The Structural and the Direct Method are closely related and the former is an approach to the later. The Structural Approach and the Direct Method of teaching should go hand in hand for making the teaching of English more effective. The Direct Method gets vitality through the Structural Approach and the Structural Approach becomes effective through the Direct Method.
The word ‘structure’ means the order in which words are arranged in a sentence. The particular order or arrangements of words is also called sentence pattern. English language is primarily a language of structures or structural patterns and every word in it has a fixed place in a sentence.
One can hardly change the placement of such words without bringing about any change in its meaning. Take for example the sentence, “Ram killed Ravan”. If we change the position of words and rearrange them as “Ravan killed Ram” the meaning becomes quite different. Hence various ways of arrangement of the same words would convey different meanings.
The Structural Approach to the teaching of English naturally, therefore, gives stress on the teaching of important structures or structural patterns of the English language. Modern research findings also corroborate this new linguistic approach of emphasizing structures in teaching English as a foreign language.
Essential Structural Patterns and Words
There is stipulated period for teaching and learning English or “Essential English”, according to some linguists. Only the important structures which the pupil will need in his every day life either in speaking or writing should be taught at the school stage. Essential English consists of 235 graded structures, each one having some importance in learning the language with a view to enabling pupils to have a reasonable command of English. This limited number of structures are to be practiced.
We find that some words are more frequently used than others in English sentences. The words, for example are: in, the, a, an, in, on, that, this etc. These words are called structural words or functional words. They are called as such because structures of these words occupy certain key positions in the sentences. They even act as signals for other words which come subsequently in such sentences.
English language is a language of such signaling devices, whether the structural words indicate the structure or the pattern of sentences. But strongly enough structural words playing vital roles in the language have no definite meaning of their own. They are, therefore, called “empty words” or their “meaning is largely determined by the particular sentence-patterns in which they are used.
These words are commonly classified as follows:
(1) The article-a, an, the.
(2) The preposition in, on, under, to, from, etc…
(3) The auxiliaries-can, may, might, are, is, etc…
(4 The adjectives-some, many, few, that, little, any, etc…
(5) The adverbs-there, here, sometimes, always, etc…
Selection and Gradation
What to teach first and what next is the most important thing in the teaching of English. Selection and gradation are, therefore, essential. But here a lot of things are taken into consideration.
(1) The pupil’s level of comprehension.
(2) His age.
(3) Time available for teaching.
(4) Teacher’s ability.
(5) Availability of teaching materials.
(6) Simplicity level.
(7) Frequency of use.
However, the structural words usually having the last three characteristics are given priority in selection and gradation. It is natural that we select the easier one, one that is frequently used and one that can be actually demonstrated in the class. For instance. “I am walking” can be more easily demonstrated than “I walk in the morning everyday”.
Similarly, “The pen is on the table”, is easier for demonstration than “He is going on a journey”. Thus the teacher has to teach tenses in the following order.”.
(a Present Continuous, (b) Simple past, (c) Simple present, (d) Past continuous, (e) Present perfect, (f) Past perfect.
Drilling of structures
Like food habits and dress habits, the correct use of language is a matter of speech habit. The Structural Approach is expected to form the pupil’s language habits and through drilling this objective is achieved. Each structure is repeated several times before anew structure is again introduced. Thorough drilling fixes the language points.
In the minds of the learner. By repeated use of the structures, the child can learn them well, though he is not able to explain them grammatically. The pupil is not expected to use wide vocabulary, but the use of structures by him is the chief aim of teaching English.
According to the Structural Approach, English teaching should start with oral work and listening should precede speaking. The oral work should precede reading and writing. Then the pupil will be acquainted with sound of the language and interpreted written symbols into sounds. Though more emphasis is to be given on speech, reading and writing will not be postponed for a long time.
Reading and writing, as most useful skills should be developed in due course. The child having good speech habits is able to learn to read and write quite well. So the structural Approach at the early stage of the language learning must be aural-oral.
Teaching becomes effective in appropriate situation. Any structure conveys an expected meaning only when it is used in some situations. The meaning is impressed upon the learner when any particular situation is repeatedly referred to by the teacher. The situations are made use of the real life. Therefore, Billows has rightly said, “The material of the language lesson is not language but life itself; the language is the instrument we use to deal with the material, slices of experiences.”
The situations used by the teacher in the classroom are classified into four categories, in order of preference.
(1) The first category consists of the class-room situation which the teacher can see and teach directly. The teacher may select from among them suiting to the teaching points. He may start with the dress, furniture equipments in the class-room.
(2) The second category is formed out of known situations outside the class. These situations are available in the local environment, but not present before their sight. The teacher should so organize the situation that pupils will be able to recollect them from their own experiences.
(3) This third category involved certain situations of which the learners may not have any practical experience. But they can easily imagine with the help of pictures, sketches, maps, globes, models, etc. Actions and dramatization also help the teacher to teach certain unfamiliar and difficult concepts.
(4) This category of situations consists of distant and indirect experiences. The teacher links the words or structures with the images already fixed in his mind. Here no audio-visual aids are used.
Broad Principles followed in the Structural Approach
The following principles are to be considered while reading English according to the Structural Approach.
(i) Extensive oral work is essential for the drilling of a few simple structures.
(ii) Only one structure should be taken up at a time and the teacher will proceed to the second structure after the first is thoroughly acquired.
(iii) Natural situations in the classroom should be utilized to the maximum for making oral work effective.
(iv) Structures taught earlier should be recapitulated from time to time, especially in the beginning of teaching new structures.
(v) Teacher should give adequate attention to the pronunciation of the pupils.
(vi) He should emphasize the proper loud reading by students.
(vii) He should use cards, charts, tables, etc. for the purpose of teaching, reading and application.
(viii) New structures may be found out from the textual lessons and be emphasized in writing and speaking.
(ix) Teachers should know drawing substitution tables and use them for drilling both in writing and speech.
(x) In order to make the class dynamic and participative, “chain action” should be organized by the teacher during oral drilling of structures. The teacher has to expose the students to experiences, which can save the class from monotony of the oral work. To teach various language items, he should use different actions and situations.