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Observations of Grammar Classes Bridget Schuberg Colorado State University

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES Abstract This paper is a report of my observations of six different grammar classes at the Academic English program at INTO-CSU: two at the basic level, two at the intermediate level, and two at the advanced level. I provide a detailed explanation of the lesson's progression and comment on my perception of the usefulness of the activities and the accuracy of the grammar explanations. Keywords: noun, punctuation, superlative, comparative, adjective, past perfect, present perfect, adjective clause, adjective phrase

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES Observation Report of Grammar Classes Beginning Level Basic I

This class was composed of eleven Arabic speaking students: nine from Saudi Arabia and two from Kuwait. The main focus of this classroom was on vocabulary related to personal characteristics and to community services, and on rules related to punctuation and capitalization. The teacher began the class by reviewing some of the words the students had previously learned, such as beautiful, married, and young, by asking Who in this class is ____? If clarification was needed about the meaning of a word, the teacher would ask additional questions to make the definition clearer (e.g. Who in this class is rich? Who has more than ten camels?) Then, the teacher would introduce a word with opposite meaning (e.g. Azooz has more than ten camels. He is rich. He is not poor.) After the meaning of these pairs were understood, the teacher had various students write them on strips of paper and place them on the Word Wall. After going through all the words that were being focused on that week, the students played competitive pictionary, in which one student would attempt to represent the meaning of a word he/she was given by the teacher well enough so that the members of his/her team could guess the word he/she was trying to depict. At the basic level, I think this is a good activity to practice vocabulary without demanding too much production from the students. After this activity, the teacher had the students write sentences on the board about what life is like in their native countries; she said this was to help the students practice their spelling and to demonstrate their knowledge of the alphabet. Based on the sentences these students created, she briefly mentioned some necessary components of sentences in English: Sentences

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES must have a subject, and they must have a verb. She then stated that the subject of a sentence is

usually a noun, and then told the students that a noun can be a person, an animal, or any thing. As I only saw this one session of this classroom, I am not sure how much time had been spent on the definition of a noun; however, if this was the first time nouns had been mentioned, I believe this explanation is not thorough or accurate enough, even at the basic level. She then transitioned from the definition of a noun to the times when they are capitalized (essentially teaching the students about proper nouns). She first asked the students to recall times when they had seen capital letters at the beginning of words. As the students listed examples, the teacher wrote the general rule corresponding to each example on the board with a new example that was pertinent in some way to the students' lives. At the end of this activity, the list contained the following rules and examples of capitalization: 1) beginning of sentence: This is Monday 2) namesfirst, middle, last: Ahmad Alhumaidi Alazemi 3) city: Fort Collins, Dammam, Riyadh, Kuwait City, 4) country: Kuwait, K.S.A 5) universities: CSU 6) languages: English, Arabic 7) pronoun I: Today I will go to Denver 8) days of the week: Monday 9) months of the year: March. She mentioned that this list did not cover every instance in which something needs to be capitalized, but that it was enough for their level. After these rules had been delineated, she wrote sentences with errors on the board (e.g. azooz is from ksa, ibrahem speaks arabic) and asked students to come up to the board and correct them. Next, she pointed out to students that all the examples that were written on the board ended in a period. Then she asked Why do you put a period at the end of the sentence? One student responded Because the sentence is finished. Then, the teacher explained that the word for this was punctuation (although the teacher did not give the students an exact definition of

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES this word). She briefly previewed the other marks speakers of English can use in writing to signal the end of a sentence by writing an example on the board and saying it aloud (e.g. How old is Hakeem?, I am not from Korea!) The students then practiced this new information by listening to a dialogue and writing out the sentences they heard using the correct punctuation. After they had completed this exercise in their own books, the teacher had individual students write pieces of the dialogue on the board. I believe this was a useful activity, as it gives students practice hearing the effect different punctuation marks can have on intonation as well as on meaning. Basic II

This class was composed of one student from Japan and ten Arabic-speaking students: six from Saudi Arabia, two from Libya, and two from Kuwait. The main content focus of this session was guessing meaning based on context. Although no one main grammar topic was clearly the focus of the session, punctuation, the identification of parts of speech, and the necessary components of a sentence were mentioned frequently and were brought to the attention of the students mainly through a reading of a short story (Appendix A). Students were given this story, and then were told to read through it and underline any words they didn't know. The teacher transitioned into this activity by telling the students that even native speakers don't always know the meaning of every single word in a text. However, instead of immediately looking up the definition in the dictionary, she said that one can make a decent guess about the part of speech and meaning of the word by considering the meaning of the words surrounding the unknown word and their parts of speech. In helping the students complete the first question of a fill-in-the-blank activity, the


