Doing Focus on Form

Topics: Linguistics, Second language acquisition, Language education Pages: 21 (6156 words) Published: December 8, 2012
System 30 (2002) 419–432

Doing focus-on-form
Rod Ellis*, Helen Basturkmen, Shawn Loewen
Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
Received 17 April 2002; received in revised form 14 June 2002; accepted 17 June 2002

‘Focus-on-form’ refers to a particular type of form-focused instruction - the treatment of linguistic form in the context of performing a communicative task. This article considers the rationale for this approach to teaching form as opposed to the more traditional ‘focus-on-forms’ approach where linguistic features are treated sequentially. It describes some of the main methodological options for attending to form in communication. These are considered under two main headings; ‘reactive focus-on-form’ and ‘pre-emptive focus-on-form’. The advantages and disadvantages of the various options are also discussed. Finally, some general questions relating to the practice of focus-on-form are identified as a basis for further discussion and research. # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Language instruction; Communicative tasks; Focus-on-form

1. Introduction
The teaching of linguistic forms,1 especially grammar, continues to occupy a major place in language pedagogy. Discussions of how to teach form usually consist of accounts of the various pedagogical options available to the teacher and the relative advantages of each option (see, e.g. Ellis, 1997). Somewhat less attention has been paid to the actual methodological procedures that teachers use to focus on * Corresponding author.

E-mail addresses: (R. Ellis), (H. Basturkmen), (S. Loewen).
The term ‘form’ is often used to refer exclusively to ‘grammar’. However, in this article it is used more generally to refer to any aspect of linguistic form—phonological, graphological, lexical or grammatical. It should also be noted that the term ‘form’ does not exclude considerations of meaning. While it is possible to attend solely to form, as for example when the pronunciation of an isolated word becomes the focus, in many cases attention to form involves consideration of the meaning (function) that a particular form conveys. 0346-251X/02/$ - see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S0346-251X(02)00047-7


R. Ellis et al. / System 30 (2002) 419–432

form in the course of their actual teaching (but see Borg, 1998). Given the growing importance that is being attached to teaching form in the context of communicative activity (see the articles in Doughty and Williams, 1998), the procedures for achieving this deserve careful consideration. Arguably, initial training courses for teachers need to ensure that teachers are equipped with the skills needed to focus students’ attention on form and that they have an understanding of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the different procedures involved.

The purpose of this article is to first define what is meant by ‘focus on form’ and to provide a brief rationale for this approach to teaching form. Second, it is to offer a description of some of the key procedures for dealing with form by drawing on actual examples of the procedures used by experienced teachers. A third purpose is to point out some of the issues that are problematic to provide a basis for discussion and research.

2. Some definitions
Table 1 shows a number of basic approaches for handling form-focused instruction. Each of these approaches is briefly defined and an example of each provided. Following Long (1991), two kinds of form-focused instruction can be distinguished—focus-onforms and focus-on-form. The former involves the pre-selection of specific features based on a linguistic syllabus and the intensive and systematic treatment of those features. Thus, in focus-on-forms instruction the...

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Borg, S., 1998. Teachers’ pedagogical systems and grammar teaching: a qualitative study. TESOL Quarterly 32, 9–38.
Doughty, C., 2001. Cognitive underpinnings of focus on form. In: Robinson, P. (Ed.), Cognition and
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Doughty, C., Varela, E., 1998. Communicative focus on form. In: Doughty, C., Williams, J. (Eds.), pp.
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Ellis, R., Loewen, S., Basturkmen, S., 1999. Focussing on Form in the Classroom (Technical Report).
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