Live A Little With Grammar

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18 thoughts on “Live A Little With Grammar”

  1. Explicit grammar knowledge can play a role in output and input. . .
    Grammar knowledge can improve the output of those students who are good monitor-users. Grammar DOES have a (limited) role in output: monitoring – so long as there is time, thinking about correctness, and know the rule. For this reason, the Natural Approach has suggested grammar instruction be used as homework.
    And grammar can also play a minor role in comprehension: if it helps a student more accurately understand. Of course, level 1 (and 2) students, who are trying to communicate (exchange messages), will be so consumed by focusing on the meaning, that any form-instruction probably won’t make any difference. I also think it’s important that the students learn to value communication and fluency before they start concerning themselves with accuracy (especially when that precision is not necessary to communicate).
    There are also much better ways to explicitly teach grammar than the traditional approach. We should not follow the traditional sequence, e.g. present -> past -> subjunctive. And we should greatly reduce the forms we are teaching, e.g. focus on 2 present tense inflections (not 6), focus on masculine singular vs. feminine singular (rather than include plural forms at the same time).
    Note: Processing Instruction is a form of grammar instruction that fits with our philosophy. What we need are PI exercises/worksheets already made for us . . . I know VP’s textbooks (¿Sabías que . . . ?) has these exercises, but I don’t have those books.

    1. Is Processing Instruction for grammar like examples shown in a chapter or two of “Making Communicative Language Happen”? The examples bothered me for a long time. I read a friend’s exercise designed after that model for Chinese le (a particle) use. It felt very different from focus on meaning: it was focus on form, highly noticing le and how it was being used in one of two ways. Meaning was very secondary, it felt to me at least.
      I finally realized why the approach didn’t sit well with me. He was targeting types of language that I never target, but use for months in less targeted ways, and don’t think they’ll acquire until after a lot of untargeted exposure first. But that was targeting a grammar feature, and while it was tied to meaning, I’ve not found those kinds of language aspects to go in quickly. I target vocabulary & meaning, but not grammar bits as such.

      1. The idea is to look at one grammar aspect and only contrast 2 forms. But the kid can’t get the right answer unless there is attention to meaning.
        e.g. “He hits her.”
        Is it picture A or B?
        Picture A: Boy punches a girl
        Picture B: Girl punches a boy

        1. The examples I’m thinking of were more about verb endings or masculine/feminine forms, I think. Parts of words. Chinese doesn’t have those things, but it does have particles & particle placement that changes meaning. I pop them up often enough to see what their understanding is, and correct as needed then. It takes months in my experience for that to get sorted out, but targeting it all at once…? I am skeptical. I used to teach it that way and it didn’t work.

          1. Well, PI works NOT because they get the explicit grammar knowledge (not because of pop-ups), but because they spend the majority of time actually processing input and getting feedback that they did or did not correctly comprehend the sentence. PI studies show the subjects correctly processing after only a handful of sentences.

          2. My pop-ups aren’t explicit grammar knowledge, either, actually. They’re “what does this mean” or “what does this do here?” and “what if it were here instead?” What do you think, maybe that’s more like a dab of PI after all? If I were to do that in a bunch of sentences at a time…?

          3. It sounds great to me, Diane! I don’t know if VP would consider that like PI. But if we think it helps how a kid processes input, then that is the first step to acquisition!

          4. “PI works NOT because they get the explicit grammar knowledge, but because they spend the majority of time actually processing input and getting feedback that they did or did not correctly comprehend the sentence.”
            Ok, I get PI now. Thanks for the simple explanations Eric.

  2. I’ve been doing grammar this year, too. Really if the students know the vocabulary of the exercises it can be more reps on target structures. Also, the kids like it if the practice sentences/grammar examples/whatever are still personalized, that is, if instead of Caesar we talk about Abigail. In the past I have tried to live up to this 100% full-on CI/TPRS. I know now that’s unsustainable for me personally.

  3. I think (not based on a lot of research but personal experience) that explicit grammar knowledge means so little if anything those first 2 years compared with prompt and consistent interpersonal exchanges. I wonder, could this “down time” not be more effectively and enjoyably spent (in those first two years, at least sometimes) asking students to listen to the teacher read-aloud in English something L2 culturally-relevant? (Can you tell I still resent my 6 years of Spanish study that yielded scant interpersonal abilities, and my first year teaching grammar/vocab bootcamp via Expresate?)
    I like read-alouds in L1 every so often to take a few minutes break or calm down a surly group. Or (I’m lucky as as Spanish teacher on these ) I send them to Wooly. This year I’m increasingly sending my Spanish 2’s to their self-selected novels, average 10 minutes a day so far. Two weeks (block class) in and a couple kids have already finished their first novel.

