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An investigation into teaching grammar in context for first year non english major students at chu van an university

VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POSTGRADUATE STUDIES


NGUYỄN THỊ PHƯƠNG HỒNG

AN INVESTIGATION INTO TEACHING GRAMMAR IN CONTEXT
FOR FIRST-YEAR NON-ENGLISH MAJOR STUDENTS
AT CHU VAN AN UNIVERSITY
(Đề tài: Nghiên cứu việc dạy ngữ pháp theo ngữ cảnh
cho đối tượng sinh viên năm thứ nhất không chuyên Tiếng Anh
trường ĐH Chu Văn An)

MINOR PROGRAM THESIS

Field: ENGLISH TEACHING METHODOLOGY
Code: 601410

Hanoi, 2012



VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POSTGRADUATE STUDIES


NGUYỄN THỊ PHƯƠNG HỒNG

AN INVESTIGATION INTO TEACHING GRAMMAR IN CONTEXT
FOR FIRST-YEAR NON-ENGLISH MAJOR STUDENTS
AT CHU VAN AN UNIVERSITY
(Đề tài: Nghiên cứu việc dạy ngữ pháp theo ngữ cảnh
cho đối tượng sinh viên năm thứ nhất không chuyên Tiếng Anh
trường ĐH Chu Văn An)

MINOR PROGRAM THESIS

Field: ENGLISH TEACHING METHODOLOGY
Code: 601410
Supervisor: NGUYỄN THỊ HUYỀN MINH, M.A

Hanoi, 2012


iv

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

ESL:

English as a Second Language

EFL:

English as a Foreign Language

FonF:

Focus on Form


FonFs:

Focus on Forms

H1:

The first hypothesis

H2:

The second hypothesis

H1.1:

The first minor hypothesis

H1.2:

The second minor hypothesis

H1.3:

The third minor hypothesis

Ho.1:

The first minor null hypothesis

Ho.2:

The second minor null hypothesis

Ho.3:

The third minor null hypothesis

PPP:

Presentation – Practice - Production


v

LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES

Table 1:

Design of the study

Table 2:

Distribution of the sample

Table 3:

Distribution of the dependent and independent variables

Table 4:

Distribution of the grammar achievement tests

Table 5:

Schedule of grammar course

Table 6:

Teaching procedures for traditional grammar and in-context grammar class

Table 7:

The descriptive statistics on pretest scores of control and experimental
groups

Table 8:

The inferential statistics on pretest scores of control and experimental group

Table 9:

The descriptive statistics on pretest and posttest scores of control and
experimental group

Table 10:

The inferential statistics on pretest and posttest scores of control and
experimental group

Table 11:

The descriptive statistics on posttest scores of control and experimental
group

Table 12:

The inferential statistics on posttest scores of control and experimental
group

Table 13:

Descriptive statistics on students‟ on-task behavior of control group

Table 14:

Descriptive statistics on students‟ on-task behavior of experimental group

Table 15:

The descriptive statistics on students‟ on-task behavior of control and
experimental group
The inferential statistics on students‟ on-task behavior of control and
experimental group

Table 16:

Figure 1:
Figure 2:

Three dimensions of grammar teaching
Students‟ on-task behavior of control group

Figure 3:

Students‟ on-task behavior of experimental group


vi

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Candidate’s statement ………………………………………………………………..

i

Acknowledgement ……………………………………………………………………

ii

Abstract ……………………………………………………………………………….

iii

List of abbreviations ………………………………………………………………….

iv

List of tables and figures ……………………………………………………………..

v

Table of contents ……………………………………………………………………...

vi

PART I: INTRODUCTION
Rationale of the study ………………………………………………..
Scope of the study …………………………………………………...
Aims of the study ……………………………………………………
Significance of the study …………………………………………….
The research questions ………………………………………………
The research hypotheses ……………………………………………..
Method of the study…………………………………………..……...
Design of the study ………………………………………………….

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

1
2
2
2
3
3
4
4

PART II: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
Theoretical Background …………………………………………...

5

Grammar and grammar teaching …………………………………….

5

1.1.1.1.

Definitions of grammar ……………………………………………...

5

1.1.1.2.

The place of grammar in second and foreign language teaching ……

6

1.1.1.3.

Dimensions of grammar teaching …………………………………...

8

1.1.1.4.

Levels in grammar teaching …………………………………………

10

1.1.1.5.

Approaches to grammar teaching ……………………………………

12

Context and context in grammar teaching …………………………...

17

1.1.2.1.

Definitions of context ………………………………………………..

17

1.1.2.2.

The need for grammar teaching in context …………………………..

18

1.1.2.3.

Types of context in grammar teaching ………………………………

19

1.2.

Related studies on teaching grammar in context ………………...

20

1.3.

Summary ……………………………………………………………

22

1.1
1.1.1.

1.1.2.


vii

CHAPTER 2: THE METHODOLOGY
2.1.
2.2.
2.3.
2.3.1.
2.3.2.
2.4.
2.4.1.
2.4.2.
2.5.
2.5.1.
2.5.1.1.
2.5.1.2.
2.5.1.3.
2.5.1.4.
2.5.1.5.
2.5.2.
2.6.
2.6.1.
2.6.2.
2.6.3.
2.7.
2.7.1.
2.7.2.
2.7.3.
2.8.
2.8.1.
2.8.2.
2.9.

