Reilly 1
Introductory Text as a Motivational Tool in Teaching Grammar
© 2011, Natalia Reilly
University of Central Florida...
Reilly 2
which is the inference of general laws (grammar rules in our case) from practical instances, grammar
rules are in...
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name of a celebrity is mentioned. ELLs may or may not know who Brad Pitt is. This gives a teacher
the opportunity...
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conditions that are true now or were true in the past (simple tenses) with the syntax for the actions
going on at...
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movie. Then I actually got to see him! I’m so lucky!
Kay: Yes, you are.
In this last part of the dialogue, simple...
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The steps of the analysis of a motivational introductory text correspond with the main functions of
scaffolding, ...
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Conclusion
The creative interactive process of analyzing a grammatically structured, vivid, and
humorous text awa...
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Guilloteaux, M., J., Dornyei, Z., (2008). Motivating language learners: A classroom-oriented
investigation of the...
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Introductory Text as a Motivational Tool in Teaching Grammar

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In the process of teaching grammar it is difficult to motivate students. A well-designed introductory text used in terms of the inductive method, theory of creativity, and Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory can be a useful technique of enhancing students’ motivation. To motivate students, the introductory text must possess certain qualities: to be grammatically structured, vivid, humorous, and connected to some cultural issues. While reading the text students are urged to notice new syntax units, guess their meaning in the context, and discover the grammar patterns. Thus, students are immersed into a carefully guided learning process of scaffolded interactive communication.
The article is based on a detailed analysis of the introductory text (a dialogue between two friends) from Dr. Keith Folse’ textbook (2012) Clear Grammar 2. (2nd Ed.). In this textbook the introduction of the new syntax material in the dialogue takes place gradually: as the dialogue develops, it presents new grammatical complexities. Also, the dialogue contains some devices such as a celebrity name (Brad Pitt), colloquial expressions, and humor to catch and keep students’ attention. Only after students’ attention has been stimulated, the new syntax structures appear in the dialogue for the first time. As the result, the students’ understanding of the deep and surface structures of a new syntax form (past progressive tense in this case) may come at this stage of learning.

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Introductory Text as a Motivational Tool in Teaching Grammar

  1. 1. Reilly 1 Introductory Text as a Motivational Tool in Teaching Grammar © 2011, Natalia Reilly University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida, United States Abstract In the process of teaching grammar it is difficult to motivate students. A well-designed introductory text used in terms of the inductive method, theory of creativity, and Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory can be a useful technique of enhancing students’ motivation. To motivate students, the introductory text must possess certain qualities: to be grammatically structured, vivid, humorous, and connected to some cultural issues. While reading the text students are urged to notice new syntax units, guess their meaning in the context, and discover the grammar patterns. Thus, students are immersed into a carefully guided learning process of scaffolded interactive communication. The article is based on a detailed analysis of the introductory text (a dialogue between two friends) from Dr. Keith Folse’ textbook (2012) Clear Grammar 2. (2nd Ed.). In this textbook the introduction of the new syntax material in the dialogue takes place gradually: as the dialogue develops, it presents new grammatical complexities. Also, the dialogue contains some devices such as a celebrity name (Brad Pitt), colloquial expressions, and humor to catch and keep students’ attention. Only after students’ attention has been stimulated, the new syntax structures appear in the dialogue for the first time. As the result, the students’ understanding of the deep and surface structures of a new syntax form (past progressive tense in this case) may come at this stage of learning. To motivate students, to attract their attention, is one of the most important tasks in teaching. If our audience is not awakened, our words, even the most thoughtful, clear, and bright, will be a wasted effort. The issue of students’ motivation is still problematic and widely discussed in teaching second language. Some of the problems are: (1) the diversity of motivational techniques; (2) the lack of specific ways by which motivational strategies and techniques can be used with students or can be taught to teachers; (3) the lack of theoretical support for the motivational strategies and techniques (Bell, 2011; Guilloteaux & Dornyei, 2008; Spada & Lightbown, 2008). The issue of motivation is especially important in teaching grammar, which is habitually concerned as a tedious process. A properly designed introductory text can be one of the motivational techniques in teaching grammar in terms of the inductive method. While using the inductive method,
  2. 2. Reilly 2 which is the inference of general laws (grammar rules in our case) from practical instances, grammar rules are introduced after a text, usually a dialogue, of a recognizable yet vivid topic filled with target syntax constructions. As a result, the introductory text immerses ELLs into an “independent”, as they see it, but in reality carefully guided learning process of interactive communication. This integrated form-focused instruction (FFI) creates the environment for receiving “implicit feedback that occurs as the need or opportunity arises, as well as the kind of planned interaction that requires the repeated, but natural, use of a particular language form” (Spada, Lightbown, 2008, p. 200). The following is the analysis of the text (a dialogue in this case) with some study of its grammar issues. It is the illustration of a motivational role of an introductory text in studying grammar, the illustration of how grammar rules can be inferred from a plausibly casual and engaging, yet carefully structured dialogue. Thus, in Clear Grammar 2, the