teacher demonstrated how to use this knowledge. She helped students use the part of speech of a word to eliminate certain choices from the word bank (e.g. We don't have a verb in this sentence! So we can eliminate some of the other words [from the word bank] because they aren't verbs). However, although particular rules can be used as a general guideline and are a useful starting point for beginners, one must be careful when making these generalizations, even at the basic level. For example, in a list of rules for recognizing certain parts of speech, the book presented the rule that only a noun can follow the word small in the phrase in a small. However, it is not unlikely that even students at the basic level will encounter examples that contradict this rule (e.g in a small blue house). Finally, this teacher talked about certain morphemes that can be used to recognize certain parts of speech. For example, one student had underlined kindness as a word he did not know. The teacher asked the student if he knew any part of the word; he replied that he knew kind. The teacher then explained that usually, words that end in -ness are nouns, and that many times we can make an adjective into a noun by adding the suffix -ness. Another student did not know the word homeless, but knew the word home. The teacher explained that we can often use the suffix -less to mean a lack of something; she also explained that by adding -less the word becomes an adjective. I think presenting learners with strategies that will ease the process of language acquisition is very important to lessen language load, so I really enjoyed these two activities. Intermediate Level IN 103 Grammar This class was composed of one Portuguese-speaking student from Brazil and eight

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES Arabic-speaking students: four from Saudi Arabia, three from Kuwait, and one from Bahrain. The grammatical focus of this session was comparatives and superlatives. As the students had been learning this construction for a few days, the teacher began with a review of when it is acceptable to use -er and -est to form the comparative and superlative, and when one must use more and most. The students responded that this choice is dependent on the number of syllables

in the word to be changed. The teacher then handed out a sheet with 10 sentences, each of which contained an error related to the formation of the comparative or superlative (Appendix B). After the students worked on correcting these errors in pairs for five minutes, the teacher went over the correct responses, asking students why they corrected what they did for each sentence. She then administered a short worksheet which had a word bank of different noun phrases (Appendix C). The teacher read adjectives out loud, and students had to choose two noun phrases to compare using that adjective (e.g. Mexican food is spicier than Italian food). During this exercise, the teacher walked around the room checking comprehension of this topic. After the students had composed eight sentences, the teacher asked students to read some of their responses aloud; she seemed to choose sentences that would produce more subjective responses so as to elicit additional conversation from the students (e.g. A cat is cuter than a dog). One of the problems some students had during this activity was remembering to include a verb; many times they would construct a sentence such as A cat faster than a dog. This could be due to the lack of the copula be in Arabic. To demonstrate how the superlative might be used in a real-life context, the teacher brought three different types of chips to the classroom. After students had sampled all three types, they had to construct sentences using both the superlative and the comparative using

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES adjectives such as crunchy, delicious, and salty. This activity also elicited additional conversation from the students, as they argued over whose opinion was correct. In the final activity of this session, the teacher showed pictures of objects that the students then had to compare and contrast using both the comparative and the superlative. Many of these pictures depicted things which I believe the teacher thought would interest the students, such as cars, actors, and landmarks from the countries that the students were from. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this class because the teacher constantly made the

grammar structure relevant to the students' lives and definitely made an effort to choose activities which would keep the students interested. IN203 Grammar This class was composed of one student from Italy, one student from Somalia, and eleven Arabic-speaking students: one from Qatar, one from Kuwait, and nine from Saudi Arabia. While no content topic was perceptible, the main grammatical focus of this session was the past perfect. The teacher specifically advised me to observe on this day, even though the students had to take a 30-minute quiz at the beginning of the class period on the present perfect; first of all, she would be introducing the past perfect, and secondly because my arrival after class had already started would help her demonstrate how the past perfect is used. After the students all handed in their quizzes, the teacher asked What have we just done? After the students replied We have just taken a quiz, the teacher called the students' attention to my arrival so as to introduce the past perfect: Was the observer here at the beginning of the quiz? No. She came to class when we had started the quiz. She drew a timeline on the board to illustrate the order in which these events occurred. The teacher

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES explained that when the word before and after are not present in a sentence to clarify which action happened first, the past perfect is used: whichever actions occurred first are in the past perfect. As I learned in E526, it is important to link previous knowledge with new information so students can make connections in meaning.

