Effects of Comprehension and Production-Based Tasks on Learning Morphosyntax by University EFL Students
Plan du site au format XML


Archive PDF


العدد 22 جوان 2016 N°22 Juin 2016

Effects of Comprehension and Production-Based Tasks on Learning Morphosyntax by University EFL Students

Nasser Gardaoui
  • resume:Ar
  • resume
  • Abstract
  • Auteurs
  • Texte intégral
  • Bibliographie


يعرض هذا المقال نتائج دراسة تجريبية لمقارنة مقاربتين مختلفتين لتدريس قواعد الازمنة. اجريت الدراسة على قسمين في السداسي الاول سنة اولى جامعية. تلقى الفوج الاول مقاربة تعتمد   فقط على القدرات الاستعابية للطالب والثانية تعتمد على القدرات الادائية زيادة على القدرات الاستعابية.  اظهرت نتائج المتوسطاث الحسابية تفوق نسبي للمجموعة الثانية واظهر استخدام تحليل التباين الاحادي عدم وجود فروق دات دلالة احصائية. بداغوجيا تدعم النتائج انشاء واستعمال نشاطات اللاستعاب والاداء اللغوي في القسم.ويجب القيام بابحاث تخص مواضيع لغوية اخرى في اماكن مشابهة من اجل معرفة نشاطات الاستعاب والاداء اللغوي الاكثر فاعلية.


كلمات مفتاحية:النحو، استيعاب، ا داء، وحدات لغوية. 

L’article expose les résultats d’une étude quasi expérimentale visant à évaluer l’effet relatif de deux différentes approches grammaticales sur l’appropriation des temps et aspects grammaticaux. Deux groupes d’étudiants Algériens, inscrits en premier semestre à l’université, ont participé à la recherche. Le premier groupe a reçu un enseignement basé sur la pratique de la compréhension et un deuxième groupe a reçu un enseignement opérant sur la compréhension et la production langagière. Les statistiques descriptives semblent indiquer une meilleure performance du deuxième groupe mais les analyses statistiques(Anova) réalisées sur les moyennes des deux groupes ne montrent pas de différence statistique significative.Pédagogiquement, les résultats de l’étude semblent soutenir la conception et l’utilisation des tâches associant compréhension et production en classe. Il est nécessaire d'effectuer des recherches sur les autres aspects de la langue dans d'autres contextes similairesafin de savoir quelles activités de compréhension et de production sont les plus efficaces,                Mots-clés : grammaire, compréhension, production, formes linguistiques.

This article presents the results of an experimental study investigating the differential effects of two grammar-teaching options on learning tense and grammatical aspect. The treatment conditions were implemented with young adult Algerian EFL learners in two first-semester classes at the university level.The first group was given comprehension practice only. The second group was given both comprehension and production practice.Descriptive statistics indicated that the second group outperformed the first group. However, the statistical analysis (Anova) revealed that the instructional effect did not amount to statistically significant learning gains learning gains. Pedagogically, the results of the study seem to support the use of output practice as well as input-based practice in the classroom.  

It is necessary to carry out research on other aspects of the language in other similar contexts in order to know which activities of comprehension or production are most effective.

Key words: grammar, comprehension, production, linguistic forms.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Nasser Gardaoui

Maitre assistant A Département  D’Anglais Centre Universitaire Ain Temouchent


EFL teachers working mainly with adult learners have been encouraged to employ communicative ways of teaching in their classrooms. The focal point of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) was almost exclusively on focus on providing learners withopportunities for meaningful interaction through the use of spontaneous speech during pair and/or group work.Many of the issues raised by (CLT) are still relevant today, though teachers who are relatively new to the profession may not be familiar with them. One controversial aspect of (CLT) is the role of grammar instruction. More recently,given the theoretical and empirical evidence, which supports some formof grammar teaching in the classroom, particularly from intermediate to advanced learners, teachers’ main concern has shifted to how to teach grammatical structures to such students.

