ESL EFL Grammar Activities
Grammar and Language Environment
Whatever language teachers do in the classroom should create a suitable language environment which facilitates acquisition of language. Whether it is the teaching of grammar or vocabulary or one of the skills, the emphasis should be on creating this environment. All classroom activities should promote a simple, non-threatening, non-complicated environment conducive to learning languages. The environment should be useful for the teacher to introduce the target language in the classroom context. The environment should also be useful for the learners to try out their hypotheses about whatever is presented.
When children acquire their first language such an environment is automatically created by the family. The child listens to the language being used for some real purpose and learns to use it for conveying its own ideas and feelings. Following the same principles it should be possible for teachers to facilitate language learning. Teachers can go a step further and plan such classroom activities which are useful to elicit the required response from the students.
There are a few more points of language acquisition which are worth considering when teachers plan their classroom activities. For example, no child can be forced to speak before it is ready to speak and correction of errors by parents do not have much effect unless the child feels the need to correct itself. When a child begins to speak there is a lot of hesitation and pauses but the people around it spare the time to listen to it and respond at a level suitable to it.
A child may acquire a word or a sentence pattern in one context and use it appropriately in a different situation. So the focus is on meaning and not on form. In addition, there is a real purpose for which language is used. The child for example. wants to express its feeling or get something done or refuse to do something and from the repertoire, selects appropriate words and sentence patterns to convey it and sees that such language use gets the result it desires. This motivates the child to use the language further to satisfy its needs. The language the child is exposed to is not graded but when talking to the child directly adults do simplify the language. But the child overhears a lot more language and absorbs whatever it is ready to absorb and uses it in a simplified and concentrated way to convey its exact meaning.
Though it may or may not be possible to do all this in the classroom, it should be possible to create an environment conducive to language acquisition. Such an environment while focusing on a particular grammar item or a set of vocabulary can expose the learners to a sample of the whole language in a meaningful context. Even in classroom, learners benefit more from overheard language. When LKG or UKG children going to English Medium schools are asked what they have learnt from school, they mention unusual expressions like, ‘Oh, my God!’, ‘My Goodness’ and ‘Oh, no’. This they must have heard the teacher say in some context and they have learnt this instead of the letters of the alphabet the teachers must be teaching with great pains. This proves the value of incidental language used in class.
Crucial characteristics of a good capsule
Capsules are usually attractive, sugar coated, easy to swallow, easy to digest and are known for their quick effectiveness. They may serve as strength boosters or set right deficiencies. Even bitter medicines are easily taken in and absorbed if they are packed in a capsule.
Don’t get frustrated. Just prescribe a capsule!
As students make more and more mistakes, teachers get frustrated and resort to all sort of activities under stress. This makes the students develop an anxiety about learning a new language and they find it difficult to even take the first step in using the new language for some real purpose in life. While they are in the classroom they might obey the teacher as if they are under sedation, but no real learning takes place.
Understand their problem and prepare a capsule for them!
When children acquire their first language whatever is needed to them is automatically provided by the people around them. Though each child is different and the requirements of all children cannot be the same, pure common sense helps the parent and others around the child provide the necessary input. Only in special cases children require health or speech experts. Even illiterate parents manage to help children acquire whatever type of language they use at home. For teachers who have personal experience of learning one, two or more languages and have undergone a course in teaching languages it should not be a great problem to provide the necessary exposure.
Not a sleeping pill, please!
Students do not find many of the classroom activities as having any relevance to real life requirements. Many of them mechanically do all the exercises just to pass the examination. The challenging task is to find out what could keep them up and about in the class with complete involvement. There are certain things that teachers do in class which they themselves might not have liked as students. For example, it is not necessary to undergo a teacher training programmes to realize that long winding explanations of grammar rules make grammar itself a boring subject for students at any level.
The Process of Preparing the Capsule!