Unit 8 “Past Progressive Tense” begins with the rubric “Discover the Grammar” where the dialogue of 21 lines is presented, and students are asked to read it and then to answer several questions (Folse, 208-209). The dialogue occurs between two friends Kay and Liz. First of all, it is noticeable that the introduction of the new material in the text takes place gradually – from familiar grammar forms through simple new grammar forms to more complicated new syntax constructions. Also, the dialogue contains some devices such as a celebrity name, colloquial expressions, and humor to catch and keep students’ attention. The beginning of the dialogue is simple: lines 1 and 2 don’t introduce any new grammar. The conversation is rendered in simple past tense: Kay: So, Liz, did you have a good time on vacation? Liz: Oh, yes! I went to Vancouver, Canada. And guess what? I saw Brad Pitt there! Here ELLs don’t have any difficulties to understand the language. It is familiar simple past tense for actions completed in the past. However, among the recognizable sentence structures the
  3. 3. Reilly 3 name of a celebrity is mentioned. ELLs may or may not know who Brad Pitt is. This gives a teacher the opportunity to draw students’ attention by involving them into the conversation about the actor, the cult film “Fight Club”, and about the actor’s wife Angelina Jolie with their numerous children. It is a great opportunity to attract students’ attention by introducing them and discussing with them the issues of American pop culture illustrated with catchy images. Because the success of second language acquisition, as of any creative process, depends on the intensity of an encounter (students- syntax structures in our case), [“Creativity occurs on an act of encounter and is to be understand with this encounter as its center” (May, 1975, p. 77), “One distinguishing characteristic of the encounter is the degree of intensity, … a quality of commitment (May, 1975, p.87),] the connection from the first lines of the introductory text to the alluring images of celebrities has a good chance to intensify students’ attention and, consequently, to increase the quality of the encounter and the quality of learning. Then, after students’ attention has been stimulated, the new grammar, past progressive tense, appears in the dialogue for the first time: Kay: Are you serious? Brad Pitt was in Vancouver? What was he doing there? Was he making a movie? Liz: I don’t know. No one was filming or acting. In this passage past progressive tense is presented along with simple past and simple present, yet in separate sentences. Therefore EELs can compare, without any risk of mixing them up, at least three syntax aspects 1) the use of the verb to be in Simple Past—“was in Vancouver”—with the to be in past progressive— “was he doing,” 2) compare some interrogative forms of these two tenses: “Are you serious?” with “Was he making a movie?”, and 3) compare some negations: “I don’t know,” with “No one is filming.” In other words, students can compare the syntax for the facts or
  4. 4. Reilly 4 conditions that are true now or were true in the past (simple tenses) with the syntax for the actions going on at a certain time in the past (past progressive tense). The next part of the dialogue brings in new grammatical complexity: Kay: So what was he doing? Liz: When I saw him he was shopping. Kay: Shopping? Liz: Yes, he was with his children, and they were shopping. Kay: What were they shopping for? Sports cars? Designer watches? Liz: No, they were buying some cheap t-shirts. I was looking at some shoes, and I just looked over, and there he was! The higher-level novelty in these passages is the combination of simple past with past progressive in complex and compound sentences: “When I saw (SP) him he was shopping (PP),” “he was (SP) with his children, and they were shopping (PP),” “I was looking (PP) at some shoes, and I just looked over (SP), and there he was (SP)!” This juxtaposition lets students understand new features of the usage of simple past and past progressive: past progressive tense indicates that someone was in the middle of doing something at a certain time in the past while was interrupted “by simple past tense”—another action in the past. The rest of the dialogue demonstrates more possibilities in the use of the already introduced syntax structures: Kay: And … you’re sure it was Brad Pitt? Liz: Oh, yes. I was reading a magazine article last week I went to have my hair cut, so I saw some recent photos of him. The man who was shopping looked exactly the same. Kay: Well, if you’re sure. Liz: Oh, I am. It’s funny because I was dreaming about him all summer after I saw his last
  5. 5. Reilly 5 movie. Then I actually got to see him! I’m so lucky! Kay: Yes, you are. In this last part of the dialogue, simple present and simple past tenses are combined with past progressive tense in more complicated complex sentences with two subordinate clauses: “I was reading (main clause, PP)… [when] I went (subord. clause, SP) …, so I saw (subord. clause, SP)…”, “It’s funny (main clause, SPr.) because I was dreaming (subord. PP) … after I saw (subord. clause, SP)…”. The diversity of these combinations demonstrates new possibilities of the usage of simple present, simple past, and past progressive tenses in a conversation that takes place now, yet discusses the events that happened in the past. In addition, the humor of the situation, when the superstar is caught in the process of buying cheep t-shirts, is an important motivational component. One of the functions of humor is motivational; as Bell (2011) quotes Martin (2007), humor possesses “cognitive and social benefits of the positive emotion of mirth” (p. 145). The first understanding of the pattern of a new syntax form (past progressive tense in this case) might come at this stage of learning. At the next stage of the learning process the exercises are introduced. This stage is interactive as well. Students can be asked, for example, to fill in the blanks (subject, was/were, verb + ing) in the simplified sentences from the dialogue, such as, “He was shopping,” “They were shopping,” “I was looking” or find this structures in the dialogue. After these controlled exercises students can be asked to determine tense and time of the constructions of the sentences. At the end of this first questionnaire, ELLs are asked more complicated summarizing questions, such as, “When do you think we use simple past tense instead of past progressive tense?” At this stage of learning the new grammar pattern is supposed to be clearly viewed by students. The theoretical support to the idea can be provided by Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory.
