Written by Fidelio @WIEChina
It’s a helpless suffering for an ESL kid to get stuck in a tough circle filled with routine blocks announced by the teacher’s tedious orders: “Let’s learn some new words first”, “Here comes the patterns”, “Now we need to make some practice for the sentences” ... These iron fences somehow destroy both the students’ and the teacher’s appetite for a new lesson: just successfully dragging themselves to the end of the class.
Thus the methods on integrated teaching are urged to get used in a vivid learning environment, which is definitely not attempting to leave out some necessary procedures but combine their strengths together in a global setting.
This passage here is going to talk briefly about several limitations in conventional ESL classes and provide some references on integrated meaningful teaching.
The Gap Between Words and Sentences
We’re commonly convinced that language is a complex integrity and it generates and conveys meaning in specific situations. Unfortunately, a pile of vocabulary usually comes ahead separately of sentences or conversation patterns, simply like getting scattered on two isolated islands, later then the ESL teacher tries hard but often vainly to tie them tightly, with the gap remaining so clear: the students probably fail to activate the dull learnt words and make use of the sentences in other circumstances.
We hold that words and sentences (patterns filled in with both new and old words) are supposed to be better acquired in a concrete situation in which every step of students’ activities gets implemented. So each point of the lesson should be presented at the very beginning of the class and put into comprehension and application during kinds of coming interaction that together lead to the accomplishment of teaching objectives.
More Chances for Input and Practice
As sentence is the smallest linguistic unit in social communication, it ought to be the production of highest levels in an ESL class. How stressful must the students feel upon the patterns pushed to the second half of the class! What poor efficiency of class-running!
It’s recommended that sentences be first presented in the Warm-up part and remain continuously input and practiced until they can be autonomously put out.
There’s no doubt that well-created situations ideally serve language-learning but we often encounter inadequate equipment or insufficient time. Though, we still need a simplified context for students to listen more and speak more.
Here’s an extracted example from a unit of Longman Welcome to English 3A, with the content of some activities at a birthday party and Simple Future Tense indicated by the pattern be going to.
Play games, make some snacks, do some magic
- What are you / they going to do?
- We / they are going to ________.
- What is he / she going to do?
- He / She is going to ________.
For this, we can show a table on PPT as follow with some relevant pictures around it, which illustrate the actions that the students are about to learn and have already learnt before. Particularly, the conversation patterns should be firmly kept on display during the interaction.
People Invited Activities
Mom & Dad
Lily & Lucy
Aunt & Uncle
Then the teacher asks the student questions like these:” Just Guess! What are Mom and Dad going to do at the party?” (pointing to a picture) “Are they going to sing a song?” (pointing to another one) “Are they going to dance?” (shifting again) “Are they going to MAKE SOME SNAKES?” (going into the new phrase) “Who thinks Mom and Dad are going to MAKE SOME SNAKES?”
Now the teacher may help a kid or a group relatively better at English to complete the whole sentence with the new phrase and enter its synchronous practice process (by a game) with the conversation at least getting input for a few times. When the class finishes the phrase’s full practice, there comes the time to reveal the parents’ activity, with which the students must be so familiar, not necessarily the newly-learnt one.
It’s significant that the teacher should closely mind the rhythm of students’ learning. When the class reaches the second or the third row of the table, the students are likely to have been engaged smoothly in the practice round of the patterns (both the questions and the answers) because of the previous considerable amount of meaningful repetition. Similarly, the last two rows can be seen as a platform to trigger students to produce their own sentences.
Competition is absolutely not merely adding points. It’s basically a measure for class arrangement, aimed at drawing learners’ physical and mental attention. Meanwhile, according to Piaget, a renowned psychologist on constructivism, it makes a crucial contribution to knowledge construction for a learner to interact with the environment, including the interpersonal reality and objective existence. So positive and meaningful competitions (usually in the style of game and acing) are indispensable.
Still taking the former instance, the stickers can be designed as the ranges of activities that the students like to do: the more stickers, the wider range. And when they get awarded, they’re encouraged to interact with the teacher or other peers, making use of the patterns as well as old and new words. What’s more, a chess-like mechanism is another choice.
Actually, there’s surely not just a single way. Inspiration comes form real action. What we manage to do is to let our kids and ourselves try more, think more and gain more.