Monday, 22 July 2013

Uncovering Grammar - Scott Thornbury- Chapter 2 - Learning to Grammar

Learning to Grammar

So Thornbury does a few things in this chapter. In summary he conceptualises "grammar" not as a glue, an engine, or a force, or any kind of set of rules or knowledge, but instead as a mental process but rejects these as they all support the "grammar / vocabulary" dichotomy. Instead, he looks at 1st language acquisition for guidance in defining a suitable term for grammar. Children start off being lexically dependent, relying on "ungrammarized" lexis which haven't been properly moulded or aren't used in the correct order.

However, later, the same lexis is used in a more "specific" way, there is more accurate inflection and syntax. They are picking up the patterns of lexis. Lexis is not brittle, but flexible, the same words can be bent and moulded in different ways to fit with different meanings. "going, go, went, been, to go" are all based on the same verb which has different forms.

Students too need to "grammarize" lexis. Some students though seem to "fossilize" and don't "apply" the grammar to the lexis. So we need activities that somehow encourage this.

There were 4 principles to activities that encourage students to think about their accuracy when speaking. And these activities are still totally student centered and student directed. "grammaring up" is not a teacher centered activity when you explicitly teach a grammar point. It's still free practise, but free practise which requires communication with other students where the precise meaning of their utterances are important.
So. how to do this?

Activities should have
- low context between speakers: i.e. meaning needs to be carried across in the spoken language so students cant depend so much on shared schemata, pictures or texts where they have less reason to listen to their partner and where there is less reason to be accurate with your language. As he points out in chapter 1, the greater the distance/formality between learners, the more grammar there is.
Putting things in writing naturally raises a students' grammatical self-awareness as it has a greater sense of formality and also gives students time to think through their language.

- repetition: students may seem to do an activity quite badly, but try giving them a second chance and often their performance shows marked improvement. They're able to feel their own mistakes more intuitively and give more coherent, showing better language usage as well as language use.

- provide an incentive for precision: i.e. give a reason for communication that doesn't exist for the sake of using the language: give a task rather than a creative drill.

-high feedback: having someone right there to take note of the meaning of your language and give reactions that check the students' capabilities.

- 2 sets of picture cards students should explain and then find answer a task.
- conversations in slow motion: try out any conversation in slow motion before real role-playing.
-task repetition: get students to repeat the same task again the next class.

- strange stories: changing a story so that it has a completely unfamiliar schema to get students really paying attention to the texts. Even better would be to put a familiar text in a different order, to trick students to use grammarized language and discourse markers to construct the chronology rather than the order of presentation.
this can come by a number of means
     - ss take a familiar scenario but make adjustments to it and tell it to a partner who has to tell it back.
     - students take a selection of unrelated pictures and weave them into a story
     - students read an unusual story to a group, who have to summarize it
     - students tell a familiar story from an unfamiliar point of view. e.g. modernizing or feminizing a traditional folk tale
     - students take a sequence of narrative events and write a newspaper report, starting with the outcome.

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