Design of the study …………………………………………………
Population of the study …………………………………………….
Sample of the study ………………………………………………...
Sample of the students ……….………………………………………
Sample of the teachers ……………………………………………….
Variables of the study ……………………………………………...
Dependent and independent variables ……………………………….
Controlled and uncontrolled variables ………………………………
Instruments of the study …………………………………………...
Grammar achievement tests …………………………………………
The aims of the grammar achievement tests ………………………...
The sources of designing the grammar achievement tests …………..
The description of the grammar achievement tests ………………….
The content validity of the tests ……………………………………..
The reliability of the tests ……………………………………………
Classroom observation ………………………………………………
Description of the grammar courses ………………………………
The materials ………………………………………………………...
The schedule …………………………………………………………
The lesson plans ……………………………………………………..
Procedure of the study ……………………………………………..
Administration of grammar achievement tests ………………………
Application of classroom observation method ………………………
Researcher‟s attendance at the two classes ………………………….
Data collection and analyses ……………………………………….
Data collection ……………………………………………………….
Data analyses ………………………………………………………...
Summary

23
23
23
23
24
24
24
25
25
25
25
25
26
26
27
27
27
27
28
28
29
29
29
30
30
30
30
31

CHAPTER 3: RESULTS, DISCUSSIONS AND FINDINGS
3.1.
3.1.1.
3.1.1.1.
3.1.1.2.
3.1.1.3.
3.1.2.

Results ………………………………………………………………
Results from the analyses of the grammar achievement tests ……….
The test of the first minor hypothesis ……………………………….
The test of the second minor hypothesis …………………………….
The test of the third minor hypothesis ………………………………
Results from the analyses of the classroom observation …………….

32
32
32
33
34
36


viii

3.1.2.1.
3.1.2.2.
3.1.2.3.
3.2.
3.3.
3.4.

On-task behavior in control group …………………………………..
On-task behavior in experimental group …………………………….
On-task behavior of the two groups in comparison – The test of the
second hypothesis …………………………………………………...
Discussions ………………………………………………………….
Findings …………………………………………………………….
Summary ……………………………………………………………

36
37
38
39
42
42

PART III: CONCLUSION
Summary of the study ……………………….………………………
Pedagogical implications …….……………………………………...
Limitation of the study ………………………………..……………..
Recommendation ……………………………………………………
Conclusion …………………………………………………………..

43
44
44
45
45

REFERENCES ……………………………………………………………………….

46

APPENDICES ………………………………………………………………………..
Appendix 1:
English grammar achievement test (pretest) ……………...…………
Appendix 2:
English grammar achievement test (posttest)……………...…………
Appendix 3:
Pretest and posttest scores …………………………………...………
Appendix 4:
Classroom observation sheet …………………………………...……
Appendix 5:
Data from observation sheets …………………………………...…...
Appendix 6:
Sample lesson plan for experimental group …………………...…….

I
I
IV
VII
VIII
IX
X

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.


1

PART I: INTRODUCTION
1. Rationale
English language is considered as one of the most important languages because it is the
language that bridges people all over the world together. That is the reason why such
language is introduced to teaching syllabuses of all schools in Vietnam, from primary to
tertiary level. At my university, English is taught as a foreign language and it is a
compulsory subject for all non-English major students in their first academic year. Like the
other four English skills (i.e., reading, listening, writing and speaking), English grammar
holds an inevitable position in our teaching curriculum. However, the teaching of grammar
is problematic because most of English teachers at my school still keep their traditional
views on grammar and grammar instruction. To be more specific, they hold the belief that
grammar is a set of static rules. Accordingly, they teach grammar by focusing on accuracy
of form and neglecting its meaningfulness and appropriateness of use. Moreover, the
grammar lessons are performed in deductive manner, thus students are provided no
opportunities for rule discovery. One more problem is that our students are obsessed by
tightly controlled mechanical practice like transformational drills and substitutions. The
final problem lies in the fact that EFL teachers at my university do not take the most
advantages of the context provided in the course book used for first-year non-major
students (New-Headway Elementary and Pre-Intermediate by Liz and John Soars) when
teaching grammar section; thus, our students have no or little opportunity to explore and
practice grammatical items in real-life situations. These problems result in our bored,
disaffected students who can produce correct forms on disconnected sentences, but
consistently make errors when trying to use the language in context such as short
paragraph writing, dialogue completion, explanation of a grammatical meaning or
function, and so on.
This stresses the importance of context in ESL/EFL language teaching in general and in
English grammar teaching in particular. As Willis (2000:5) puts it, “by learning grammar
in context, students learns what native speakers really say (or write), rather than what we
would like them to say”. Likewise, Harmer (2007:57) suggests that “students need to get
an idea of how the new language is used by native speakers and the best way of doing this
is to present language in context”. These factors drive me to an idea of using context to
teach grammar for my students in the hope that such teaching model will help make


