Finding the Way
Get your students building English Grammar Skills on their own.
By Jason Renshaw

The Beat January 2003

Audiolingualism and the Grammar Translation Method are the typical approaches used to teach English to Korean learners. The faults with these methods have been widely noted and discussed for decades, yet they prevail here in Korea. Most enlightened and eclectic teachers (as well as Korean students themselves) would tell you that they are not very effective methods for teaching grammar and sentence building, at least in terms of creating long term and independent proficiency.

The following activity is one of my all-time favorites, and by far one of the most enjoyable methods for effectively facilitating grammar awareness and development that I‘ve yet seen work in the classroom. I‘ve used it with students from eight years old to adults, provided they have some basic reading ability and an elementary vocabulary. This activity is called Find the Way, and is one of several materials I use under the general name of Sentence Navigation (you can view and download around 300 pages of such material by going to http://www.englishraven.com/Sentnav_main.html). Let‘s see how it works:

Panel A is a typical Find the Way worksheet, blank and ready to go. In the frame to the left, we see a boy writing a letter. A “question fellow” above is asking: “What is he doing?” Next to the picture is a sentence navigation grid: five slots each containing three words. It will be up to the student to “navigate” this grid in order to build an appropriate answer to the question. The student will do this by circling the correct word in each slot and then referring to the teacher for feedback. Once all of the correct words have been circled, the student will be permitted to write the full answer in the space beneath.

Panel B is the student‘s first attempt -- an incorrect sentence not uncommon in Korean learners: He doing is write letter. For typical question-answer activities, the student‘s involvement usually ends right here with an abrupt correction from the teacher: “No – He is writing a letter.” But with Find the Way, this is just a first important step in building a correct English sentence. The teacher indicates with a small tick or cross in the boxes above each slot whether the student‘s selection was correct or not. Here, the teacher has indicated that “He” and “letter” are correct, but the three words in between have been bungled somehow. The teacher then hands the worksheet back to the student and invites him/her to self-correct.

In C, the student has narrowed down his/her errors significantly, but still appears to be confused with the continuous and simple forms for the present tense verb “write”. The teacher does a second round of corrections, and asks the student to “finish off this sucker!” In D, our student quickly selects “writing”, has the teacher verify it, then writes the full correct answer to the question in the blank space.

On a typical worksheet, I normally use four of these grids, so the student would take on four at a time before taking his/her sheet to the teacher to obtain feedback. For a very large class, the teacher might like to put the students in groups of three or four so that they can debate and discuss how to put the answers together as a team.

The approach as explained here appears quite simple, and that‘s because it is. The important things to note here are:

- Students are not “memorizing” their way through a dialogue; they are experimenting with word selection and word combinations on their own.
- When they are unsure, students are taking risks and making guesses, which is an essential ingredient in building communicative confidence and competence.
- Small mistakes are dealt with discreetly and students have extra chances to try again without the fear of being pulled up in front of the whole class.
- Students are invited to deconstruct their own error patterns -- to go with their instinct and then work backwards from it to build the correct form.
- All of the words in the grids are genuine English words, providing students with peripheral exposure to English vocabulary and forms.
- The approach feels more like a puzzle than a grammar exercise, something to be figured out rather than memorized.
- Regular application of this sort of exercise (choice-making and self-correction) across several aspects of language will help students to develop their own “linguistic blueprint” of English – a sort of internal road map for building English sentences.

Find the Way will not magically fix all the problems your learners experience when grappling with English Grammar. But they will be tackling the language on their own and learning from their own mistakes.

Want to try out Find the Way activities for yourself? Here‘s a top-secret link available only to Beat readers: http://www.englishraven.com/files/SNTemplate2a.doc. This will take you to an MS Word template file, where I stock all of my little gadgets for building these sorts of activities. Enjoy!

* Jason Renshaw is the President of KOTESOL Busan-Gyeongnam.
Contact him at: kotesolgyeongnam@yahoo.com


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