The new requirement in the 21st century TEFL classroom: entertaining grammar
by Jerry Istvan Thekes
This article presents six grammar games that can be executed in the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) classroom. The main argument of the paper is that entertaining, involving the students and providing stimulus to the students are a very efficient way of teaching grammar. Thus, the main target will be the teaching of grammar in this article. Throughout this article, I will use the terminology 'grammar McNugget', which will stand for the particular grammar points. This denomination comes from Thornbury (2010), who says that:
"an enthusiasm for compartmentalization, inherited from grammars of classical languages, has given rise to the elaborate architecture of the so-called tense system – including such grammar McNuggets as the future-in-the-past, and the past perfect continuous, not to mention the conditionals, first, second and third – features of the language that have little or no linguistic, let alone psychological, reality."
As I give a description of games, I will indicate the grammar McNugget that the teacher is supposed to teach with that particular game. Thornbury's notion of grammar McNugget is also supported by Swan (1985, 76) who posits that
"the role of 'grammar' in language courses is often discussed as if 'grammar' were one homogeneous kind of thing. In fact, 'grammar' is an umbrella term for a large number of separate or loosely related language systems, which are so varied in nature that it is pointless to talk as if they should all be approached in the same way. How we integrate the teaching of structure and meaning will depend to a great extent on the particular language items involved."
Swan's (2002, pp. 148-152) assertion concerning grammar teaching must also be examined. He further elaborates on the seven bad reasons for teaching grammar. According to him these reasons are the following: grammar is taught because it is there; it is tidy as opposed to vocabulary; it is testable; it is a security blanket for students; it is character forming; teachers have to teach the whole system; it means power as it involves rules. In the same paper Swan also argues for the moderate teaching of grammar for the sake of comprehensibility and acceptability.
In order to motivate students to learn grammar, teachers need to fend off the tension the learners usually are under. If it is proved to them that the acquisition of grammar structures is an enjoyable activity, they will be more willing to proceed in their EFL studies. When I use the term 'motivate', Dörnyei and Csizér's (1999) research has inevitably to be cited. They have asserted that it is important to create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and to make the language classes interesting. I believe grammar games such as the ones described here assure that the learners are entertained. All of the games described below, namely Dynamic places, Abstract pictures, Nylon bag, Bermuda game, Galapagos islands, Wishes game provide enough stimulus for the students to be motivated and involved. Games not only engage students' interest in the TEFL classroom but they also keep them involved. Richard-Amato (1988) also supports the view of a relaxed classroom atmosphere by stating that
"it appears that a lowered anxiety level is related to proficiency in the target language."
Making language teaching and the teaching of grammar game-like is of crucial importance so as to keep students interested and to create a relaxed atmosphere. This is also asserted by Rinvolucri (1995) who posits that
"grammar is perhaps so serious and central in learning another language that all ways should be searched for which will focus student energy on the task of mastering and internalizing it. One way of focusing this energy is through the release offered by games."
Games not only engage students' interest in the TEFL classroom but they also keep them involved. As Rosenberg (2009: 10) asserts we should pay much attention to keeping the students involved and to having them produce rather than passively receive information. By involving the students in grammar games, the teacher can achieve their goal of having the learners acquire the grammar McNugget taught in the particular lesson.
Teaching grammar McNuggets through games has a necessary implication of avoiding students' consciousness raising. A no consciousness raising strategy stands for implicit grammar teaching. The idea of teaching grammar implicitly through comprehensible inputs comes from Krashen and is well known in the TEFL profession. Krashen and Terrell (1983) further elaborated on this idea by saying that
"we should not expect our students to be concerned with fine points of grammar while they are speaking in free conversation."
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, explicuit grammar teaching is associated with the rote learning of rules and the boring prospect of using these rules in gap-fill, pattern practice, substitution transformation, and translation, which cause negative feelings. Further support of 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."
As it will be seen, pictures also play a vital role in the described grammar games. A number of TEFL professionals have called for the use of pictures as a powerful source in the elicitation process. By elicitation, I mean that the teacher prompts and motivates the learners to create meaningful acts of speech. Mumford (2008, 40) for example affirms that
"all teachers have access to pictures, however, and these can be a quick and easy way to bring other places and other people into the class. With imagination, pictures can be an extremely flexible resource."