2

grammar instruction both effective and beneficial. The study entitled “An investigation
into teaching grammar in context for first-year non-English major students at Chu Van
An University” is conducted in that way.
2. Scope of the study
The study focuses on the teaching of English grammar for non-English major freshmen at
Chu Van An University, thus, its results are not directly applied for those who are in other
academic years and those of other universities. In addition, the context employed for
teaching grammar in this study is restricted to text, i.e., spoken and written discourses
taken from the course book and from a variety of authentic sources; therefore, other types
of context are not used as the input for the study. What is more, the purpose of this study is
to examine whether context-based approach takes effect in grammar teaching. Other
approaches to grammar instruction are referred as the theoretical background for the study
but they are not the focuses. Finally, only four grammatical categories (Tense, Modal,
Conditional sentences and Passive voice) which are divided into eight grammatical items
(Past simple, Present Perfect, Can, Must, First conditional, Second conditional, Passive
voice in present tense and Passive voice in past tense) are taught and tested during the
experiment. Other grammatical categories or items lie outside the scope of this study.
3. Aims of the study
The study aims at investigating the effect of teaching grammar in context in comparison
with the traditional method of grammar instruction for non-English major students at Chu
Van An University. More specifically, the study is a randomized experiment which is
designed to achieve two following aims:
1. It tests whether in-context teaching of grammar has any effects on students‟ academic
achievement in grammar.
2. It examines whether teaching grammar in context can increase students‟ participation in
grammar lessons.
4. Significance of the study
This study may bring four benefits to both English language teachers and their students as
follows:
1. It may help change EFL/ESL teachers‟ views on grammar and grammar instruction in a
way that grammar incorporates form, meaning and function; thus, teaching grammar is not


3

merely presenting and explaining grammar features but teaching students how to
appropriately use structures to express meaning.
2. It may stimulate English language teachers to employ in-context model to teach
grammar for their students as an alternative to the traditional method.
3. It may change the classroom atmosphere in grammar lessons in a positive way. Students
may no longer find grammar lessons dry and boring. They may be more involved and feel
more interested during grammar learning hours.
4. It may improve students‟ critical thinking, especially when they are working with
authentic discourses.
5. The research questions
As stated in the part of Rationale, grammar teaching for non-major students at Chu Van
An University has so many problems. The first problem is that students find it easy to deal
with grammar in single sentences but make a lot of grammatical mistakes when working
with longer discourses. This results in the second problem, i.e., the dull classroom
atmosphere because students do not participate in the grammar lessons.

From these

defined problems, two research questions are raised as follows:
Q1: What are the effects of in-context grammar teaching on grammar academic
achievement of first year non-English major students at Chu Van An University?
Q2: What are the effects of in-context grammar teaching on the classroom participation of
first year non-English major students at Chu Van An University?
6. The research hypotheses
The following hypotheses were derived from the two research questions raised above:
H1: Teaching grammar in context has more positive effects on the grammar academic
achievement of first year non-English major students at Chu Van An University than
teaching grammar in traditional method.
H2: Teaching grammar in context can increase students‟ level of participation in grammar
lessons.
In order to test the first hypothesis, three minor hypotheses were postulated as follows:
H1.1: There is statistically significant difference between the mean scores of the control
group and the experimental group in the pretest.
H1.2: There is statistically significant difference between students‟ mean scores on pretest
and posttest of the experimental group in favor of the posttest.


4

H1.3: There is statistically significant difference between students‟ mean scores of the
control group and the experimental group in the posttest in favor of the experimental
group.
The second hypothesis is paraphrased for the convenience of statistical testing and analysis
as follows:
H2: There is statistically significant difference between the control and experimental group
in the mean score of on-task students in favor of the experimental group. (On-task students
are those who take active participation in the task)
In summary, there are four hypotheses altogether (H1.1, H1.2, H1.3, and H2) that need
testing in order to answer the research question of the study.
7. Method of the study
In order to answer the research question raised above, the researcher has conducted a
randomized experiment which includes three basic components: the sample (students in the
control and experimental classes), the treatment (in-context grammar teaching), and the
measurement of the treatment (the pretest, posttest and observation sheets). The
quantitative data were gathered from the analysis of pretest and posttest scores while the
qualitative data were derived from the analysis of the classroom observation sheets.
8. Design of the study
The study is organized into three parts which are described as follows:
Part one, Introduction, is an overview of the study in which the rationale, the scope, the
aims and research questions, the methods and significance of the study are presented.
Part two, Development, is the heart of the study which is subdivided into three chapters.
Chapter one provides a literature review of grammar, grammar teaching and context in
grammar teaching. This chapter serves as the theoretical background of the thesis. Chapter
two, the experimental study, provides the methodology and the data analysis process.
Chapter three presents the results from the data analyses, the discussions and findings of
the research.
Part three, Conclusion, summarizes the main points discussed earlier in the study. In this
part, some pedagogical implications, the limitations and recommendations for further study
are also mentioned.


