Teaching grammar has always been a controversial issue among language teaching researchers. According to Krashen (1982), an anti-grammarian scholar, formal instruction in grammar plays a minimal role in language learning and it is possible to acquire a second language without explicit and formal grammar instruction. However, some other scholars including Ellis (2002) argue that teaching grammar does aid L2 acquisition. According to Nassaji and Fotos (2004), one of the reasons why grammar teaching has gained back its importance is the inadequacies of teaching approaches where the primary attention is on meaning-focused communication wherein the ignorance of grammar has caused learners not to arrive at a high level of achievement regarding certain grammatical forms. Therefore, the need for teaching grammar and focusing on fluency along with accuracy has been emphasized. However, the crucial matter is over how to teach grammar to students. Considering the importance of teaching grammar, according to Ur (1988), there are three different types of practice activities: mechanical, contextualized, and communicative. Mechanical practice consists of controlled activities, such as substitution exercises. Contextualized practice is still controlled, but requires learners to relate form to meaning in real life situations. The last one, however, is not controlled anymore and the students’ attention is on conveying meaning. The second and the third activities of this group which are contextualized and communicative practice are the main concern of this article.
In the last two decades, through the emergence of communicative language teaching (CLT), task-based language teaching has played a substantial role in the field of second language teaching. As Huyen and Nga (2003) noted, in the communicative approach, learners are involved in meaningful activities; this is in contrast to the traditional methods of language teaching and learning. The term task has been defined by researchers in different ways. Nunan (1989), for example, defines a task as “a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than form” (p. 10). Tasks are normally divided into focused and unfocused ones. Focused tasks require learners to use language communicatively while using some specific structures. As Ellis (2003) rightly observes, “Focused tasks, then, have two aims; one is to stimulate communicative language use as with unfocused tasks, the other is to target the use of a particular, predetermined target feature in meaning-centered communication” (p.65).
The proposed game
The following section will introduce a game through which students could easily practice second conditionals in a pleasant and non-threatening atmosphere. It is designed to induce the target structure through a rather challenging game in that students need to guess their friends’ wishes. At the end, they make sentences using the target structure and check them in order to see to what extent they made correct guesses and who would win the game. Through the next steps, students go through sentence making and story writing while using the second conditionals. We believe that the proposed game would be helpful for intermediate students and engages them in meaningful activities in using the target structure.
This technique is appropriate for younger adult upper-intermediate learners. Due to the importance of the last steps in this technique which are interesting and motivating, this article focuses on these steps. By setting the context for students from the very beginning and engaging them, it would be very easy to move from examples to the predetermined structure and encourage learners to use that specific form in order to convey meaning. They can personalize the activity because from the very beginning, students are required to articulate their wishes and relate the activity to their real life. All in all, by adopting contextualized practice and using a game-like activity at the end of the class, and through tangible examples, learners will be able to relate form to meaning in real life situations. By incorporating game-like activities into the lesson, the learners can maximally benefit from those tasks and activities.
• At the beginning of the class, the teacher draws a magic lamp on the board. For warm up, the teacher tells the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp through pictures using an overhead projector (OHP) or a video projector to make it more interesting and involves the students to share their ideas about the story based on what they might have heard or read about it before. The summary of the story has been provided here and it could be narrated in this way (see Appendix A). The teacher then relates the story to what s/he has aimed to do in the class. S/he asks the class “what would you do if you had a magic lamp?”
• Then the teacher writes his/her own answer on the board, right under the picture. Example: If I had a magic lamp I would ask it to bring back my childhood.
• S/he then asks students to think about their own wishes and write at least three of them in their notebooks.
• When they finish writing, some of the students articulate their wishes to the class using the specific structure (the second conditional).
• The teacher writes the answers on the board. S/he then briefly explains the structure to the students and makes it clear that it is used for unreal situations.
• The teacher can provide the students with further practice and then give feedback on whether their answers are correct or not. If their errors are global errors (the ones that distort meaning), there should be an immediate feedback on the part of the teacher. This part could also be eliminated, as the main point of this technique is on focused-task activities. Examples: Rewrite the sentences, using the second conditional. Start each sentence with if. 1. I’d like to swim more often but I don’t live near a pool. Students: If I lived near a pool, I would swim more often.
• This step which is a kind of game-like activity is the most important and interesting part for the learners in that they are required to use their own sentences and say whatever they want while using the second conditional structure. This is more like real life activities and the main feature of focused tasks is observed in this step. For more free and communicative practice, the teacher can add some variety by providing funny or challenging questions and put them in a box (see Appendix B). The teacher divides the students into two groups. S/he goes around the class and asks each student to pick up one question randomly.
• Thus, each student in each group has one question. In group A, the students talk to each other and guess how other students in another group might answer a specific question. (They can choose one or two students from another group to write about). For each question they have, there should be one possible answer for every single student in another group. They do it for all of the questions in their group. Group B does this procedure as well.
• Then, it is time for students to check their guesses. One or two students in one group voluntarily ask his/her question from another student in group A or B. At first, they say what their guess was. When another student answers the question, s/he can check whether their guess was correct or not.
Example: Let’s imagine one of the students has picked up this question:
-What would you do if you had one billion dollars?
