Many of the approaches to teaching and learning led to the creation of a variety of methodologies and instruments. Previously, educators were more interested in the development of the theoretical foundations rather than exact techniques in language learning (Ciani, 2014; Wind, 2014). This paved the way for the exploration of color incorporation for the development of teaching and learning materials (Ciani, 2014).
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Some grammar teaching methods relied on cognitive approaches to a language where educators tried to enhance input (Visroodi, 2015). Educators tried to use the tools and prompt that enhance learners’ noticing and memorization of particular structures and language units. Input enhancement has become one of the most researched areas due to its promising prospects. Today, Input enhancement may take different forms as visual, audial, and kinaesthetic tools are utilized (Winke, 2013).
Color-coding is one of the visual types of enhancement that has proved to be effective in grammar learning. This literature review addresses the most relevant aspects of the existing research on grammar teaching and learning using color. Also, an overview of the most effective methodologies of grammar teaching methods will be addressed.
The purpose of the present review is to provide a comprehensive theoretical framework for an intervention study in the efficiency of using color-coding for teaching grammar. The effectiveness of color-coding in English indefinite articles and determiners learning is not explored in detail. Colour-coding will be used to draw the participants’ attention to certain grammatical units and facilitate the memorization of these structures. The choice of the color scheme will not be random since colors have a different impact on people’s cognitive abilities and their emotional state.
The emotional load of learning experiences is a crucial factor influencing the learning process, so the colors associated with positive emotions will be utilized. Only a limited number of grammatical structures highlighted in certain colors, namely definite and indefinite articles, will be included in the research due to the peculiarities of people’s cognition.
L2 Grammar Acquisition
Grammar is one of the language aspects that is often associated with certain difficulties due to the differences between languages. Students often make errors and cannot use grammatical structures correctly as their mother tongue interferes with the target language learning process (Lopez & Sabir, 2017). Surely, the differences in the structure of the first and second languages are not all that there is to the issue of grammar acquisition. Based on the theories of foreign language acquisition, frameworks can be divided into four major groups including linguistic, cognitive, interpersonal, and functional (Richards & Rodgers, 2014).
The cognitive approach encompasses the development of tools based on learners’ characteristic features and cognitive abilities. Xia (2014) argues that the audiolingual approach assumption is that languages have certain patterns that can be utilized as the basis for language acquisition. Memorization, exposure to certain situations, drills, and over-learning are primary techniques of this method. The concepts of input and attention are critical for this framework, and learners are given numerous visual, audial, and kinaesthetic assignments.
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Educators employ various strategies and approaches to help learners to develop certain skills. According to Visroodi (2015), the cognitive approach prevails in grammar teaching. The cognitive approach implies that learning a new language goes beyond simple habit formation.
Instead, it is an active process that employs many cognitive faculties such as analysis and memorization (Li, 2017). By approaching a language from a cognitive standpoint, it becomes possible to make a student aware of the processes that usually remain “under the hood.” For instance, a common barrier to language acquisition is poor memory capacity, namely, students often cannot harness their long-term memory and have to rely on short-term memory. The cognitive approach to grammar offers rules, techniques, and strategies that help students understand exactly how they process the language so that they could overtake the governance over their high-order mental activities.
Instructors concentrate on the cognitive peculiarities of their students to facilitate the learning process. The humanistic approach seeks to remove this pressure and relieve their stress. In the context of the humanistic approach, it is essential to consider students’ preferences and attitudes when developing activities. The use of colour is one of the ways to enhance the emotional component of the process. As it has been previously described, grammar acquisition has a psychological aspect to it.
By introducing a new and attractive method, a teacher may become more able to moderate factors such as expectancy and interest. Those students who have been previously demotivated and discouraged by their failures in learning grammar might see an offered strategy as promising and refreshing. Besides, a new method might hold the potential of increasing students’ interest, which may lead to better engagement in the classroom. Colour-coding can help students pay attention to target forms and rules as well as make the learning process more entertaining and enjoyable.
