Written by Alexei Kiselev
Despite the fact that now there are grammar books for any types of learners – younger children, teenagers, adults, exam takers, business people, and so on – in my opinion, a person’s individual experience is not taken into account as much as it should be. Sometimes it even seems that marketing for ESL books has been developing at a much faster pace than teaching methodology, as in essence, the system of exercises has changed very little in decades: the same substitution drills, gap fills, multiple choice, sentence transformations, matching and reordering and a fair amount or speech exercises. I am not saying that modern grammar books are bad, not at all, what I want to say is that it is important to remember that any textbook or online resource is only a collection of materials and overreliance on them, in the end, may lead to very little outcome and learner’s dissatisfaction if we, teachers, do not appeal to learners’ individual experience.
How to do that? As I said, most grammar practice books do have speech exercises, but what is the practice-production ratio? Is it enough for developing solid skills? Personally, I believe it is always a good idea to go beyond the textbook and focus more on the production stage with a technique I call “projections”. What is a projection? Broadly speaking, it is using a grammar exercise for further discussion, target grammar in focus, with the learners talking about themselves, their lives or something that they really care about. For example, we have an “open-the-brackets” exercise which instructs learners to use the verbs in the correct tense forms with about 12 sentences. These are the steps for projections to be made on the basis of this exercise:
- The students do the task in pairs, discussing the verb forms and writing the correct form in the worksheets/workbooks.
- They check their answers with the teacher or with the keys.
- And if the teacher sees that the students are capable to do this, they can look through the sentences of the exercise again, and think if anything could be applied to talk about their own experience or that of the people they know. They can discuss it in pairs or present their sentences to the whole class.
So, if there is a sentence “I always get up at 9 am” in the exercise, there might be different variations of it from the students and they can expand their answers explaining why they get up earlier or later. It is important to note that in no way should the students be pressed to make projections for all the sentences of the exercise – it only makes sense when what is written in a sentence is close to the learners own experience, and it is ok if they end up with only 2-3 projections from the given 12 sentences.
Of course, there is nothing novel about “speak about yourself” exercises in textbooks, what I am saying is that it often might be useful to increase speech output with this type of activity even if there are no instructions to do that in the textbook. And now comes the most important part – projections may well be a great tool for learners to practise grammar in speaking when they do their homework. If they use this technique on a regular basis, the results will be more impressive.