Young Learners: Having fun with Grammar

Young learners have a long time ahead of them with the language. There is no need to rush into technical rules and labels that will confuse. It seems likely to be far better to give children a sound basis in using the language while encouraging curiosity and talk about patterns and contrasts in and between languages and introducing grammatical metalanguage slowly and meaningfully.


In the beginning stages, learners seem to use words or chunks strung together to get their meaning across with little attention paid to grammar. So how these collections of items turn into something more like a language with patterns of grammar?


Paying attention to grammatical features of a language is not something that happens automatically and therefore some artificial methods of pushing attention are needed. Rote-learned chunks of language will make up a substantial part of learning. Learnt chunks also provide a valuable resource for developing grammar as they are broken down and re-constituted. Ways of teaching that help learners notice words inside chunks and how other words can be used in the same places may help with the development of grammar.


Children build hypotheses about how the foreign language works from the data they have received from their limited experience with the language. Errors in language use can often act as a window to the developing internal grammar of the
learner and are signals of growth. When data is limited, learners are more likely to use their first language to fill the gaps. So the learners may assume that foreign language grammar works like first language grammar.

If the foreign language cues are not particularly obvious, the probability of them being noticed and used is even smaller. Principles for learning-centred grammar teaching It would not be conceptually appropriate for grammar to be explicitly taught to small children. As children get older, they are increasingly able to learn from more formal instruc- tion but we should remember that grammar teaching can often destroy motivation and puzzle children rather tha enlighten them. Good learning-centred grammar teaching, in order to be meaningful and interesting, requires active participation from learners. It also requires knowledge on how children learn and what they are capable of learning.


• Grammatical accuracy and precision matter for meaning;
• Without attention to form, form will not be learnt accurately;
• Form-focused instruction is particularly relevant for those features of the foreign language grammar that are different from the fi st language or are not very noticeable;
• Potential conflict between meaning and grammar;
• If learners’ attention is directed to expressing meaning, they may neglect attention to accuracy and position;
• Importance of attention in the learning process;
• Noticing an aspect of form is the first stage of learning it; it then needs to become part of the learner’s internal grammar as well as become part of the learner’s language resources ready for use in a range of situations.

The role of explicit teaching of grammar rules

Teaching grammar explicitly requires the learner to think about language in very abstract, formal ways that some enjoy and some find difficult. The younger the learner, the less appropriate it is to teach explicitly.
Children can master metalanguage if it is well taught.

Teaching techniques for supporting grammar learning

1. Working from classroom discourse: Routines and classroom contexts can serve to introduce new grammar.
a. The language for classroom management: Some very simple phrases for classroom management can be intro- duced and as time goes by, these can be expanded. Pupils can use some phrases originally used by the teacher when they work in pairs/groups.
b. Talking with children: If a child offers a comment about a picture, for example, the teacher can respond with fuller sentences that pick up the child’s interests. Talk with chil- dren as a class can also offer incidental focusing on form.

2. Guided noticing activities:

a. Listen and Notice: Filling a grid while listening to a con- versation. Noticing the grammatical features is important to fill the grid.
b. Presentation of new language with puppets: The chil- dren listen several times to the story-dialogue: repetition
+ contrast


3. Language practice activities that offer structuring opportunities

a. Questionnaires, surveys & quizzes: Preparation and rehearsal of the questions is necessary to ensure accuracy; the activity must be managed so that the questions
are asked in full each time. (Do you like …?)
b. Information gap activities: (Calendar)
c. Drills and chants: The dangers of over-using drills occur mostly if the children do not understand the content; drills become a mechanical exercise in making a noise, rather than in providing language learning opportunities. Repetition drills can help in familiarizing a new form but substitution drills are the ones that offer more to grammar structuring.


4. Proceduralising activities:

a. Polar animal description re-visited: Description of an animal the children choose. The description needs some grammatical knowledge that has already entered the internal grammar through noticing and structuring.
b. Dictogloss: the teacher reads out a text, students take notes and re-write the text in pairs/groups.
There are thousand other activities you can use to teach grammar to young learners without demotivating and boring them to death with technical terms.