This statement rhymes well with Ur (1991) who posits that:
"it is very much easier to concentrate on thinking about something if you can see that something, or at least see some depicted or symbolic representation of it. Learners…who are asked to discuss or listen to something without any visual focus often find their attention wandering."
Although there is a debate regarding the effect of visuals on acquiring grammar some researchers claim that the presentation and explanation of grammar accompanied by visuals will be more comprehensible. Scarcella and Oxford (1992) pointed out that teachers need to illustrate key vocabulary effectively by showing pictures and diagrams so as to improve the ESL students' reading comprehension (p. 107). Linguistic elements and pictures presented together help learners understand the grammar point. It is an effective way of teaching to provide interesting pictures to foster grammar development. Thus, visuals must be stimulating and motivating to students' comprehension of grammar.
With lively grammar games, I am trying to avoid students' attention wandering. The grammar games in the article involve a lot of visuals and realia. Mumford's and Ur's arguments are reinforced by Wright, Betteridge and Buckby (2009) who assert that games with pictures involve the learners. They also find visualization important when grammar is presented and taught to TEFL learners.
Making language teaching and the teaching of grammar game-like is of crucial importance so as to keep students interested and to create a relaxed atmosphere. Hadfield (1992) says that
"affective activities aim to create a positive and supportive group atmosphere in a non-explicit way"
By involving the students in grammar games, the teacher can achieve his/her goal of having the learners acquire the grammar McNugget taught in the particular lesson. Grammar games are highly motivating, relevant, interesting and comprehensible." Games not only engage students' interest in the TEFL classroom but they also keep them involved. Richards (1987) also contemns the explicit way of grammar teaching as he declares that
"focus on grammar in itself is not a valid approach to the development of language proficiency…grammatical skills are thus seen as a component of language proficiency rather than as an end in itself."
Teaching grammar McNuggets through games necessarily has an implication of avoiding students' consciousness raising. A no consciousness raising strategy stands for implicit grammar teaching. The idea of teaching grammar implicitly through comprehensible inputs comes from Krashen and is well known in the TEFL profession. Krashen and Terrell(1983) further elaborated on this idea by saying that "we should not expect our students to be concerned with fine points of grammar while they are speaking in free conversation."
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.
Abstract picture game
Grammar McNugget: Modal auxiliary 'might'
Material: abstract pictures
The aim of the teacher is to introduce, present and demonstrate the modal auxiliary verb 'might'. The fastest and a state-of-the-art way of doing so is by using abstract pictures that can bee seen below as example.
The teacher emphasizes that whatever the student say that might be in the picture is correct. In fact they are expected to use their imagination. As a follow-up activity, the teacher has the students draw abstract or non-figurative images and when they are done, these pictures are handed around the room. The students take turns in thinking and saying what might be in the pictures.
Nylon bag game
Grammar McNugget: quantitative nouns: bar of, bunch of, etc
Material: nylon bags, pictures of food
After presenting the vocabulary and the word grammar as to how to say and use quantitative nouns, the teacher gives each student a nylon bag of a department store. Every student goes to a pile of pictures with food on them and takes as many as they wish and outs into their bag.
When every student has a 'food' in their bags, they have to go in circles and as a creative group-work, they stop to talk to every classmate. They are instructed to start the sentence saying: 'I went shopping and I bought …………….'. The end of the sentence depends on what they pull out of their bags.
Grammar McNugget: elliptic relative clauses
Procedure: duct-tape, slips of paper with sentence fragments on them
Prior to the lesson, the teacher has made a triangle on the floor in the classroom by sticking duct-tape in the correct shape.
The presentation of the elliptic relative clauses – ones that do not include either of the 'who', 'which', 'that' relative pronouns – is as follows. The teacher hands out slips of paper to each student in the class. If there is not an even number of students then, the teacher must be involved in the activity as well. Sample sentences are seen below. It is important that half of the group get sentence beginnings, the other get sentence endings. Students have to find their partners on the basis of forming meaningful sentences.
