An Analysis and Example of Consciousness
Raising in the EFL Classroom
by James Broadbridge
The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of Consciousness-Raising Exercises in the EFL Classroom. It outlines the differences between Consciousness-Raising and more traditional Grammar Translation techniques, and then goes on to discuss the arguments both for and against the use of Consciousness-Raising in the classroom. The final sections then focus on the problem of when and where to use these types of activities and practical issues involved in focusing on grammar in the Japanese university EFL classroom.
With the advent of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), grammar teaching was almost “forced underground” (Miller 2002: 144). Teachers who still felt it to be an important part of the learning process, were forced to do so discretely through fear of admonishment from their peers. With the claims of the CLT movement holding such power, it was inevitable that there would be some form of backlash against the abandonment of hundreds of years of teaching practice. This has occurred with the rise of Consciousness Raising (CR) as a method of teaching grammar.
CR, as described by Ellis is: “an attempt to equip the learner with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature - to develop declarative rather than procedural knowledge of it.” (Ellis 1991:234) It involves a focus on a specific form of the language, which is highlighted in a variety of ways. When teaching grammar through CR, teachers do not teach any grammar rules directly, rather they provide information in the form of data, which contains the form to be focused upon. From this data students are encouraged to engage in cognitive activities, which allow the students to create rules about the language for themselves, bringing the language to a conscious level. CR activities can take many forms, but general principles of an inductive, focus on form remain constant. Examples of CR activities can be found in the Appendix, and will be discussed within this article to highlight some of the characteristics of CR.
CR is not intended to replace CLT in any way, and as we shall see later, CR can be used within communicative language lessons. In using CR, a return to the failed method of Grammar Translation (GT) is not being advocated; they are two very different approaches. What CR does, is to allow teachers to highlight problem areas, which are evading acquisition, and develop exercises, which can facilitate the acquisition of these troublesome forms. The main differences between CR and GT will be discussed in the following section of this article, with later sections focusing on the arguments for and against CR, and also problems involved with using CR in the classroom.
Differences between Consciousness Raising and Traditional Grammar Teaching
CR differs in a number of ways from GT and the following section will highlight some of these differences.
1. CR can act as a supplement to language learning, rather than the main focus, therefore it is perfectly suited to the communicative classroom as it complements this method of teaching.
2. There is no need for a metalinguistic knowledge, as stated by Ellis: It is perfectly possible … to develop an explicit understanding of how a grammatical structure works without learning much in the way of grammatical terminology.” (Ellis 1991:234)
3. CR differs in the route of bringing grammar to an explicit level, whereas a GT teacher would teach the rule, with CR it is a way of discovery as the students create the rules for themselves.
4. CR does not attempt to impart the grammatical rules of the whole language. Instead it only focuses on certain items that have thus far failed to be acquired by the students in that particular class.
5. CR allows the teacher freedom to spend as much or as little time as required on the particular form. As noted by Sharwood-Smith (1981) an important feature of CR is the degree of explicitness and elaboration. Sharwood-Smith described four varying styles of activity, with the style being adjusted to suit the student and the form being focused on. An example of the differences between the styles of activity can be found when looking at Appendix 2 and 3. In Appendix 2 less technical metalanguage is used, than in Appendix 3. It is only a slight difference, but the increased use of metalanguage can have the effect of losing a students interest in the activity, a point which will be discussed in more detail later in this article. All of the activities in Appendix 1-3 would fall into the category Sharwood-Smith described as being: less explicit with the students forming the rules themselves; and also more elaborate, with the activity being broken down into stages to aid the knowledge of the appropriate generalization. (Sharwood-Smith 1981: 54) These activities take this form due to the audience they are aimed at, with all of these activities being designed for similar classes, but through making the activities more explicit by focusing more on complex metalanguage, or more elaborate by spending more time on the structure, CR can be used for a wide variety of students and structures.