5

PART II: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter is divided into two sections. Section 1.1 provides some theoretical
background for the study, including clarification of grammar and grammar teaching,
context and the teaching of grammar in context. Section 1.2 is a brief review of some
existing studies on in-context grammar instruction which are beneficial for the present
research.
1.1 Theoretical Background
1.1.1. Grammar and grammar teaching
1.1.1.1. Definitions of grammar
Grammar is a linguistic term that has become popular among those who are working in the
field of language teaching in general and second/foreign language teaching in particular.
However, the question of what grammar is has yielded so many different answers from
linguists and grammarians.
According to Harmer (1983:1), grammar of the language is the description of “the ways in
which words change themselves and group together to make sentences”. Two examples are
also given to illustrate for this definition: the case of “walk” changes into “walked” to
indicate the past tense and the case of “not many” combines with the plural noun
“oranges” to make a full sentence like “There are not many oranges on the shelf”. Such
view on grammar is agreed by Ur (1988:4), Thornbury (1999:1), Crystal (1995) and Nunan
(2003:143). It can be seen that all these linguists describe grammar as a set of rules that
govern a language; however, they fail to work out what the “rules” are.
To make up for this, Fromkin et al (1990) proposes a definition of grammar which states
that "the sounds and sound patterns, the basic units of meaning such as words and the rules
to combine them to form new sentences constitute the grammar of a language”. His
definition is an involvement of many aspects of linguistic knowledge such as phonology
(the sound and the sound patterns), lexicology and semantics (words and meaning),
morphology (the rules of word formation) and syntax (the rules of sentence formation).
Although this definition looks into the underlying structure of grammar, it is similar to
Harmer‟s in a way that it is restricted to the issue of grammatical forms.


6

Crystal (2002) holds a different view on grammar when he argues that grammar should be
studied in two senses: in the specific sense, grammar is presented as just one branch of
language structure, distinct from phonology and semantics; in the general sense, grammar
subsumes phonology and semantics. Thus, if viewed from a broader sense, grammar
involves both form and meaning.
By way of contrast, an alternative and more comprehensive definition of grammar is
provided by Widdowson (1988:151-2) in which grammar is viewed in terms of form,
meaning and function.
[Grammar is] “a device for indicating the most common and recurrent aspects of meaning”
[which] “formalizes the most widely applicable concepts, the highest common factors of
experience: it provides for communicative economy”.

This definition shows a renovation in the view of grammar: grammar can indicate meaning
and grammar can communicate. Larsen-Freeman (2003) shares her view on three
dimensions of grammar teaching in which she insists that grammar is not simply about
accuracy of form but it relates to meaningfulness and appropriateness as well. She also
proposes a new definition of grammar that “grammar(ing) is one of the dynamic linguistic
processes of pattern formation in language, which can be used by humans for making
meaning in context-appropriate ways” (Larsen-Freeman, 2003:142). Following this
definition, grammar is no longer a set of static rules but a dynamic process of pattern
formation which is best explored in appropriate contexts.
The present study, with the purpose of helping learners internalize grammatical forms,
meanings and use through context, adopts the definition given by Larsen-Freeman (2003).
1.1.1.2. The place of grammar in second and foreign language teaching
Ever since second and foreign language teaching began, there have been many
controversies surrounding the necessity of grammar teaching. As Thornbury (1999:14)
states, “no other issue has so preoccupied theorists and practitioners as the grammar
debate”. The controversies have been around the question: “Should grammar be taught?”
Such question receives two opposite answers: those who are for grammar teaching believe
that grammar should be the centre of language teaching while anti-grammarians hold their
view that grammar should be excluded from the school syllabus. According to Thornbury
(1999), there are several arguments behind the advocates of for and against grammar
teaching which can be summarized as follows. The for-grammar position argues that


7

language learning is a cognitive process, thus, the goal of language learning is to master
the linguistic knowledge (knowledge-what), and this type of knowledge is learned through
formal instruction. This view is reflected in Grammar Translation Method and Cognitive
Code Learning in which grammar instruction is given explicitly. Nevertheless, the againstgrammar position supposes that learning is an experiential process, therefore, the goal of
language learning is to develop linguistic skills (knowledge-how), and this type of
knowledge is acquired through natural exposure. Such opinion is applied in Natural
Approach and strong version of Communicative Language Teaching in which explicit
grammar instruction is vigorously rejected.
As said above, grammar has experienced many ups and downs during the history of second
and foreign language teaching. Fortunately, the teaching of grammar began to receive
renewed interest in the academic discourse in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the
naturalist movement was no longer in its heyday. Since then, the true value of grammar has
been reevaluated and acknowledged. The first value of grammar lies in the fact that
grammar is the “skeleton” of a language, without which language does not exist. This is
agreed by Batstone (1994) when he asserts that “language without grammar would be
chaotic, countless words without the indispensable guidelines for how they can be ordered
and modified”. Second, grammar is considered as one of the standards for mastering a
language. As addressed by Woods (1988), when we say someone understands a language,
we mean the person has obtained the ability to produce the target language that can be
accepted in grammar. Ur (1998) also holds that “a knowledge – implicit or explicit – of
grammatical rules is essential for the mastery of a language: you cannot use words unless
you know how they should be put together”. The third factor enhancing the position of
grammar in language teaching is that “communicative approach” which is widely adopted
in current language teaching context still determines the need for grammar teaching. The
goal of communicative approach is to build learners‟ communicative competence which is
defined by Canale (1983) as a combination of grammatical, strategic, sociolinguistic and
discourse competence. Hence, it is implied that grammar teaching is an inevitable part of
communicative language teaching. From all three reasons listed above, it can be concluded
that grammar is too important to be ignored in the teaching of second/foreign language.


