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A Look at the Materials Used to Teach English at the Junior High
Level in the Amazonas State Public Schools
Stephen Mark Silvers
Paulo Renan Gómes da Silva

1. Introduction

This paper will look at the materials used to teach English at the junior high level (fifth to eighth grades) in the Amazonas State public schools. To date, experimental materials based on Total Physical Response—TPR (Asher, 2000) have been produced for the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, and are being used in the public schools throughout the state. Materials for the eighth grade are being developed and will be ready for the year 2003.

In 2000, the first level was introduced in the public schools. Since the methodology was new to the students and to most of the teachers as well, it was decided to have a gradual implementation of the materials and the method. Thus, for the first year all four grades (fifth to eighth) used the same set of instructional materials. Each subsequent year one new level has been introduced. This year (2002) the fifth grade uses Book 1; the sixth grade, Book 2; and both the seventh and the eight grades, Book 3. Next year, with the introduction of Book 4, there will be different materials for each grade. From the outset it is necessary to point out that these materials are being developed in two stages. The first stage has concentrated on the development of the exercises that use TPR, and will be completed at the end of this year when the materials for the eighth grade have been finished. The next stage will be the development of exercises and activities such as short readings, guessing games, information gap activities, opinion gap activities, simple dialogue-like exchanges, poems, songs, language games, etc.

2. Overview of the Materials

Each book consists of 14 double-page lessons. The left-hand page is always a Point and Touch exercise, while the right hand page has various types of TPR exercises, as well as some simple writing exercises. The books also include a brief explanation in Portuguese on how to use the materials, four short review lessons, a list of the grammar items, a list of topics and a word list with the Portuguese equivalents. The materials also include a teacher’s guide, a set of wall posters, an audio tape and a set of colored cardboard figures to be used in some of the TPR exercises.

3. The Methodological Approach

The basic methodology is a combination of (1) Total Physical Response, and (2) controlled game-like communicative practice activities.

3.1 Total Physical Response

Extensively researched and developed by psychologist James J. Asher of San José State University (Asher 1981, 2000), with important contributions by Garcia (1994), Total Physical Response is a delayed-speaking approach to language learning in which the students acquire the target language through listening comprehension coupled with body movements. Initially the students do not speak, but instead silently act out commands given by their teacher. The initial commands are quite simple, e.g., Touch your nose, but later increase in length and complexity to directives such as, Before you point to the chalkboard, stand up and turn around twice (Silvers, 1990, 1992).
Our reasons for using TPR as a major classroom technique are as follows:

• The use of real objects and actions in the classroom makes the language concepts more concrete and easier to grasp.
• The fact that almost everything that the students hear is related to an action speeds up the linking of meaning to the sounds and facilitates assimilation.
• The use of the motor-muscular system aids in producing long-term retention.
• The class can be conducted in English, with perfect comprehension, right from the very first day, greatly reducing the need for translation.
• Understanding and executing commands is an objective that is concrete and attainable.
• The students learn to process the oral language instantaneously and automatically.
• It does not require the teachers to be very proficient in English.

3.2 Controlled game-like communicative practice activities

Although the principal methodological focus is on TPR, there are plans to include in the next version of the materials controlled game-like communicative practice exercises, such as guessing games, information gap and opinion gap exercises. There are abundant sources on how to provide practice which, although controlled, is motivating, fun and meaningful. (see Byrne, 1986; Ur, 1988; Woodruff-Wieding and Ayala, 1989; Silvers, 1982; Ur & Wright, 1992).

4. The Coursebook Contents

4.1 TPR-related exercises

As we have stated, in this first stage of the development of the materials we have concentrated on exercises that use TPR. We will now look at the eight types of TPR exercises developed and used in the four books.

(a) Point and Touch / Ask and Answer

Each lesson begins with a Point and Touch page, taken from Silvers (2000), and consists of a set of 8 to 12 figures which serve as the cues for two kinds of exercises: Point and Touch and Ask and Answer. In the Point and Touch exercises, the students point to or touch the figure that corresponds to the sentence uttered by the teacher or their pair work partner, for example, Point to the scientist; Touch the carpenter. This is a simple TPR exercise which is less active than the classical exercises such as walking to the door. The Ask and Answer exercises give structured practice in asking and answering both Yes-No and Wh-questions.

Developed with the idea of offering simple, quiet exercises that can be performed by the students at their seats, either with the whole class or with the students working in pairs, these exercises offer a systematic and graded presentation of, and practice with, the basic grammatical structures. Here are some examples of the Point and Touch sentences used to practice specific grammatical structures:

(1) BE (is): Point to the man who is from Japan.
(2) BE (are): Touch the boys who are from Brazil.
(3) Possessive case: Point to Tom’s father.
(4) HAVE (has): Point to the girl who has a parrot.
(5) Negative with doesn’t: Point to someone who doesn’t have two dogs.
(6) BE (was/wasn’t): Touch someone who was/wasn’t born in 1945.
(7) Comparative: Point to the taller man.
(8) Future with going to: Point to the boy who is going to close the window.

It is also here, within each grammatical structure, that much of the vocabulary is presented visually through the figures which serve as cues for the exercises.

(b) Listen and Act

The Listen and Act exercises are classical TPR exercises, presented in a substitution-type format which allows the students to visualize the structure and the teacher to make many different commands from one key sentence. The exercises were developed with the idea that they would be first done as a teacher controlled listening exercise, and later as a student listening and speaking pair work exercise.

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