How I Made Boring Grammar Lessons A Thing Of The Past

Grammar teaching is probably the most discussed topic in foreign language education. From traditional cramming of grammar rules, to scholars defending the idea of disregarding grammar teaching at all, to professionals who swear by teaching grammar in a meaningful context: all of these perspectives have been popular in the past decades.

I personally think that grammar teaching is essential, especially because my students are not sufficiently exposed to the target language on a daily basis to pick up grammatical structures automatically.

Besides, I have to admit, I like teaching grammar. The biggest part of my job is coaching the students’ proficiency, but with grammar I can enjoy the pleasure of actually explaining things: it is the technical and ‘factual’ part of the language.

I see it as my personal challenge to explain the most complicated grammar issues as clearly as possible.

In our day and age, more tools are available than just the blackboard. Plenty of videos can be found on the internet, and today I will try to make one of those videos interactive, so that my students can practice their grammar skills more actively and on their own levels.

The problem with some of my senior students is that they never really picked up the basics of grammar in the previous years.

For Dutch students, using tenses in English can be a challenge. They start learning the simple and continuous forms and later on they learn how to use the more complicated ones like the past perfect and the passive voice. However, when I explain these forms, I need to build on their basic knowledge of the simpler tenses.

When I briefly repeat some of these basic grammar items, it’s not a problem for most students, but some get confused and they mentally drop out. In order to solve that, I made an interactive video on the past perfect, in a way that allows students to get extra instructions at the exact moments they need them.

Also, I inserted exercises to activate their learning. This activation hugely improves learning performance and learner satisfaction, as compared to the use of non-interactive video.

So, how to produce such an effective learning tool?

1) Find a video on the topic you selected

This can be an instructional video that you make more interactive by asking application questions (creating a deductive activity), but of course you could also take a video of a popular pop song where students have to fill in gaps or recognize verb forms, thus creating an inductive teaching tool.

On YouTube, I found an instructional video with several example sentences, pictures and a clear explanation of the past perfect, created by ‘teacher Diane’. I typed the URL in the search bar on the ‘New HiHaHo’ page and clicked ‘Enrich’.

In order to provide a more natural context as well, I ‘rewarded’ the students for doing the activity at the end of the video: I added a link to a song in which they could recognize the past perfect.

2) Decide which interactions you would like to add

Interactions in grammar videos can, for example, include background information on terminology which is used and supposed to be known by the student. Also, interactive video is an excellent tool to activate learners by asking questions during the instruction in the video.

Text and hyperlink

Teacher Diane assumes her audience to know what is meant by the term ‘simple past’. As I know my students do not all have that knowledge (anymore), I add a text box and type ‘Click here for Simple Past explanation’, select ‘Hyperlink’ as my action type and enter the hyperlink of a website which clearly explains this tense form. It is up to the students whether they need to click this or not.

Text

A formula for the past perfect is given early in the video, before examples have been given. As terms like ‘subject’ and ‘past participle’ might be confusing for students, I add a simple example sentence: ‘You had studied’. I add the words in separate text boxes, so they will appear at the same time the elements of the formula appear in the screen.

Pause screen

I also add another text box with hyperlink, in case students still don’t understand what a past participle is. I add a pause screen at the end of the video, so the students who do not need this will not see this screen during the video, in which I give a definition of the past participle and include a link to a website with a list of irregular verbs. You can find the hyperlink button for a link within the text among the text buttons at the top of the text box:

In order to get back to the video, I added another text box with hyperlink. It would be good if it was possible to put such a link in the pause screen. Now, the students have to click ‘play’ before they can click the ‘Go back to the video’ button.

Multiple choice question

In order to get back to the video, I added another text box with hyperlink. It would be good if it was possible to put such a link in the pause screen. Now, the students have to click ‘play’ before they can click the ‘Go back to the video’ button.

Essay question

Just before teacher Diane explains the difference between two sentences in which the one has two past simple forms and the other both a past simple and a past perfect form, I want the students to come up with the answers themselves. It is possible to set parameters for correct answers with open questions, but I decide to use the Essay question option.

When the students have finished typing their answers, they will hear the explanation and can check whether they were right or not themselves.

