Why don’t we teach more grammatical chunks at low levels?

One of the curiosities of the dominant grammar syllabus at low levels is that certain ‘higher-level’ grammar does occasionally creep through as words or chunks, while other patterns are apparently still not allowed to.

Would you like some more chunks?

The best example of this is that Would you like …? is frequently taught as a pattern. Students are told it’s a ‘polite’ form of want, but no comment is made on the nature of would as a modal verb. It’s possible that you may also see Can I help you? presented in a ‘functional’ service lesson and you may also see the passive (though, quite naturally, nobody teaches it as such) covered via I was born in . . . .

It seems that teachers are happy with this and as some coursebooks have got away with it, the patterns have become established as part of ‘the’ syllabus. It does, however, force you to ask that if we can teach Would you like (a X/to go?) as a phrase, why on earth can’t we also teach the following chunks before they are ‘studied’ grammatically?

I don’t know

Have you (ever) been to …?

Where are you going?

I’ll meet you …

What’s the best …?

No doubt there are many others we could think of. I should make clear here that I am not suggesting entirely abandoning the syllabus: teaching chunks is not a simple replacement of the grammar syllabus I criticised in this previous post. Instead, chunks like this should be seen as additions or as a parallel syllabus that enable a wider variety of more natural conversations at low levels. So in Beginner units 1, 2, 3 and 4, rather than having an endless series of misunderstandings and pointless misidentifying of things, we could just go straight to the point and say I don’t know!

Exchanges without a chunk. Exchanges with a chunk!

A: Is she Jane?

B: No she’s not, She’s Paula.

A: What’s her name?

B: I don’t know.

A: Is she from Mexico?

B: No she’s Italian.

A: Where’s she from?

B: I don’t know.

A: Is this a pen?

B: No, it’s a mobile phone.

A: What’s this in English?

B: I don’t know.

A radical suggestion?

Obviously, one issue teachers have is that dealing with one chunk in conversation may require teaching further unknown grammar, although sometimes this relates to the obsession with short answers or providing ‘full grammatical answers. Of course, in reality, we frequently don’t need to add anything  extra. For example:

A: Have you been to Birmingham?

B: Yes.

A: When?

B: Last year.

A: Is it nice?

B: Yes. I like it.

And what if the things students try to say DO require you to teach some things that they haven’t yet studied the grammar of?

Well, I guess you could just teach them what they want to say!

A radical suggestion I know!

Oh … and I should explain that I’m only mentioning this because there seemed to be some confusion about this issue on Twitter.

I’ll finish by saying that the above is exactly what we do in Outcomes Beginner.

With the right publisher and willing authors, sometimes change is possible!

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