English has quickly become the global language for higher education and business, but for non-native speakers, learning English can be a daunting task. The English language is full of strange conventions that must be memorized and learned for use in conversation, unusual spellings and pronunciation, and idiomatic language whose meaning is not immediately self-evident. There are, however, effective and efficient ways to teach the nuances of English-language grammatical structures. The way we have chosen to structure this lesson plan for teaching tag questions analyzes the options for effective grammar teaching from standard reference works, provides a rationale for our options selected or created, supports this rationale with citations from the Linguistics 5818/6818 course packet.
Introduction [Stage 1]
Regardless of the age of the individuals the teacher is teaching, one of the most important parts of the lesson is the introduction. During this portion of the lesson, the teacher incorporates knowledge that the student should already have available to them as a way to prepare students for the new, previously unlearned material. In this case, we utilize other types of question formation as a reminder to students of what types of questions they know how to ask and the purpose each question word serves.
Another method for introducing the topic would have been using a question game warm-up or a pair interview; anything to get the students interacting with the concept of asking questions. Because this lesson will pertain to question formation, it is important that the warm-up involve the types of questions that the students have learned.
Decision and rationale
In this lesson, we are introducing the concept of “tag questions,” so the primary objective of the introduction is to re-introduce the students to the different types of questions that they have learned to ask in the past. In addition to grammatically forming these questions, the students are asked about the circumstances they would use each question: for instance, a student may be asked to give the proper use of a “where” or a “why” question. It also primes the students to think about a grammatical situation where a type of question that they have never used before may be asked, and gives them a chance to speculate on why these questions may be used. In Richards et al. (2002) suggest that one of the ways to engage students in a lesson is to ask them questions or present them with problems that increase slowly in difficulty. This has a compounded effect: first, it reminds students of past lessons, engaging them in the language, and warming them up to the lesson. Second, it encourages confidence in their memory and skills; finally, it gets them in the right mindset to learn new skills (In Richards et al., 2002).
Presentation of form [Stage 2]
Before giving the students an explanation as to what they will be learning for the lesson, the students are introduced to the grammatical structure of a tag question. Because they still do not know what the structure is for, they will be more mentally engaged in the exercise: some will be making attempts to understand the meaning of the structure, while others will be merely curious. Regardless of their personal reaction, they will be paying closer attention to the structure than they would have been given all the information.
Here, we had the option of requiring that the students use either inductive or deductive reasoning to learn and understand the form of the tag question. Rather than asking the student to derive the grammatical structure from the meaning, we have given them the grammatical structure in a clear and straightforward presentation.
Decision and rationale
We settled on a deductive style of grammar introduction as a method of engaging the students into the material, rather than giving them the information and expecting that they memorize it. Memorization has its place in learning, but when it comes to grammatical structures, there are logical constructs that can help students learn and remember the structures in question; tag questions in particular are not unique to English, so the use of deductive reasoning and learning is not too complex for the students and encourages good learning habits in the classroom and in language acquisition in general.
However, to ensure that there is no confusion, after the grammatical structure is taught and the students have demonstrated some proficiency, the meaning of the tag question is made clear to the student. This will ensure that any confusion that has happened does not lapse into long-term ambiguity or confusion about the grammar structure in question. There is also an extensive discussion of the different grammatical components that make up the tag question: identifying, for example, a positive or negative statement as to ensure that the tag question itself is properly positive or negative.
Practice activity for form [Stage 3]
For the comprehension check, the students are asked a variety of questions about the material they were just introduced to. At this point, the students will be asked questions like “what is a positive/negative statement,” “can you identify the subject and pronoun in these sentences,” and “can you identify the verb in the sentence below.” These are all important skills that the student must demonstrate a reasonable ability with before the next part of the lesson can be addressed.
Palmer (2007) suggests that a student’s ability to use a new skill in context immediately after learning it is fundamentally important to the long-term retention of that skill. Here we have chosen to do a verbal practice activity that encompasses the information that students just learned. However, the practice activity could easily be varied to better suit the students in the classroom. One option not used here (but still an excellent option) is a game of memory, where the scrambled sentences are put on cards and turned over so the students must remember the location as well as deducing the proper grammatical structure.
