Oh no, not grammar!

‘I am the Roman Emperor, and am above grammar.’ Emperor Sigismund

Yeah right!  Nobody’s above grammar – even the Emperor’s sentence is grammatically correct.  There are people out there who don’t get on with grammar, either because they don’t like the idea of rules or they don’t get it at all so they need to learn languages differently but often it’s because they think it’s boring…but it doesn’t have to be.

You’ll notice that in Touchstone Online there are no long grammatical tables of verb conjugations with spellings and tenses that send our students to sleep.  Instead, every grammar point is raised within a specific context so the language point is grounded in some kind of communicative purpose i.e. to furnish the students with the language they need to talk about about a particular topic or get a particular thing done.  This makes the language so much more memorable for the learners especially as in the discussions using that language, they get to talk about their own personal experiences.  So far so good.

I’ve learned a number of other languages and I always feel my heart sinking when my teacher presents me with a long table of nouns and verbs and then reads it to me.  I know that no matter how dedicated a grammar nerd I am, by the time the teacher gets half way through the table I will be doing my shopping list in my head and not listening to a word.  So I really feel for our students.  Contextualisation, making it ‘real’ and applying it to situations they might actually encounter and even enjoy (gasp!) is the key to making your grammar lesson successful.

And that’s what the Touchstone Online grammar videos do.  The truth is that the grammar is being taught all the way from the beginning of the lesson.  The grammar is there in the very first example sentences when it is not highlighted.  It is there in the Figure it Out section when the students are asked to do a sentence structure exercise without any explanation (but with the help of a reading text) and again in more Figure it Out work where they are asked to think a little harder about the structure with a bit less help, again without an explanation.  So by the time they come to look at the Flash video with the explanation, the grammar is not being explained to them but should be confirming what they have hypothesised throughout the earlier part of the lesson.  This then leads on to lots of lovely practice where they get to put it into use in fun personalised ways.  The key difference between the two approaches is that the students make the rules and the course confirms their suspicions rather than going in cold and being told stuff.

So what does this mean for you?  Lots of teachers have asked me whether they can use these videos in class instead of doing grammar presentation.  It depends largely on how you want to use it.  If you want to teach them the present perfect so you show them the video on the Present Perfect and then ask them to do exercises then the answer is definitely ‘no’.  The students will like the interface and the fact that it’s high tech but other than that there is no difference from reading out a grammar table.  If you have set up the context and done lots of figuring it out activities, you could potentially use it as a summary of the rules they have already discerned for themselves.  Use this judiciously however as it is easy to look lazy if you are always putting on videos and the students will eventually bore of this too.  Use it occasionally to bring some variety into the classroom but don’t rely on it.  It’s best to let the students use it themselves at home so you can do a game to review it in class and place a heavier emphasis on either the communicative activities or specific skills or problem areas so you really maximise their time with you.

Have fun!