28 March–ELT Springboard’s Next Meeting

Hi again everyone! I’m looking forward to our next meeting in two weeks and I think I’ve got something everyone has an opinion on: TEACHING GRAMMAR. It’s an old article, but many of the issues in Grammar, Power and Bottled Water (Thornbury, 1998) are still with us. Some questions for you to consider while you read:

  • Who “owns” the teaching material we use in our lessons? Academics? Publishers? Teachers? Students? What difference does it make?
  • To what extent have things changed in the last 20 years? Are your coursebooks structured by grammar, notions, tasks, other?
  • How do you structure your lessons when you don’t use a coursebook?
  • How far do you agree with Thornbury’s characterisation of the teaching in the section “Class struggle”?
  • Have we arrived in “Post-grammar”? Do you teach grammar in your lessons? When and why?

I look forward to discussing these topics and others with you on 28 March at 8pm in The Fitting Room (right next to the Bern train station). Please leave a note in the comments to RSVP. See you soon!

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One thought on “28 March–ELT Springboard’s Next Meeting

  1. Hello,

    It is an interesting read (the article by Thornbury) and I do have a feeling not much has changed since it was written, at least not in the country where I work (France, that it). I do agree with what Thornbury said about grammar being order, and something to fall back on if other things fail. I am not a native speaker myself so I can relate to the notion of grammar providing a “safe passage through the minefield” as well:)

    Yet I can’t help feeling that one could also ask a question: and what’s so wrong with the structure that a grammar lesson provides? I often have a feeling my students get lost if I do a loosely structured lesson which relies on spontaneous ideas and haphazard vocabulary that crops up in the course of a discussion. I can clearly tell that they do not know whether to put the words down or just listen.

    Another problem with such lessons is the fact that I do not know exactly what to test. I can’t be sure what sort of vocabulary they recorded, nor can I be sure what sort of words we actually mentioned as I didn’t note them down either precisely because of the slightly ephemeral structure of the lesson.

    And this is my biggest problem with the whole idea of teaching unplugged. I do find it interesting as a concept, but I can’t imagine relying solely on it. The only thing which works for me is mixing up all sorts of methods and just trying to go with the flow; that is adapting quickly to the changing classroom moods and being as flexible as I can.

    For me the most important thing, well beyond any method and coursebook is the teacher him/herself (I do not deny the fact that students themselves play an important part in the lesson as well). It would be an interesting question to ask: can you remember any good teachers you had and think of what actually made them good?

    As for the coursebooks I find Macmillan’s “Inside out” very good as far as grammar goes: grammar is there but in a sort of discreet way. The exercises are often very original and have this fresh element to them. To give you an example, in the “Inside out” for the intermediate level (my version goes back to 2000) there is a chapter about age with a poem taken from a Harley Davidson ad, and the grammar topic (expressing regrets) springs up from that. It is introduced in a very natural way and linked to the topic of age which in itself I find pretty interesting. Chesterton’s quote comes to mind at that stage: “there are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people”, which brings us back to the role of teachers and students in shaping a lesson whatever the topic, but I am getting sidetracked here….

    And to finish it off, one more book published in 2000 by Language Teaching Publications entitled “Innovations”. It was written by Hugh Dellar and Darryl Hocking and is quite unique as far as approach to grammar goes. It is divided into spoken and traditional grammar. Spoken grammar highlights the whole chunks of sentences, or ready made expressions that can be used in certain contexts eg. vague language (sort of, kind of, that sort of thing etc) or the use of adverbs+adjectives to soften of strengthen the meaning (it was quite strange, she’s kind of weird, he is really interesting), whereas traditional grammar, well, is traditional as the name suggests.

    Good luck to everyone with your classes, methods and students,

    Ania

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