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Grammar and communication are not mutually exclusive

I never quite understood the dichotomy of grammar and communication.

I was taught using the London University style question-answer method, a type of structured direct method, if you will, where grammar remained at the heart of everything, but was presented and practised through the target language. There was communication albeit of an artificial nature, but as a method you could say that it works pretty well, at least with above average aptitude students. It can be adapted, watered down maybe, for children of lower ability.

I was reminded of this when reading a useful article by Martine Pillette from the May 2013 edition of the ALL Francophonie journal. She takes as her theme Grammar and Communication: Friends not Foes. Her piece includes types of activity which resemble many of the activities I and my colleagues did over the years with classes (activities which, by the way, take very little preparation).

Here are some activities which combine grammatical  with communicative practice from Martine's list. I have copied and pasted them directly, then added a few of my own. I commend them strongly to you.

For mainly listening purposes:
  • Negatives – The teacher says a sentence and pupils must work out whether it is affirmative or negative;
  • Adverbs – The teacher says a sentence and pupils must identify the adverbs in it;
  • Comparatives – The teacher says a comparative sentence (e.g. ‘Lady Gaga est plus jeune que Madonna’) and pupils must decide whether it is true or not;
  • Identifying time sequences – The teacher says a sentence and pupils must decide whether it refers to the past, the present or the future;
  • Recognising conjugated verbs – The teacher says a sentence containing a conjugated verb (e.g. ‘La semaine dernière, j’ai vu mon acteur préféré dans la rue’) and pupils must show that they recognise the verb by saying: ‘J’ai vu, du verbe voir’, ‘to see’.
And now here are a few examples for speaking purposes:
  • Negatives – The teacher says an affirmative sentence and pupils must repeat it in the negative;
  • Tenses – The teacher says a sentence in the present tense and pupils must repeat it in the future tense;
  • Verb paradigms – The teacher says a sentence in the first person singular and pupils must repeat it in the first person plural;
  • Questions – The teacher makes a statement (e.g. ‘Vous allez partir en Espagne’) and points at a question word (e.g. ‘Quand’). Pupils must turn the teacher’s sentence into a question beginning with ‘Quand’ – using ‘est-ce que’ or inversion depending on which form is being practised. 
Here are a few more:
  •  The teacher gives a simple statement and asks the class to come up with as many questions as possible which would produce that answer;
  •  The teacher gives a sentence and pupils have to come back with a new sentence with just one element changed;
  • The teacher begins a sentence and the pupils have to complete it with something appropriate;
  • The teacher gives the end of a sentence and the pupils have to complete it with an appropriate start;
  • The teacher gives a sentence in the present tense, then says; "passé" or "future" and pupils have to adapt the sentence accordingly
  • The teacher utters a sentence leaving a gap where the verb should be. the pupils have to complete the sentence with an appropriate verb
By the way, some fans of "comprehensible input" approaches may object to this general approach, claiming that it is too focused on form, not enough on meaning. I would argue that this is only one part of a teacher's arsenal of techniques, but one which has been well road-tested over the years.

Happy grammatical communicating!

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