Integrating the Teaching of Grammar and Topics: Proposed Strategies


(A fragment of a paper; by one NEB)

When faced with two extremes—which are not necessarily choices, it is oftentimes wise to strike a balance between the two. In this context, it means that we have no choice but to integrate both grammar and topic teaching into a third alternative. By integrating the instruction of grammar and topics together, we teach our students to be accurate in what they say; and at the same time we train them to be fluent in what they say too.

In a practical term, what I am trying to say is this: If we are to teach a linguistic form, we have to think of a good topic to serve as the context in which the form is going to be used (Hamied 2001: 24). When we seek to teach a topic, we have to find the linguistic form(s) that go(es) with the topic. This way, our instruction covers both grammar and topic integrated into one fashion.

I propose three strategies for this purpose, regardless of what English teaching institution teachers may best apply them in.

1. Teach linguistic forms, yet integrate them into topics. This is especially so when linguistic forms are more important than topics.

e.g.

Childhood experience

In the instruction, teach students that to describe past events—in this case—things they did in their childhood, they have to use past forms that can be:

a. past be’s: was, were

b. past modals:

– could

– would, used to

c. past verbs:

– regular –ed forms: walked, played, etc.

– irregular forms: sang, swam, etc.

Then, give them an example of how to use them:

When I was 5, I could sing very well already. I would sing a lot at school. I would sing in the bathroom, too. I used to take part in singing contests, and I won most of them. I made my parents happy.

In the skills practice, ask students to ‘read’ the following table:

Angelika

In her childhood Now
– small girl – big girl
– shy – talkative
– not have many friends – have a good circle of friends
– play with dolls a lot – hang out with friends
– spend long hours playing – spend more hours studying

2. Teach them topics, yet give them all they need to later express themselves talking about or writing on the topics. This should be the case when students need more speaking or writing practice.

e.g.

Changing family norms

Teach them all the ideas about changing family norms, giving them all the necessary vocabulary. Do this by writing, or clustering the ideas.

Family types

Nuclear family

Extended family

Changing aspects

breadwinner

Family members’ relationship

Norms and values

Family members’ roles

Children’s rights

Parental authority

Problems

Conflicts of interest

Generation gap

Solution

Compromise

Then, give them an example when necessary:

To start with, my family is a nuclear family. It consists of four members only: my father, mother, me, and my big sister. Now in terms of breadwinner aspect, I think my family has sort of changed. Both my parents work. My father….

In the skills practice, ask each student to explain about his family changing (or unchanged) aspects or norms.

3. Teach them both linguistic forms and topics. Explain all about the topics and give them all the linguistic forms necessary to talk about or write on the topics later. This strategy is devised when both grammar and topics are equally important to master.

e.g.

Values

Teach them all the ideas about values and supply them with all the linguistic forms necessary to talk about or write on the topics later.

Values are life principles that we hold dearly, that we use to regulate our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors everyday. We have values at home, on the street, at school, in the society, etc. Religion, socio-cultural norms, legal system, even personal beliefs may affect us to adopt certain values.

Now, in English, values can be expressed through:

a. single nouns: honesty

b. gerund phrases: telling the truth no matter how bitter it is

c. sentences: We have to tell the truth no matter how bitter it is

Write on the board the following expressions:

I think

I believe

I guess

I’d say

In my opinion

I mean

Apply

Implement

Affect

Influence

Cause

(add more)

Conjunctions: because, as, since all meaning the same

Explain the four important English word classes that are somehow related to one another: nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. Give the suffixes that would indicate these word classes. Give examples. Get them to see that the words potentially share the same root. It is the suffixes that differentiate their meaning and class. Then explain how they are used in context.

Give them an example:

In my work as a teacher, I think patience is an important value. I have to be patient a lot. When I teach my students, I have to teach them patiently as they have different characteristics and capabilities in learning….

In the skills practice, ask each student to explain about one important value in his life as a …

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