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Theoretical Aspects of Teaching English Grammar

Theoretical Aspects of Teaching English Grammar

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MA THESIS ON THE SUBJECT OF TEACHING GRAMMAR AND DIFFERENT ASPECTS THEREOF
MA THESIS ON THE SUBJECT OF TEACHING GRAMMAR AND DIFFERENT ASPECTS THEREOF

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12/23/2012

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As it was said before, in PPP the stage of presentation concentrates on
introducing new knowledge and letting students recognize and understand the meaning
that it carries, but not necessarily offering any clear explanation. Here we assume that
presentation is everything that comes before the actual practice, including explanation.
It has been already noted, that this stage incorporates the first two stages
proposed by Ur (1993), that is, [1] Presentation and [2] Isolation and explanation. As for
the role of the presentation, she states that:

The aim of the presentation is to get the learners to perceive the structure – its
form and meaning – in both speech and writing and take it into short-term
memory.
(Ur, 1993:7)

This stage, as the author notes, is associated more with the context than the form. The
former is in the centre of attention during the isolation and explanation. Again, quoting
Ur (1993):

At this stage we move away temporarily from the context, and focus,
temporarily, on the grammatical items themselves: what they sound and look
like, what they mean, how they function – in short, what rules govern them. The
Objective is that the learners should understand these various aspects of the
structure.
(Ur, 1993:7)

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The presentation stage exists also in the approach of Komorowska (2002) and it
actually corresponds almost directly to what is being covered in this subsection.
According to her, the proper presentation should include following elements:

§using the new structure in a proper context, that makes it understandable for the

learner,
§checking if the structure was understood properly,
§repetition of the structure by the learners,
§writing the structure on the blackboard,
§clarification of the structure and underlining its relevant features (i.e. the -ed
ending in English Past Simple tense),
§reading the structure
§writing the new structure in the notebooks in a possibly characteristic context,
i.e. in a proper mini-dialogue

This plan is quite explicit in its form. However, Komorowska (2002) underlines, that it
is based on the deductive teaching of grammar, while there is also a possibility of using
the inductive teaching, where learner seeks the new forms in the text, then figures out its
meaning from the context and tries to formulate his own explanation, which then is
either accepted by the teacher or corrected, if a need arises.
Still, some approaches advocate additional elements used at this stage of
teaching grammar. As an example of such stance, Thornbury (2004) supports the use of
the advance organizer, that is, information presented at the very beginning of the lesson,
before the actual learning, which the learner can use for systematization and
understanding of the new knowledge.
In order to discuss how to choose proper techniques for conducting presentation,
we may begin with a reference to Komorowska (2002:125-126), who proposes a list of
the seven most important decisions that have to be made in order to present the new
material in a correct way:

1.Which grammatical structure are we going to teach?
2.What meanings of this structure are we going to teach?
3.Which forms do we want to teach?
4.What situations are we going to use to present and explain the given structure?

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5.How are we going to introduce the new structure?
6.Which teaching aids and materials are we going to need in order to teach the
given structure?
7.Which vocabulary must the learners know in order to understand and practice
the new structure?

As for the selection of the structures, it all depends on the context in which the
teaching takes place. If teaching takes place in a very formal context, i.e. at school, the
selection will be based mainly on the syllabus and the coursebook. In a less formal
context, i.e. in some language teaching schools or in private teaching, selection will be
based mostly on the learner’s needs and the chosen coursebook.
Another two questions concern the amount of the material that is going to be
introduced. It should be administered according to the possibilities of the learners as
well as their level. Referring to the examples provided by Komorowska (2002), if we
teach Present Continuous tense to beginners, we are interested in its meaning expressing
doing something in the moment of speaking, not its more intricate usage such as when
we want to express annoyance. And, as for the amount, when we teach past forms of
verbs to beginners we should introduce either only the regular forms or 5 or 6 irregular.
The rest of the questions concern various aspects of explanations. Situation that
we use must agree with those that the given structure is meant to describe. An extreme
example of a wrong use of the situation would be saying “She plays guitar” to describe
what a given person is doing at the moment, which would require Present Continuous
tense and definitely not Present Simple.
To the question of how to introduce the new structure Komorowska answers
with several techniques that might be used: conversation with the learners, a short scene
or manual demonstration. Another problem – which teaching aids and materials are to
be used - depends on their availability, their appropriateness for the presentation of a
given structure and the age of the learners.
Finally, the question of vocabulary used in the presentation. In short, we should
not use voacabulary that the learners are not acquainted with, since that would lead to
them having to concentrate both on the new vocabulary and the new structure
simultaneously, which might greatly impede the learning process.