Input Enhancement and Teaching Grammar
Input enhancement is a concept in second language acquisition. Enhancing input means rearranging learning materials in a way that makes them more comprehensible for students. For instance, it may mean emphasizing word order in texts or using colors to draw students’ attention to particular aspects of a language. Input enhancement encompasses such subconcepts as instruction, frequency, and salience (Myles & Mitchell, 2014).
Through instruction, teachers can steer students’ attention and help them notice linguistic patterns. Those patterns that are made more salient, i.e. noticeable, on purpose frequently have a higher likelihood of being understood and memorized (Myles & Mitchell, 2014). Input enhancement has been a topic of heated debate for decades as some educators put an emphasis on the benefits of the technique while others believe that it is unnecessary and distracting.
The input and interaction approach is a highly appreciated paradigm. Krashen suggested his hypothesis, and it has found many supporters since then (Myles & Mitchell, 2014). The assumption of the theory is that language acquisition occurs if the input is consistent with the existing knowledge. Such concepts as positive and negative inputs also attended, are critical to the theory (Gass, 2008).
The advocates of this approach claim that people’s cognitive abilities ensure language acquisition under certain circumstances. Attention plays a central part in this process as noticing becomes essential for effective language acquisition. It is important to add that the peculiarities of people’s cognition should be considered when choosing a teaching methodology. For example, Martin (2016) argues that prior knowledge is the basis for language acquisition as people use cues to interpret new structures.
Richards and Reppen (2014) claim that noticing is the first phase of transforming unfamiliar linguistic units into learners’ language competence. During the noticing stage, a student should be able to single certain grammar structures in a text. Evidently, background knowledge is a prerequisite for having an eye for these new structures. Noticing does not mean immediate acquisition as in actuality, at this stage, it is common to feel confused or make mistakes.
The most important faculty is noticing patterns for further analysis. At the second stage, a student is capable of comparing what he or she has learned with the new intake, which is logged in their short-term memory. Lastly, they integrate the old and the new knowledge into their own individual linguistic system, which belongs to the domain of long-term memory.
The researchers note that input enhancement can be beneficial in both deductive and inductive approaches in terms of teaching grammar. However, researchers show that this technique should be utilized in combination with different forms of instruction. It is also important to make sure that learners’ attention is concentrated on one or a minimal set of grammar units. Otherwise, their attention will be distracted by multiple stimuli, which will lead to the disruption of the learning process and students feeling overwhelmed.
Winke (2013) explored the effects of input enhancement could have on grammar learning. The researcher aimed at assessing the relevance of the suggested earlier findings that textual enhancement helped students to notice grammar structures, but comprehension significantly deteriorated. Winke (2013) used a similar experiment but analyzed students’ eye movement. It was found that input enhancement improved students’ noticing (which is the primary goal of the tool) but needed further explicit instruction to make sure that students could use grammar structures correctly. Therefore, it is clear that the instrument under discussion is effective when used properly. It is insufficient to ensure that students will pay attention to some grammar units. Students should remember all the given details concerning the grammar structure in order to use this knowledge properly.
The way input enhancement is associated with different types of instruction has been researched extensively. Ghavamnia, Eslami-Rasekh, and Vahid Dastjerdi (2014) state that input enhancement is critical for teaching grammar as it significantly improves students’ learning. In a series of experiments, the researchers assessed learners’ performance on a specific grammar assignment. Ghavamnia et al, (2014) evaluated the effectiveness of input enhancement compared to non-enhanced instruction as well as the efficacy of different types of enhancement.
The researchers argue that although some do not employ this instrument when deductive teaching methods are used, explicit instruction can be enhanced by the tool in question. Input enhancement employed in combination with explicit instruction can facilitate grammar learning and mastering the use of English articles, particularly.
