Grammar teaching is often either neglected or focused too much regarding teaching English to YLs. How should we find the balance in teaching grammar to YLs? What are some methods that research has proven effective? Can we apply them in Turkish educational environment?
Grammar teaching of English to YLs in my country is between the devil and the deep blue sea. For decades, curriculum designers of the ministry of education haven’t caught the main points in teaching grammar to young learners. First of all, English lessons before the curriculum change in 2005 had treated grammar as a separate element in language. In those lessons, students who had acquired grammar rules had no chance to use these skills in practice. This has led to the oblivion of acquired grammar skills as students had no real life use. Yet, as the curriculum changed into constructivist approach to language, the proficiency in YLs has increased slightly. Nevertheless, the results are still insufficient when we take a look at the English Proficiency Index provided by Education First. Also, Eğitim İzleme Raporu 2017-2018 confirms my ideas. It is stated in the report that a new 5th grade English curriculum that included the use of authentic materials that help improving listening-speaking skills was designed for the very first time. The officials have just been able to recognize the imbalance in grammar teaching in our institutes. There are different ways to balance the grammar teaching for YLs , but before that, we’ve to decide which age group we are referring to as young learners. If the pre-school group is referred, then I might rightfully say that grammar teaching shouldn’t be the case for young learners. If it’s to be applied, then it shouldn’t be done explicitly for students may not be able to understand explicit grammar rules because of their cognitive inability. If we’re referring to the group between 7-13 years old, then different strategies should be adopted. Throughout this paper, I will talk about different ways to teach grammar lessons to these two different groups of YLs. Firstly, instead of putting grammar rules on the board and asking students to understand each of them, teachers may try strategies that make grammar rules look like vocabulary sessions. Grammar rules in chunks that are learned as if they’re new vocabulary items are very crucial in early stages (Cameron, 2001). By the application of such methods, grammar teaching isn’t over-emphasized, but it’s done implicitly. Another effective method is the application of games in teaching grammar to YLs. Gülin Yolageldili and Arda Arıkan analyzed the effectiveness of this method by asking 15 English teachers about their opinions related to the use of games in teaching grammar. All of the teachers stated that games don’t only help students to demonstrate their grammar skills, but also other language skills (Yolageldili & Arıkan, 2011). Also, 86% of the teachers agreed that games are useful in teaching grammar to young learners (Yolageldili & Arıkan, 2011). This shows that games are one of the effective ways to introduce grammar to young learners. Another research supports this idea about using games. According to the categorized qualitative results of the research, among 168 4th and 5th grade state school students, the majority of them (n=124) said that they would exercise games to teach English if they were the teachers (Ekin & Damar, 2013). Thus, one can say that games are perfect way to deal with the imbalance of teaching grammar in schools. But, what makes them so special? The answer resides in the effect that it creates in young learners. Such activities involve the whole class and are naturally repetitive, allowing space for maximized input without any decrease of interest to the lesson (Ekin & Damar, 2013). Our next group is the students between 7-13. These ages imply that the person who is to be instructed about English language is ready to participate in discourses that require metalinguistic awareness & knowledge. I believe that Communicative Language Teaching is the key component of organizing a grammar lesson that’s integrated with different skills for this age group of learners. Many think that CLT doesn’t approve grammar teaching, or simply ignores it, and it only focuses on speaking-listening skills. On the contrary, it’s generally accepted that CLT should include appropriate amount of grammar. The idea behind CLT’s grammar teaching is that instead of teachers covering grammar to learners, teachers should allow space for discovering grammar. So, for this age group, activities that promote discovery-learning may work efficiently.
When it comes to the application of such activities in Turkish educational system, I might wholeheartedly support it and I believe that there’s no restriction about the implementation of them. One important aspect of CLT lessons is that, although they are very suitable for grammar learning, they are a bit demanding from the teachers’ perspective. CLT lessons require careful planning. Otherwise, it’s very likely that teachers’ intention at the beginning of the courses may not be satisfied. This is for the reason that the ultimate accomplishment that students get at the end of lessons is not always easily estimated and for the very same reason, it sounds inapplicable in the national education system. Curriculum designers, until 2017, seem to have been scared as soon as they heard or seen the word CLT. Nevertheless, there’s an increasing tendency not only in Turkish educational system but also in other countries to adopt CLT strategies in young learner classes, which is surprisingly good news. To sum up, grammar lessons should be divided into two groups: for those younger than the age seven and the age group between 7-13. In both cases, implicit grammar teaching or discovery learning should be prioritized and useful strategies such as games should be adopted in order to abolish imbalances in teaching.
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