Imagine walking up to a target language speaker and saying “I talk, you talk, he/she/it talks, we talk, they talk”. The native speaker would look at you weirdly since you are not communicating. You are reciting grammar.
Furthermore, imagine a native speaker listening to a person who says , “Yesterday I to buy in store”. The native speaker would hesitate a little but still understand the person. However, if the person said, “Yesterday I swam in the store”, the native speaker would have no idea of what the person was trying to say even though the sentence is grammatically correct.
How do you know if you are focusing on grammar instead of on the communication of ideas?
1) A grammar based class focuses on correctness, not on communicating ideas. “Did you buy candy yesterday? Yes, I bought candy yesterday.” has a grammar focus if the teacher concentrates on the correct form of the past tense of the verb. If the teacher does not want to know more about the candy, then it is probably a grammar exercise.
2) In a grammar based or vocabulary based class, students do not comment or respond to the meaning of statements made by other students. Communication is an interactive exchange of ideas. John says, “I like to swim I do not like to walk.” and his partner, Jane, waits her turn to say her two sentences using this specific verb structure. Jane is not responding to John. She simply waits to talk regardless of what he said. In true communication, John’s partner, Jane would respond to “I like to swim” with something like “Me, too” or “Where do you swim?” She listens and responds directly to her partner’s statements. She inquires. She interacts with John. She does not just exchange grammar based sentences that have no personal meaning to either speaker.
3) In a grammar based class, more of the textbook pages deal with grammar than anything else. Most of the class exercises center on grammar. Most of the workbook or electronic exercises concentrate on grammar. The teacher spends most of the class time in practicing the grammar. A teacher can time him/herself during a class to see where he/she spends most of his/her time by writing down each classroom activity and how long each takes. At the end of class, the teacher totals the different categories of classroom activities and divides by the total minutes of class.
4) In a grammar based class, the teacher’s main corrections are grammar based, not on how to communicate better. A grammar based teacher spends very little time on teaching common responses such as “Me too…Me, neither, I do not agree” and does not correct students when they do not use these expressions. The communicative teacher does spend much time on specifically teaching language functions such as words or phrases for elaboration, inquiry, persuasion and constantly helps students to use these expressions. The teacher’s corrections center on meaning.
5) In a grammar based class, most student responses are short one sentence responses that show the correct verb form.. Or the students say a series of unrelated sentences that use the particular verb form. In a communicative class, students often elaborate on their responses using multiple sentences. “Yes, I bought candy. I really like chocolate because it is so sweet. I usually buy five candy bars and I share one with my father.” Each sentence adds more information to the original personal idea.
6) In a grammar based class, students mainly respond to a specific question or statement. Their speaking is very structured and very controlled. In a communicative classroom, students spontaneously speak and they can go from topic to topic. Students may start to talk about school, then they talk about the school’s sport team, next they move on to a sports game on TV. Their conversations resemble a natural conversation with all of its twists.
Is your classroom grammar or communication based?
If you would like to see some communicative activities, I have some available at TeachersPayTeachers http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle (see below).
My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at http://bit.ly/90mlact.You can instantly use these many communication activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.
I have developed 5 Visual activities/games for any modern language (no words) and have developed 27 Spanish activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle
My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at http://is.gd/tbook