Input enhancement has been evaluated in terms of its applicability to different types of skill formation. Various enhancement methods have also been analyzed in detail to identify their relevance. Fatemipour and Moharamzadeh (2015) explored the effectiveness of oral enhancement and claimed that it proved to be more effective than the written form. The findings show that oral enhancement can be a valuable technique, but it is often ignored by educators. At the same time, the researchers add that this tool can be more effective when used after the provision of other types of enhancement. Gascoigne (2006) claims that various modes to enhance students’ noticing should be used to facilitate their grammar learning.
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These findings are instrumental in the development of the intervention for the present study. It is apparent that the focus on only four structures (a/an indefinite articles and some/any determiners) is beneficial as it will ensure effective learning and positive outcomes. The value of detailed instruction is obvious, so input enhancement will be facilitated by the provision of comprehensive details regarding the assignment. Finally, some different types of tools and prompts will be provided, and visual enhancement is central to this study. However, the audial enhancement will be provided to ensure that the needs of students with different learning styles will be met. The audial reinforcement will be mainly rested upon the provision of detailed instructions and some examples.
Colour-Coding and Grammar Learning
The use of color is a typical technique used within the scope of the multisensory approach (Schneider & Kulmhofer, 2016). In the context of the present study, the multisensory approach is interpreted as the combination of techniques engaging reading and memorizing faculties as well as color perception. Grammar is taught with the help of colorful grids aimed at drawing learners’ attention and helping them to memorize certain materials. Pam and Karimi (2016) argue that color-coding has become a common practice in grammar learning as modern research offers a bulk of evidence to show the effectiveness of this tool.
Researchers describe some of the possible activities learners are encouraged to conduct when learning grammar. The focus is on the utilization of color and the verbalization of new grammatical forms. Schneider and Kulmhofer (2016) emphasize that this instrument is effective with beginning and struggling students of foreign language learning. Moreover, Hamavandy and Golshan (2015) found no statistically significant evidence concerning the effectiveness of output or a combination of input and output. Students displayed better results when exposed to the proper input, and the poor performance of the learners exposed to output indicates that input enhancement is a helpful facilitator of grammar learning.
Apart from the incorporation of color-coding into activities and assignments, this technique is widely used in teachers’ feedback that is regarded as an important part of the teaching process. Hosseini (2015) focused on the association between the utilization of color in explicit and implicit corrective feedback and students’ use of English articles. Importantly, colorful explicit feedback proved to be effective in teaching indefinite articles while the positive correlation was absent for the definite article use. As far as implicit feedback is concerned, the use of color had no effect as students failed to use articles correctly.
Hosseini (2015) suggests that such results can be rooted in the participants’ low level of knowledge. The students noticed the errors but were unable to correct them. Therefore, it is possible to state that color-coding is highly effective in explicit feedback and has a positive influence on students’ learning in implicit feedback. In the latter case, color-coding facilitates students’ noticing, which is one of the premises for learning.
Apart from existing poor knowledge outlined by Hosseini (2015) as one of the reasons for the inconclusive outcome of the intervention, there might also be other factors to be reckoned with. Dwyer and Moore (1995) argue that color-coding has a different effect on students based on their level of field dependency. Dwyer and Moore (1995) operationalize field dependency as a student’s ability to derive meaning from the context and systematize knowledge with little to no guidance.
Field independent (FID) students are typically capable of singling out the essential in the text information while field-dependent students (FD) struggle to make such a distinction. It was hypothesized that FD students might benefit from color-coding when learning grammar since they need more cues and pointers from the educator. In this case, the findings confirming the null hypothesis would imply that there is a viable solution to the issue of field dependency.
However, Dwyer and Moore (1995) discovered that while both groups (FID and FD students) benefitted from color-coding to a certain extent, the improvements in the latter group were small and insignificant. Dwyer and Moore (1995) rationalize the outcome by claiming that FD learners were possibly experiencing figure-ground confusion due to a complex stimulus. The subject matter offered for learning was already challenging enough to prompt an active thinking process. FID learners were able to perceive and comprehend the original material through the lens of the color-coding system, which enhanced their learning experiences.