Then s/he might guess: If Ali had one billion dollars, he would buy a house.
When s/he asks Ali this question, his answer would be the same or different from what s/he guessed. If it was the same as his/her guess, s/he wins the game.
• This procedure could go on in a way that the teacher selects one question among those questions in the previous example. S/he gives the question to one student to answer, his/her answer could be continued by another student and this proceeds until all of the students make one sentence based on the previous answer by their friends.
Example: What would you do if you were the poorest person in the world?
Student A: If I were the poorest person in the world, I would marry a rich person.
Student B continues: If I were rich, I would buy the most expensive car in the world.
• The sentence made by the last student could serve a topic for the class to work on for the next session to write a short story about, using the second conditional structure.
By adding these last two activities, it would be possible to provide students with the opportunity to speak in the class and take part in authentic communication which is also challenging and let them have fun and give them a sense of achievement at the end of the class. Despite the importance of form-focused tasks in the classroom, there could also be room for games and a non-threatening atmosphere for the learners to enjoy the class. Integration of fun along with a focused task has maximum effect. Therefore, games involve many factors, among which the most important ones are collaboration and learning. According to Carrier (1980), teachers should first consider the level of the game to match their students’ language level. They should select the game that fits the aims of that class or the content.
By incorporating the grammar parts of a lesson with game-like activities, which was provided in the last step of this technique, teachers can pave the way for learners to absorb the lesson much more quickly than ever expected. Likewise, considering the learners’ own attitude and ideas toward the topic and requiring them to make concrete and tangible examples, we can help them to consolidate that structure, though not as soon as some teachers expect, and give them a sense of accomplishment when they observe they can relate whatever happens in the class to their own lives using the correct and related structure. Providing a non-threatening atmosphere for learners is one feature of this activity which we think is of high importance to every EFL classroom. By introducing focused tasks in the classroom, students can benefit from both being involved in an authentic communication and focus on specific grammatical forms to be learned.
Carrier, M. (1980). Take 5: Games and activities for language learners. London: Nelson.
Ellis, R. (2002). Grammar teaching – practice or consciousness-raising? In J.C. Richards & W.A. Renandya (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice (pp. 167-174). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R. (2003). Designing a task-based syllabus. RELC Journal, 34, 64-81.
Huyen, N. T. T., & Nga, K.T. T. (2003). The effectiveness of learning vocabulary through games. Asian EFL Journal, 5(4).
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Nassaji, H., & Fotos, S. (2004). Current developments in research on the teaching of grammar. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 126-145.
Nunan, D. (1989). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ur, P. (1988). Grammar practice activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Warrier, A. (2013, May 5). Classic Stories 1: Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Retrieved From http://www.bubblews.com/news/469445-classic-stories-1-aladdin-and-the magic-lamp.
Aladdin and his magic lamp
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Aladdin. He lived in a hut with his poor old mother. She was unable to go out and find anything for a livelihood. So, the burden of life fell on little Aladdin. One day, a wicked wizard came to their hut pretending to be Aladdin’s uncle living far away from them. Very cunningly, he stayed there that day, and planned to deprive Aladdin of his mother. The very next day, at the time of departure, he invited Aladdin to go with him to his house, and he made his mother consent. He promised Aladdin good fortune in his place. Thus the wizard and Aladdin set out. They stopped on the way, and the wizard bought some clothes for Aladdin and he was very happy. When it was dark, they stopped at the foot of a hill and the wizard made a fire and whispered some magic words. Suddenly the ground was split open and there appeared a beautiful garden underneath. He said to Aladdin, “Aladdin! Go down, and you can see an old lamp there. Please, bring it over here.” Aladdin climbed down and got the lamp. He realized the wicked plan of the wizard. Picking the lamp up from the floor, he rubbed on it to clear the dust away. Suddenly, a giant appeared before him and it stood bowing its head. Aladdin made use of the situation, and told the giant to take him back to his hut and mother, leaving the wizard alone. At home, he again called the giant, rubbing the lamp and asked for a beautiful palace, and for everything else he wanted and led a very joyful life.
Some suggested questions for free practice in the last step
What would you do if you were handicapped?
What would you do if you could only say one word?
What would you do if you found 500 million dollars in the street?
What would you do if you knew that you were immortal?
What would you do if you were the most stupid person in the class?
What would you do if you had magical abilities?
What would you do if you were the most popular person in the world?
What would you do if you were the poorest person in the world?
What would you do if you were the richest person in the world?
What would you do if you were kidnapped?
Sasan Baleghizadeh is Associate Professor of TEFL at Shahid Beheshti University (G.C.) in Tehran, Iran, where he teaches courses in applied linguistics, syllabus design, and materials development. He is interested in investigating the role of interaction in English language teaching and issues related to materials development. His published articles appear in international journals like TESL Reporter, TESL Canada Journal, ELT Journal,Language Learning Journal, Modern English Teacher, and The Teacher Trainer.
Elnaz Goldouz is currently an MA student of TEFL at Shahid Beheshti University (G.C.) in Tehran, Iran. She is interested in experimenting with innovative techniques in teaching grammar to EFL students.