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Sentence Builders, Grammar & OneNote Class Notebook: a synthesis

In my early days of language teaching,  grammar and in particular, the teaching of grammar, was a dirty idea.  However, views have relaxed on this topic and there is an understandable recognition of the value of knowing grammar in order to have control over the language in order to manipulate it fully.

I have no doubt that in those early days I approached a grammar lesson with my usual enthusiasm probably trying to teach it via the target language and then a few gap-fill worksheets.  Things have moved on and as well as acquiring grey hairs over the last few years I have acquired a greater appreciation of some of the science behind teaching grammar.   
So following on from my first blog post on Sentence Builders (SB) and OneNote Class Notebook,  I propose now to look at how I might incorporate grammar teaching into the process.  My goal is first of all to allow my students to work with the new structure (the future tense) using language that we have been working on, in this case, healthy eating.

With this SB I will complete similar tasks as outlined in my original post but as a reminder, here is a short list of activities that I might engage in that focus solely on the green column such as:

  • reading aloud as a class
  • reading aloud (ears covered - while I go round and listen)
  • guess the sentence I am thinking of (psychic sentences)
  • play RIP Bingo (students create a list with the sentences).  I read out a sentence and they may only cross out this sentence if it is a) on the top of their list or b) at the bottom of their list.  We keep going until someone has crossed off all the sentences on their list and can call out LOTO!
  • students work in pairs. Each student orders their sentences as they wish.  Student A has to work out the order of student B by reading out a sentence at a time until they guess the first sentence on the list.  They can only keep going if they guess correctly, otherwise play passes to the other player.
The object of these activities is to give the students the chance to become familiar with the verbs and the tense that we will be working on without focusing on the grammar itself.   I will then do some dictation on a Microsoft Whiteboard - where I will have created a grid as follows:

The value of completing tasks in this app is that students can zoom in and work in their section of the grid and then zoom out and peer assess others.

These are just a snapshot of activities and there are plenty more of these types of activities being shared on Twitter.   If you are unsure of where to start then Steve Smith and Dr Gianfranco Conti have plenty of great ideas that they are always sharing - for which I thank them!

Once my students feel comfortable with the language we will be using - and I expect to spend at least a lesson on this -  we will then move on and focus on the grammar point itself.  However, I will not launch straight in with 'what are the endings of the future tense', but I will start with a reading activity such as this:

I am aiming to almost 'flood' their memories with the same information with a view to embedding it in order to ease the students' ability to 'acquire' the grammar point. Students here need to scan the text for the future tense and highlight them.  We will talk about the meanings of the verbs and see if they can spot the endings.  I expect, at this point, that most of my class will be able to do this and that they will be able to write out the endings.  However, before I go on to ask them to write out the verb paradigm and work on the endings I will consolidate with some online activities that allow them to hear the future from a voice other than mine and to do some more receptive tasks (sentence ordering and so on).  Of course, the benefit of working in our Class Notebook is that the students can access the activities and can go back and re-do the tasks at any time.

At this point I will set them tasks to put the verb paradigm in the right order and complete some gap-fill tasks online, even creating some quizzes that they can practice on again and again.    Try Quizizz as a great place to do practice activities.  Here's one I created on the futur simple.  Quizizz allows students to work at their own pace and allows me to see how they are faring. Again, the link will be easily accessible on our Class Notebook page.  From here I will go to a good old fashioned writing gap-fill task (embedded, of course, into our Class Notebook) - I do believe that the ability to write is an important part of the learning process.

These steps will have taken some time but I will be confident that my students will be developing a good grasp of the future tense and I can now consider activities in the ensuing lessons that will allow my students to produce, orally, and on paper, work based on healthy eating using the future tense.  The process will incorporate activities that become progressively more demanding, for example using pictures to guide oral work and Discovery Education's awesome fallen phrases puzzlemaker for some scaffolded translation.  In this example below students have to translate the sentence I will eat fruit every day because it is good for your health. 


For me the most important thing is to give my students the opportunity to be exposed as much as possible to the language and grammar that I want them to learn.  I make no apologies for using the same structures and phrases again and again as I can see that this process is beneficial for their learning and they feel confident and secure in their knowledge.  The benefit of using Class Notebook is that I can create activities that allow them to practise these structures using different online tools such as the ones I have mentioned. 

So, that's how I teach grammar  - I think a little better and with greater understanding than when I first started teaching 25 years ago.  Hopefully, over the next 20 I can hone my technique even more.


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