On the other hand, FD learners had to become familiar with the color-coding system on top of completing the task, which might have only doubled the complexity of the venture. Another explanation for their poorer results might be that the colorful illustrations were not sufficient or consistent with their existing skills and faculties.
What is interesting is that color coding might actually help learners change their attitudes toward the process. When Dwyer and Moore speak of two categories of learners – field-independent and field-dependent, they do not consider these labels as a determinist. On the contrary, the very rationale of experimenting with teaching methods is to change the paradigm and help learners to be more in control of what they are doing.
Dwyer and Moore (1998) also investigate the effect of color-coding on the locus of control in students. Dwyer and Moore (1998) operationalize locus of control as a form of self-appraisal. Students with an internal locus of control tend to think that they determine the outcomes of their studies and that their performance depends on their efforts (Dwyer & Moore, 1998). Dwyer and Moore (1998) discovered that color-coding has not only improved learning outcomes but also helped students to shift their locus of control to themselves.
Therefore, by completing a task successfully due to the new teaching method (color-coding), those students were more likely to keep up the good work. In the context of the present study, self-appraisal and internal locus of control might mean the persistence of the same level of activity after the first test. In the case of the successful color incorporation, it is expected that the post-test results gauged with a delay would also be positive.
Aside from the learner categories, another aspect that needs to be factored in is the use of color itself. The question arises as to whether achromatic colors (black, white, and shades of grey) are better than chromatic colors for teaching a second language. Dwyer and Moore (1995) concluded that chromatic colors proved to be a better visual aid than their achromatic counterpart. This hypothesis is confirmed by a similar, more recent study by Kohler (2009) that demonstrated that using colors indeed was more beneficial than using only black and white. The study by Kohler (2009) may be especially relevant for the present research as it focuses on teaching articles using color codes.
The only difference is that Kohler (2009) investigates the issue in relation to the German language. The researcher speculates that perhaps one of the reasons why using colors shows better efficiency is the versatility of the method. A black and white color scheme may only give one so many options while other colors give an educator more freedom to encode teaching materials (Kohler, 2009). Further, chromatic colors draw attention, which is especially important for the first step in the input process – noticing.
As far as the present research is concerned, the review of the literature on color-coding in grammar learning provides numerous valuable insights into the matter. The intervention will incorporate some of the elements of previous studies. The color scheme will aim at the development of a relaxed and positive atmosphere to facilitate the learning process. Technology use will be limited to the provision of instructions. Since modern learners rely heavily on technology, it is necessary to use this feature when developing the intervention.
First and foremost, the impact of specific colors on learners’ ability to memorize or notice grammar units requires further research. Neurobiologists have identified certain colors that are most noticeable or can evoke certain emotions (Reid & Usrey, 2013). Nevertheless, the application of these findings to foreign language acquisition has received little attention. It can be necessary to pay attention to the influence of color on the emotional state of people as the emotional load plays an important role in language acquisition.
Researchers agree that people of different cultural backgrounds tend to benefit from dissimilar teaching methods (Choudhury, 2014; Richards & Rodgers, 2014). Simply put, there is hardly a teaching method that would prove effective for each and every student. Hence, it becomes necessary to heed such demographic characteristics as age and gender can be influential. Some research has already been implemented, and the peculiarities of certain groups have been identified, but this field is far from being exhausted (Schenck, 2014). This implies that the search for viable alternatives to more traditional teaching methods might still be relevant, with color-coding being one of them. Clearly, the peculiarities of every language that is being taught should be considered in terms of the most effective use of color-coding.
Another knowledge gap to be filled is whether color-coding actually adds an unnecessary level of complexity to the learning experience. As discovered by Dwyer and Moore (1995), learners who are less independent in their approach to studying do not benefit greatly from color-coding. Thus, two questions arise: (1) whether color coding is appropriate as a whole; (2) and if the educator decides to go down this path, what materials should be used to eliminate stress and confusion. It has been acknowledged that only a limited number of stimuli should be highlighted so that effective learning could occur (Richards & Reppen, 2014).
