (interesting, stimulating, humorous, dramatic) learners will be motivated to make the effort to understand without the need for any further task.

2. Short responses

Obeying instructions. Learners perform actions, or draw shapes or pictures, in response to instructions.

Ticking off items. A list, text or picture is provided: listeners mark or tick off words/components as they hear them within a spoken description, story or simple list of items.

True/false. The listening passage consists of a number of statements, some of which are true and some false (possibly based on material the class has just learnt). Learners write ticks or crosses to indicate whether the statements are right or wrong; or make brief responses ('True!' or 'False!' for example); or they may stay silent if the statements are right, say 'No!' if they are wrong.

Detecting mistakes. The teacher tells a story or describes something the class knows, but with a number of deliberate mistakes or inconsistencies. Listeners raise their hands or call out when they hear something wrong.

Cloze. The listening text has occasional brief gaps, represented by silence or some kind of buzz. Learners write down what they think might be the missing word. Note that if the text is recorded, the gaps have to be much more widely spaced than in a reading one; otherwise there is not enough time to listen, understand, think of the answer, and write. If you are speaking the text yourself, then you can more easily adapt the pace of your speech to the speed of learner responses.

Guessing definitions. The teacher provides brief oral definitions of a person, place, thing, action or whatever; learners write down what they think it is.

Skimming and scanning. A not-too-long listening text is given, improvised or recorded; learners are asked to identify some general topic or information (skimming), or certain limited information (scanning) and note the answer(s). Written questions inviting brief answers may be provided in advance; or a grid, with certain entries missing; or a picture or diagram to be altered or completed.

3. Longer responses

Answering questions. One or more questions demanding fairly full responses are given in advance, to which the listening text provides the answer(s). Because of the relative length of the answers demanded, they are most conveniently given in writing.

Note-taking. Learners take brief notes from a short lecture or talk. Paraphrasing and translating. Learners rewrite the listening text in different words: either in the same language (paraphrase) or in another (translation).

Summarizing. Learners write a brief summary of the content of the listening passage. Long gap-filling. A long gap is left, at the beginning, middle or end of a text; learners guess and write down, or say, what they think might be missing.

4. Extended responses

Here, the listening is only a 'jump-off point' for extended reading, writing or speaking: in other words, these are 'combined skills' activities.

Problem-solving. A problem is described orally; learners discuss how to deal with it, and/or write down a suggested solution.

Interpretation. An extract from a piece of dialogue or monologue is provided, with no previous information; the listeners try to guess from the words, kinds of voices, tone and any other evidence what is going on. At a more sophisticated level, a piece of literature that is suitable for reading aloud (some poetry, for example) can be discussed and analyzed.

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