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English for learning other subjects in English

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for low proficiency levels:

The Medium of instruction in schools and at Universities is gradually turning to the English medium. One major problem is the lack of competent English teachers in Universities. However, Colleges of Education over the past couple of years have been producing teachers who can teach subjects in English

We have now turned slowly and gradually to English medium instruction in schools and in the Faculties of Arts that do not have English medium in certain universities. Some universities, due to two major practical problems, are still pondering over the issue: one, potential problems of students with low proficiency levels in having to study in English medium and two, predicaments of teachers who are not competent enough to teach their subjects in English.

In the school system, measures have been taken to overcome the second problem, i.e. the issue of teachers. Therein, Colleges of Education have been producing teachers who can teach subjects in English over the past couple of years. But in the case of the university system, in certain universities, the measures that have been taken to empower teachers to teach in English have failed due to various reasons: one major reason is teachers not willing to learn from peers who have been chosen to conduct English classes.

This led to high absenteeism that eventually resulted in total collapse of the program. However, the issue we intend to discuss here is pertinent to student problems. How to teach English to our students to learn other subjects in English? How to teach English for academic purposes?

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) does not mean that it is confined to tertiary or higher education only. It is related to Grade six social studies, science, etc as well. It is a branch of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). EAP enables students to learn other subjects in English as English is taught not as an end in itself but as a means to an end. In other words, the focus is not to teach English but to use English as a tool to learn other subjects in English.

The structure of the suggested model

Step 1 - Speech-fronted program to build confidence

The model I propose here has many steps into it. The first is the Speech-fronted program to develop student confidence.

English learning should be an interesting experience.
File photo

This has been discussed previously at length through a number of articles.

And the other steps are devoted for teaching basic sentence structures in English i.e. Active Voice and Passive Voice.

I have selected Active and Passive Voice structures as I consider them as the spinal cord of written language from which changes stem and additions and other derivations are carried out.

Teaching the S+V (+O) is necessary and done in many programs but one of the differences here is that we propose not to teach the structures overtly but in an indirect way. The time frame given in the diagram is what I initially designed for the undergraduates with the lowest and intermediate proficiency levels in the Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo but is flexible for other student groups of different English language proficiencies.

There are 12 Active Voice sentence patterns with four basic categories: they are Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous with each category having present, past and future sentence patterns.

Passive Voice has eight sentence patterns as Simple, Continuous and Perfect with Continuous form having only present and past and others with present, past and future three patterns.

The model proposed here has five steps in it. In the steps discussed below, what are planned to teach at each step are these sentence patterns.

Course planners can decide the number of sentence patterns to be taught in one step, so that the number of steps can be extended as per the requirements.

But the number of steps for the model must not be curtailed as it might give unnecessary burden to students when trying out to teach many sentence patterns at a time in one step.

Step 2 - Teaching Active Voice with Reading and Writing via group activities

The second step focuses on teaching academic English through reading and writing only. And the major feature is using group work to carry out the tasks. No individual work is demanded from students as they are used to group activities throughout the first step.

They have confidence built in the first step to speak in English which is extended to the second step as well, yet the focus is on reading and writing only.

Herein, small paragraphs related to their subjects are chosen with simple activities such as underlining the verb and making sentences using the underlined verbs as exercises at the initial level.

The difficulty level of the activities is increased slowly and gradually with reinforcement as the main objective.

In each step, vocabulary support is given below the passage when students feel the need to know the meaning of words that appear in the paragraph they just read. Therein, only 3 -4 vocabulary items are explained in relation to the context.

Step 3 - Teaching Active Voice with Reading and Writing through activities that require individual performance

The main feature of step three is the arrangement of activities to be carried out at individual level.

Herein, the students who have been familiarized to work in groups are slowly trained to work individually. Unlike in the first step (Speech-fronted program) and the second step where cooperation is promoted and not competition by means of group activities, here students are rewarded for individual performance.

Still the focus is on teaching Active Voice sentence structures via reading and writing activities only.

Herein again, there must be reinforcement of what has been taught in the form of repetition of the same grammar item in a variety of activities. Comparatively advanced paragraphs in terms of vocabulary and sentence length are given to students. At the same time, paragraph length can be increased or two, three short paragraphs can be given.

Step 4 - Teaching Active Voice involving all four skills via both individual and group activities

Through this step, students are given activities related to all four skills-listening, speaking, reading and writing, yet the main aim is to teach Active Voice sentence structures. By this time, the third and/or the last category of Active Voice sentence patterns (Perfect and Perfect Continuous) may be left to teach.

Herein, the activities need to be designed to involve both group and individual performances.

Step 5 - Teaching Passive Voice

This is the first step to teach Passive Voice sentences. By now, it is expected that students have a fairly good understanding of the occurrence of the main verb in a sentence with a suitable noun/noun phrase/noun clause. They may not be able to recognize objects, adjectives and adverbs/adverbials, yet will be with an understanding that there are other ‘elements’ that appear in a sentence.

This step can be used to teach all eight Passive Voice sentence patterns or some more steps can be evolved to cover some of the Passive Voice sentence patterns.

This depends on the students’ ‘absorption’ level which should be observed through the previous steps.

Important features of this model to teach EAP

The concept of building, developing and sustaining confidence runs through all the steps of the entire model as an overarching theme.

1. Teaching only one grammatical item (sentence pattern) at a time.

2. Exposing students to different uses of the same grammatical item for a considerable period through a variety of activities.

3. This would give sufficient time for reinforcement.

4. The taught/used grammar item is not explained when carrying out the activities as a simultaneous process in terms of labels and names given to it (No deductive grammar teaching).

The writer is lecturer in English Language, ELTU, University of Colombo


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