Saturday, October 3, 2009

Grammar and Lexis: A Response to Program Director’s Dilemma

By Patty Heiser
TA Coordinator and Lecturer
International and English Language Programs
University of Washington Educational Outreach
pheiser@u.washington.edu

Dear Director:

You are not alone in this dilemma of situating grammar within your IEP! I commend you for placing your students and their needs first while maintaining full confidence in your well-trained instructors.

My suggestion is to gently guide the instructors along a path they may find to be not so different from what they know and are already used to, that is, teaching grammar and lexis. I imagine that you have instructors who are strong proponents of teaching vocabulary. If you can show them the logical connection between teaching grammar along with lexis, then you have half the battle won.

How might you do this? One way would be to use an in-service to show this connection of teaching grammar along with lexis in writing. Many words and phrases in writing have their own grammatical patterns. Depending on the level of the class, you could focus on the words and phrases that help organize ideas at either the sentence or paragraph level.

For example, if the students were writing about the causes and/or effects of changes in the global economy, the instructors could focus on cause/effect lexical items such as due to or as a result of, both of which are followed by noun phrases. In organizing ideas at the paragraph level, the students would look at the grammar used with transitional expressions like in addition to, which help combine and organize ideas in a paragraph and work as important signals to the reader: “In addition to the down turn in the economy, the rise in oil prices has impacted the economy at the macro level.”

Your instructors will feel comfortable using grammar terminology to help organize ideas in writing. At the same time, the students will be able to leverage their strong understanding of grammar to improve their writing skills.

Some texts which might be valuable resources for your instructors, along with the Azar texts you already use, include: 

             This text is wonderful for working with the genres, or patterns of
             writing, and has excellent activities for instructors and their
             students.

    I have included ideas here for the road to teaching writing through grammar. Once down this road, my guess is that your instructors will be open to applying grammar in teaching the other skill areas. In fact, I think they will see such positive advances in their students’ skills that we just may see your instructors themselves presenting at upcoming TESOL conferences on using grammar as a springboard for communicative language teaching!

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