Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Novel Format for Teaching Spanish Grammar: Lessons from the Lecture Hall

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Novel Format for Teaching Spanish Grammar: Lessons from the Lecture Hall

Article excerpt


This article describes a third-year Spanish grammar course that is taught in lecture/discussion format. The course, which enrolls over 150 students each semester, provides explicit instruction during a weekly lecture and opportunities for students to engage in meaningful output and interaction during small group discussion sessions. The goal is to teach grammar as a communicative tool in which form, meaning, and use are clearly integrated (Larsen-Freeman, 2003). The content, design, and coordination of this course are based on relevant second language acquisition research on explicit instruction and focus on form. Extensive reading is used to provide continued exposure to input and encourage students to notice grammatical features as they are used in authentic discourse. This pedagogical approach is illustrated throughout the article with examples of teaching the prepositions por and para.

Key words: grammar, explicit instruction, large lecture, focus on form, extensive reading

Language: Spanish

For many foreign language programs, a key component of the third-year curriculum is a grammar course that offers a panoramic overview of the forms and structures most problematic for nonnative speakers of the target language. Often, this course combines grammar and composition in order to help prepare students for the kinds of writing tasks that are expected of them in upper-division content courses in literature, culture, and civilization. At Michigan State University, SPN 310 "Basic Spanish Grammar" is a required course for majors and minors in Spanish and serves as a bridge between the basic language sequence (i.e., the first four semesters) and more advanced language study. Prior to 2002, the course combined grammar and composition, but as part of an extensive curricular review, the course was divided into two. Faculty members in the department agreed that one semester was not enough for students to learn grammar and develop their writing skills. Thus, SPN 310 is now devoted solely to grammar, with a separate composition course that follows in sequence (SPN 320).

The uniqueness of SPN 310 is not in the grammatical points that are covered, but rather in the format. For a variety of reasons1 SPN 310 is offered in a large lecture format with two discussion sessions per week. That is, there is a lecture on Mondays for all the students enrolled in the course (approximately 150 per semester), followed by smaller group discussion sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays. The lecture is given by a faculty member who specializes in Spanish linguistics and the discussion sessions are led by teaching assistants (TAs) who are trained and supervised by the faculty member.

This course format (lecture combined with a weekly or biweekly discussion session) is being adopted by a number of Spanish departments due to increasing enrollments coupled with shortages of teaching staff (cf. Klee, 2006). Recently, Kaplan (2006) described a third-year culture/civilization course with a weekly discussion session, and suggested that a large lecture course can be as effective as one that is taught three times a week to a smaller group of students. Although courses with a primary content focus (e.g., culture, history) may be suitable for lecture presentations, the teaching of grammar in such a format presents additional challenges and represents a radical departure from mainstream language courses. How can this context provide second language (L2) learners with continued exposure to input, meaningful opportunities for output, and the necessary attention to language form? This article presents some viable options for attaining these goals by describing the content, design, and implementation of SPN 310 at Michigan State University.

The Conceptualization of Grammar in SPN 310

The first step in designing a grammar course is to reflect on what is meant by grammar and the process of learning L2 grammar. …

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