  6. 6. Reilly 6 The steps of the analysis of a motivational introductory text correspond with the main functions of scaffolding, which, according to Mitchell & Myles (2004), are: recruiting interest in the task, maintaining pursuit of the goal, marking critical features, and demonstrating an idealized version. Also, Zone of Proximate Development – the zone where learning occurs, is impossible without students’ active social interaction because the ZPD is an open system – teachers are not supposed to establish a glass ceiling. According to Nassaji and Swain (2000), the ZDP is “not a fixed trait of the learner but an emergent and open-ended one that unfolds through interaction and expands the potential for learning by providing opportunities which were not anticipated in the first place (p. 36). Moreover, in the ZDP new knowledge emerges not only in peer-peer or teacher-pupil collaborative interaction, but also in human being – written text interaction. According to Vygotsky, as cited in Appel and Lantolf (1994), a written text is one of the symbolic socio-cultural mediating tools. How the processes of interaction and scaffolded help occur via communication with a written source is explained by the post-modern notion, “One of the consequences of the post-modernist movement … is the recognition of the possibility that meaning does not reside in texts per se, but is created through some type of reader-text interaction” (Appel & Lantolf, 1994, p. 449). So, well-designed introductory text creates the following sociocultural collaborations: teacher-student, peer-peer, student-written text, and teacher-written text. Finally, after the dialogue and exercises, the grammar rules are presented point by point in the next rubric “Grammar Lesson”. The grammar rules, which are taught at this stage, after students have already learned how to use new syntax and have viewed the grammatical pattern, are perceived by ELLs as clarification of already acquired knowledge instead of being viewed as an enigmatic abstraction of an unidentified use.
  7. 7. Reilly 7 Conclusion The creative interactive process of analyzing a grammatically structured, vivid, and humorous text awakens students’ curiosity, immerses them into a state of affairs modeling real life, and makes students aware of the syntax – from simpler to more complicated structures – through the portrayed situation. Thus, for the students who were introduced to new syntax structures in terms of the inductive method by reading a motivational dialogue and participating in conversation via scaffolding as well as in the interactive analytical process of parsing, the new grammar rules from the very beginning may become grammar in use. Well-designed introductory text gives students a lot of opportunities to freely and creatively express themselves and contribute into social interaction which causes learning. Summary A well-designed introductory text can be a motivational tool in teaching grammar. The creative interactive process of analyzing a grammatically structured, vivid, and humorous text awakens students’ curiosity, immerses them into a state of affairs modeling real life, and makes students aware of the syntax through the portrayed situation. References Appel, G., & Lantolf, J. P. (1994). Speaking as mediation: A study of L1 and L2 text recall tasks. The Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 437-452. Bell, N., D. (2011). Humor scholarship and TESOL: Applying findings and establishing a research agenda. TESOL Quarterly, 45, 134-159. Folse, K. (2012). Clear Grammar 2. (2nd Ed.). Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
  8. 8. Reilly 8 Guilloteaux, M., J., Dornyei, Z., (2008). Motivating language learners: A classroom-oriented investigation of the effect of motivational strategies on student sotivation. TESOL Quarterly, 42, 55-77. May, R., (1975). The courage to create. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company. Mitchel, R., & Myles, F. (2004). Second language learning theories. (2nd Ed.). London: Hodder Education. Nassaji, H., & Swain, M. (2000). A Vygotskian perspective on corrective feedback in L2: The effect of random versus negotiated help on the learning of English articles Taylor & Francis Ltd. Spada, N., Lightbown, P., M., (2008). Form-focused instruction: Isolated or integrated? TESOL Quarterly, 42, 181-207.

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