Textbook Grammar focus: Present Perfect Continuous
Context: A conversation between the teacher and the Ss in a classroom.
Group Background information: 9th graders following the regular school curriculum based on grammar syllabus. They are grouped by age and school grade rather than level of English. Mixed-level groups (maximum 8 students per group). Some students have been exposed to this form, but still don’t use it but have a good range of vocabulary. Others have little vocabulary and grammar knowledge. Text presented in their textbook is clearly above knowledge level of the second group mentioned before. And I thought using something as simple as the activity below would not engage everyone with the text because higher level would feel the task was too simple and not fun (characterístic of my students: fun = game). This would match an assumption that students make about learning and have been largely expressed by them ( We learn better by using games). I assumed that but it doesn’t match the response they have given so far to the activities we have been experimenting this bimester ( Light, Camera and Action for example), John F. Fanselow’s sugggestions and the concepts behind some books I had bought but never was brave enough to put them into practice until this year.
So here it goes: What’s your favorite hobby?
This is the main question to introduce the topic. According to Ss, it means to do something in your free time and that you enjoy. I elicited phrases or sentences related to the word hobby.
Picture yourself doing/practicing your favorite hobbies. (lights off, quiet and relaxing atmosphere. The aim is for them to visualize the activities and bring back the good feelings they have about doing what they like. They responded positively to the request.)
After the imagery stage, they were asked to sketch the hobbies only. It didn’t take them more than few minutes to sketch. And it was super easy to identify each one of them.
I wanted to see if it would be easy to identify what they actually meant to express. Uncovering the meaning was not difficult in as much as it wasn’t for them to express it.
The purpose was to make a small change by using sketches, and instead of asking them to sketch the whole sentence, I prefered to start with the content word which is easier to express through sketching and would not lead to a resistence of them drawing it themselves.
Tell your partner about your hobbies. (2 minutes) for LLLearners it is just a time to practice the structure LIKE ( same meaning as enjoy) + verbs in the gerund. For HLLearners was free practice time. I tried to pair them up according to their levels.
Personalization of the Model Dialogue from the textbook
after the key structure being practiced
The dialogue happens in a classroom where the teacher is having a conversation about hobbies. Students not only tell their hobbies using different ways ( like + gerund, play + sport, like + sport), but adds HOW LONG they have been doing it ( since, recently). Also it adds DOING STH A LOT RECENTLY and explains why.
Students read the text. Then, we reconstructed the text using their own ideas. Each student got a role and they tried to personalize by keeping the same context. For example,
I like doing sth. I’ve been doing it since I was ______ .
I play _______.
I have been practicing it a lot recently because ___________________________ .
I like _______ .
I’ve been playing it since I was _________ .
Instead of SINCE they could also use FOR.
As we read, I asked them to cross out the characters’s names and together we added their names to the text. Any doubt they might have with meaning was sorted out during this stage.
Then after they crossed out we started editing the text, but crossing out the unnecessary words and adding everyone’s contribution to the text according to the role they received.
Reconstruction of the dialogue
Each one of them remembered their lines after we finished the text. There wasn’t a need to try to repeat in order to memorize. We just personalized the text, then closed the book and opened the notebooks. They wrote the whole dialogue again, listening attentively to each line and being able to respond to the question asked. Each one of them contributed with a hobby and the period of time they have been practicing/doing according to what they had added to the text. The learner that got the line that had “a lot” “recently” + reason also had no difficult in doing so either ( longer utterance). They got the chance to use the language pattern themselves and listen to it about 4/5 times more. Bilbrough explains in his book Memory Activities for Language Learning that we hold in working memory data for just a brief period of time and it enables us to manipulate and process it consciously. Needless to say that the amount of data also counts. The working memory can’t deal with a lot of information in a given period. Then, after processing it, new words and patterns need to be stored in long-term memory so it can later be retrived.
Practicing with the Present Perfect Continuous
I got 5 sentences from a controlled exercise from the textbook in which they had to choose the right verb form of the main verb. The gap filling exercise didn’t bring any challenge.
Sketching structure words is still very difficult for me, but I want to invite my learners to try it out. I grouped the same kind of words ( pronouns, auxiliary, main verb, etc.) in collumns as we you can see in the first image. Then, I went through the sketches eliciting the meaning as they were perceiving them. After negotiation of meaning (as I tried to encourage them to use Is it …? so I could understand what they were seeing) which was nice to see that Ss too could get my message across without much problem. The sketches weren’t so ambiguous as I afraid they might be.
I asked everyone to write sentences on their notebooks. In one group I asked Ss to look at the board and tell the students what they wrote without reading. And in the other group, I invited anyone to come to the board to as they heard the sentence point to the words/sketch in the collumns. The latter, after we practiced in this way, I asked them to share how different is this way from what they had been doing.
I was thrilled to hear John confirming that using symbols/sketches to represent words decrease the translation dramatically in the classroom. Although we didn’t use symbols with the whole sentence I believe that this was an opportunity for the learners to practice with imagery and reflect on its advantage.
My conclusion is that when we overrely on written text we encourage students to use L1 to uncover the meaning as they don’t rely on imagery but naturally to their first language as we encourage them to use bilingual dictionaries to match L2 with L1. English then is the product, but Portuguese becomes the media to learn the target language. Not just developing accuracy becomes a problem, but also fluency as the process becomes dull, long and slow when they want to express themselves because they have to 1) decode ( they usually use L1), then once they (2) find in their mental dictionary the meaning they were looking for they have to (3) make sense of the whole sentence/text they hear or read. The production process isn’t so different, they go from L1 to L2 ( they usually confess), finding the meaning and then constructing the message without considering the target language convention most of the time. (another reflection on translation has been written and I will post soon.)