8

Despite the reconsideration of grammar teaching in the second/foreign language
classroom, the debates around this issue still continue. However, the controversies are no
longer about the roles of grammar but shift to what to teach about grammar and how to
teach grammar. Thornbury (1999) says that the issue now is focused on questions such as
which grammar items learners need more or how teachers can most effectively teach
grammar. Also, in regard to current issues in the teaching of grammar, Ellis (2006)
proposes eight questions that address whether grammar should be taught, and if so what
grammar, when and how. This creates the need for second/foreign language teachers to
consider these questions and try to find the answers for themselves before conducting any
grammar lessons.
1.1.1.3. Dimensions of grammar teaching
When we think of grammar, we often think of rules and forms, however, grammar covers
much more than forms. Thornbury (1999) argues that “grammar communicates meanings”
and it would be useful to “match forms with their functions”. Celce-Murcia and LarsenFreeman (1999) do not use the term “function”; they refer to it as “use” and “pragmatics”.
No matter what it is called, all these linguists agree that grammar is not merely a set of
rules and forms but rather involves the three dimensions of form, meaning and use. CelceMurcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) also add that there exists an interrelationship among
these dimensions, and thus, a change in one dimension will affect the others. The pie chart
below shows this interconnectedness.
FORM
How is it
formed?
(Accuracy)

MEANING
What does
it mean?
(Meaningfulness)

USE
When/Why
is it used?
(Appropriateness)
Figure 1: Three dimensions of grammar teaching
(Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999:4)


9

Form
Grammatical form, as defined by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999), is the
description of “how a particular grammar structure is constructed”. Put another way, the
form of a grammar deals with its morphology (rules of word formation) and its syntax
(rules of sentence formation). For instance, the forms of phrasal verbs, as described in the
article entitled “Teaching Grammar” written by Larsen-Freeman (2001:254), are “two-part
verbs comprising a verb and a particle” or “three parts in that a preposition can follow the
particle” with the particle (in many cases) being “separated from its verb by an intervening
object”. The teaching of form in a grammar lesson is necessary because formal instruction
can aid learners in recognizing and producing sentences that are grammatically wellformed (Thornbury, 1999). However, language learning is more than the ability of making
well-formed sentences, and this creates the space for meaning and use to come in.
Meaning
The meaning of a grammatical form, as coined by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman
(1999), is what a grammar structure means or about its semantic content. Thornbury (1999)
proposes two kinds of meaning conveyed by a grammatical form: representational and
interpersonal meaning. The former reflects the way we perceive the world while the later
shows how grammatical means can “ease the task of getting things done”. For example,
tense represents the concept of time while modality like “can” and “may” communicates
interpersonal meaning of softening the force in commands.

Thornbury (1999) also

suggests that the teaching of form does not lie outside the teaching of meaning because
meaning and form are like two sides of a coin: form expresses meaning and meaning is
encoded in form. As such, teaching semantic aspect of grammar is of vital necessity
because it helps learners understand how the form of a language matches a wide range of
meaning–both representational and interpersonal.
Use/pragmatics/function
Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999: 4-5) describes “use” as “choices that users of a
particular language make when using the forms of language in communication”. In other
words, teaching the use of a grammatical form is to teach its appropriateness in different
contexts. Thornbury (1999:7), when discussing the relation between grammar and
function, points out that one function can be expressed by different forms and one form can


10

express a wide range of functions. The former is illustrated in his book as the case of
“warning” function which is expressed by five different forms:
You’d better not do that.
I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.
Mind you don’t do that.
If you do that, you’ll be in trouble.
Do that and you’ll be in trouble.
In the same way, the form “If…, …will …” can express a numerous functions which are
listed as follows:
If you do that, you’ll be in trouble. (warning)
If you lie down, you’ll feel better. (advice)
If it rains, we’ll take a taxi. (plan)
If you pass your driving test, I’ll buy you a car. (promise)
From these examples, it can be concluded that the relation between form and function is
not a kind of one-to-one matching. Hence, the teaching of pragmatic aspect of grammar
helps learners make a right choice when using one form rather than another.
The discussion of form, meaning and use above once again confirms the inseparable
relationship among these dimensions: a form conveys several meanings and a form
performs different functions. Thus, it is suggested that ESL/EFL teachers should
incorporate all three aspects into their grammar lessons so that their learners can learn to
use grammar structures accurately, meaningfully and appropriately.
1.1.1.4. Levels in grammar teaching
In “The Grammar Book”, Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) describes the
operation of grammar at three levels: the subsentential or morphological level, the
sentential or syntactic level, and the suprasentential or discourse level. Thornbury (2006),
in his book entitled “Grammar”, also classifies grammar into three levels which are called
“word grammar”, “sentence grammar” and “text grammar”. Although the three levels are
termed with different names, the authors of the two books strongly suggest that grammar
should be taught in context (discourse) rather than in single, decontextualized sentences. In
this study, the author prefers the terminologies given by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman
(1999). Then, the three levels of grammar are described as follows.
Subsentential level


