I am concerned that I am spoon-feeding my students, boring the heck out of the really bright ones in the process, and not giving any of my students an opportunity to develop initiative for their own learning. So I wanted to see if I could apply project based learning to a grammar lesson.
Most of the time, when I teach grammar, I explain the concept in a mini-lesson, and then select a variety of activities for my students to practice. Today I tried something different. I asked my students to explain the grammar to each other, and then in groups of three, students had to create a three minute activity for their classmates to practice.
The lesson plan:
My students already have learned how to form affirmative and negative tú commands. So, I asked them to teach themselves (in groups of three) how to form affirmative and negative ustedes commands. I gave them a page number from their textbook that explained the formation. Students who easily grasp language patterns quickly realized these commands follow the same pattern and rules that informal negative commands do. Students who struggle with finding patterns were very frustrated. They wanted me to give them the pattern. I redirected them to their group, notes and textbook, and told them they already had the answer to their question. They just needed to find it. After a little bit of grumbling and some help from their group, many students figured out most of the rules to the new grammar concept.
After teaching themselves the grammar, they created a short activity to practice it with the rest of the class. I gave each group specific verbs to use that would give me a way to gauge if they were able to apply the pattern to various idiosyncrasies. Each group had a different set of five verbs. Each set included an irregular verb, a stem changer, a reflexive verb, an -AR verb and an -ER/-IR verb. They had a time limit of 20 minutes, and the group selected a timekeeper. At the end of twenty minutes, I randomly called a group of students to lead their class in the activity they created. Since the “student teachers” had to know the answers to the questions they gave their classmates, it gave me a very good idea of what they mastered and what they missed. For four out of five classes, I didn’t have to point out student mistakes, because the kids corrected themselves.
I can sincerely say I have never seen so many of my students engaged at the same time trying to understand grammar. Even those who were frustrated figured out a way to get the basic concept with help from their group mates, notes and textbook--once they realized I was not going to give them the answers.
Despite the fact most students want written notes when I lead a mini-lesson, roughly half of the groups did not provide written notes.
Four out of five classes made use of the laptops I have in my classroom and put together a Google Docs or a Powerpoint presentation for their classmates (very nice presentations that I plan on posting to the class wiki for those students who were absent today).
One of my classes has students who prefer to do reading and written activities over listening and speaking activities. The class leaders do not really care for the class despite doing fairly well in it, and as the year rolls on, they are becoming a little more disgruntled. The feedback I received from this crew was they wanted me to give them the information, do a couple of activities, and move on. This was the class that required me to make corrections as errors were made in the presentations/activities. (Guess which class didn’t use the laptops?)
My last class of the day has a lot of bright students. A couple of these kids have taken two or three years of another language already. Many of them picked up on the pattern right away, and questioned the need to have each group present the grammar. If the first group presented the material, why would others need to repeat the information? Why couldn’t they just do the practice activities? When the first group presented, and missed a couple of questions, they pointed out that it would’ve been much more efficient for me to lead the class.
I will definitely try this type of discovery exercise with grammar again, but I will continue to use a mini-lesson format. I will try a variation of this lesson plan by explaining the grammar concept, and then ask my students to create an activity to practice the grammar for homework.
As some of the students in my seventh period class pointed out, this method is not the most efficient, but I hope that my students will retain the material better because they had to teach it. Those students who did not fully understand all the rules also had a chance to hear the material explained a couple of times in a variety of ways by their peers. I will be better able to measure the success when I have a more formal assessment.