Open question

When both the form and the use of the past perfect have been explained, I add a series of questions. First, I use some multiple choice questions and, after that, I make it harder by adding open questions. Students have to fill in the right forms themselves.

In the feedback, I provide the right answer, so students can see what went wrong, in case they did not give the right answer. In the end, I ask a few questions in which the students have to give two answers. It is necessary to instruct students how they should enter these answers, as otherwise they could get negative feedback on a correct answer for entering them in a way the program does not recognize.

Jump to

As I inserted a pause screen with an explanation of the past participle near the end of the video, students would get to see this when watching the ending. To solve this, I used the ‘Jump to’ button and entered the time of the very end of the video as its destination. Now, students come to the feedback page without having to click through the explanation first.

3) Changing the feedback settings

Apart from the feedback on the questions in the video itself, it is also possible to give feedback in a special screen after watching the video, in which students can see their score.

In order to get a feedback screen, I assigned a number of points to the questions: I selected the question and clicked the ‘Advanced’ tab.

Furthermore, I changed the video settings (button at the top, next to green ‘Preview’ button). I clicked the ‘Advanced’ tab and selected ‘Show score’ under ‘End of video’. Also, I clicked the ‘Reporting’ tab to set the percentage of points necessary to succeed.

Now my students will get an overview of their scores and they can take another look at the questions and the answers they gave.

4) Publishing your video

Last but not least, your interactive video should be published. Go to ‘Video settings’ once more and select the option you like best in ‘Publishing’, ‘Availability’ under the ‘General’ tab.
For enabling you to monitor your students’ achievements, you need to go to ‘Video settings’, ‘Optional Variables’.

You enter your students’ data, they will have to enter the information of your choice at the start of the video and the software will save your students’ actions, which you will be able to see under ‘Statistics’. You can even download an Excel sheet with information of scores, time log of the session, whether the students finished the session and the answers they gave.

Using it in the classroom

If your students have their own devices in your classroom, it is easy to use your interactive video in your lessons. You just embed the video in their online environment and ask them to use it. You will find the embed code if you click ‘Share’ under ‘More options’.

As my students do not have any computers available in my classroom, I asked them to do the video exercise as homework. Our homework website does not allow embedding, so I copied the URL, which can be found under ‘Video settings’ > ‘General’, by scrolling down to ‘Publishing’.

I copied the link under ‘Video URL and posted this in their homework screen, so they could open it at home. Alternatively, it is also an option to watch the video in class as a plenary session, but this was not the best option considering the fact that I wanted to see my students’ individual results.

For my students, it was a revision tool for the test. I had explained the past perfect in class already and we had done several exercises on the subject. The class after that, I gave them this homework exercise and I asked my students to give their opinions on the video.

They had liked doing the exercise as it was clear, it helped them think about the grammar topic once more and the different exercises, and the song at the end made doing grammar kind of fun. The exercises had helped them to get insight in their own proficiency. They had not clicked on the links for extra explanations, as they either didn’t want to spend extra time, they are adolescents, after all, or they already understood the subjects to which the links referred.

However, they thought the option was quite useful, so if the video had been about a new topic which we had not dealt with in class yet, they thought it to be likely that they would have clicked for extra information. All in all, they were very positive about studying grammar this way.

The Final Verdict

The advantage of using interactive video for grammar teaching is that it allows students to work at their own pace and at their own level. The ones that know their basics can just watch the video and do the exercises, while the ones who don’t can select the extra information they need and take as much time as needed to study this.

By selecting ‘Allow seeking’ under ‘Video settings’, students can watch parts they find complicated as many times as they want, so adjusting the activity to their own levels. The addition of links makes the activity even more interesting, especially if you add fun elements like songs or other (animated) videos illustrating the topic.

Teaching grammar by means of interactive video is most effective in the introductory stage of a grammar teaching, as students are much more likely to use the options, such as extra explanation of secondary topics, in that situation. However, it is a good way of revising grammar as well, as students can check their knowledge by doing the exercises and go back to explanations of elements they do not master yet. In short, interactive video makes grammar education personal: it adapts the teaching to students’ individual levels.

Mariëlle Nederlof

Teacher of English (EFL)

 

 

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