11

According to Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999), subsentential level or
morphological level is “the level below that of the sentence”. For illustration, an example
of past progressive tense in English is given in which such tense is described as the
combination of the past tense form of the auxiliary verb be and –ing added to the base form
of the main verb. Accordingly, the structure of past progressive tense should be: was/were
verb –ing (e.g., was walking). Teaching grammar at this level is limited to the teaching of
morphology or grammar structures. This is the lowest level of grammar teaching and it sets
the base for a higher level of grammar instruction: sentential level.
Sentential level
At this syntactic level, the focus is on the describing syntax of the sentence or the way
words are arranged into a grammatically well-formed sentence (Celce-Murcia and LarsenFreeman, 1999). In regard to the case of past progressive tense in English, at sentential
level, such tense is incorporated with different rules like word order (for example, subject –
verb - adverb) or putting “not” before the auxiliary “be” to form a negative sentence or
inverting “be” with the subject to make a yes/no question. Three examples below are taken
from Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman‟s book (1999).
She
subject

was walking home from school that day. (SVA pattern)
verb

adverbials

She wasn’t walking home from school that day. (Negative sentence)
Was she walking home from school that day? (Yes/no question)
The distinction between subsentential level and sentential level are obvious: subsentential
level is lower than sentential one. One more difference is that whereas subsentential level
deals with grammar structures or morphological rules, sentential one stresses on grammar
patterns or syntax of the sentence. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) together with
Thornbury (2006) indicate that traditional methods of grammar instruction like Grammar
Translation or Cognitive Code Learning usually stop at the level of sentence and ignore the
level above it: suprasentential level.
Suprasentential level
Suprasentential level or discourse level is the level above the sentence. At this level,
grammar is not merely taught in terms of morphology and syntax but it is “an analysis of
how the morphology and syntax are deployed to effect certain discourse purposes” (Celce-


12

Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999: 3). An illustration about how grammar operates at its
highest teaching level is provided by these two co-authors as follows:
She has never been so lucky as she was one day last May. She was walking home from
present perfect

past

past progressive

school that day when she ran into a friend.
past
It can be seen that the two sentences in the example above are the beginning part of a
narrative. The “discourse rule”, as called by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999), is
that the present perfect tense used in the first sentence as a “scene setter”, then followed by
the past and past progress tenses indicating specific actions that happened in the story.
Teaching grammar at suprasentential level is of great importance because it aims at helping
learners make right grammatical choices to suit different discourses or contexts, thus,
determining successful communication. Unfortunately, this level is often “overlooked” by
many second/foreign language teachers.
This study investigates the effect of teaching grammar in context which makes the
relationships between grammatical forms and its functions transparent; therefore, it focuses
on the highest level of grammar instruction: suprasentential or discourse level.
1.1.1.5. Approaches to grammar teaching
A number of approaches to presenting new grammatical information have been developed
so far, from the traditional method like sentence-based to a more modern one like
discourse-based approach. With no attempt to review all these approaches, the researcher
only discusses six major ones that are related to her own study. The approaches are
presented in pairs with special reference to their definitions, advantages and disadvantages.
Deductive vs. Inductive approach
The deductive approach represents a more traditional teaching style which “starts with the
presentation of a rule and is followed by examples in which the rule is applied”
(Thornbury, 1999:29). By adopting such approach, an English language teacher would start
his grammar lesson by saying: “Today we are going to learn the comparative adjectives”.
Then the rules of comparative adjectives are given and students are asked to complete
exercises to practice using the structure. The chief advantage of this approach, according to
Thornbury (1999), is time-saving because it gets straight to the grammatical point that


13

needs to be presented. However, this approach is teacher-centered and rule-driven, which
results in boring and demotivating lessons.
The inductive approach, conversely, represents are more modern teaching style where the
new grammatical rules are presented to students in a real language context. In an inductive
approach, as explained by Thornbury (1999:49), the grammatical rules are discovered and
understood by students themselves through examples. Therefore, the same grammar lesson
about comparative adjectives would begin by drawings of two pencils on the board with
different lengths. The teacher compares the two pencils by saying: “Pencil A is long but
pencil B is longer than pencil A.” He then provides more examples using his students and
items from inside and outside the classroom to create an understanding of the use of the
structure. Unlike deductive method, the follow-up activities are not the completion of
exercises but mainly pairwork and groupwork so that students can practice the structure in
a more meaningful way. Although such type of approach is time- and energy-consuming, it
makes the rules “more meaningful, memorable and serviceable” (Thornbury, 1999:54).
Moreover, due to its learner-centeredness and rule discovery, inductive approach is
believed to promote language students‟ motivation and autonomy.
Focus on Forms vs. Focus on Form approach
Focus on forms (FonFs), according to Long (1991), is a traditional teaching approach
which is limited to instruction on discrete points of grammar in isolation, with no apparent
focus on meaning. Focus on form (FonF), on the other hand, is an attempt that “overtly
draws students‟ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose
overriding focus is on meaning or communication” (Long, 1991:45-46).
Several key differences between FonF and FonFs are described as follows. First, FonF, as
mentioned by Fotos (1998), is a context-based presentation of grammatical forms while
FonFs focuses on the elements of grammar, in isolation from context or communicative
activity. Second, unlike FonFs which pays much attention to grammatical form only, FonF
integrates form, meaning and use in its syllabus (Doughty & Williams, 1998). Finally,
FonF assumes a task-based approach whereas FonFs fits better with a PPP model.
From these distinguishing features between the two approaches, some conclusions were
made, i.e., “a focus on forms produces many more false beginners than finishers” while
focus on form speeds up the rate of learning, affects acquisition processes in ways possibly