Research on communicative classroom context, and grammar-free foreign language’ (FL) programmes have shown that CLT-trained students have ‘significant shortcomings in the accuracy of their language’(1﴿; they continue to have trouble with grammatical accuracy in their oral and written production. Though few researchers would deny the importance of communicatively-oriented language instruction, many now recognize that it needs to be complemented with some attention to linguistic form. The question remains, however, as to how best to achieve this. The exact nature of this kind of ‘attention to linguistic form’ and the various forms it can take  are still far from being clear and studies comparing approaches to grammar teaching are still few and far between.

Furthemore, there is no clear agreement on definitions and procedures to implement this attention to form.(2﴿If learners are to benefit from alternative approaches to grammar instruction form-focussed instruction, as  professionals we need to better understand when and how focus on form occurs in the classroom.This study aimed to contribute to current understanding of the role of formal classoom instruction by extending theoretical and empirical work on the relationship between two grammar teaching options.

This article will begin by first  presenting the theoretical, pedagogical arguments for the facilitative effects of form focused instruction and synthesizing findings from  research that has investigated two particular options . It will then present an experimental study on the effects of form-focused instruction by comparing a comprehension-based instructional approach to another instructional approach where comprehension and production practice are combined. The target grammar item is tense and grammatical aspect.

2. Formal Instruction and Language Learning 

Research comparing instructed with uninstructed language learning identified clear advantages for formal instruction compared to naturalistic linguistic exposureon the rate of learners’ language learning and on learners’ ultimate levels of attainment(3﴿. In an extensive meta-analysis, Norris and Ortega(4﴿summarised findings from fifty-one studies whose data came from four distinct types of instructional environments. Norris and Ortega found that explicit form-focused instructional environments resulted in more accurate and advanced learning outcomes than those who followed implicit approaches.

The question in foreign-language learning (FLL) is no longer one of justifying the facilitative role of formal instruction, but one of deciding which type of formal instruction is more effective in developing the learner‘s linguistic system.In addition to perspectives from language learning theory, there are also pedagogic reasons in favour of L2 Form-Focused Instruction (FFI) in the language syllabus. As noted in the introductory section, experiential learning approaches growing  out of  of (CLT)  such as thematically-oriented, project-geared approaches which informed  the new curriculum framework and  program development  of  English Language teaching (ELT) carried out in the late 1990’s and the beginning of the twenty first century by the Ministry of Education in Algeria, were criticised for not helping learners develop high levels of grammatical accuracy.  The idea that Foreign Language teaching and learning(FLL),requires a certain amount of focus on form, which is particularly helpful in promoting accuracy, has gained recognition in the last ten to fifteen years. Two proposals have been made in the research literature to overcome the shortcomings offocusing solely on meaning and communication. One is to encourage learners to focus and notice language forms in input .The other is to provide learners with opportunities for language production.

At the outset, it should be stressed that (FFI) (also known as focus on form instruction) is used to characterize a wider range of instructional approaches. It is important to clarify the terminology used by different researchers to refer to instruction that deliberately focuses on the formal properties of language with the aim of facilitating the development of the target language. A review of research literature on this current issue reveals that there is a lack consistency in the definition of the term, with terms such asfocus on form instruction, ‘Focus on Form’, and ‘Focus on Forms’, being used sometimesinterchangeably, sometimes contrastively.(5﴿         

The first distinction with regard to the type of instruction can be made between that FFI- and Meaning-Focused Instruction (MFI). (FFI) has been distinguished from MFI which focuses exclusively on meaning exchange (meaningful input) during classroom instruction and no overt reference is made to rules and language forms.(6﴿   

Focus on form (FonF)  refers to ‘an occasional shift of attention to linguistic codefeatures-by the teacher and/or one or more students-triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production’.(7﴿     Focus on FormS differs in that it ‘refers to instruction that seeks to isolate linguistic forms in order to teach them one at a time’ within the context of   a planned approach to FFI. (8﴿   

Research throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century has expanded focuson form definitions.For example, in the late 90’s Spada(9﴿introduced the term FFI, defining it as ‘any effort to draw learners’ attention to form within communicative and meaning-based contexts’.The  model provided by Ellis (10﴿conceptualized form-focused instruction as ‘any planned or incidental  instructional activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic form, where ‘form’ stands for grammatical structures, lexical items, phonological features and even sociolinguistic and pragmatic features of language’.

