Tuesday Tricks: A Psycholinguistic Approach to Grammar Teaching

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May 1, 2012 by k. liz

(My husband seems to think that this title has a frightening ring to it. Does it really?)

I just wrote an essay on this today. You’ll probably see it in the near future. But, I thought that I would share just one simple thought that I have learned recently about presenting grammar in the classroom. I’m sure many of you have heard of PPP – Present, Practice, Produce. But, that is perhaps not the most efficient model out there, only because it is not as focused on meaningful, comprehensible input and relation to the students real lives. As teachers, we need to be looking for authentic materials that will help our students be successful in and out of the classroom.

Here is a simple, but effective method to follow:

P-Presentation – in a meaningful context – this may be a text or video that can connect with the students’ lives.
A-Attention to form – bring the students’ attention to the form at hand, but don’t explicitly teach it, help them to see the parallels
C – Co-Construct an explanation with your students – Have them notice things about the form and tell you what they are.
E – Extension – give the students an activity to complete with their new language.

Let me give you an excerpt from my essay as to what this might look like in my own classroom someday (not with kindergarten, but you get the idea!)

As an example for a future class of my own, I envision implementing this psycholinguistic approach by first providing the students with a meaningful context. For the example of teaching past tense, I would show a video of a student going through their daily routines. This is a meaningful context because most students will relate with the content. As they view the video, I would instruct students to write down all of the things that the student is doing. This will provide us with a list of verbs to later utilize in our instruction. Once we have a list of verbs of what the student had done during the day, I can transcribe the sentences on an overhead or on the board in the past tense. As I take the students present tense forms and put them into the past tense, I will allow them to think through and come to conclusions on what is going on in with the structures and how and why they are changing. I would also make students aware that they cannot just assume that all verbs change the same way, but that they are going to have to observe and make conclusions about why some verbs are different than others. Following this, I would include input activities where the students are encountering the past tense in written and spoken form. For example, the students might be given a short quiz about the video they watched in which different past actions are listed and they must put them in order or decide whether or not the student in the video actually completed them. They would then take the same verbs listed in that quiz and ask students around the room whether or not they completed those actions yesterday or last week. This will give the students the opportunity to encounter the language in two different formats, without having to yet produce the forms themselves. Once they are confident and have completed these assignments, I would move on to a structured output activity in which the students would write a short schedule of the things that they did over the weekend. They will share this with a friend and compare activities. It will be important to remind students that this is a purposeful activity because this is often a topic of conversation on Monday mornings! Finally, students will be given extension activities to help them practice the structure more on their own. One activity that I can think of is to write a narrative to share with the class about the most important, the funniest, the scariest, or the saddest day of the student’s life. The students will be encouraged to put pictures with this narrative and display them around the room so that others may read about the others stories. This is a meaningful activity because it allows the students to make a choice and also to share some of their own background with others in the class.

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