Pop-up Grammar

Updated December 25, 2017

It has been rumored that TPRS and comprehensible input-based teachers do not teach grammar, but this is false. TPRS and CI-based teachers prefer to teach grammar inductively with occasional help from pop-up grammar. Pop-up grammar is the practice of making very short (about twenty seconds or less), meaning-based grammar explanations 1. They are effective because the brevity keeps the focus on the language’s contextualized meaning instead of mechanics 2.

Steps of Pop-Up Grammar 3

  1. Selection: Choose a language feature to point out (such as a verb form).
  2. Ask yourself: Have students seen this feature before?
    1. If yes: Ask a question such as What does ___ mean in this sentence?
    2. If no: Explain extremely briefly (10-20 second maximum).
  3. Differentiate for more advanced students by asking a harder question like What would it mean if I said ____ instead of ____ or questions requiring translation into the TL. You can also assign a so-called Grammar Expert, per the idea of Keith Toda.

Pop-Up Grammar Examples 4

NO they don’t get it the first time I say it, but they never memorized all the preterite and imperfect forms for me when I was jamming them in via the textbook 5.

  • Spanish: “Hey class, the n on an action word means you guys or they.”
  • Spanish: (Teacher) What does vamos mean? (Students) We are going. (Teacher) what part says we? (Students) mos.
  • Spanish: What would happen if I changed se la dio to se me dio?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do you do with students who wants more grammar?

Other Types of Pop-Ups

  • Pronunciation: Pronunciation can be popped-up like grammar. For example, in German the j is pronounced like a y. After saying this, you can later ask the students to pronounce Johann or ja. Isn’t this easier and more natural than a decontextualized alphabet unit?
  • Culture: Culture can also be taught through pop-ups that explain a cultural difference, similarity, product, etc. You probably do this already!
  • Punctuation: Give a short explanation of where commas are needed, why the question mark is inverted in Spanish, etc.
  • Radicals: Terry Waltz points out that you can use pop-ups to teach radicals of Chinese characters. In other languages this idea might display itself as pop-up etymology to show the linguistic relationship between the TL and the native language.
  • Theory: How do people learn languages? As opportunities arise, gently share what know about SLA research in student-friendly language. For example, you might explain that studying grammar isn’t necessary because babies learn English without learning grammar 7.

Conclusion

In conclusion, pop-up grammar is as explicit as grammar instruction usually gets in a TCI classroom. Since explicit grammar instruction isn’t very effective, remember that the purpose of pop-up grammar isn’t really to teach the grammar. Rather, pop-up grammar makes our input more comprehensible, and it raises students’ awareness to parts of the input that may otherwise be difficult to acquire. Like everything, the key to pop-ups is repetition! Repeat the same pop-ups over and over until all of your students have acquired them.

In TPRS, everything is linked to meaning. So when we teach grammar, what we are really teaching is which part of the message carries what meaning 8.

References

  1. Blaine Ray, Teaching Grammar with TPRS. In The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching (Fall 2005).
  2. Ben Slavic, TPRS In a Year, pp. 38-9 (2007).
  3. Terry Waltz, TPRS with Chinese Characteristics: Making Students Fluent and Literate through Comprehensible Input, Kindle Location 2467. New York: Squid for Brains (2015).
  4. Jeremy Jordan, Pushing the Pop-Up Grammar Explanations (2016).
  5. Carrie Toth, The “G Word” (2016).
  6. Terry Waltz, TPRS with Chinese Characteristics: Making Students Fluent and Literate through Comprehensible Input, Kindle Location 2401-2405. New York: Squid for Brains (2015).
  7. Niki Tottingham, Comprehensible Midwest (2016).
  8. Terry Waltz, TPRS with Chinese Characteristics: Making Students Fluent and Literate through Comprehensible Input, Kindle Location 2467. New York: Squid for Brains (2015).

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