Teaching Grammar in the Context of Writing By Vinita C. Gaikwad
Overview • Background information • Theory • Application to teaching
Debate: Is Grammar Teaching Useful? Debate: What is the best method of teaching grammar?
In China, in most schools, grammar is taught in the traditional way. • This includes: • Memorizing grammatical terms and definitions • Completing loads of worksheets and exercises • Learning several rules as well as their exceptions The Fact: Students who have acquired good grammatical knowledge are still not able to apply that knowledge to their writing.
Task: Write a letter to a friend inviting him/her to a party. Normally, a model letter is provided, and students are encouraged to imitate sentences, substituting some details with their own, such as names, dates, place names, etc. The activity is done using constant reminders that such an activity could appear on their final exam. Students memorize the sentences and reproduce a similar letter when asked in the exam.
The End Result? • Students acquire grammar skills in isolation • They do not connect their knowledge to their writing tasks • So, even if they pass very well in grammar tests, such as Gao Kao, they find it difficult to produce a composition that is free of grammatical errors.
There are no miracles here. No matter how students are taught grammatical concepts, syntactic construction and stylistic devices, or language conventions and editing concepts, they will not automatically make use of these in their writing. Relevant research confirms what everyday experience reveals: that teaching ‘grammar’ in the context of writing works better than teaching grammar in isolation. -- Constance Weaver, 2004
Teaching Grammar in the Context of Writing: The research evidence
According to teachers in general, grammar is a difficult subject to teach mostly because they are at a loss for the most effective way to teach it. Students are able to correct sentences in isolation; however, the connection is not made for their everyday writing. The most effective way to teach grammar is by teaching it in the context of students’ own writing.’ Wright, et al. (2006). Formal instruction in grammar is the most ineffective strategy for impacting student writing. Teaching grammar in isolation will not improve student writing. Hillocks (2006).
How, then, should we teach grammar in the context of writing? • Learning styles specifically refer to an individual’s natural, habitual, and preferred ways of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills (Reid, 1995). • A student’s learning style, their previous learning experience, their attitude and approach toward learning are fundamentally linked (Junko Ueno, 2005). Language Teaching should be learner specific.
Three Facts about the Chinese Learner Learning Style
Mathematical Ability According to a new study, brain scans have revealed that Chinese speakers rely more on visual regions than English speakers when comparing numbers and doing sums (Khamsi, 2006). According to Chen (1997) the Chinese traditionally visualize concepts they wish to retain in their memory. Lau (1996) mentions that they solve mathematical problems easily as compared with others.
Visual Language Initially, most characters were developed to imitate the image of the real world things.
Visualization of grammar Sentence Combining Better Writing
Writing Task: Write a paragraph about your friend. Grammar Focus: Combining sentences or parts of a sentence using the conjunction “and”.
LESSON PLAN Two 50-minute periods • Students discuss in pairs. Then report to the class what they have discussed. • Students write the first draft. Then share their work with their partner. Teacher assists in the activity and explains, when necessary, the benefits of peer review. • Teacher reminds students the definition of a simple sentence. • Then explains the following diagram:
nounverb noun The Reed-Kellogg diagrams : A scheme developed by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg Subject Predicate modifier modifier
5. Students help each other identify some simple sentences from their drafts. 5. Teacher collects a few examples on the board and then carefully chooses one sentence, such as My friend is John. 6. Teacher draws, or displays, a diagram on the board/screen.
1. My friend is John. friend is John My
7. Next, ask students to help each other find a sentence that has the word ‘and’. Among the list you collect, carefully choose a sentence like this one: John has a brother and a sister. Identify the two underlying statements:
2. John has a brother and a sister. Identify the two underlying sentences: John has brother a John has sister a
2. John has a brother and a sister. brother John has a and sister a This is a simple sentence that has a compound object.
8. Encourage the pupils to find similar sentences in each other’s paragraphs and draw diagrams themselves. Go around assisting when necessary. • 9. While monitoring the activity, take note of an error relevant to the lesson, and explain it on the board with the use of a diagram.
Compound sentences 3. John is my best friend and we get along very well. John is friend best my and We get along well very
Compare & Contrast 1. John has a brother and a sister. brother John has a and sister a 2. John is my best friend and we get along very well. John is friend my best and We get along well very
* Identify some choppy sentences, and let students work in pairs or groups to combine them. You can give them a list of conjunctions that they can use, and remind them of their functions. * Use diagrams to explain errors or to explain sentence structure. * Students may rewrite their paragraph including some new compound sentences they created. * As homework, ask the pupils to identify two or three compound sentences they have written and make sentence diagrams. You can Choose the best ones and put them on a display board. and Complete the writing task but either / or neither / nor
Implications • Encourages learner autonomy • Students learn a point in grammar as well as revise and edit their work. They see immediate results. • Very little terminology is used. • Students identify their own strengths and errors. • The visuals help in conceptualizing. • Can be a fun activity / group activity
Teaching Tips • Teach only those grammatical concepts that are needed for editing writing. • Use minimal terminology. • Experiment in sentence combining. • Let them write for a real audience. • Use a variety of visuals, especially sentence diagrams. • Provide opportunities to read. I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. -- Gertrude Stein
Suggested references:Alsagoff, Lubna (2009). A Visual Grammar of English, 2nd edition. Singapore: Pearson, Longman.Grammar by Diagram: Understanding English Grammar Through Traditional Sentence Diagramming by Cindy L. Vitto on amazon.comVisual Thesaurus, by Plumb Design, Inc.If your computer is equipped with PowerPoint, click on the PowerPoint icon to the right for a brief PowerPoint presentation on Diagramming Sentences. You can watch diagrams grow before your eyes.Click HERE . http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/powerpoint.htm