The ABC of ELT

Grammar gymnastics

I was reminded of this term when making a last Minute Monday and thought I’d expand on it some more. I honestly don’t know if I coined this term or someone else did but it is very useful in describing a common event in classes.

What happens is that students attempt all kinds of cleaver and, usually, complicated ways to express a thought, idea or piece of

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Taken from by tablav

information that could easily be expressed via another grammar function. In fact, the often touch or use element or proto grammar that involves this point.

These can be great moments to feed in the language and help the student to express these ideas much in a simplify manner.

A common area which I have noticed for this are conditional sentences. I am always amazed at some of the
Linguistical acrobatics that my students go through to avoid (or when they don’t know) this grammar.  Though providing them with it is so useful that one student remarked.

“I don’t need conditionals! If I needed conditionals I would have learnt them.”

The irony was apparently lost on him.

However, sometimes this grammatical gymnastics can be a good thing. Native speakers often use various methods to express complex ideas more succinctly and skip information all together.

What is the impact on our teaching?

This can have a radical implication on two Stages in a lesson. The first is setting up and introducing the language. If there s a clear need for the language and the language item is actually useful, then it will be viewed as valuable, remembered and used.

The second is in the follow up stages where the language is repeated. If there is no real need for the language at this point then students will often revert to using simpler or other methods of expressing the same idea (even if the need for the language was clearly set up beforehand) . How many times have you reflected on an activity and lamented “Why didn’t they use the target language!” Perhaps the fault was the task and not the students?

Of course this is still relevant to TBL, Dogme and other methodologies that priorities emergent language. Although the situation for the needed language should be assured (after all it is noticing a gap in a situation that students are trying to deal with), the language that the teacher selects may not be the best choice. What’s more it may only be for a small part of the lesson, as such the need to repeat and put the language to work in follow up stages might be absent.

A final point, these acrobatic moves aren’t necessarily bad. They certainly do help students express themselves, often in efficient ways, and is much better than students just asking for a translation at a point where they don’t know the language. However, if we are intending to teach students a language item, we should ensure that the language is obviously relevant, useful to the students.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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