Discourse Level Grammar Practice through Discussion Boards
By Donald Weasenforth, Sigrun Biesenbach-Lucas, & Christine Foster Meloni


    The last decade has seen a movement away from an emphasis on sentence-level, explicit presentation and controlled production of grammar structures. Instead, there has been a greater emphasis on providing practice with using grammar in more extended discourse, both in written and spoken forms. Written work is easy to evaluate but is not always authentic and does not provide the type of interactive discourse environment posed by group discussions, which in turn are difficult to evaluate even when recorded.

    One advantage of discussion boards is that they promote authentic discourse-level practice of grammar structures, such as verb tenses and pronominal references. Electronic discussions also provide the advantages of an interactive environment in which students must negotiate communication with classmates. As in oral discussions, individual students share control of the direction and development of the discussion and must thus adapt to the expectations of group members. Furthermore, the discussions can provide practice with targeted structures when instructors use prompts which promote usage of certain structures.

    Another advantage is that the discussions are captured in written form which can be downloaded and manipulated to facilitate evaluation and clear, helpful feedback to students. To emphasize appropriate usage of targeted grammar structures within extended discourse, a complete thread can be marked electronically and posted for students to review.

    The presenters discuss guidelines for managing discussions so that they serve as effective tools for grammar practice. Excerpts of students' exchanges and evaluations will be presented to demonstrate how these assignments promote meaningful, discourse-level grammar practice.

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