The differences between CR and GT were succinctly described by Rutherford: “CR is a means to attainment of grammatical competence in another language.” (Rutherford 1989: 24) which the learner contributes greatly to. Grammar Teaching represented an “attempt to instil that competence directly.” (ibid) CR protagonists are fully aware that the methodology, which GT was based upon, was ineffective, and believe that CR is a way of gaining the benefits knowledge of the L2 grammar brings, whilst doing so in a way that promotes its acquisition.
Arguments for Consciousness Raising
There are many ways CR has been justified by those who believe it is of benefit. One particular area of benefit is in the teaching of adults, Ellis believes that: “some learners (particularly adults) are likely to construct some kind of explicit representation of a rule.” (Ellis 1991:235). This way of using their intellect to learn the language vastly differs from the way our L1 is learned. CR provides students with clear information; making it easier for them to help form generalizations. Also, if this analytical style of student is aware that they want to use their intellect to learn the language; by giving them CR activities teachers are fulfilling their students needs as the students see them.
Also, when learning an L2 there is usually a great difference in the amount of exposure to that language when compared with the exposure received when learning the L1. Although in some situations the learner is exposed outside the classroom: due to living in the same country as the language they are studying; it is often the case that their only exposure to the L2 is in the classroom. Due to this limited exposure the learner is prevented from having enough access to the language to make the necessary generalizations needed to form hypotheses when being taught. CR therefore, has the following role: “The role of CR here is thus seen as one which data that are crucial for the learner’s testing of hypotheses, and for his forming generalizations, are made available to him in somewhat controlled and principled fashion.” (Rutherford 1989:18) Through gaining knowledge of the language CR allows the “accretion of new data to old and the abandonment of old hypotheses for new ones.” (ibid).
Furthermore, CR is of use because it fulfils the roles that students expect from the teacher: that of an imparter of knowledge. A particularly salient point in countries, in which Hofstede described as having “strong uncertainty avoidance societies” (Hofstede 1986: 314), one such country is Japan, where teachers are seen as experts, who are expected to have all the answers (ibid). Societies such as these would expect to have some kind of formal teacher lead classwork, and CR provides this, whilst also making teachers accountable. This accountability will be looked at in more detail later in the article when Consciousness Raising in the Japanese classroom is discussed.
Another srgument for the use of CR is when we consider that part of the process of acquisition is overgeneralisation, where students transfer the knowledge they have gained to another form of grammar in the hope that it can be used in this area also. Linguists such as White have claimed that within CLT there is little ‘negative evidence’ with which to regulate students utterances, and without this they are unable to notice, learn and correct the areas where they are overgeneneralising: CR can play a major part in providing ‘negative evidence’:
“These are the situations which require negative evidence, that is, drawing the learner`s attention to the fact that certain forms are non-occurring, or ungrammatical, in the target language. Such evidence would seem to be required when learners make certain kinds of overgeneralizations, i.e. arrive at grammars which are overinclusive.” (White 1988:3)
An example of the use of negative evidence can be found in Appendix 2, where grammatically incorrect sentences are provided to aid knowledge of the grammar. By giving students a CR activity such as Appendix 2, based on one illustrated in Ellis (1991), it allows students to learn from their mistakes, without the negative psychological effects of the demotivating “red-pen” (Yip 1994:125) correction method.
A further argument for the use of CR is evident when you consider the use of an authentic text to highlight use of the present perfect in Appendix 1. The arguments for the use of authentic texts is very strong because they are seen to help:
“… overcome the typical problem that students can’t transfer what they learn in the classroom to the outside world and to expose students to natural language in a variety of situations, adherents of the C.A. [Communicative Approach] advocate the use of authentic language materials.”(Larsen-Freeman 1986:135)
As outlined in this section, the benefits for the use of CR are clearly numerable;,however there are many arguments against its use in the classroom, and these will be discussed in the following section.
