>On using songs to teach vocabulary

>I would venture to say it is risky to use any songs that the students themselves don’t recommend. Just ask them who and what they like and they are eager to let you know. Remember, if you like it they probably don’t.

I believe teaching songs may be one of the most undervalued methods of TESL. Just think: the students usually love them (low affective barrier), they are catchy and easy to remember, they are real language (realia), it is likely that the students will hear them again and again and thus have ample opportunity to review the language, they are culturally informative, they add another media of presentation (music, not just listening to the teacher or looking at a book).

Other teachers had a big discussion (read: argument) about the value of teaching Shakespeare. The claim goes that the bard set a valuable milestone in the progress of English. But frankly, for young people especially, I think Backstreet Boys, Westlife, Dion and Houston would help students make greater progress in communicative skills.

Some care needs to be exercised to select songs with the highest potential of useful language. Many rap songs are hindered with a total absence of grammar and high density of slang or invented language.

>Multitasking to avoid boredom – Student need for engaging input

>One teacher wrote:

“I often have the TV on in the background when I’m writing or marking papers or working on my website. I’m not really paying attention to it (the TV), but more and more words seem to seep through. I believe it is helpful. Students to whom I have mentioned it, though, seem skeptical. (Of course they are! It doesn’t fit within that very small box called Chinese English teaching pedagogy!)”

Is this what Chinese middle-school students do to us as well? Often, we talk about our problems keeping students’ attention. I have employed various strategies to deal with this, treating it as a problem.

I noticed that often the students who seemed to not be paying attention often still had the correct answers. I’m coming to believe, in our high tech society, that students are capable of multitasking. They require lots of input and if there is not a high enough load of input from the teacher then the student will achieve his mental bandwidth capabilities by finding other sources of input.

>Betty Azar on teaching grammar

> In a discussion with many teachers, one of which was me, Betty Azar said:

“What we DO mean when we say that ‘grammar teaching works’ is that students develop their interlanguages faster and with better results when a grammar component is included in a balanced program of second language instruction. This is clear not only to experienced teachers, but is clear in the cumulative research into grammar teaching during the past 20 years.”

My reply:

My knowledge of the research on this subject is not complete. From what I understand, much of it actually shows that “grammar teaching” will result in gains in “grammar testing” and only modest gains at that. This doesn’t reflect acquisition. Could you share some references to any research where acquisition has been demonstrated through direct grammar teaching?

Consider this question:

How is it possible that students cannot acquire grammar solely through grammar teaching but students can acquire grammar solely through extensive reading and exposure to the language?

This seems to indicate that grammar teaching can only play the most minor role, if any, in language acquisition. Stephen Krashen recommends grammar teaching to only deal with anything the student has learned incorrectly, what I would call a sort of post-acquisition experience fine-tuning.[1]

[1] http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/eta_paper/02.html

>Chinese grammar troubles


In a discussion with another teacher he suggested that Chinese students may have trouble learning pronouns of gender. However, recall that the question is if grammar teaching works.

Bringing up the question of the way Chinese deal with pronouns really only points out more problems with grammar teaching. After being taught the grammar rules, after being drilled endlessly, as they are in China, on the grammar, they still have trouble with something as simple as pronouns of gender.

If Chinese did have pronouns of gender in their own language, then it is not so much a matter of teaching grammar but more like translating the language of the pronouns from L1 to L2, teaching that xxxx = “he” and yyyy = “she”, in which case no grammar teaching is necessary.

How to use pronouns of gender can be taught in one day but take years to acquire. This implies to me that “teaching” is playing a minute role in the learning process. Now, if you consider how much students do learn that is not “taught” then a lot of questions are raised as to the usefulness of grammar teaching.

Where do students gain the ability to form complex sentences, was it from that lesson in Mr. Smith’s class in September, 1999?…or was it eight years of reading 24,000 articles in The Guardian newspaper and Time magazine, 12 John Grisham and Stephen King novels, 24 university text books on physics, psychology and history, writing 85 reports and 175 essays? Really, which one helped our student to master the complex sentence?

Of course, you could say that Mr. Smith got our student started off on the right foot. But most students will admit that they forget grammar teaching, that grammar is very difficult to learn, and students in high school and university will cram it for the exam one day and forget it the next.