|English for Specific Purposes (ESP): Teaching English for Specific Purposes (Peace Corps, 1986, 110 p.)|
|Chapter Three: Developing language skills|
Although your students will probably place great emphasis on learning grammar, you should assure them that grammar is not the most important aspect of language learning. This is easily demonstrated by reference to the person who knows many grammar rules and yet cannot understand or express anything in the spoken language. Students whose language courses have always focused exclusively on grammar may urge you to spend lots of class time explaining various points of English grammar and structure. Such explanation is actually teaching English linguistics, and there is controversy in the field of EFL teaching regarding the real value of such instruction for language learners. Students may have a false sense that they are learning English, when, in fact, they are learning about English, but making little progress toward comprehending and being able to use the language in the contexts for which they need it.
Understanding and communicating in English is within the students' reach even if they don't understand the fine points of grammar. The ability to function in English is not directly linked to accuracy of grammatical use or pronunciation. Students need to be encouraged to use English even if they make mistakes. The main purpose of language use, after all, is communication.
Some instruction in grammar is necessary, however. Especially in written work, learning grammar rules can help students to recognize and correct their errors. In preparing to teach grammar, be sure you have a good understanding of the structures that you want to teach, so that your presentation is clear. It is also important that your students be able to use the grammar they practice. One way to ensure that students can make effective use of what they learn is to teach grammar in conjunction with writing, the skill in which it can best be practiced. In speaking, we do not usually have the time to remember and apply rules of grammar, but in writing we have ample opportunity to monitor our usage. It is in writing that grammar instruction is most useful. The grammatical forms which are most useful and most learnable are those which control sentence-- level functions such as question form, negation, relative clause formation and other structures involved in subordination and coordination. These features are more important than correct usage of articles or other nonsentence-level features. Focusing on paragraph features such c, tense continuity across clauses, parallel structure, and connectors, will help students in reading comprehension as well. (See section on READING, above, for more ideas on teaching grammar with reading.)
Development of " iting ability takes lots of practice. Start with simple, structured exercises and allow students to develop confidence as writers before you give them longer free writing tasks. As in other skills, development of writing can be enhanced through the use of appropriate visuals. See Figure 6 for an example of how a text uses a diagram of the carbon cycle to guide students in writing true sentences. Students need only choose the correct combination of elements to write the sentences. Another such exercise is shown in Figure 7. Here the students write statements which establish relationships among animals based on information from a diagram.
Figure 6. From General Science by Rates and Evans. Nucleus: English for Science and technology Series. Copyright ° 1976 by Longman Croup Ltd. Reprinted by permission
Writing assignments should be carefully structured. They should also be practiced and reviewed often and used as a basis for more complex writing assignments. Paragraph writing exercises can be based on models which the students first complete, and then expand or build on. An example of this is given in Figure 8. Students first complete a paragraph based on a diagram, and then use another diagram to write a paragraph in similar style.
If development of skill in writing longer compositions is a goal of your writing program, work gradually toward this goal. Compositions are very time-consuming to correct and should be limited in length and scope. Following are the structural errors most often found in student compositions:
1. Subject-verb agreement
3. Word order problems: adverbs, win-clauses.
4. Present perfect tense
5. Verb + Verb-ing (gerunds) vs. Verb + to + Verb (infinitive)
6. Passive Voice
(From Guide to Language and Study Skills for College Students of English as Second Language by A.V. Martin et al.)
" Dialogue journals" have recently become quite popular as a way for teachers to communicate with students individually in writing without spending massive amounts of time in correction. The students are encouraged to keep a notebook, a dialogue journal, in which they write anything they want. The teacher collects the journals at regularly scheduled intervals, reads them, and writes notes or comments to the student; hence, a "dialogue" is created. Error correction can be done through teacher entries, where the correct forms are modeled. Dialogue journals are an effective way for you to get to know students individually if you have large classes.
If students writ' during class time, the teacher can circulate among the students, monitor their progress, and offer suggestions. This can be a useful activity.
Figure 8. From Enllish in Basic Medical Science by Joan Maclean. Copyright c 1975 by Oxford University Press. Inc. Reprinted by permission.
Objectives for the Development of Writing Skills
1. Students will be able to summarize material which they have read.
2. Students will be able to take notes on lectures or readings.
3. Students will be able to compose coherent paragraphs on familiar topics.
4. Students will be able to write short letters in standard format.
5. Students will be able to write for a variety of purposes, depending on the needs of their specialty area.
Activities for Developing Writing Skills
1. Copying exercises are helpful for beginning learners, especially if their native language uses a writing system different from English.
2. Writing exercises include dictation and completion of cloze or fill-in-the-blank exercises. Completion of cloze exercises forces students to hypothesize and to recognize relationships between sentences.
3. Sentence-combining exercises require students to combine short sentences into longer ones. This gives them practice with coordination and subordination without requiring the composition of coherent prose passages.
For example, given the sentences:
Wheat is subsidized by the government. The subsidy is paid for local wheat. The subsidy is also paid for imported wheat. The purpose of the subsidy is to keep bread prices low.
Students can form the sentence:
Both local and imported wheat are subsidized by the government in order to keep bread prices low.
4. Re-ordering jumbled sentences helps students build understanding of paragraph structure.
5. Note-taking exercises give students practice recording information. Guide them in developing good notetaking style. Teach them that when they take notes they should include content words, important diagrams, correct figures (such as percentages, quantities), transitional expressions, and appropriate abbreviations and symbols. See page 12 for more tips on teaching note-taking skills.
6. Outlining exercises for reading, shown in Chapter Four, Program Design, help students to see the organizational structure of material they read. In writing, outlining exercises can prepare the students to write by forcing them to make their own organizational patterns explicit. Ask students to write a sentence giving the main thesis of their composition, and then to outline the main points they will develop in support of the thesis.
7. Summarizing exercises can be combined with reading or study skills assignments. Such exercises can also be used to develop skills in paraphrasing and to caution students against plagiarism. For example, students can be asked to read and summarize information in preparation for writing a research paper. The teacher can evaluate the summary in terms of how well the students express the information in the article in their own words.
8. Writing descriptions can include descriptions of substances, places, and objects. At more advanced levels this might include interpretations of illustrations, graphs, and charts.
9. Writing descriptions of processes, including writing instructions or "how to" exercises as well as descriptions of how things happen over time. See example, Figure
10. Writing definitions. See example, Figure 10.
Figure 9. From Reading and Thinking in English: Discovering Discourse by John Moore et al. Copyright 1979 by the British Council Reprinted by permission.
Figure 10. From English in Mechanical Engineering by Eric H. Glen dinning. Copyright a 1973 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Reprinted by permission.