Thus, definitions go from the narrow one as the definition provided by Long and Robinson and interpreted as meaning a reactive, unplanned approach used to draw learners’ attention to form; to broader definitions such as the ones which allows for planning of the elements to be focused on in order to attract the learner’s attention. The research reported here closely adhered to the broader conceptions of FFI as used by Spada and Ellis; that is, we primarily considered instructional approaches that relate to a planned explicit approach to FFI.

Apart from explicitness and planning classoom instruction has also been operationalized as proceeding in terms of choices related to two components: exposure to relevant comprehensible input, and opportunities for production practice. Each of these components present multiple possible options for implementation, and they can be combined in various ways in a single instructional intervention. In this study two different form focussed options will be considered: comprehension-based instruction and production-based instruction. From the teacher’s point of view, the key issue here is this: to what extent should instruction be directed at developing form-meaning connections through comprehension practice only as opposed to providing opportunities for learners to practice in production tasks. This is discussed in the subsequent section.

2. Comprehension Practice versus Production Practice Form Focused Instruction

Comprehension-based -also referred to as reception-based, input-based- approaches have built on an argument for language development as a natural outcome of language comprehension. In other words, language development both in comprehension and production results from comprehension practice alone. This emphasis on the importance of relevant input comprehension in promoting language learning has its origins in Krashen’s Input Hypothesis; the hypothesis that holds that language learning develops in a receptive modality and depends entirely on comprehensible input. The early comprehension-based methods inspired by Krashen’. Input Hypothesis (e.g., Natural Approach) recommended the delay of practice (speaking) in foreign language teaching until the teacher is convinced that the language forms which are being taught are fully comprehended.(11). Classroom instruction was limited to implicit exposure only (listening to speech and reading texts); that is, no attempt was made to manipulate the input to focus on particular grammatical structures.

Contemporary input-based methods gradually shifted to more focused techniques that manipulate the input to make  a particular grammatical feature more salient and thus more likely to be noticed by the learner.Various pedagogical input-based instructional techniques have been devised to help learners pay attention to grammatical forms while also providing them with the input they need. In this study, three types of input-based instructional activities are used in the instructional material to illustrate the comprehension-based option, including input flood, input enhancement, and consciousness-raising (see section 4.4). Another input-based option for targeting problematic grammatical forms is Processing Instruction (PI) and Structured Input (SI)(12).. PI unlike other input enhancement techniques (e.g., input flood, text enhancement), is much more explicit: learners process information via comprehension practice and are expected to pay conscious attention to specially designed input i.e., structured input’ (see section 4.4).

Although input-based approaches employ various procedures, what these have in common, however, students are not at any stage engaged in activities requiring them to produce this structure. In contrast to reception-based approaches to classroom instruction, production- or output -based approaches emphasize the importance of building into instruction opportunities for production practice.

As a component of traditional (ELT) methodology, production practice encompasses different kinds of language-related performance but some general design choices are considered basic. The most common and typical lesson follows the Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP) procedure.(13﴿Many teachers upgrade the importance of classroom activities for eliciting the production the target structures either in speaking or writing (for example repetition, manipulation,and blank-filling exercises). However, as noted earlier, receptive-based methods reject any role whatsoever for traditional practice-oriented instruction on the assumption that language proficiency results from comprehension rather that production practice.

Most recent approaches to (FL) teaching and learning,however, have shifted from production practice as a result of ‘acquired competence’to part of the processof learning’.(14)  As Gass and Selinker(15) explained, the standard and traditional viewpoint on language production is that it is not a way of creating L2 knowledge, but a way of practicing already-existing L2 knowledge.