14

beneficial to long-term accuracy, and appears to raise the ultimate level of attainment
(Long, 1991).
Sentence-based vs. Discourse-based approach
As stated by Larsen-Freeman (1997), grammar does operate at the sentence level to govern
such things as the syntax or the word orders. However, she emphasizes that it is a mistake
to teach students grammar only at the sentence level because sentence-based grammar
instruction only work in two dimensions (form and meaning) and does not give learners a
clear picture of how things work from different angles (use). For instance, not every choice
between the use of the simple present and the present continuous tense can be explained at
the sentence level. In the following example provided by Thornbury (1999:71), learners
find it hard to decide on the best answer because both are grammatically correct in such a
decontextualized sentence.
“What do you eat/are you eating?” “Cake”.
In response to the limitations that sentence-based approach has encountered, a discoursebased has been introduced as an alternative method. The underlying philosophy of
discourse-based approach lies in a way that language must be taught at the discourse level
in order to produce learners who can communicate effectively in the target language.
Celce-Murcia and Olshtain (2000: 190) specifies that a discourse-based curriculum will
necessary include “a focus on authentic texts and interactional communicative events in
language use”. The authentic texts can be either written (a newspaper article, a letter or an
extract from a book, etc.) or spoken (real recorded conversation, a phone call, an interview,
or a speech, etc). For example, teachers can use an e-mail message to present the fact that
future scenarios are often initiated with the “be going to” and subsequently elaborated with
“will/‟ll”. After discussion and analysis of these future forms, learners can write their own
future scenarios and e-mail it the classmates with a copy to the teacher. This email, which
is taken from “The Grammar book” by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999), can
serve as a good illustration:
Hi Sue!
How are you? I hope you’re fine. Guess what? I’m going to sing in the mixed chorus this
year. I’ll have practice sessions on Wednesday evenings, and we’ll prepare pieces for
several concerts and during the year. We’ll even travel to Washington for choral
competition. It’ll be fun. What’s new with you?


15

Best,
Sally
In reference to the three levels of grammar teaching, sentenced-based approach stops at the
level of sentence while discourse-based approach reaches the highest: discourse level.
Approach to teaching grammar in context
With an attempt to help students explore, practice and develop English grammar in
context, the researcher of the present study employs a kind of elective “context-based
approach”. Such approach is considered as a new pedagogical trend in teaching grammar
and is suggested by Larsen-Freeman (2000b) and Celce-Murcia (2007).
Contextualizing grammar instruction is formulated on two basic principles in language
teaching proposed by Brown (2001). The first is the principle of communicative
competence which states that “communicative goals are best achieved by giving due
attention to language use and not just usages, to fluency and not just accuracy, to authentic
language and contexts, and to students‟ eventual need to apply classroom learning to
heretofore unrehearsed contexts in the real world” (Brown, 2001: 69). Following this
principle, the language teaching should be embedded in context, with a focus on language
use and serve a chief purpose of preparing students for real-life communication. Teaching
grammar is not excluded from the teaching of language; thus, grammar teaching should be
attached to context and fulfill the purpose of communication. The second principle is the
principle of automaticity. This principle comes from the way children acquire a language,
i.e., they learn a language through meaningful use without paying much attention to form.
Brown (2001:56) emphasizes that “overanalyzing language, thinking too much about its
forms, and consciously lingering on rules of language all tend to impede this graduation to
automaticity”. The focus of teaching grammar, therefore, should shift from teaching
grammatical form to teaching its use. In summary, the underlying principle of contextbased approach is communicative goals, authentic language and a focus on language use.
Basing on these principles, context-based is described as an integration of inductive, focus
on form and discourse-based approaches. It is inductive because it employs “inductive
reasoning” or “discovery technique”, i.e., learners are provided the opportunities to
discover and generalize grammatical rules or patterns from examples in authentic
materials. It is a kind of focus-on-form instruction because context-based approach


