Our Grammar instructor, Ms. Amy Little, is known for her lively teaching methods. We interviewed her to find out how she keeps grammar interesting for students and what advice she gives to second language learners:
INTERVIEWER: All of your students say that you are a wonderful grammar teacher. Tell us why you love teaching grammar so much.
MS. LITTLE: I like grammar because it is essential to every other skill. Also, I like seeing the "nuts and bolts" of a language.
INTERVIEWER: Many students say that grammar is their least favorite skill to learn. What are some things that you do to make learning grammar more enjoyable?
MS. LITTLE: I realize that many students struggle with grammar, so my goal is to make it impossible for a student to fall asleep in my class. I do not simply follow along with the textbook; I use variety to make grammar interesting and appeal to all the different learning styles. We do activities, games, discussions – anything it takes to keep the students interested in learning.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you learn these interactive teaching strategies? Were they included in your formal studies or did you develop them independently through professional teaching experience?
MS. LITTLE: I learned some teaching strategies through formal studies, but I also learned through experimenting on my own. I am constantly looking for new and exciting ways to present grammar.
INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite kind of activity to use in Grammar class and why? Where do you look when you need fresh activities? Is it ever difficult to maintain the creativity level?
MS. LITTLE: My favorite kinds of activities are the ones that make students laugh. I discover new activities through online sites, other teachers, and my own imagination. I am always prepared with activities and games with my “Grammar Activities” binder. I have been collecting ideas for many years, and whenever I find a new one I print it and add it to my binder. This way I always have activities at hand.
INTERVIEWER: What role do traditional textbook exercises play in the Grammar classroom, and what is the best way to balance these with your more interactive strategies? Are the two types of activities mutually exclusive?
MS. LITTLE: I love the grammar books that we use in the ILC program, so I use a lot of the exercises from the textbook. I often change the exercises a little or make games from them, and I supplement with my own activities.
INTERVIEWER: You allowed me to visit your classroom on a day when you brought many kinds of foods for the students to taste. What were the objectives and methods of this activity? (See pictures above and below.)
MS. LITTLE: I call this my “Scrumptious Comparatives & Superlatives Lesson.” I think food is the best way to teach students to compare two or more things. First, the students sample all the foods, everything from hot peppers to dark chocolate. Next, the students share their ideas about each food with their partner and write them on the lesson worksheet. Finally, they must decide which of the foods was the spiciest, the crunchiest, and so on. My students always enjoy this lesson. I love that it allows them to sample foods that they may have never tried. Plus, it is more fun than just reading from a textbook!
INTERVIEWER: The in-class food tasting is an activity that you repeat every semester. How do students usually respond to it? Does anything about their reactions to American-style food surprise you? What do they say about American food?
MS. LITTLE: My students always enjoy this lesson because it is so different from most other classes. It is exciting and allows them to try something new. For me, it is entertaining to watch the students taste each food. I am always surprised by their reactions; for instance, one semester I brought pumpkin cookies (one of my favorites), and one of my students said it was the worst food she had ever tried. I am always pleasantly surprised when students find something new and want to know where to buy it. One of the favorites every semester is chocolate-covered pretzels.
INTERVIEWER: You have taught ESL in various countries and a few cities of the U.S., so I imagine you’ve seen many other teachers in action. Do most other teachers also use equally interactive methods? When you present your ideas and methodology at conferences for ESL professionals, how do other grammar teachers respond?
MS. LITTLE: Yes, I have seen quite a few teachers in the classroom. I love to observe others because I always walk away with a new idea on teaching or classroom management. Every teacher has a different style – some use a lot of engaging activities like I do, while others have a more traditional approach.
Professionals who have observed my classes or attended my presentations are sometimes curious as to how or why I use so many interactive or communicative activities in class. One teacher told me that she did not think it was possible to teach grammar communicatively. I feel, however, that grammar is not just a set of rules to be memorized; students must practice using it themselves in order to get the most benefit.
INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give to students who struggle with grammar?
MS. LITTLE: I always tell students who are struggling with grammar to go “outside” and use what they have learned in class. A huge part of learning the rules of grammar is to make mistakes and figure them out, then return to the textbook. I do not think I would know this if I had not studied a foreign language myself. The grammar did not “click” for me until I went out and used it.