According to Swain’s (16) Comprehensible Output Hypothesis opportunities to production practice are as important to linguistic development as opportunities to comprehension practice. Swain argued that comprehension and production have different psycholinguistic requirements; learners may well understand the meaning of an utterance without a full linguistic analysis of the input, but that when they want to convey meaning (produce language forms) they have to experience syntactic processing and pay attention to the grammaticality of their messages. Production practice, from this perspective has three major functions: (1) a hypothesis-testing function, (2) a metalinguistic function, and (3) a noticing function. In terms of pedagogical consequences (section 4.4) this position implies that in order to pomote their  language learning learners need to be ‘pushed’ from semantic processing mode by requiring them to encode comprehensible output and pay attention to the grammaticality of their written and  spoken messages. The term production practice, therefore, is used in a wider meaning than that used in the traditional PPP sequence, in which practice refers to a mechanical drill-like activity such as repetition and manipulation.

How researchers have viewed and examined the role the of comprehension and production practice in language learning. There have been a few attempts to confirm the effectiveness of combining the two forms of practice for grammar teaching.We shall introduce two strands of research on the effectiveness of comprehension and production practice: input-processing studies and comprehension vs production studies.

The input-processing studies carried out VanPatten.﴿and his colleagues involved experimental comparisons of an input-based instructional technique named (PI) and traditional production (output)-based instruction. These studies provided evidence that learners who received processing instruction-which excludes any kind of traditional grammar explanation and production practice- performed as well on comprehension and even production tasks as those who had traditional production-based instruction.(17﴿In other words, language development both in comprehension and production results from comprehension practice alone.  

The arguments for the importance of production practice have been supported by several comprehension versus production studies (see below). Although studies within this line of research have contributed to our understanding of how comprehension and production practice affect learners’ comprehension, production of target forms, and structures, it remains unclear which of these two forms of practice is more effective.It must be remembered that these studies have employed various designs, investigated different output-based options and compared them with some specific input-based techniques. Therefore, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions. They can, however, be cassified into the following categories:

i)Findings by  Erlam(18) found that indicated that  comprehension(input) -based and production (output)-based instructions are equally effective in promoting learning.         

ii)Studies by Allen(19﴿;Toth(20﴿  ; Morgan-Short and Bowden(21﴿ suggested the superiority of output-based over input-based instruction

iii)A study by DeKeyser and Sokalski (22﴿   found that ‘comprehension and production skills are to some extent learned separately’i.e., instruction via input-based practice will only serve to develop learners’ability to comprehend the target feature, not to produce it.

4. The Study

Motivated by encouraging literature and research this study aimed at finding out whether comprehension and production practice in isolation or in combination will result in learning gains as measured by learners’ performance on a variety of reception and production tasks. It examined whether drawing learner‘s attention to specific linguistic features while engaged in comprehension-focused tasks and a combination of comprehension and production practice will affect their learning target linguistic features. Moreover, the study compares the effects of comprehension practice only versus comprehension and production practice on learners‘linguistic development to the effects of combined use of comprehension and production practice.

4.1Design and Research Questions

This study employed a quasi-experimental research designand was conducted by the participants’ regular teacher in the course of normally scheduled classes. The students remained in their original groups as allocated at the beginning of the academic year. Quasi-experimental designs are less disruptive to participants’ normal teaching and learning since they are constructed from classes, which already exist. Two groups of learners were compared with reference to the learning outcomes achieved by production and/or comprehension practice of English tense-aspect forms: The subjects were divided into groups according to the type of practice given: The first group (Comp-Group: n =19) was given comprehension practice only. The second group (Comp plus Prod Group: n =19) was given both comprehension and production practice. Contrary to other studies, the present study follows a pretest, treatment, and immediate posttest design to measure the effects of the two types of treatment. Based on the research reviewed above,the study posed the following research questionand hypotheses:

Research Question: Does a combined use of comprehension and production practice result in greater learning than when only comprehension-based instruction is provided?

Research hypotheses:

 Hypothesis 1: a comprehension-focused instructional treatment would lead to improved performance on tasks involving the comprehension and production of English tense and grammatical aspect as measured by their respective tasks.

 Hypothesis 2:a comprehension-focused instructional treatment that incorporates production practice would lead to improved performance on tasks involving the comprehension and production of English tense and grammatical aspect as measured by their respective tasks.