Arguments against Consciousness Raising
CR, and the use of grammar-based activities in the classroom, has been attacked on various grounds. One of these ways is that the key to mastering a second language, and being able to produce utterances spontaneously, is to acquire the language, something that cannot be done without a natural approach to learning being employed. Drawing comparisons between adults learning their Second Language (L2) and the acquisition by children of their first language (L1), Krashen & Terrell state that very rarely do parents grammatically correct their child’s speech, merely correcting the speech’s content. (Krashen & Terrell 1983: 27), therefore, knowing what the mistake is does not aid acquisition. Rather, learning is a ‘subconscious process’ that produces a ‘feel’ for the language, which allows the learner to know that they have made a mistake whilst being unable to pinpoint exactly what the mistake was. Krashen & Terrell believe that over time, through input that is both challenging and comprehensible, acquisition will take place. (Krashen & Terrell 1983:26)
Due to the subconscious nature of acquisition, any attempts to bring learning to a conscious level are futile, as knowing about language does not lead to these rules being employed in actual L2 speech. Research by Seliger (1979) concluded that a learners’ “ability to state a conscious rule was not directly related to the learners ability to perform a task related to the knowledge which the rule supposedly represents.” (Seliger 1979: 369).
Further evidence against CR comes from the ‘Natural Order’ hypothesis (Krashen &
Terrell 1983). Based on research into the acquirement of morphological forms such as the progressive ‘–ing’, plurals etc. This theory states that time spent on grammar is time wasted due to the fact that given sufficient input and opportunity these morphological forms will be acquired naturally. Succinctly summarised by Ellis: “not only [should syntax] not be taught (to any extent) but it cannot be taught.” (Ellis 1991: 53)
The advent of CLT has also coincided in some cases with a move away from teaching a metalinguistic knowledge of students’ own L1. In comparison to their parents or grandparents, many young students today do not have as great a knowledge and understanding of their own L1’s grammar as this knowledge was deemed to be unnecessary. This creates a problem for these students when faced with more traditional grammar exercises in an L2 lesson. Students with less metalinguistic knowledge would clearly struggle more compared to students who had a greater knowledge of what constitutes grammar. Students of an older generation who studied the grammar of their L1, coupled with the traditional study in school of Latin and other languages using a GT method would possible benefit more from an explicit grammar based lesson.
There are clearly numerous arguments for and against the use of CR, all of which are valid, and ultimately it is the teacher of each individual class who is best able to assess whether CR is of use in his or her classroom. The remainder of this article will now move on to more practical issues surrounding the use of CR activities. Looking later at its use in Japanese university classrooms, but first discussing the problem of when to use CR and what forms to focus on.
The Problem of When to Use Consciousness Raising
Even the strongest advocates of CR make it clear that it should not be used at all times. If it can only be said, that “it [CR] helps for certain learners, at certain levels, with certain aspects of grammar.” (Yip 1994: 123), then to gain benefits from CR we need to know when to “turn on the spotlight [and how to] avoid blinding the student”(Stevick 1981: 251). It is clear that CR should not be used with learners of certain ages. Research by Fotos (1994), Ellis (1991), and Seliger (1979), has shown that age is a major factor affecting CR’s effectiveness. Fotos’ study focused on students of university age, and CR was found to have a positive effect. In comparison, studies of students of a younger age, 11-13, as described in Ellis (1991), were shown to be unaffected by CR activities. Although many other variables between the two studies could account for this, age is surely a major influence. Due to its analytical nature CR is unattractive to young learners due to their inability to analyse, particularly in very young learners. Also a lack of desire to engage in such activities is a major factor, with the more exciting activities, found in CLT, that are further removed from actual ‘studying’, being more attractive to learners at an age when learning may be something they do not want to do.
Considering the question of when to turn on the spotlight. We need to do so when a need for ‘negative evidence’ is required to assist in the creation of hypotheses. Also when students have a lack of exposure we can prepare them for acquisition: “It contributes to the processes of noticing and comparing and, therefore, prepares the grounds for the integration of new linguistic material.” (Ellis 1991:238) We should not use CR if fluency of production is the goal, but we can increase understanding and knowledge through highlighting certain areas:
“CR is considered as a potential facilitator for the acquisition of linguistic competence and has nothing directly to do with the use of that competence for the achievement of specific communicative objectives, or with the achievement of fluency.” (Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith 1985)
While not attempting to change the ‘natural order’ of acquisition there is no harm in preparing the student, and if a student is not yet ready to acquire the form, it is believed that it will be stored and used to aid acquisition when the student becomes ready to acquire the structure.
