Topics, situations, notions, functions Unit 1: Topics and situations Language has traditionally been segmented into sounds, vocabulary, grammar, but it may equally well be taught through topics. Another possibility is to base the language round situations. For example – Unit 1 of a coursebook might deal with the topic “ home “, a situation is “describing different rooms”, “describing furniture” etc. In some ways topics and situations are more difficult to teach than words or structures, in that they involve whole discourse, with longer and more complicated language constructs. On the other hand, the learner is immediately engaging with language that expresses meanings in context. Introducing a new topic or situation New topics and situations need to be presented in much the same way as new language items or texts (see Module 1 Presentations and explanations). The presentation of topics or situations may be approached from different directions; for example: 1. Take the topic or situation, do a task based on it, eliciting from the learners or teaching any necessary new language, possibly going on later to study a text. 2. Teach the new language through the topic, situation or a text. 3. Go straight into a text, using it both to teach new language and to explore the relevant topic/ situation. Some ideas for presentation of new topics or situations Write the name of the topic in the middle of the board and invite the class to brainstorm all the associated words they can think of. Write the name of the topic in the middle of the board and ask the class what they know about it or what they would like to know. Describe a communicative situation and characters and invite the class to suggest orally what the characters will say. Give the title of a text and invite the class to write down sentences or expressions they expect will occur within it. Define briefly the opening event and characters in a communicative situation and ask the class to imagine what will happen next. Present a recorded dialogue and ask the class to tell you where they think it is taking place and who the characters are. Present a text, ask for an appropriate title. Express your own, or someone else’s, opinions about a topic, invite discussion. Teach a selection of words and expressions, ask the class what they think the situation or topic is. Cambridge University Press 2000 Unit 2: What are notions and functions? Notions and functions are rather more precise categories than “topics and situations”. Topics and situations are communicative events. Notions and functions are the ways particular meanings are realized in language. For example – a topic is “the family”, a situation is “visiting a friend’s home”, notions and functions may be things like “time past” or “inviting”. “Time past” may include past tenses, phrases …, “inviting” may include phrases like “Would you like to …?”, “I suggest…”. The difference between a notion and a function A notion is a concept, or idea: it may be quite specific (e.g. vocabulary –dog, house etc) or it may be very general – time, size, emotion, movement. A function on the other hand is some kind of communicative act – e.g. suggesting, promising, apologizing, greeting, etc. Unit 3: Teaching chunks of language; from text to task Topics, situations, notions and functions should be taught (it is more effective) as meaningful chunks of language in context (samples of language used by people within a specific interactive situation), rather than decontextualized items such as lists of vocabulary, or grammatical structures. Some techniques of teaching such samples contextualized within texts. Learning by heart Learning by heart is not the field of language teaching. The situation The situation is the best way of language teaching., e.g. foreign tourists are trying to buy some necessary equipment in a shop; a student teacher is trying to explain something to a child, helped by the class teacher; a driver has been stopped by a police officer for a traffic offence and is trying to explain why he or she is innocent… The characters: excited, apathetic, annoyed, pleased, tired, nervous….. The relationships: authoritative-deferential, aggressive-defensive, affectionate… Attitude to the problem: the problem may be seen as: trivial; distressing; funny… Varying a theme Take the basic text and elaborate on it. Rather than answering comprehension questions on a text, the class may be invited to vary and extend it, leading to further exploration of the kind of language being learned. They might: - create a new text on a similar topic; - suggest other ways the characters could have expressed the same notions or functions; what difference would these changes have made? - suggest other ways the meeting might have developed, and how the characters might have expressed themselves; - re-present the original text in a different way; if it was a diary entry, foe example, the reconstruct the dialogue, or vice versa. Further reading Long, M.H. and Crookes, G. (1992) “Three approaches to task-based syllabus design”, TESOL Quarterly, 26, 1, 27-56. Maley, A. and Duff, A. (1978) Variations on a Theme, Cambridge: CUP. Prabhu, N.S. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy: A Pespective, Oxford: OUP. Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities, Cambridge: CUP. Van Ek,J.A. (1990) The Threshold Level in a European Unit-Credit System for Modern Language Learning by Adults, Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Widdowson, H.G. (1989) “Knowledge of language and ability for use”, Applied Linguistics, 10, 2, 128-37. Wilkins, D.A. (1976) Notional Syllabuses, Oxford: OUP. Willis, D. (1990) The Lexical Syllabus, London: Collins: Ch.5. Ресурс – Ur Penny, A Course of Language Teaching, CUP, 2008 – 373.