An Analysis and Example of Consciousness
Raising in the EFL Classroom
by James Broadbridge
The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of Consciousness-Raising Exercises in the EFL Classroom. It outlines the differences between Consciousness-Raising and more traditional Grammar Translation techniques, and then goes on to discuss the arguments both for and against the use of Consciousness-Raising in the classroom. The final sections then focus on the problem of when and where to use these types of activities and practical issues involved in focusing on grammar in the Japanese university EFL classroom.
With the advent of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), grammar teaching was almost “forced underground” (Miller 2002: 144). Teachers who still felt it to be an important part of the learning process, were forced to do so discretely through fear of admonishment from their peers. With the claims of the CLT movement holding such power, it was inevitable that there would be some form of backlash against the abandonment of hundreds of years of teaching practice. This has occurred with the rise of Consciousness Raising (CR) as a method of teaching grammar.
CR, as described by Ellis is: “an attempt to equip the learner with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature - to develop declarative rather than procedural knowledge of it.” (Ellis 1991:234) It involves a focus on a specific form of the language, which is highlighted in a variety of ways. When teaching grammar through CR, teachers do not teach any grammar rules directly, rather they provide information in the form of data, which contains the form to be focused upon. From this data students are encouraged to engage in cognitive activities, which allow the students to create rules about the language for themselves, bringing the language to a conscious level. CR activities can take many forms, but general principles of an inductive, focus on form remain constant. Examples of CR activities can be found in the Appendix, and will be discussed within this article to highlight some of the characteristics of CR.
CR is not intended to replace CLT in any way, and as we shall see later, CR can be used within communicative language lessons. In using CR, a return to the failed method of Grammar Translation (GT) is not being advocated; they are two very different approaches. What CR does, is to allow teachers to highlight problem areas, which are evading acquisition, and develop exercises, which can facilitate the acquisition of these troublesome forms. The main differences between CR and GT will be discussed in the following section of this article, with later sections focusing on the arguments for and against CR, and also problems involved with using CR in the classroom.
Differences between Consciousness Raising and Traditional Grammar Teaching
CR differs in a number of ways from GT and the following section will highlight some of these differences.
1. CR can act as a supplement to language learning, rather than the main focus, therefore it is perfectly suited to the communicative classroom as it complements this method of teaching.
2. There is no need for a metalinguistic knowledge, as stated by Ellis: It is perfectly possible … to develop an explicit understanding of how a grammatical structure works without learning much in the way of grammatical terminology.” (Ellis 1991:234)
3. CR differs in the route of bringing grammar to an explicit level, whereas a GT teacher would teach the rule, with CR it is a way of discovery as the students create the rules for themselves.
4. CR does not attempt to impart the grammatical rules of the whole language. Instead it only focuses on certain items that have thus far failed to be acquired by the students in that particular class.
5. CR allows the teacher freedom to spend as much or as little time as required on the particular form. As noted by Sharwood-Smith (1981) an important feature of CR is the degree of explicitness and elaboration. Sharwood-Smith described four varying styles of activity, with the style being adjusted to suit the student and the form being focused on. An example of the differences between the styles of activity can be found when looking at Appendix 2 and 3. In Appendix 2 less technical metalanguage is used, than in Appendix 3. It is only a slight difference, but the increased use of metalanguage can have the effect of losing a students interest in the activity, a point which will be discussed in more detail later in this article. All of the activities in Appendix 1-3 would fall into the category Sharwood-Smith described as being: less explicit with the students forming the rules themselves; and also more elaborate, with the activity being broken down into stages to aid the knowledge of the appropriate generalization. (Sharwood-Smith 1981: 54) These activities take this form due to the audience they are aimed at, with all of these activities being designed for similar classes, but through making the activities more explicit by focusing more on complex metalanguage, or more elaborate by spending more time on the structure, CR can be used for a wide variety of students and structures.
The differences between CR and GT were succinctly described by Rutherford: “CR is a means to attainment of grammatical competence in another language.” (Rutherford 1989: 24) which the learner contributes greatly to. Grammar Teaching represented an “attempt to instil that competence directly.” (ibid) CR protagonists are fully aware that the methodology, which GT was based upon, was ineffective, and believe that CR is a way of gaining the benefits knowledge of the L2 grammar brings, whilst doing so in a way that promotes its acquisition.
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