    1. Jim,
      This year, and last year, a bit, we ‘popcorn’ read articles on French cultural topics for the last 10 minutes of class. Plus, it works better than grammar for me as a time filler, too. I never liked grammar, personally. French culture is fun to teach — the stuff out there on the internet explains French Culture so much better then I ever could.
      When I taught Spanish, about 8 years ago, Spanish culture still had a ‘hidden treasure’ quality that I never quite unveiled, even to myself, even though I greatly desired it for myself and my students. Teaching French culture is quite different….
      I actually have a group of students who like to doodle on unlined paper……

  4. One thing that I like to do every now and then is to write a few sentences in the target language on the board and purposefully include a few mistakes. Give them some time to try to figure out the mistakes and then see if they find them and can tell you how to fix them. You can then explain it more fully. Plus, the sentences that you write on the board can be personalized and/or strange if you want them to. After it’s corrected they can then translate them as well.
    Also, as an aside, today I had a few minutes at the end of my French 1 class and so I had them get a sheet of paper and I wrote some French sentences based on what we were working on. While I wrote them in French I read them aloud and had them write down the English translation as a short quiz/review. It’s a quicker version of a dictée, while just focusing on listening and comprehension without the spelling and grammar. It was easy and gave me a bit of a break with no prep required.

  5. Here’s a faux exercice de grammaire.
    Take a simple reading in the present frame, like Poor Anne. Read it aloud to the students as they follow along. Pause whenever you get to a verb. Have the class call out the appropriate past frame verb form. If they are weak, unsure, or have no idea, write the present and past forms with English meanings. These will be repeated in Poor Anne and students will have to think about form in a meaningful context and make choices in aspect (completed or continuing action).

  6. I like these ideas. It’s like focusing on meaning… with a microscope. Can’t do it too much or your arm will get tired and your eyes will start to hurt. But every once in a while it can be good to get a closer view.

  7. Yesterday we had shortened classes and my “advanced” eighth graders and I started working on straight grammar translation from sentences I put on the board. They translated in their composition books. Then I gave the correct form. We had a ball! I started getting so excited I started speed talking to explain the rules. I was not clear at all and I was writing too fast and the board was all messy. It was a blast from the past, for sure. It was like I hadn’t allowed myself to do that kind of teaching in a really long time, ever since I met Susie Gross in 2001. My great love of French grammar may still be my greatest love of the French language, even more than the literature and Sainte Chapelle. Crazy! I like what Jim said about it above, though – in extreme moderation. But man was it fun! Big caution. My advanced class consists of nine superstars who have been trained for two years prior to this year mostly with grammar. So there is no way I can allow my inner grammar nerd to express himself in a normal class. I am so glad we are having this conversation. We teach in schools. People expect grammar to be taught because it has always been done that way. And so much time is needed that it is not going to ding our results with them at the end of the year – we only have a fraction of the time we need to get real measurable and visible gains anyway. So why not live a little with some heavy metal in our lives? This needs to be said somewhere in the TPRS world and at last we are saying it here.

  8. This is SOO important for those of us (especially Latin teachers) who are expected to “teach grammar,” meaning, explicit grammar rules, charts, paradigms, etc. For some of us our jobs are on the line, or our reputations among families who talk, and talk a lot. Often it has nothing to do with how much or how intense the grammar is, just its presence in your classroom and syllabus, even if only for a few minutes a week, or with the superstars. Let’s do what we have to do, in order to stay in our schools, get critics off our backs, and do this important CI work with all kinds of learners.
    Happy Friday everyone!

  9. I’ve been starting 7th and 8th grade (Level 1) classes this year with a Do Now, something I have never done, no matter what subject I was teaching. They have binders with the sections this year that they write on in their laps (no desks, tables against the walls). The last thing they do each time is either a translation or a question that needs answering in a full sentence. This is a good time to either review or work again with new structures and to point out or ask things relating to the language patterns or randomness. Maybe I’ll use those terms with them instead of grammar. They like patterns and they love random! It all takes about 10 minutes.

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