Vocabulary: Lesson 4
Traditional Grammar Practice
Throughout this vocabulary module, we have referred to the two pedagogical progressions of the materials in Français interactif, decontextualized vocabulary lists to richly contextualized speech samples, and input to output. In this lesson, we discuss the type of input activities used in the program, namely structured input. But first, let’s take a look at the problems associated with traditional grammar practice.
According to Lee and VanPatten (2003), traditional approaches to teaching grammar are problematic, as they require students to produce output immediately, as demonstrated in the following diagram:
Traditional Practice in Grammar
Input Intake Developing System Output
(Lee and VanPatten (2003: 133))
While they do agree that production can help with fluency and accuracy, it is not the means by which the grammar develops in the internal system. Early production is problematic, they argue, because “acquisition involves the creation of an implicit linguistic system, one that exists outside of awareness” (2003:132). This developing system is dependent upon input, and happens when learners receive and process a significant amount of input that is both comprehensible and meaningful.
As opposed to traditional grammar teaching which emphasizes production, Lee and VanPatten propose a new kind of grammar instruction called processing instruction that focuses on input and how learners process input.
Diagram of Processing-Oriented Grammar Instruction
Input Intake Developing System Output
(Lee and VanPatten (2003: 142))
In this diagram, learners are first given information about a particular linguistic structure or form. They are then provided with information about how a particular processing strategy might negatively affect their learning of the form or structure. Finally, learners are encouraged to process the form or structure using structured input activities. Only after this phase will learners be required to produce output.
This is the model we follow in Français interactif.
Structured Input Activities
What makes this an input activity? Referring to the above list of types of structured input activities, how would you categorize this activity?
Now let’s take a look at what we refer to as a signature activity:
How would you categorize this activity? Is it considered input? Is it communicative?
What would you do once the students have gathered the names of their classmates and are finished with the activity? How could you follow up on the information they have gathered?
Structured Output Activities
Language learners must have opportunities to produce output in order to gain fluency and accuracy. Lee and VanPatten state that structured output “is a concept that can be applied to the development of activities that encourage learners to use newly learned vocabulary in a productive manner” (2003: 179). In terms of progression, structured output activities should follow structured input activities.
Lee and VanPatten define structured output as “a special type of form-focused activity that is communicative in nature” (2003: 168). They provide two major characteristics of structured output activities:
1. They involve the exchange of previously unknown information.
2. They require learners to access a particular form or structure in order to express meaning.
The guidelines established by Lee and Van Patten for developing structured output activities include:
• Present one thing at a time.
• Keep meaning in focus.
• Move from sentences to connected discourse.
• Use both oral and written ouput.
• Others must respond to the content of the output.
• The learner must have some knowledge of the form or structure.
Keep in mind that, as with structured input activities, structured output activities are never disconnected from meaning.
Browse through a beginning language textbook. When do output exercises appear in the progression of the chapter? Are students required to produce output right away, or is the output preceded by any structured input activities?
Types of Responses to Output
As mentioned above, one of the guidelines of structured output activities is for learners to respond to the output. This acknowledges that the output has a purpose and contains a message. Lee and VanPatten suggest the following responses to the output:
• Comparing with someone else
• Taking notes, then writing a paragraph about what was said
• Making a list of follow-up questions and interviewing a partner to get the new information
• Filling out a grid or chart based on what was said
• Signing something
• Indicating agreement or disagreement
• Determining veracity of the statement
• Responding using any of several scales
• Drawing something
• Answering a question
Structured Output Activities in Français interactif
Culminating task: structured output activity.
This exercise is an example of a structured output activity from Chapter 2.
Structured Output Activity (English translation)
What characteristics qualify this as a structured output activity?
So, to “recycle” the message of this module one more time:
vocabulary must be actively taught, learned, recycled and when possible, tailored to the students’ needs and goals
vocabulary must be recycled continually throughout the lesson
exposure to the vocabulary must occur in multiple contexts
students need to manipulate the vocabulary in both receptive and productive activities
a combination of speaking and writing activities must be used
Instructor’s Final Comments
As I observe the way that my elementary school children are taught Spanish, I am both encouraged and frustrated by what I see. On the one hand, their teachers do a great job in presenting the vocabulary, at least initially. My children bring home coloring pages that they must label with the correct vocabulary items, and matching exercises in which they must match up http://teachenglish.co/images with words. They are also required to make flash cards with the Spanish word on one side, accompanied by a drawing to represent the word’s meaning, and a translation on the reverse. My children enjoy this process, and embrace it eagerly. On a less positive note, this is where it all ends. Once the words are memorized, the teacher begins the next lesson, never referring back to the vocabulary which has already been learned, nor is that vocabulary ever encountered within a richer context. When my children encounter the older words, they no longer remember them, as they were never required to actually use them in a meaningful context. If they are able to recall the isolated word, that is all it is, an isolated word.
I cannot adequately stress the importance of teaching and recycling vocabulary. If more time could be spent practicing and engaging in meaningful activities in the classroom using these memorized words, learners would have an increased chance of internalizing them and being able to use them effectively. Choose a variety of vocabulary teaching techniques that complement your teaching style and textbook, and equip your students with the strategies they need to learn their vocabulary.
[Module Instructor Nancy Guilloteau . ] 2010. [Vocabulary]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.