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Grammar is back: ways of making it welcome

Grammar really is making a comeback and not just for gifted linguists. Increasing concern over the number of pupils who fail to progress beyond levels 3 or 4 has led to revised national curriculum criteria, and from September 2001 the programme of study at key stage 4 will place more emphasis on the manipulation of language and less on prescriptive topic areas. Many teachers will welcome this. Indeed, many have never stopped teaching grammar, although they may not have used that term.

Grammatical structures only sink in if practised over and over again. How can you achieve this without generating boredom or hostility? Here are some ideas:

* Instead of asking the uninspiring "Was hast du am Wochenende gemacht?", turn it into a guessing game. This is much more fun, and has the advantage that anyone can win, irrespective of linguistic flair. It also gives practice in asking questions. If the teacher is the object of the game, the class will have to use "Sie", if it is a pupil, this will change to "du".

* Memory games are another good motivator. At the London Language Show last autumn John Trafford, president of the Association for Language Learning, proposed thefollowing scenario: a helpful, unselfconscious colleague makes a brief appearance dressed in ridiculous clothes, then disappears. What was he wearing? Was his hat smalllargeredblue? If there is disagreement, so much the better, as the arguments will aid reinforcement. When pupils write it up , they can add opinions - "Er sa komisch aus!" "Il avait l'air ridicule!"

* Short drills at the beginning of each lesson are invaluable for consolidation. Variety is the key. One day, try a memory game based on an overhead projection, which is removed after a minute or so. Another day, a speed contest - how many items in your possession can you name in one minute? You can also use chain games, either cumulatively - "Mon stylo ... Mon stylo, mes chaussures" - or starting with a sentence which each pupil alters in turn - "Samedi dernier je suis alle en ville ... Samedi dernier je suis alle au cinema ... Samedi dernier Robert est alle au cinema ..."

* Songs can be equally effective, but you have to know your class. I once made up a silly song for a lower ability Year 10 group, to help them to learn half a dozen key verbs in the past tense. It was a huge hit. My top set would have considered suchfrivolity well beneath their dignity, however.

* For a good pairwork activity, try this adaptation of Battleships. Each person has two grids, one blank, one with several blocked-in squares (battleships). They take turns to ask questions to track down the battleships (correct answers). Working on verbs, it might look something like the diagram below. You might ask me: "Je regarde la tele?". I would reply "Non". You would note this on your blank grid. If you asked: "Nous prenons l'autobus?" I would answer "Oui", and you would have sunk a battleship. The winner is the first to track them all down.

ALISON THOMAS

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