A course at British Council attended by Sathi and Sumathi on 15th November 2018
Part 1:To Teach Or Not To Teach Grammar?
Often educators are stumped with the question on whether or not grammar should be explicitly taught to their students. In this course, we learned about the two schools of thoughts here; “Language is a set of sentences, each finite in length, and constructed out of a finite set of elements[otherwise known as grammar]”(Chomsky, 1957) and “The system of words or signs that people use to communicate ideas and express their thoughts and feelings to each other.”(Merriam-Webster, 2017). Through the discussions during the course, we have come to appreciate that there is an overlap in these two teaching approaches ranging from the highly structural ones to the highly communicative ones and they have varying degrees of prominence to its teaching and is dependable on the profiles of students.
Taking into consideration the different schools of thought where grammar could be acquired naturally with good and relevant exposure to the English Language on a daily basis or the teaching of grammar could enhance the acquisition of grammar at a faster pace, we acknowledge that educators may have differing opinions on grammar. The Dyslexia Association of Singapore’s Main Literacy Programme believes that the teaching of grammar is necessary. The starting points of teaching are the principles of the language and language use and the context is equally as important when teaching grammar. This promotes the active participation of our students in the learning process.
Look out for the remaining two blogs on grammar:
2nd Blog(Part 2)
-Sharing the 9 parts of speech that is foundational to grammar instruction
3rd Blog(Part 3)
-Sharing of activities to teach grammar
Part 2: 9 Parts of Speech
In this article, we share on the nine different parts of speech which is foundational to grammar instruction. We can think of the different parts of speech like different parts of the English language. It helps us to comprehend how to string sentences such that they make sense.
We use nouns to identify any person, place, things or abstract ideas. An example is love. There are also many different kinds of nouns like common nouns that are not capitalized and do not refer to a specific noun. It is essential to have a noun in a sentence.
We use verbs to describe an action, state or occurrence. Verbs need to co-exist with nouns to complete a sentence. It is also crucial to have a verb in a sentence.
We use pronouns to take the place of a noun. It is used to avoid repetition and to make sentences more readily understood.
We use adjectives to name an attribute in the form of a word or phrase. This aids in describing the nouns.
An adverb provides greater description to a verb, adjective, another adverb, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence.
The conjunction is the part of speech used as a “joiner” for words, phrases, or clauses in a particular sentence. It links these words or groups of words together, in such a way that certain relationships among these different parts of the sentence will be established, and the thoughts that all of these convey will be connected.
7) Modal verbs
The modal verbs include can, must, may, might, will, would, should. They are used with other verbs to express ability, obligation, possibility, and so on.
A preposition is a word or set of words that indicate the location (in, near, beside, on top of) or some other relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence (about, after, besides, instead of).
The term “determiner” refers to a grammatical form which is used to indicate further information about a noun. Like adjectives, they can express information such as quantity, proximity, definiteness, and relationship. Moreover, determiners are considered as “modifying words” that specify the type of reference that a particular noun has. They are commonly placed before a noun or a noun phrase, in order to indicate whether the speaker is referring to a specific thing or to something of a particular kind.
Part 3: Activities to teach grammar skills
In this article, we will be sharing some interesting activities to teach grammar skills which were shared during the course.
Grammar Mad Libs
Get students involved by giving them the opportunity to choose a word for each part of speech mentioned above. When they are done, have their buddy read out a text that has blanks which the other partner would then have to fill with the words that they come up with in accordance to the type of speech. Then, switch the roles between the two of them. One would read the text and the other would fill in the blanks accordingly. This promotes the fun element when teaching grammar. This would also be especially useful for learners struggling with the Cloze Passage section in the exams.
In this activity, learners will be given a set of sentences with grammatical errors in them. They will be given a said amount of money and students will need to bet on sentences that they are most confident with. The winners will be the ones who have bought and is able to correct the most sentences. This would be especially useful to engage learners to do editing activities.
Dictogloss is a classroom dictation activity where learners are required to reconstruct a short text by listening and noting down keywords, which are then used as a base for reconstruction. It is regarded as a multiple skills and systems activity. Learners practise listening, writing and speaking (by working in groups) and use vocabulary, grammar and discourse systems in order to complete the task. This, in turn, could aid secondary learners in summary writing and note-taking skills.
Grammar Guided Discovery
The discovery technique is a method of teaching in which students are not directly presented with a target grammatical structure or rule. Instead, students are given content in which the target structure is used. Students then discover the grammatical rule or figure out the pattern for themselves. The teacher’s role is to guide students to their own discovery, not to give students the information on the grammar rule.
This leads us to revisit the question of whether to teach or not to teach grammar. Teaching grammar would help students to express themselves with more clarity. This may include things like basic sentence structure, tenses, etc. To provide a more in-depth example, we would like to share that an aspect of grammar would be the teaching of constructing a longer sentence by adding on to the basics that the students know. This shared example involves students who require a lot of assistance in constructing sentences. Let’s dissect a sentence together to see how students have benefitted and continue to benefit from a grammar in this aspect. Students have already been exposed to the subject and the action predicate of a sentence where they are able to create a basic sentence that is meaningful like ‘The kitten sleeps.’ The term ‘subject’ can be used interchangeably with the term ‘noun’. The action predicate shows what the subject is doing and in this particular sentence, it sleeps. To further aid students in expressing themselves in their writing, a longer sentence involving 2 predicate expanders would help them to create more meaningful sentences. Using the acquired knowledge, they would be able to construct a sentence with more independence. A sentence like ‘The kitten sleeps on the mat because it is tired.’. To make it relatable for the students, they could pose themselves questions like where did the kitten sleep and why did it sleep and this brings us to the use of where predicate expanders and why predicate expanders to expand a basic sentence as stated earlier. The use of ‘on’ and ‘because’ would help to facilitate the application of the where and why predicate expanders respectively. From our teaching experiences, teaching grammar explicitly has added value to students academically and has also contributed to an increased level of self-confidence when they are able to communicate through their writing with more independence.
The sentence in the worksheet does not have predicate expanders for the focus was on using an adjective. However, the student continued the sentence verbally with a why predicate expander. “Jia Jun will wear his scary costume because he wanted to scare his friends.”
These sentences involved the use of the why predicate expander only.
It is also important for students to know how to make a sentence that is meaningful but do students only get this knowledge by understanding and applying grammar? Another perspective for students to acquire language would be through immersion. As mentioned earlier, we are in agreement that there is an overlap of these two approaches and the extent to which grammar is being taught is highly dependable on the profiles of students.