After presenting the students with the form and function of the past perfect, she presented them with hints regarding its use. First of all, she noted that the past perfect is used more frequently in written English than in spoken English. She also mentioned that many times, the word already is used with the past perfect to make the order of events very clear. She then pointed out that although the had of the past perfect often gets contracted (e.g. I had arrived I'd arrived), the contraction 'd does not always signal the past perfect (e.g. I'd like to go = I would like to go). The teacher then presented the students with a handout in which they were presented with a sentence and a picture. To complete this exercise, they had to circle the action that happened first and answer a yes/no question pertaining to the meaning of the sentence (e.g. When she got to the airport, the plane had left. Did she get on the plane?). After this, they completed a similar exercise, in which they had to determine the meaning of sentences containing the past perfect without the help of pictures. As taught in E526, it is important to include some type of scaffolding in a lesson when new information is being presented. By including visual aids, the students were more likely to understand the meaning of the structure. To demonstrate the past perfect with an authentic example, the teacher showed an email I had sent her to ask if I could reschedule my observation on the document camera. In my email, I had written I'd forgotten that I have an appointment on the day you told me would be best to



observe. Using this example, the teacher was able to explain that the action occurring after the one in the past perfect does not have to be specifically stated; the teacher explained that in this case when I responded to your email is implied. I really like that the teacher not only showed an authentic example of the target structure but also used it to bring up additional points about it. Next, the students were to complete an exercise in which they had to decide which action occurred first, and then write a sentence combining the two while using the past perfect (e.g. His car broke down. (1) He took the bus. (2). He took the bus because his car had broken down.). The students completed this exercise in groups of three; each group had a white board on which they wrote their assigned sentence. Each group presented their white board to the teacher, who asked the rest of the class if their answer was correct, or if anyone had connected the sentences in a different way (e.g. His car had broken down, so he took the bus). For the final activity of this session, the teacher had written sentences that were potentially relevant to the lives of the students, and that containing the past perfect (e.g. When I came to Fort Collins, I had not yet found a place to live), and displayed these sentences throughout the classroom. Each student would sign his or her name under the statement if it was true for them. I liked this activity, because the personal connection students were able to make with the sentences seemed to really help reinforce the true meaning of the grammar point. I enjoyed this class because the class was constantly progressing; the teacher never got distracted and always ensured the students stayed on-task. Furthermore, she included authentic examples of the target structure, constantly attempted to relate the tasks to the students' lives, and provided sufficient scaffolding and links to background knowledge.

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES Advanced Level AD 303 Grammar This classed was composed of one student from Thailand, one student from China, and seven Arabic-speaking students: six from Saudi Arabian, and one from Kuwait. There was no content topic observable in this class, but the main grammatical topic of this particular class session was the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive relative clauses, which they had begun learning the day before. The teacher mainly used lecture and exercises from the book to teach this concept. First, the teacher asked the students to recall general rules regarding the difference in form between restrictive and nonrestrictive relative clauses asking the question When do we


add commas? The students responded that when the clause adds extra information to the main clause, commas should be used. The teacher then asked the students to read sentences (some that were lacking necessary commas and some that were not) aloud, and they were to pause where necessary to indicate the need for commas (e.g. Mariko and Jack who didn't come to class yesterday explained their absence to the teacher Mariko and Jack, who didn't come to class yesterday, explained their absence to the teacher). After this example, the teacher mentioned that adjective clauses that follow proper nouns (such as the example above) are usually set off by commas. The students were told that when commas are not necessary, that is more likely to be used than which. The teacher then proceeded to have students practice determining whether a clause was restrictive or nonrestrictive based on exercises from Understanding and Using Grammar by Azar and Hagen. Students were told to add commas where necessary in the following phrase: Mr.



Trang whose son won the spelling contest is very proud of his son's achievement. The man whose daughter won the science contest is also very pleased and proud. The second sentence caused confusion among some students who believed that the man in the second sentence could still be referring to Mr. Trang, in which case whose daughter won the science contest could also be set off by commas. The teacher had difficulty getting certain students to look beyond mere adherence to grammatical rules and to consider the context of the entire phrase to determine which sentence is more likely to be correct. A similar problem occurred when students had to choose between that and which in the phrase Mrs. Clark has two goats. She's furious at the goat (that/, which) got on the wrong side of the fence and is eating her flowers. Without the first sentence, both that and which are equally acceptable; only upon taking the first sentence into consideration does it become clear which word is favored in the second sentence. Once again, it was difficult for some students to accept that one answer was more correct than another even though both choices produced a grammatical sentence. Then, students had to demonstrate their understanding of the difference between nonrestrictive and restrictive relative clauses by choosing the correct meaning of certain sentences. For example, after being presented with the sentence The teachers thanked the students, who had given her some flowers., students had to choose whether the meaning was a) The flowers were from only some of the students and b) The flowers were from all of the students. After the students gave the correct answer, b, the teacher asked the students how they could change the sentence so that it had the meaning of a; they responded that if they removed the comma, the sentence would mean that only some of the students gave the teacher flowers. Some students were still struggling with this concept, and the teacher indicated that he would find extra



