Tuesday, April 26, 2022
What do you think of when you see the term ‘visual’? Is it something that you embrace or something you avoid in the classroom? We’ve often heard of this term in reference to learning preferences and there is much debate amongst ELT professionals as to whether there is such a thing as a visual learner. One thing they do agree on, however, is that what we see has a great impact on how we learn. Terms such as ‘graphic facilitation’ have come to the fore as teachers such as Emily Bryson talk about how simple drawings can make learning so much more effective.
Think about a classroom and a lesson with no visual support at all. No use of the board, no images, no flashcards- how would this affect the students? Without doubt, a class that is visually weak is bound to lead to an increase in boredom for both the teacher and the students. You may also find that students are less engaged, more easily distracted and are less likely to participate in the lesson.
Without visual support, lessons can become highly repetitive, and students might not really get the chance to challenge their knowledge by recalling it in a number of contexts. If this occurs, then it may also be more difficult for students to come up with ideas in class and there is a risk that the lessons themselves would become highly teacher-centred with increasing levels of TTT (teacher talking time).
According to John Hattie, ‘when teaching and learning are visible, there is a greater likelihood of students reaching higher levels of achievement.’ So, why should grammar teaching be any different? For years we have spent time making vocabulary learning exciting: using flashcards from the coursebook and creating attractive vocabulary posters, but grammar is hardly ever invited to the party. Grammar presentations in coursebooks are dull and often too wordy for students to make sense of, so it’s up to us to make this part of our lessons more visually attractive.
An increase in visual material for grammar teaching will allow us to make lessons more student-centred and increase their curiosity in the language and the topic it is presented alongside. Bringing the language to life visually takes it out of the book and provides a meaningful context in which to understand the language better and use it more successfully.
So, how can we make grammar lessons more visual? Below you’ll find 10 ways in which grammar teaching (and learning) can be made more visually attractive to improve student engagement and attainment.
1. Put the form on the board.
So often we expect our students to produce a grammar structure correctly, but we don’t ever write the form clearly on the board. The most fundamental way to make grammar learning more visual is just to use the board when clarifying form. Highlight the important parts with different colours and make sure you leave it there for reference whilst students are doing an activity.
2. Use images which elicit the grammar.
Use images which require students to produce a certain grammar structure. Contextualising grammar in this way is key to getting students using it spontaneously and makes it much more memorable than just getting them to write random sentences containing the target language.
3. Get students drawing!
As a way to practise a certain structure more freely, why not get students to embrace their inner artist. They don’t have to be amazing works of art- the mere act of representing a structure through their own eyes makes it far more memorable than if it were written in a coursebook. You can either give them a prompt sentence to represent in a drawing or give students a sentence starter that they have to complete and then do a drawing of. Get them to activate their creative brains!
4. Always write the answers on the board.
This goes without saying yet so many teachers still don’t do this when working on grammar in class. When a student has completed a controlled practice activity, it’s not enough just to go through the answers orally when walking around the classroom. In order for students to see the correct structure and to recognise their own errors, they need to see the answer. It also avoids students missing out on the correct answer if they are not paying 100% attention.
5. Put the grammar puzzle together.
With structures that are longer or with word orders that can easily be confused by students, get them to put the structures together like a puzzle. Either give them the sentences yourself or ask students to write sentences for each other and then cut them up and have another group put it back together.
6. Use timelines.
Using timelines is nothing new but it is oh so effective! Teaching tenses can be tough, and they are often used differently in English to the students’ L1. Timelines can be incredibly useful in clarifying the difference between two verb tenses and highlighting their use to students. Make use of colours to make it even clearer.
7. Create grammar posters.
Why not get students to create some grammar posters once they have covered each language point in class? Encourage students to make them as memorable and funny as possible and keep them in the classroom as a permanent reference point that you can refer back to in future lessons.
8. Use charts and graphs.
Charts and graphs are not just for the Maths classroom! You can use them in class to provide context and get students to interpret them using the language point that have seen in class. This can work particularly well with comparative structures or even to create a story using the information provided on the chart- a great way to integrate some freer grammar practice into your classes.
9. Examples of good and bad language.
There are two types of feedback we should be giving: content and language. Use the board more to give language feedback for both good language and language that needs to be improved. Underline or highlight the part that you want to draw students’ attention to and get them to discuss why it’s good or how it can be improved. This visual correction will help them when it comes to analysing their own language use.
10. Comparative analysis.
Use the board to show two grammar structures together and get students to compare the difference based on the context (both in terms of meaning and form). The more you get the students to recognise the differences when looking at the language, the more likely they’ll be to produce it correctly when speaking and writing. Don’t forget to ask specific questions to draw their attention to the important similarities and differences.
Happy visual grammar teaching!