Consciousness Raising Grammar Tasks in an Advanced Learner Class.

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George Livermore

Teaching a high-level class through consciousness-raising activities.

On the 26th of October Gary introduced the grammar seminar. He introduced Thornbury’s views on grammar and we discussed what grammar is according to Thornbury. Thornbury made a point that I found quite interesting; he stated that students needed to ‘notice grammar’ (2005: 35). This started me thinking about how best to teach grammar, and how I could get the learner to ‘notice’ grammar. I mentioned that I currently have a proficiency level class. As with most other proficiency classes the students have been learning English for a long time and most are sick and tired of learning or being taught grammar. Not only have they been taught the same thing over and over again but also I believe they have reached a language plateau, and become complacent. Of course their English isn’t perfect and there are still a few mistakes being made in class, which might become fossilized if nothing is done. Having said that, when the students participate in discussions, not only can they convey their message but also can expand upon any idea they put forward, they can discuss philosophical, political and religious matters with little or no help from me, apart from vocabulary. Therefore when the learner is fully capable of standing on their own two feet and, even with mistakes, are more than fully capable of making themselves understood, how can I expect my students to want to learn or even to be taught grammar? After discussing this point for a short while, Gary introduced the idea of consciousness-raising. Consciousness-raising, Gary stated, is an approach to grammar teaching that tries to get the learner to theorise the rules concerning the particular grammar and allow them to ‘notice’ grammar so that they can use it correctly outside the classroom. This really peaked my interest and I thought that this could be the answer to teaching grammar to a high level class. I started researching as much as I could about this particular approach and the more I researched, the more I thought that this could be the answer.

In this paper I want to look at consciousness-raising as an approach to teaching grammar and see if this could help in teaching a high-level class. I must first identify some principles of consciousness-raising.

What is consciousness-raising? In Gary’s PowerPoint presentation it was defined as a cognitive approach to grammatical instruction and also as a learner centred approach, where the learners rely on their own intellectual capacities. Thornbury defines the aim of consciousness-raising as being ‘to provide the kind of data that is likely to become intake, which, when the time is right, will have the effect of triggering the restructuring of the learner’s mental grammar’ (2005:38). Ellis describes consciousness-raising as ‘an attempt to equip the learner with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature - to develop a declarative rather than procedural knowledge of it’ (Richards & Renandya 2002: 168). Both Ellis and Thornbury seem to agree that consciousness-raising allows the learner to ‘know grammar’ (Ellis 1997) or as Thornbury might say ‘notice grammar’ (2005). This I think might be a useful way of teaching to a high level class. The class has been taught grammar for a long time, they know the structure and they know the terminologies, but can they ‘notice grammar’, as in, do they know when they have made a mistake, or even know why they are using it? Can they then apply it when necessary?

Ellis mentions that consciousness-raising aims towards an ‘explicit knowledge’ of grammar (Richards and Renandya 2002:171) and that this may interfere with the learner’s ability to communicate, ‘explicit knowledge is not much use when it comes to communicating’ (Richards and Renandya 2002:171). Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith seem to agree with Ellis, they state that ‘CR is considered as a potential facilitator for the acquisition of...
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