“…if the learner is unable to integrate the new feature as implicit knowledge, she can construct an alternative explicit representation which can be stored separately and subsequently accessed when the learner is developmentally primed to handle it. (Ellis 1991: 239)
The question of what to focus on is a more complex one, The example of a CR activity in Ellis (1991: 240) has been criticized by Willis (1997) for the simplicity of the grammar highlighted. When English has clear rules such as the difference in use between the time expressions ‘for’ and ‘since’ in present perfect sentences, CR is clearly of benefit. A simple rule can be created very easily, through a few example sentences. However, not all rules in the English language are so clear. Appendix 1 is based on the same Ellis (1991) activity, but focuses on a different grammar structure: comparisons with adjectives, usually taught in low-level textbooks. The grammatical structure can be described with a rule that covers longer adjectives requiring ‘more’ and short adjectives the suffix ‘er’ to make comparisons. This is nothing more than a general guide, it does not take a long time to think of an adjective that does not fit this rule. Along with this is the problem highlighted by Shortall (2002) who through research into Corpus Linguistics has found evidence that adjectives are not actually compare in this way, instead we are more likely to compare nouns, ‘Mary has more money than Jane’ being more likely to be used than: ‘Mary is richer than Jane’. Therefore we are left with an exercise that provides the students with a rule that works some of the time for a structure that actual L1 speakers very rarely use. However, by using this style of exercise, the teacher can fulfill the requirements of the course, help students prepare for examinations, and meet the students’ expectations of what constitutes a teacher. All points which will be discussed in the final section of this article.
Consciousness Raising in the Japanese University Classroom
The problem all teachers face is how to best balance the needs of the students whilst fulfilling criteria for testing as laid out by administrators who are looking at the whole department or course as a whole, rather than the needs of one specific group of students. Often the means of testing students will come down to their performance in a final examination at the end of the semester, which focuses on grammar, reading and listening skills. The teacher is then faced with the dilemma of providing students with the knowledge they require to pass the test, but knowing that this might not what is required to increase their interest and motivation to study the language, nor does it provide them with an opportunity to use the L2, which is often lacking from their previous studies of English at High School and Junior High School.
The dilemma the teacher has is one in which he or she must decide how to satisfy the needs of their students. While a lesson, which aids their fluency of production, and gives them the time to talk they require may improve their speaking ability, it might not ultimately help them pass a test in which they are required to display a knowledge of grammar. Coupled to this is the fascination in Japan, both within universities and in the wider business community, with the TOEIC test as a means of rating English ability. Students wishing to succeed in certain companies will be aware that their time might be better spent focusing on improving the skills needed to achieve a high TOEIC score, rather than improve their speaking ability. This clearly leaves the teacher in a difficult position, but CR is a solution to this dilemma, especially if it is of the type described by Fotos (1994): in which Grammar Consciousness Raising Tasks were used, which she described as being communicative, but with “an L2 grammar problem as the task content”(Fotos 1994:325). It engages the students “in meaning-focused use of the target language as they solve the grammar problem” (ibid). By using these tasks in the classroom it would fulfill both the needs of the students communicatively and also meets the requirements of the University and any future employers. Fotos’ study found that there was a significant short-term improvement in her students proficiency in the structures targeted. Whilst making no claims to improving their proficiency in the long-term, the fact that short-term ability is affected by this type of task, highlights a strength when students are working toward examinations. Fotos concludes quite correctly, that there is a need for empirical studies that investigate whether this style of task is more effective for grammar than traditional teacher-fronted grammar lessons, whilst also looking into whether this kind of task is as effective as traditional task based lessons. If the benefits are similar then this is an excellent way to combine the two and have grammar taught in a way that is in the L2 and more fun for the students than the traditional grammar lessons. A very simple grammar CR task can be found in Appendix 2. It is just a simple information gap exercise in which two students would work together to construct a rule, and having done so would then use the rule to construct new sentences. This style of exercise promotes communicative, meaningful discourse, however, whether it successfully brings the grammar to a level of consciousness, and helps students with the acquisition of the grammar, is another thing. As Fotos said, without research, there is no way of knowing this. We need to know if it works in the long term as well as the short term. This style of task however satisfies students desire for a fun, communicative lesson; and also fulfils the students’ needs for both grammar and L2 communication in the classroom, as well as meeting the student expectations as discussed earlier.