When each student has found their partner, the teacher stands between one of the pairs and shows either the 'Who' or 'which' card depending on whether the noun at hand is a person or an object. Thus, the fragmented sentence can be read: This is the person who I gave my laptop to. One student is instructed to read the sentence then the teacher throws the 'who' card into the Bermuda triangle in order to show that the relative pronoun can disappear from the sentence.
It is advised that an explanation be given, namely that the relative pronoun can disappear if the relative clause is in the objectival case.
After the presentation and the explanation, the students are instructed to proceed to form the elliptic sentences with one student dropping the pronoun card into the triangle.
This is the person I gave my laptop to.
It is my cell phone not yours I have just found
It is a very entertaining book I am leafing through at the moment.
My biggest worry is the time factor we have to be careful of.
Grammar McNugget: future simple
Material: plenty of pictures and tools
The Galapagos islands game is focused on teacher future simple (shall/will) as it is such a huge grammar McNugget that the teaching of it has to be divided into separate chunks (islands per se). The future simple is used for expressing promises, requests, offers, suggestions, refusals, predictions and even commands. The teaching of them should take place in different islands of the classroom archipelago.
The teacher has to make sure that by arriving plenty of time prior to the lesson, they can set the classroom up for the seven uses of the future simple, which means seven different tables. The teaching of predictions and forecasts should be aided by pictures of weather conditions and those of fortune tellers in order for the learners to act out future predictions. The teaching of requests should be aided by pictures of housework in order for the students to act out conversation within a family who divide tasks among one another by making requests.
The teaching and presenting of all the seven functions have to be executed at seven different islands (tables around the classroom). The aim of using the classroom in such a way is to build on kinesthetics, indicate that 'will' and 'shall' are used for a lot of different functions and to de-stress the learners.
Grammar McNugget: I wish, If only
Material: an apparel of a goldfish, in case of lack of one, a picture of a gold fish, slips of paper with good things written on them such as 'marry a beautiful woman', 'meet Cheryl Cole', 'travel to Kiribati, etc
The idea is taken for Hemingway's book entitled 'The old man and the sea' according to whose story the goldfish offers three wishes to the old fisherman. Students take turns in acting out the dialogue between the goldfish and the old fisherman. One student should be assigned both roles in the midst of the activity. It distress the students if one student can be dressed up as the goldfish that's why having the costume would be beneficial but absolutely not necessary if the teacher does not or cannot have one. The learner acting in the role of the old man take three slips, of cards and has to say three wished with the help of them starting their sentences with either 'I wish' or 'If only'. The teacher has to make sure they use the grammar structure well as it is meant to be a grammar-focused game.
The goldfish has only one line: 'I will make three wishes of yours come true, go ahead with telling them to me'. Then the old fisherman students have to create sentences such as 'I wish I met Cheryl Cole', I wish I could live in a big detached house'. The teacher has to make sure that they write the statements on the slips of paper in present tenses so that the learners will be challenged to make the correct 'I wish' sentences.
Six grammar games have been presented. It has been emphasized in the article that teaching grammar McNuggets has to be an entertaining and interesting activity which involves the students. It has been underlined that providing stimulus, the teaching of grammar needs not only to be entertaining but it also must include a lot of visuals. By describing the Dynamic places, Abstract pictures, Nylon bag, Bermuda game, Galapagos islands and Wishes games, the article has tried to argue for implicit way of teaching grammar. Such reputed authors as Thornbury, Swan, Medgyes and Rinvolucri have been cited in the effort of giving evidence to the importance of entertainment in the classroom.
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|Jerry Istvan Thekes is Director of Studies at IFF Iskola Hungary-Romania (the largest central European private language academy) He holds an MA TESOL and has received his TEFL Certificate in Barcelona. He has been involved with TEFL for 11 years. He has just completed his 6-week teaching project in Saudi Arabia. Jerry has been invited as a presenter to TEFL conferences in Timisoara, Sarajevo, Izmir and Athens this year.
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