Genre and classroom practice

Genre, as defined by SFL, is “a staged, goal-oriented, purposeful activity in which speakers engage as members of our culture” (Martin). For EFL classes, the implications of this definition are problematic for classroom practice. Apart from cultural factors affecting classroom pedagogy (see Holliday, A., 1994, Appropriate Methodology and Social Context, C.U.P.), I’ve been interested in how perceptions of the classroom as a genre affect the ‘goal-oriented’ part of the definition. Basically, what is the goal of the EFL classroom?

Quite often in EFL classes within a Japanese context there can be a clash between these different perception of ‘goal’ for the classroom. Recently, I had a new Business English student starting. As background, I was told the student a high-level English speaker in upper management of an electronics company and wanted to focus on native-speed listening and communication. As an activity, we tried matching famous companies with their perceived qualities as brands. It soon became apparent that our expectations of the activity completely differed. Within a Business context, we might expect some discussion and justification for opinions given or decisions made. For this student, however, the goal of the ‘classroom’ was to give the correct answer. Which she did. In single-words.

For that student, the activity was successfully completed. For myself, it was not. This is a common occurrence in a Japanese context where learners do not focus on the content but solely on the surface grammar. This can result in exchanges such as this from another low-level student full of false starts, backtracking, rephrasing as the student searches for the ‘correct’ answer:

Q: What did you have for dinner last night?

A: I? have…had…I had?…I had pizza.

The appropriate answer as an informal exchange would be just ‘Pizza’. This is where I think a Systemic Functional approach can be particularly beneficial: to raise awareness of how the lexico-grammar is affected by the stratum above and below and that the ‘correct’ answer depends on the wider context.

2 thoughts on “Genre and classroom practice

  1. I am really enjoying reading your posts. I have just started learning about SFL recently (while at Uni), so these have been very useful to give another view.

    I wanted to query (as a very new at this person) that I’m not sure why you would consider ‘I had pizza’ to be too formal for this exchange? As a native speaker of English – this is the way I speak, even in ‘informal’ settings. Besides which – if you’re in a classroom, even the subtle power differential will affect people.

    • Oh no, what terrible grammar! How embarrassing!

      I wanted to query (as a very ‘new at this’ person) why you would consider ‘I had pizza’ to be too formal for this exchange. […]

      I changed words around in the original post, then pressed ‘Post’ before properly proofreading it. My apologies.

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