Teaching A Foreign Language In A Virtual Classroom For Specific Purposes - Grammar - Part 6

Grammar is often thought of as boring and tedious. Nevertheless, it is the backbone of every language. When teaching a foreign language for specific purposes, it is crucial to have a good command of its grammar. An online teaching platform proves really useful in this respect.

In the two previous articles we addressed some issues that are particular to teaching a foreign languages for specific purposes:

However, designing a lesson that is built essentially on vocabulary means that the students must be at the same grammatical level. This is often not the case in groups coming from different backgrounds.

Popular opinion says that progress in a foreign language is achieved through grammar. And we can see why this may be so: grammar gives students a more structured means of expression. It also allows for varied syntax and for a higher level of accuracy while expressing ideas. If vocabulary is like building blocks, grammar is what holds them together (the mortar for the wall).

Nevertheless, it is difficult to assess whether the students are at the same grammatical level. Why do you need to do this? Let’s deviate a bit from our subject.

Grammar consists of elements that form a system; it is often impossible for a learner to grasp the way this system functions, as is not the case with vocabulary. With vocabulary there is a word and its meaning.

With grammar, we have a word, which has its place in a system, and this place confers to it a particular meaning. In class, this makes the teacher stop the lesson, explain a grammatical rule, and then go back to the lesson or the activity. But for students this means additional work; shifting their attention from one subject to another may be exhausting and cause them to lose motivation. After all, if they do not know a particular rule, but need a course in a foreign language for specific purposes, it is not something that the teacher can expect that they will learn on their own. This omission may be their fault or the fault of the previous course in the foreign language. In any case, students should be reminded of the rules, which may also need to be reviewed throughout every foreign language course.

Using an e-learning platform for determining a student’s grammatical level

For the teacher this means, defining some main grammatical points that should be, reviewed throughout the course. If the teacher needs additional information on the grammatical levels of their students, they can prepare an online quiz in the beginning of the online course. At this point, the use of an e-learning platform becomes invaluable.

First of all, it lets the teacher convey an online quiz in the same virtual space where they are holding their classes. This means that it can be done online, during class, and not offline. In the latter case, students often lose motivation, either because they don’t understand some questions, or because writing down an answer seems lengthy and tedious. Second, the results are calculated instantly. Assigning correct answers to each question (e.g., in multiple-choice or closed types of questions) means that once the quiz is completed, there will be no time lost in grading. Results can then be discussed during class and, shown to students. This will constitute the basis for reviewing the grammar that needs to be taught throughout the course.

Defining grammar essentials and establishing them with the help of online classroom management software

Another group of rules are so-called grammar essentials. These may differ from subject to subject and, compared to the previous group of rules, are predefined by the teacher. At first, the teacher has to design a way for each group to learn and then review things that they may have forgotten or never knew. After a few classes, it will be clear who knows what, as well as the types of activities that the students are good at. At this point, while discussing the main subject of the course, the teacher can conduct an online quiz to be completed by the students after a particular class. The feedback from this quiz will be the basis for the next class session.

Here is an example of this. Let’s say that you are teaching a business correspondence class. You have identified the elements of a formal letter, you have given examples, and the students have written some paragraphs as parts of a letter. However, you notice that the majority don’t understand the phrase:

Having read your previous letter, I am responding to you in order to clear up this issue […]

After doing some analysis on the fly, you manage to identify the problem: it’s the “having read”, a past gerund, that the students don’t recognize. You give them some short feedback and an online quiz on the subject. In this way, detailed explanations of grammar do not bog down your course, but get sorted out on the side and allow the students to proceed with their learning.

Finally, a teacher should always be prepared to explain something that suddenly pops up during class. This goes in the section of general knowledge and preparation for the teacher. However, it is also true that it comes with experience. Further knowledge and competence with e-learning platforms renders this process much more straightforward. Once you design a handout or poster, it stays just a click away for use in any class.

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Emanuela Svilarova is assistant-professor in French as a foreign language at Sofia University "St Kliment Ohridski". Her activity includes classes for beginners up to Advanced - B2 levels, and classes in French for specialized domains - humanities, economics. Apart from language teaching, her fields of interest include French and Bulgarian contemporary literature and comparative literature. She has participated in the creation of textbooks for high schools of intensive French classes, the handbook "Laughter in class" and in various teaching- and learning-oriented projects.
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