Visualizing grammar through learners’ physical involvement
Oct 13, 2010 Grammar 6711 Views
Visualizing grammar through learners’ physical involvement
Submission Date: October 11, 2010
Author: (Istvan Jerry Thekes)
This paper aims at presenting the necessity of visualization and that of students moving in the classroom. The article argues for the importance of making classes interesting for the learners to be totally engaged in the grammar structure acquisition process. Through the description of three grammar activities, The article attempts to stand up for students’ physical involvement and against boring drill-filled grammar exercises. Contextualizing grammar is also a point of argument in the paper as the author tries to prove that teaching contextualized grammar is more engaging for learners and it fastens up the learning process.
In this article I intend to argue for the necessity of visual and kinesthetic grammar activities in EFL classrooms. I will also attempt to prove that teaching students grammar can be a fun and encouraging experience. I believe having the learners move and supplying them with plenty of visual stimulus is an effective vehicle to entertain and distress them as they are acquiring certain grammatical skills. Wright and Haleem (1991) emphasize the need that students move in the classroom by stating that the physical manipulation of the lessons can contribute enormously to an understanding of sentence construction. Teaching grammar in EFL lessons is important but not in spite of trying to be communicative but exactly because of it. I agree with Alexander (1994), who says that “in our eagerness to get our students to communicate, we frequently try to sweep grammar under the carpet… Grammar is being taught again not despite but because of the communicative revolution.” This statement is reinforced by Tarone and Yule (1996) who explanatorily say that “developing this grammatical competence, it should be remembered, is in many respects the major goal of large numbers of students who take courses in a second or foreign language. Moreover, it has never really been seriously suggested that any language learner can become proficient in a language without developing a certain level of grammatical competence.”
I will also try to prove that real-life grammar usage has to be demonstrated in a way that students see structures as a bridge to successful improvement and not as a brick wall. Grammar has been viewed by learners as an exhausting and boring process during which one has to rote-learn rules just as a student does in a science class. This has been mainly due to the fact that a large number of language teachers have considered explaining grammar rules as a cornerstone of an EFL lesson. Interestingly enough, as Tarone and Yule (1996) argue “even today, there seem to be some learners who approach the task of second language learning as one in which the ability to state grammatical rules is the perceived goal.”
Constant explanation of grammar rules and decontextualizing grammar are a quick way for the teacher to demotivate their students and unfortunately a lot of non-native EFL teachers still fall into the comfortable trap of presenting grammar through rules as they saw it done to them when they studied a foreign language. This fact is supported by Xiao-Yun (2010) who asserts that “traditional grammar teaching is often associated with the dry memorization of rules and the equally dry prospect of applying these rules in fill-in-the-blank, pattern practice, substitution transformation, and translation, which cause negative feelings.” A further support on this opinion comes from Krashen (1987), according to whom “language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”
I firmly believe the conveyance of grammar usage needs to be carried out in a demonstrative and entertaining way for the students to be receptive to the learning content of the lesson. Using the phrase ‘learning content’ I refer to Medgyes’ terminology, who has differentiated between the two main targets of an EFL lesson: “…foreign-language teachers have no direct body of knowledge available in the sense that physics or history teachers have. Or rather they have two different sets of content to teach: the grammar of the foreign language and the topics which serve to present and to carry to specific items of grammar. Littlejohn (1992) calls these two sets the learning content and the carrier content (paraphrased in Medgyes, 1995).” However, in this paper, I will use the term ‘demo grammar’ in order to indicate the massive difference between this way of grammar teaching and the approach centered on rule explanation.
The need to motivate students
In order to motivate students to learn grammar teachers need to use lightning rods to fend off the tension the learners tend to have. If it is proved to them that the acquisition of grammar structures is an enjoyable pastime, they will be more willing to proceed in their EFL studies. When I use the term ‘motivate’, I always have Dörnyei’s and Csizér’s (1999) research in mind. They have elaborated on the way for motivating language learners. According to them- ten commandments for motivating learners as they have phrased it- the teacher needs to set a personal example with your own behavior, create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere in the class, present the task properly, develop a good relationship with the learners, increase the learner’s self-confidence, make language classes interesting, promote learner autonomy, personalize the learning process, increase the learners’ self-orientedness and familiarize the learners with target language culture. I intend to refer here to the importance of creating a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and that of making the language classes interesting. I believe visual-kinesthetic grammar games such as the ones described above assure the teacher to entertain the learners.
I will present three visual-kinesthetic activities of grammar teaching. I will precisely name the level of students, the demo grammar (learning content) of the lesson, the materials and the procedure.
Kali goddess game
Demo grammar: passive
Material: pictures, slips of paper, duct-tape
Prior to the lesson the teacher has put three different pile of prompt cards on three different chairs in the classroom. On one chair there is a pile of images of famous people e.g.: Einstein, Columbus, Charles Goodyear, etc. On another chair there are slips of papers with verbs on them such as ‘invent’, ‘make’, discover’, etc. On the third chair there are pictures of inventions, continents and object such as ‘America’, tyres’, the relativity theory formula, etc. First, students have to go to chair No 1 and pick a famous person for themselves. Once they are done, they move to chair No 3 and try to match the people with the objects, inventions associated with them. Since it is not a quiz test or a general knowledge survey, the teacher helps out if they are stuck. Finally, they have to pick the verb corresponding to their picture pairs; for example: Hamlet, Shakespeare, write.