16

encompasses three primary aspects of grammar (form, meaning and use/function) with a
chief purpose of improving learners‟ communicative competence. It is discourse-based
because it draws learners‟ attention to a series of authentic discourses from which
grammatical rules are discovered, grammatical meanings are clarified and grammatical
functions are realized.
To make context-based approach more explicit and reachable, Nunan (1998:104)
suggested five methods for ESL/EFL teachers as follows:
1. Teaching language as a set of choices;
2. Providing opportunities for learners to explore grammatical and discoursal
relationships in authentic data;
3. Teaching language in ways that make form/function relationships transparent;
4. Encouraging learners to become active explorers of language;
5. Encouraging learners to explore relationships between grammar and discourse.
Likewise, Celce-Murcia (2007), in her article entitled “Towards more context and
discourse in grammar instruction”, listed four characteristics of grammar exercises
following such approach:
1. If some manipulative work is needed as a warm-up, at least make it meaningful,
contextualized, and reasonably authentic in terms of use.
2. If use of a grammatical form depends on prior context as it does when using
pronouns to refer back to antecedents, be sure to provide enough context so that this
is clear to the learner.
3. Find authentic texts that provide salient token of the grammatical form that you
want to present to learner (in preparation for subsequent practice).
4. Grammar instruction can be integrated with tasks designed to prepare learners to
read and write academic discourse.
With all the features described above, context-based approach is supposed to make
grammar instruction more effective because in this approach, grammar is situated in
meaningful context, embedded in authentic (or semi-authentic) discourse, and motivated
by getting learners to achieve a goal or complete an interesting task (Celce-Murcia, 2007).
The purpose of the present study is to examine the effect of teaching grammar in context
on the students‟ grammar academic achievement and students‟ level of classroom


17

participation in comparison with the traditional method. Hence, it adopts the context-based
approach as the treatment in teaching English grammar for the experimental group while
the traditional method of grammar instruction - the combination of deductive, focus on
forms and sentence-based approach- is employed for the control group.
1.1.2. Context and context in grammar teaching
1.1.2.1. Definitions of context
There are numerous definitions of context found in the dictionaries and from different
viewpoints of scholars. In Longman Dictionary of Language teaching & Applied
linguistics (the 3rd edition), context, is defined as “that which occurs before and/or after a
word, a phrase or even a longer utterance or a text; the context often helps in understanding
the particular meaning of the word, phrase, etc.” A similar definition is found in Oxford
advanced learner’s dictionary (the 7th edition) that context is “the words that come just
before and after a word, phrase or statement and help you to understand its meaning”.
From these two explanations, it is apparent that the notion of context, in its simple form, is
the minimal stretch of language that helps to understand what is written or spoken.
According to Halliday (1985), context in this case should be termed as co-text. An
example taken by Brown and Yule (1983:47) is a good illustration of co-text:
The same evening I went ashore. The first landing in any new country is very interesting.
In this example, the meaning of the word “landing” is determined by the previous
discourse, i.e., the person went ashore.
However, it is a mistake if context is merely viewed as co-text. That is why scholars have
broader viewpoints on context as they approach context from a social perspective. Halliday
(1991:5) describes context as “the events that are going on around when people speak (and
write)”. “The events” that he mentions in this definition refers to what he later calls “field,
tenor and mode” To be more specific, field is about the subject matter or content being
discussed; tenor is connected with the interpersonal relations between the participants; and
mode refers to the channel (such as writing, or video-conference) of the communication. In
other words, the context that is coined by Halliday (1991) is a kind of situational context or
context of situation. Another kind of context is context of culture which is termed by
Fowler (1986:19) as “the community‟s store of established knowledge” or the background
knowledge shared by participants in speech events. Obviously, each definition sees context
from one aspect, therefore, all is needed is a definition that involves all three aspects of


18

context: co-text, context of situation and context of culture. Sperber and Wilson‟s view on
context would meet that need as they coin context as “a psychological construct, including
not only the co-text of an utterance but also the contextual factors such as the immediate
physical environment, the participants‟ background knowledge like all the known facts,
assumptions, beliefs and cognitive abilities” (Sperber and Wilson, 1986:15). This
definition shows a more thorough view on context; therefore, it is of the researcher‟s
preference.
1.1.2.2. The need for teaching grammar in context
The necessity of teaching grammar in context originates from the idea that students need to
master all three dimensions of grammar: form, meaning and use. As Celce-Murcia and
Larsen-Freeman (1999) stated, ESL/EFL students need to know not simply how a structure
is formed and what it means; they need to know why speakers of English choose to use one
form rather than another.
Moreover, Thornbury (1999) confirms that the form-meaning and form-function relation is
not one-to-one matching. In fact, one form can express a variety of meanings/functions and
in the same way one meaning/function can be expressed by several different forms. In the
case of one form a wide range of functions, Thornbury takes the example of the form “If…,
…will…”:
If you do that, you’ll be in trouble. (warning)
If you lie down, you’ll feel better. (advice)
If it rains, we’ll take a taxi. (plan)
If you pass your driving test, I’ll buy you a car. (promise)
(Thornbury, 1999:7)
From the examples above, it can be seen that the same form has different meaning and
functions in different contexts. Therefore, “taking individual grammar structures out of
context is equally perilous” and “lead[s] to similar misunderstanding” (Thornbury, 1999:7,
71).
One more reason for the importance of in-context grammar teaching is that context
provides opportunities for learners to use the language for communication. Nunan
(1998:102) supposes that grammatical exercises in textbook are presented in isolated
sentences, thus, they are designed only to provide learners with formal, declarative
mastery. He also warned that “if learners are not given opportunities to explore grammar in


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