The new requirement in the 21st century TEFL classroom: entertaining grammar
by Jerry Istvan Thekes
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."
For hundreds of years the prevalent approach to grammar teaching was that it has to be taught explicitly. The appearance of the direct way at the turn of the last century contributed to a great shift in the manner how grammar teaching and language acquisition is looked at. When we examine the problematics of implicit and explicit way of teaching grammar, we have to take the rationales of consciousness-raising (CR) and those of no consciousness-raising (No CR) theories into consideration. Proponents of No CR such as Krashen (1982) claim that CR is neither a sufficient nor a needed condition of second language acquisition. Medgyes (1995) also argues that teachers should avoid explaining grammar. He further elaborates on this by saying that teachers should have students use the language and should not have them speak about it. His claim is supported by Alexander (1994), who says that 'explaining grammar is not English teaching…it is language appreciation.' Larsen-Freeman (1991) reinforces these statements by writing that 'grammar teaching is not so much knowledge transmission as it is skill development."
As opposed to the No C-R theorists, Spada (1986) states that comprehensible input might be necessary but is not enough to produce a 'marked formal aspect of the L2 classroom setting.' Rutherford (1989) attempts to take both sides by propounding that a 'blending of the two modes is still preferable to the use of only one or the other.' In order to settle the implicit vs. explicit debate, Brumfit and Bowers (1994) say that
"in our eagerness to get our students to communicate, we frequently sweep grammar under the carpet…Grammar is being taught again not despite but because of the communicative revolution."
Lowe (2010) has recently reflected on this debate by affirming that if we think that grammar is innate, we teach in one way, if we think it is not, we teach in another way, if we are not sure we teach in a muddled mish-mash way.
I believe grammar must be taught and the teaching should be executed in an entertaining way gift-wrapped into games. Here is the presentation and the procedure description of these games.
Grammar McNugget: 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.
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