Nothing can go wrong in the manufacturing process if the main ingredient is natural exposure. Whatever method of teaching is used it is important to see students receive an exposure which introduces the language to them not in bits and pieces but as a whole system. Even if the students’ first language is used for certain purposes the exposure to both the languages should be whole chunk of language. For this the teacher may begin the class with a story, joke, real life experience, picture/video based context, etc. Even at the beginners’ level it is possible to link an already learnt item with what is being introduced and thus provide a better exposure. It is not necessary for learners to understand everything the teacher says. While introducing one item to them teachers need not shy away from incidental use of other items. Most often it is observed that these incidental items are absorbed as a whole chunk unconsciously by learners. For intermediate and advanced learners the classroom activities may begin with natural exposure which lead to discovery of usage rules by the learners themselves.
The Main Ingredient of the Capsule
Natural language as it is used outside the classrooms in real life situations is the main ingredient of the capsule. Before preparing the mixture that should go into the capsule teachers need to find out how the particular item is used in real life. They should make an exhaustive list of the various uses and then decide which uses to focus on for a particular group of students. It is better to rely more on authentic materials and present day uses rather than only take examples from grammar books. Once the selection is made it would be a simple procedure to provide the appropriate exposure and help the students participate in a genuine interaction.
Details of the Production Procedure
Once the teachers zero in on the actual exposure they would like to provide to the learners, they can plan a number of activities which promote a conducive environment for language learning. The first set of activities could be to demonstrate the meaning of the item using the classroom context. This could be followed by activities where the learners get a chance to test out whatever hypotheses they might have formed about the use of the item. The teacher will be available to help as and when needed. So the class could start with natural exposure to that item from where links are picked up and the actual use of the item and the meaning conveyed by it is demonstrated with the use of various aids. Then the students work on various tasks which create a need for using that item and which encourage natural language use. The teacher provides more input as per the students’ needs and consolidates with natural exposure that might develop further as homework.
Sugar Coating the Capsule
It is very important for teachers to include activities which the students enjoy and thereby develop a love for the language. Language games, challenging and interesting tasks, activities where the students can participate without worrying about their mistakes are necessary to start off the students on the developmental process. As they become more and more proficient users, they would be ready to use the new language without hesitation and be ready for finer corrections.
Testing the Capsule
Once the capsule is ready it should be tested for its effectiveness. Before using it with a group of learners teachers should make sure that it has all the necessary ingredients, it is appealing to all the senses of the learners and it is easy for them to swallow, absorb and benefit from it. It is also necessary to guide the learners for further learning and hence teachers need to research on the internet and other printed or audio/video materials and tell them where they can access more of it.
The Final Test
The final test day for the teachers is the teaching day of the lesson to the students. While teaching they should keep their eyes, ears and above all their mind open and receive the expressed and subtle responses from their students. Some of the students may be confused, some may be stunned, some may be shy and some over enthusiastic. All of them may have different expectations from the teacher and from the language class. Their past habits of language learning may inhibit or facilitate participation in class. They would certainly differ as far as their learning styles are co ncerned. They may be visual, verbal or kinaesthetic learners. They may be global or sequential learners. They may be extroverts or introverts. In addition to all this a class would comprise of a good mixture of gifted, average and special care learners and the teachers will have to divide their time intelligently. If the teachers have a good variety of different types of activities which cater to different learning styles, personalities and abilities the idea of reaching out to all these learners may not be too far fetched.
The acid test should be to see that all of them are putting in an effort to work on the tasks at whatever level they can. Even if they appear confused for a while, provided they are thinking and putting in an effort to understand and participate in the process, teachers need not worry. The more the effort they need to put in, the better it will be for them. Because the very fact that they had to put in a lot of effort to understand something will leave a lasting impression on their mind. Teachers should not make the activities either too easy that very little effort is needed on the part of the students to understand and complete it or too difficult that they cannot complete it even after putting in a lot of effort. The goals should be achievable with some amount of effort. At the end of the task they should feel a sense of achievement. This would motivate them for further learning.