In a case with articles training, this can be a challenge for the instructor who will have to decide whether all target grammar units should be stressed. It is also essential to remember the pragmatic aspects of article use. Educators may be enticed to highlight articles that have different meanings while others may try to concentrate on a single connotation.
Another question to be answered is how to reach the balance between verbal and visual information. Dwyer and Moore (1995) state that their findings confirm the so-called verbal-loop hypothesis. The said hypothesis shows that people tend to encode visual images verbally, i.e. no matter how good an illustration or a visual is, a person is likely to try to conceptualize it using words. In the context of grammar teaching, this premise implies that while color-coding might be a valid concept, educators should really be thoughtful about presentation methods.
If it is only color-coding and little to no verbal instructions such as a legend, students might become confused. On the contrary, relying on verbal instructions with very few visuals compromises the necessity of the method altogether. In summation, the issue of optimizing encoded information needs to be addressed to make the configuration usable and comprehensible.
Aside from the verbal vs. visual ratio, one more gap that may not be exactly filled with recent findings is the use of color. As has been mentioned before, both Dwyer and Moore (1995) and Kohler (2009) agree that chromatic colors are more appropriate for incorporation than black and white schemes. If suppose, this assumption is correct, then it is only reasonable to ask as to what color schemes should be used in terms of hue, intensity, and other properties.
Another possible issue that future research might consider addressing is the perception of color by disabled students. In recent years, there has been a huge focus on making education more accessible for demographics with varying learning abilities. The question arises as to if the color-coding method stays, how exactly it can be adjusted to accommodate students with poor eyesight and color-blind students. This issue is important to tackle as their special needs might compromise the efficiency of the teaching method.
Lastly, one more aspect for future investigation concerns students’ emotional reactions and feedback to the new method. It has already been mentioned that colour-coding might play a mediating role in building up students’ self-confidence (Dwyer & Moore 1998). However, one may also suspect that there might be a wider range of emotions associated with novel methods. For instance, Hall and Sidio-Hall (2010) studied the effect of color-coding knowledge maps in students with varying levels of anxiety. The findings showed that the group of students that was trusted with color-coding materials on their own improved their learning performance.
However, anxiety played a mediating role in shaping the outcomes. The learners with low anxiety felt better about a novel and unexpected task and performed better. Their counterparts with higher anxiety levels, however, did not show improvements that would be as significant. Thus, there is a need for further research to address the issue of emotional perception in students using color-coded materials.
It is necessary to note that foreign language teaching has undergone numerous changes during the past centuries. These transformations are mainly due to the changing needs of society and new roles communication acquires. Modern educators tend to combine different approaches and develop interventions and programs that could ensure the best outcomes for learners. As far as modern foreign language learning is concerned, input enhancement in grammar acquisition is acquiring momentum these days. Such concepts as attention, memory, motivation and emotional state are entailed in the learning process.
Color-coding is one of the techniques aimed at enhancing learners’ input and facilitating language acquisition. Research in this area has started to unwind, but there are still various gaps in the knowledge base related to color-coding in grammar learning which requires further investigation. The efficiency of the method is compromised by the lack of research on how different categories of learners react to color-coded materials. In particular, it is unclear how the new method interacts with such concepts as a locus of control and anxiety. Lastly, educators have yet to come up with clear technical guidelines on what colors to use and how to use them.
Dwyer, F. M., & Moore, D. M. (1995). Effect of color coding and test type (visual/verbal) on students identified as possessing different field dependence levels. Web.
Hall, R. H., & Sidio-Hall, M. A. (1994). The effect of student color coding of knowledge maps and test anxiety on student learning. The Journal of Experimental Education, 62(4), 291-302.
Moore, D. M., & Dwyer, F. M. (1998). Effect of color-coding on locus of control. Web.