After the teacher has also found a card trio, the teacher presents the passive grammar structure: ‘The computer was invented by John Neumann.‘ Following this, I stick a card with the word ‘was’ on it onto the teacher’s chest. One student has to come and stand behind the teacher. On their right hand they have to show one card from the object and invention pile; in their left hand they will have to hold up verb and famous person pair. As they do it, the rest of the group can see a visual sentence: ‘Figaro’- ‘Was’- ‘compose’- ‘Mozart’. One of them has to form a correct sentence from these chunks: ‘Figaro was composed by Mozart.’ After one learner is done, they take turns in coming behind me in line with their visual chunks. By the end of the game the whole class looks like the Hindu goddess Kali, who has multiple hands.
Demo grammar: prepositions of state
Material: pictures, slips of paper, duct-tape, dart board
After engaging the students with the pictorial presentation of ‘next to’, ‘behind’, etc., teacher sticks pictures of places such as ‘bank’, hospital’, shop’, etc on a dart board. The teacher has the learners take turns in throwing the dart onto the bard. Whichever picture one student has hit is theirs. They then stick these ‘places’ onto their chest as they transform into these objects for the time of the game. The teacher explicitly tells them: ‘You are the bank’, ‘You are the shop’, etc.
Once they are done with the sticking, they have to move around as the teacher has one of them stand on the table, one on a chair and one even has to lie down on the floor. The teacher has other students stand next to and behind one another. This way we have a living city with the bank being next to the church and the park being under the hospital. What ever their position is, teacher has the students say sentences based on the current position of each of them: ‘The park is under the hospital.’; The butcher is behind the post office’, etc.
Demo grammar: factitive
Material: slips of paper, pictures, duct-tape, chair, box
The teacher engages the students by revising the lexical set of jobs and working with the use of pictures. In a box the teacher has put verbs connected with jobs, e.g.: ‘repair’, ‘cut’, ‘tame’, etc. One group of students picks the slips of cards from the box whereas the other group is given the pictures of jobs, e.g.: ‘mechanic’,’ plumber’, ‘vet, etc. The learners with pictures of jobs in their hands have to find partners on the basis of the certain occupation’s matching verb, e.g.: one pair is the ‘mechanic’, ‘repair’, another is the ‘vet’, ‘cure’, etc. Following this, the teacher pulls up a chair with the word ‘had’ stuck on it and has the pair line up next to the teacher as they themselves stand next to each other as well. The teacher sticks their cards on their chests and has the picture of an object connected with the job. Thus, the rest of the group sees a chair with ‘had’ on it, the teacher standing next to the chair showing the picture of the object ‘car’, one student standing next to teacher with the verb ‘repair’ stuck on his/her chest and one more student with the picture of a ‘mechanic’ closing up the line. The teacher presents the structure: ‘I had my car repaired by the mechanic.’ Then students and teacher cooperate in selecting the right prompts as the activity proceeds involving students in the acquisition of the factitive grammar structure. Another sentence will read like this: ‘I had my dog cured by the vet.’
The objective is to put together the sentences correctly and for the students to see that the object comes between the verb ‘have’ and the past participle form of the verb. By moving into the correct place with the correct prompt, it will be evident for them that this structure is completely different in meaning from the seemingly similar present perfect tense. This way of fragmenting complicated structures like factitive facilitates acquisition of new language-
I have attempted to support the concept of visualized grammar in the EFL classroom by presenting three grammar games. I have also tried to argue for entertaining and pleasant activities in the EFL classroom and to argue against explained grammar rules in the EFL classroom. Students will improve their skills in language structures once they are given a friendly, motivating and encouraging EFL classroom environment.
The above three activities are well suited to engage students in acquiring the correct form and function of the grammatical structures. This view is also supported by an old Chinese: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” The interpretation of this proverb in our context is the following: just telling the students the grammar rule is hardly enough for them to absorb the new knowledge; it is crucially important to show them and involve them physically in the teaching and learning process.
As the learners are engaged in these activities that involve moving and fun, I believe the teacher can really create pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and make the EFL classes interesting.
Alexander, L. (1994). Grammar in the Classroom IN Bower, R; (Ed) 1994. Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching. London, British Council
Krashen, Stephen (1987) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New Jersey, Prentice Hall
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1991). Teaching Grammar IN Celce-Murcia, M. (Ed) 1991. Teaching English as a Second Language and Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó
Littlejohn, A.P. (1991). Why are English Language Teaching Materials the way they are? Ph.D. Thesis: Lancaster University cited in Medgyes
Medgyes, Peter. (1995). The non-native teacher. London, MacMillan Publishers.
Tarone, Elaine; Yule, George. (1996). Focus on the Language Learner. Oxford, Oxford University Press
Wright, Andrew.; Haleem, Safia. (1991). Visuals for the Language Classroom. London, Longman
Xiao-Yun, Yan (2010) Interactive grammar teaching IN Modern English Teacher Volume 17No. 3 p 34-37