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Those seven decisions that Komorowska (2002) places in front of the language
teacher cover many of the features of presenting new grammar material. But what is
sometimes also needed after presenting new grammar is a certain degree of explanation.
As stated by Ur (1993), the length of the explanation and the way in which it is
conducted may vary according to the type of classes, the difficulty of the structure and
the learning style of the learners. The influence of such factors is accounted for by Stern
(1993), referring to Celce-Murcia, who provided a whole set of learner’s characteristics
and proficiency objectives that influence the importance of form-centered teaching:

Importance of a focus on form

Learner factors

Less important

Moderately important More important

Learning style

Holistic

Mixed

Analytic

Age

Children

Adolescents

Adults

Proficiency level

Beginning

Intermediate

Advanced

Educational
background

Pre-literate
No

formal

education

Semi-literate
Some

formal

education

Literate
Well-educated

Figure 2: Learner factors which influence a focus on grammatical form in language teaching
(Stern, 1993:129, adapted from Celce-Murcia, 1985)

What we can notice from the above table is the fact that some of those factors
actually influence the selection of learners into the classroom, while some of them are
simply considered individual differences. It actually does not happen that a learning
style plays a role in such selection and therefore teachers have to cope with their variety
among students. Usually it is the age and proficiency level that count the most and the
educational background is not considered important, except for consequences resulting
already from the age factor.

- 21 -

Importance of a focus on form

Learner factors

Less important

Moderately
important

More important

Learning style

Holistic

Mixed

Analytic

Skill

Listening,
Reading

Speaking

Writing

Register

Informal

Consultative

Formal

Need/use

Survival

Vocational

Professional

Figure 3: Proficiency objectives which influence a focus on grammatical form in language teaching
(Stern, 1993:133, adapted from Celce-Murcia, 1985)

Although the objectives presented in figure 3 are undoubtedly important, again it
is rare that they play a role in the selection of learners. However, contrary to the factors
from figure 2, level of formality can be adjusted to particular exercises that focus on a
specific objective, since modern syllabuses and coursebooks are balanced in terms of
skill development and formality of the communicative situations.
Evidently, a teacher will not provide learners in the primary school with
explanation consisting of complex metalinguistic terms. On the other hand, more mature
and highly proficient learners may require a very formal and abstract explanation. There
are undoubtedly many other factors influencing the efficiency of an explanation, such as
the amount of L1 being used, which depends on the level of the learner’s L2
metalanguage, since he may require abstract explanations, but lack words needed to
express them. Some other factors may even concern extralinguistic influence such as the
teacher’s charisma or his voice’s tone.

1.4.2. Practice

After conducting a proper presentation of a new structure, the time comes to
make the learner acquainted with it, as well as provide him with enough training to
achieve the accuracy needed to move on to another stage – production. According to
Thornbury (2004), practice activities have three objectives – first is the precision of

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using the language system, second is the automisation of it and third is restructuring, by
which he means integrating new information into the previously acquired knowledge.
As said by Ur (1993), practice enables learner to “understand and produce
examples of it [material] with gradually lessening teacher support”. This view is
supported by Komorowska (2002), who claims that the main rule of L2 practice is
starting with almost totally mechanical exercises, then providing the learners with
exercises guided by the teacher and following the constant pattern and finally arriving at
more open-ended tasks and almost-natural situations, with teacher playing a less
important role.

There are many guidelines given by the scholars investigating the practice of
foreign language. Thornbury (2004) differentiates them according to the objectives that
the practice has. An exercise focusing on accuracy should pay attention to form and
encourage the learners to be accurate, include the familiar language, give enough
thinking time and provide feedback referring to their progress. An exercise focusing on
fluency should underline meaning, be authentic and have some communicative purpose,
divide the language into smaller, memorisable chunks and include proper amount of
repetition. Finally, an exercise focusing on restructuring should initiate problematising,
push the learners beyond their current level and provide enough security to make
learners feel safe when taking risks.
Similarly, Komorowska (2002) attempts to formulate seven rules of conducting
grammar exercises: [1] they must have their subjects and titles, [2] they must have a
clear purpose and instruction, [3] they should enable repetition of a given pattern in
natural situations, [4] they should be well-paced, varied and short – so that they do not
become boring, [5] learners should be active and motivated during practice, [6] the
more individuality and personalization during the practice, the better efficiency of
learning grammar, [7] learners must be informed whether the exercise aims at fluency or
accuracy.

Another set of guidelines is provided by Ur (1993) and it is divided into three
sets of factors: those concerning the structures of the task, those that contribute to
learner’s interest and those that influence learner’s motivation. Many of those factors
overlap with those previously mentioned, for example: clear objective, active language
use, open-endedness, and personalization. However, a lot more emphasis is put on the
precise activities done during practice.

- 23 -

As for the techniques themselves, their number is only limited by the teacher’s
creativity. However, very often used during foreign language lessons the somewhat
controversial drills are being used, such as slot-fillers, multiple-choice exercises,
matching (Ur, 1993), substitution, transformation and integration (Komorowska, 2002).
On the other hand, their controversy disappears if we accept the need of the teacher to
slowly release control over his learners’ exercises.
We must bear in mind, however, that although such guidelines are quite precise,
they will never result in particularly similar outcomes, due to various individual
differences of the learners. What is a clear instruction for an adult might be
incomprehensible for a young learner and, conversely, what is interesting for a young
learner might be seen as useless or boring by adults or even adolescents. Teachers must,
therefore, be creative and flexible, conscious of the fact that what is good for one does
not have to be good for the others and vice versa, but also bearing in mind that they
cannot satisfy everyone and must find optimal solutions when faced with varied groups
of learners.

After being subjected to the sufficient amount of exercise in context, as well as
communicative activities, learners can enter another stage, which is Production.

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