Saturday, 10 November 2012

Communicative Learner-Centred Grammar

This was the title of a Cambridge English Teacher webinar presented by Peter Lucantoni and what follows is a summary of what he had to say.

What is 'grammar'?

Grammar is a set of rules for combining words to express meaning.  It is the system of a language.  Words are given 'labels' to help us to identify their grammatical roles.

In communicative language teaching:
  • There needs to be an active involvement in the learning process (both by teachers and learners).
  • Examples from texts need to be isolated and used as a basis for tasks.
  • Tasks should focus on both the concept (meaning, semantics) and the form of the target grammar.  As teachers, we are often guilty of focusing on the structure and mechanics rather than the meaning.
  • Students should be encouraged to find other examples and work out the rules for themselves.
Jack Richards:

'Communicative language teaching can be understood as a set of principles about the goals of language teaching, how learners learn a language, the kinds of classroom activities that best facilitate learning, and the roles of teachers and learners in the classroom.'
                                               (CLT Today - Cambridge University Press 2006)

Goals depend on context

Everyone learns in different ways; therefore, classroom activities will differ according to context, country, facilities available, class size, etc.

CLT is not a 'method'
  • CLT is best considered as an approach (Richards and Rogers).
  • Teachers are free to interpret the 'rules' of teaching.
  • A wide variety of classroom techniques are feasible.
  • It should move us away from learners who are 'structurally competent' but 'communicatively incompetent' - i.e. students who know the grammar, but can't apply it to communicate.
  • Grammar is important, but we need to find a balance.

''s clearly not possible to engage in purposeful communication in a language without being able to formulate the structures of that language as well.'
                                                                              (McDonagh & Shaw 2000)

As teachers....

''s essential for us to interpret the rules and strike a balance between consolidating structures and developing communicative competence in our English as a second language students.'
                                                                                           (Lucantoni 2002)

'Language without grammar would leave us seriously handicapped.'
                                                                      (Rob Batstone 'Grammar' 2000)

Why is this?

Batstone said that there are three stages in language learning:
  1. Noticing - an active process in which learners become aware of structure and notice connections between form and meaning.  (An appropriate activity here would be to give students a text and get them to highlight the grammar.)
  2. Structuring - when the new grammar pattern becomes internalised.  This is a cognitive process which requires controlled practice.
  3. Procedurising - making the grammar ready for instant and fluent use in communication.
Classroom Activities

1.  Who do you think could........?

This activity practises question forms and modals.  It uses the unit structure/s, but it also provides reading and writing skills development in a communicative and learner-centred manner.
  • You need two pictures of people - male/female, young/old.  Give these people names.
  • Hold up the first picture and ask students to tell you anything they like about the picture - age, hobbies, background, etc.  It doesn't matter what your students say - you are just activating the language they have.
  • Give students the 'true' information.  e.g.:
Name:         Amina
Age:            26
Home:         Casablanca
Hobbies:      Loves music, plays piano
Job:            Doctor
Speaks:       Arabic, English and a little Japanese
Other:         Dislikes pets
Dream:        To fly to the moon
  • You can reveal this information bit by bit to invite reaction, to raise interest and to engage the students.
  • Show the second picture.  Students now know exactly what they have to do.  They'll be interested and excited.
  • Give the real information:
Name:          Hasan
Age:             65
Home:          Fez
Hobbies:       Stamp collecting, weightlifting
Job:              Accountant  
Speaks:        Arabic, Greek
Other:          Vegetarian, can't drive
Dreams:       To go to China, to own a Ferrari

  • All the information is made up, but don't tell the students this - let them believe that it's true.
  • Display the two pictures and ask, 'Who do you think could.......?'  e.g.:
                  move heavy furniture?
                                      Because he likes weightlifting.

                          ..........advise you about your health?
                          Amina - because she's a doctor.

                 you to the airport?

                 you your favourite song?            etc.
  • Ask questions based on the biographies.
  • Students need to tell you why.
You could adapt and extend this activity in several ways:
  • Use other modal verbs, e.g. 'Who do you think might.....?'
  • Use other structures, e.g. 'Who do you think is going to.........?'
  • Use other tenses, e.g. 'Who do you think has..........?'
  • Make the reading element more challenging by putting it in a text (you could even combine the information about two people in one text).
  • A homework extension could be to find two pictures, write biographies about them, write questions based on the biographies and then exchange information with another student in the next class.
2.  The world

This activity provides a good opportunity for extra-curricula work - it is good for revising geographical lexis.
  • Listen to the words.
  • Think about in which country you can write them.  e.g. 'scuba diving' - Red Sea.  It doesn't matter where students decide to put the word, but they must be able to give reasons why.
  • Discuss with a partner.
You will need to give students the functional language:

                                 Where did you put 'scuba diving'?
                             I put scuba diving in the Red Sea.
                             I chose the Red Sea because....
                        I agree/ I disagree because....
  • Show the students a world map.
  • Students write the words you're giving them on the map (or, better still, use post-it notes).
  • If there is no map available, ask students to write the word you give them and write the place next to it.
The idea here is to link the lexis from a unit with a grammar structure.

3.  Mistakes maze

This activity gives learners an opportunity to focus on identifying grammar mistakes in order to get through a maze.

For example:

IN:  Have you ever eat fish?
      (This is an incorrect answer, so exit using the red arrow)
  1. Yes, I have eat.
  2. I've drunk never coffee.
  3. His been to China.
  4. They've never done that.
  5. I've lived here for 13 years.
  6. Said has lived in Kuwait for 2009.
  7. She have tried many times.
  8. No, they hasn't.
  9. Have they been to America?
If students answer correctly, they will pass through every number once only.

This maze can be used to test any grammar point - just make sure you replace correct answers with correct answers and incorrect ones with incorrect ones.

You can focus on a group of mistakes of a particular type or take them from your students' own writing.

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