Building Language

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As much as a teacher tries to build language, it helps to highlight certain grammar points that help to expand the students’ sentences by questioning them about factors such as time, place and manner. We can add details to the students’ speech or writing with adverbial phrases.
Example #1

Time (answers the question ‘When?’)

She will be arriving in a short time.

Place (answers the question ‘Where?’)

He is waiting near the wall.

Manner (answers the question ‘How?’)

They are discussing the matter in a civilized way.

Example #2

“Sue went” doesn’t convey much information.

S: Sue went.

T: Where did Sue go?

S: Sue went to the gym.

T: And, when did Sue go to the gym?

S: Sue went to the gym after work.

T: And also, why did Sue go to the gym after work?

S: Sue went to the gym after work to keep her New Year’s resolution.

“Sue went to the gym after work to keep her New Year’s resolution” explains the where, when and why of the event.

Moreover, adverbial phrases can be created by using prepositions to tell how, where, when, and how often. For example, “Sue swam with perfect technique in the pool before lunch on Tuesday.”


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So, you may be one of those instructors who is very teacher centred and has a deductive approach to learning and teaching. However, it may well be a good idea to think about collaborative procedures that allow the students to make discoveries. Thus, there is the inductive approach where students (in a dictation lesson, for example) induce meaning through their own use of English language. Here is where ‘Dictogloss’ comes in. Learners retain the gist of a story (from dictation) and then use their own grammatical knowledge to rewrite the story.

So, here is how it goes. Students are introduced to the topic and the related vocabulary. Techniques such as an open class discussion, group brainstorming, question and answer elicitation, predicting text content from pictures or vocabulary, are used to contextualise the lesson. Learners then listen to the text. The first time, they do not write anything. But, the second time they take notes, noting keywords. Then, the students work in groups of three or four to reconstruct the text with one student acting as a writer of their own group version. Once finished, students can then write their copy on the board where a comparison can be made with other groups’ ideas and of course the teacher’s original text. Above all, at this point, feedback through peer correction is encouraged for all students.

text                  → student reconstruction                    → comparison

input                                     output                                   feedback

Thornbury (1999:85) evaluates the dictogloss and reports that it ‘provides a useful means for guiding learners towards noticing the gap between their present competence and their target competence’.