Clearly CR and the focus on grammar in the classroom is of some benefit to some students, due to their expectations that this is what will happen in a lesson, and how to learn a language. A great amount of progress in L2 study comes from confidence and this confidence in part emanates from the relationship between student and teacher, Part of the strength of this relationship will come from the belief the students have in the teacher. If the teacher does not fulfill their role as the student sees it, confidence in the teacher will be affected. The question of what is best for the student is clearly a difficult one, illustrated by the contrast in beliefs between grammarians and CLT adherents, but factors such as those just mentioned need to be taken into account. There is a clear case for CR’s use, but without empirical, longitudinal studies into CR and grammar CR tasks, we cannot know whether the study of grammar in such a way that has been outlined here is of benefit. The argument for CR as a facilitator of language acquisition is clearly a strong one. Used in conjunction with CLT, and taking into account the natural order of acquisition, it can surely do no harm to highlight certain areas of grammar, which have evaded acquisition. Coupled with a communicative approach and with the use of authentic texts to highlight the grammar, it provides valuable input, which could quicken acquisition.
The Present Perfect
Read the following extract from the David Beckham interview and complete the tasks with your partner.
David Beckham is captain of England and Manchester United. He was made captain on Wednesday November 15, 2000, for the match against Italy in Turin.
“Being a captain has been very important to me,” he admitted. “Since I was given the armband for England my performances have been a lot better than they were before, and of course I have scored more goals. It has lifted my game there’s no doubt about that.
“I love being captain of England, I absolutely adore it. But I have to say is has been incredibly special to be captain at Old Trafford. Manchester United is a team I have supported all my life and to be captain is a real honour.”
1-How many times does the grammatical structure ‘has done’ appear in the article?
2-Ask your partner 3 questions about the article using this structure.
3-Make 5 more sentences about your life using this structure.
4-Try to cerate a language rule that explains the use of ‘has done’ in your sentences and questions.
5-Share your questions and rule with your group and choose the best rule.
Comparatives – Less explicit
1-Look at the chart below and complete the tasks.
Cost of Bag
2-Study these sentences. When are ‘more’, and ‘-er’ used?
a.Susan is older than Mary.
b.Mary is taller than Susan.
c.Anne’s hair is longer than Mary’s.
d.Anne’s bag is more expensive than Susan’s.
e.Susan’s hobby is more exciting than Anne’s.
3-Study these sentences. Which sentences are incorrect?
a.Mary is more tall than Susan.
b.Susan’s hobby is relaxinger than Anne’s.
c.Anne is younger than Susan.
d.Anne is shorter than Mary.
e.Mary’s bag is expensiver than Susan’s.
f.Susan’s bag is cheaper than Mary’s.
4-Try and make a language rule for using ‘more’, and ‘-er’.
5-Looking around the classroom ask your partner 5 questions using ‘more’, and ‘-er’.
Comparatives – More explicit
Do not show the information on your card to your partner.
i-Takuya Kimura is more handsome than Tamuri.
ii-Studying English is more interesting than studying maths.
iii-Japanese trains are more comfortable than English trains.
Do not show the information on your card to your partner.
i-Michael Jordan is taller than Michael Owen.
ii-Tokyo is bigger than Hakodate.
iii-Mount Everest is higher than Mount Fuji.
With your partner complete the following tasks.
1-Try and make a grammatical rule for comparing adjectives.
2-Looking around the classroom ask your partner 5 questions which highlight this rule.
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