Decision and rationale
Each grammar game serves a different purpose, and each will incorporate a different aspect of learning. The multiple choice questions are an excellent way for the instructor to measure whether or not the students understood the concept introduced in Stage Two. The next step has sentences scrambled; this requires a bit more participation from the students and a more in-depth knowledge of the grammar structure, although the students are still not expected to produce grammar on their own yet.
Next, the sentence construction requires the student only to form the tag question and match the verb to a sentence that already exists; the initial sentence is written for the student, removing a layer of complexity from the task. Jenga and tag are much more interactive and exciting ways for the students to practice their language than pure memorization; it does, however, require them to utilize the language more creatively and practice the structure with less support from the instructor. For Jenga, the instructor reads the statement from a paper and the students must pick the piece that matches. For grammar flag tag, they would have the statement written and yelled aloud by the instructor they would then choose from written tag phrases on their classmate’s belts. It is still guided practice for the students, allowing them to choose the correct answer from available options.
Presentation of function [Stage 4]
The presentation of function gives the student an in-depth look into the many nuanced ways that native English speakers use tag questions. This includes a discussion of intonation and the reasons why someone may use a tag question in conversation. Another option for this section would be to use Ur’s (1988) deductive reasoning: presenting the student with a final option regarding intonation and inflection and working backwards towards the meaning of the statement.
Decision and rationale
Again, we begin with a comprehension check to ensure that the students have retained the information imparted in previous lessons. We want to make sure the foundation of knowledge is there before we try to build on it. Here, we will introduce more information regarding the subtleties of using tag questions, in hopes of teaching students about the different types of questions and reasons why a native speaker will use them. We chose this method because it is clearer and takes less time than asking the student to deduce the meaning through logical gymnastics.
Interactive practice of function [Stage 5]
Language is, by nature, an interactive experience, and memorization can only take a student so far. Students can be shy, however, which is why this section is designed to ensure that the students are relaxed and open while reviewing and practicing the use of tag questions.
Here we had the option of a wide variety of different activities. The students need to practice the grammar pattern of tag questions, and could do so in any spoken activity. An activity like twenty questions where the students must ask yes or no questions to deduce what action someone has taken or what object they possess would be a good way for the students to practice this pattern. Similarly, the students could be asked to change a sentence from positive to negative, or to change the inflection on a sentence to change the meaning to ensure that they are grasping the concept in its entirety.
Decision and rationale
Here, the tasks for students become slightly more difficult. Not only are they expected to engage with the material and produce language, they are expected to produce it given the context of a situation. This can be complex and difficult; In Richards et al. (2002) suggest that gradually increasing the complexity of tasks will help avoid frustration. Here our directive is to provide students with the opportunity to use this grammar point within a certain set of circumstances. We created a series of different storylines that gave the students context for utilizing the grammar point, and then asked that they create the grammar on their own. Unlike the other exercises, which were much more guided, this exercise expects that the students are capable of producing the grammar. It is designed to primarily test the student’s understanding of the context that frames each situation.
Application [Stage 6]
In this section, the students learn to place the grammar point of the tag question in the proper “real-world” context.
Research suggests that there are a variety of different ways to engage students in real-life applications of grammar, but that the most effective way to do so is very age-dependent. Verbal games, debates, and exercises involving reading comprehension and question-framing seem to be the most efficient for the application portion of the lesson plan.
Decision and rationale
Because the whole purpose of this section is to ensure that the student is capable of producing tag questions with proper grammar, context, and inflection, we have designed an activity in which each student designs a series of scenarios, not unlike those we designed in stage five; the students will then put all the scenarios into a box and then draw one. They must be able to properly form the question and use the proper inflection when creating the sentence. This allows the students to exercise their creativity, and allows them to look at the idea of the tag question from a different point of view, thus giving them different and new insight into the formation of the grammar point.
Our purpose in this project was to create a lesson plan that moved from the knowledge the student already possessed to a different knowledge set entirely, while still ensuring that the student retained as much of the new information as possible. We did so by beginning with the simple and moving forward towards more complexity, always making sure that we backtracked occasionally to revisit old information and cement it more firmly in the students’ memories. Our research suggests that the more interaction that the students have with the material the more clearly they will recall it.
Upon reflection on this lesson plan, there are a few places where student involvement in the lesson could be improved. However, overall, it encourages students to utilize the grammar in question-- the tag question-- and to engage with their fellow students in English, which is the overarching goal of teaching an English as a Foreign Language course.
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