exercises for them to complete. The teacher also used real-life examples to help clarify (e.g. The chair that is next to the observer is empty.) The teacher spent the remaining ten minutes explaining to the students that adjective clauses often get reduced to adjective phrases. The book defined a clause as a group of related words that contains a subject and a verb, and defined a phrase as a group of related words that does not contain a subject and verb. The teacher told the students that only adjectives that have a subject pronounwho, which, or thatare reduced to modifying adjective phrases. He stated that there are two ways in which an adjective clause is reduced to an adjective phrase: if the adjective phrase contains the be form of a verb, you can omit the subject pronoun and the be form (demonstrated with the example Paris, which is the capital of France,... Paris, the capital of France,...) if there is no be form of a verb in the adjective clause, it is sometimes possible to omit the subject pronoun and change the verb to its -ing form (demonstrated with the example English has an alphabet that consists of 26 letters English has an alphabet consisting of 26 letters. I personally would have used the more accurate term relative clause if teaching this class however. Furthermore, the teacher told the students that the capital of France in the aforementioned sentence is an adjective phrase, though it is truly a noun phrase. Although I think the students adequately grasped the target structure, I believe several communicative activities could have been conducted that would further clarify the grammar topic, as this was mostly a teacher-centered class. For example, students could have written sentences describing their classmates (e.g. The student who comes from China is...) or could have played Twenty Questions (Is this person the one who is sitting next to the door?)

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES AD 303 Grammar This class was composed of two students from Japan, two students from Korea, one


student from Ghana, and eight Arabic-speaking students from Saudi Arabia. During this lesson, the teacher focused on which adverbs, transitions, conjunctions, and prepositions are used in English to talk about cause and effect (e.g. because, therefore, so and due to + NP, respectively) versus those that are used to talk about unexpected results (e.g. even though, however, but, and despite + NP, respectively). The teacher began class by writing real errors students had made in their homework from two nights before on the board (e.g. Due to the weather was hot, we went to the beach) He asked for a volunteer to come to the board and change the sentence to make it grammatically correct, and to explain their reasoning for making those changes (for instance, in the example above, the students said We have to change it to be a noun, because of due to.) After these initial examples, the teacher called on various students to pick a sentence they had written for homework the previous night and write it on the board (e.g. Due to her illness, she missed class). After the students had written their sentences, the teacher asked students about each one (e.g. What's the cause? What's the effect? What word are we using to show the cause? So what has to follow?). Next, the teacher divided the class up into two teams. He wrote on the following two sentences on the board: We stayed inside all day. The weather was terrible. Each team sent two members up to the board, and then the teacher would give the students a certain word to use to logically combine these two sentences (e.g. Join these two sentences using because of. Because of the terrible weather, we stayed inside all day.)



The students were then given a chart to fill out that was designed to help them remember which parts of speech are typically used in each circumstance. The teacher asked the students to volunteer their knowledge regarding which words they knew went in which box. He also made sure students were thinking about the punctuation that needed to be used with each word (e.g. So and therefore both show result, but the punctuation is different). The students continued to fill this out throughout the class period. Next, the students were given a quiz about connectives and adverb clauses used to express cause and effect. This quiz tested the students' ability to use the correct tense and aspect, partially based on the adverb clause/connective used (e.g. Since I left California five years ago, I (return) ________ several times to visit friends), and also tested whether or not they knew the correct way to combine sentences using a given adverb clause/connective (e.g. I am sick. I can't go to class today I am sick. Therefore, I can't go to class today.) The teacher corrected this quiz in class, using the previous example to transition into his next topic, how to express an unexpected result: Because I am sick, I can't go to class today. Does this make sense? Yes it does. Because I am sick, I am going to class today. Does this make sense? No, it doesn't, because that is not a result you would expect. He then told the students that English uses words like although, even though, or though to express unexpected results. The students then did an exercise in which they were given a clause containing an adverb clause, and then choose whether or not the result would be expected or unexpected (e.g. Even though it was a dark, cloudy day, _____ a) I put on my sunglasses b) I didn't put on my sunglasses). Then, they were given a sentence missing only the adverb/connective and had to decide which adverb/connective best fit in the blank (e.g. Barry's in good shape physically ______ he doesn't

OBSERVATIONS OF GRAMMAR CLASSES get much exercise.) The teacher ended the class by assigning homework with exercises testing


the students' ability to combine sentences using the adverbs/connectives expressing unexpected results.