Hypothesis 3: a comprehension-focused instructional treatment that incorporates production practice will enable learners to comprehend and to produce English tense and grammatical aspect more effectively than comprehension-based instruction only.

4.2 Subjects

     The present study was carried out in (EFL) context at the university level. Participants were undergraduate students taking their first semester in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) course in English Studies. Participants averaged about 19 years of age.  Their level in English should correspond to their years of instruction and to personal effort in their studies. Students attended one of two intact classes, all of which were selected to test the hypotheses. Two classes were assigned to the treatment conditions (comprehension practice only versus comprehension and production practice). A total of 38 students (those who had attended all treatment/testing sessions) were included in the final analyses of results.

4.3 Targeted Linguistic Structures 

Tense and grammatical aspect were chosen as target features of the study for several reasons. Firstly, the acquisition of tense and aspect figure among the central grammatical categories in L2 learning Secondly, they occupy a prominent place in the ‘grammar syllabus ‘  of the Licence degree .Thirdly, teaching experience shows that tense and aspect constitute a major source of errors for  students at different stages.  As noted by one researcher, English tenses seem to be a problematic area for Algerian students ‘who show limited use of the various tense forms and uses for expressing their ideas’.(23﴿this linguistic feature is relatively complex and places heavy cognitive demands on the students. After the English article system, the acquisition of tense and aspect  is the most problematic area of English grammar for English as a Foreign Language (EFL ) students.

It is, however, still unclear why learners perceive these linguistic structures as problematic. Recent accounts of L2 tense- aspect  acquisition research proposed several factors  as responsible for the difficulties in learning to use tense and aspect including: universal (and possibly innate) predisposition by learners to mark some salient grammaticizable notions, (2)First Language( L1) influence, (3) individual learner characteristics, (4) input and interaction, and (5) instructional variables.(24﴿

It is beyond the scope of this study to solve controversial issues concerning the learning/teaching of temporal expression in English. This study attempts to situate the concerns of learning morphosyntactic strutures in a pedagogical context. The focus is on the role of instructional intervention on the development of a learner’s tense-aspect system.

4.4 Instructional Treatments

Two sets of teaching materials were prepared on the basis of grammar handbooks, coursebooks and online grammar sites contained the same number of activities, oral/written activities. The set of materials cover sixteen 90-minute classes spread over the period of four weeks and took place during regularly-scheduled classes of grammar. The instruction involved the following form focused macro options:Negative evidence in the form of metalinguistic information and explicit rule explanation,comprehension-based and production-based instruction .Explicit rule explanation was made equal for both treatment groups so that the difference between them would be limited to the presence or absence of learner output. The explicit instruction sheets that were delivered to learners included conceptual explanation as to: 1) How the targeted tense is formed, 2) The basic meanings of the targeted tense and 3) The additional meanings of the targeted tense (Appendix A).

The set of materials designed for the Comp-Group  (Appendix A) consisted of activities where learners  engage with language receptively i.e. work with language input in the form of listening and reading  tasks that did not requireimmediateproduction of the targeted structure. For example, learners hear or see the target structure in the input and respond in some way to input utterances by stating whether they are true or false or by choosing the best answer from among the options presented. The reading texts, where target forms were bolded, were followed by multiple choice comprehension questions or true/false questions. Activities used both aural and written stimuli but most of them were written. In accordance with the pedagogical options available for input-based instruction, the types of input enhancement used in this instructional package included:

i) Input flood that ‘exposes learners to input rich in some specific linguistic feature’and‘requires them to process this input primarily for meaning’.(25﴿

(ii)Textual enhancement, which consists of ‘typographically highlighting a particular   grammatical structure in written passage’.(26)

(iii) Structured input tasks (also called grammar interpretation activities) that(27﴿require learners to process input which has been specially structured so as to help them understand the target item.(27﴿This activity is comprehension-based; learners hear or see the target structure in the input and respond in some way to input utterances by, for example, stating whether they are true or false; possible or impossible; by adding information or matching sentences and pictures. There is no immediate need to produce them.’(28﴿

iv) consciousness-raising exercises designed to allow students to develop an explicit knowledge of grammar without necessarily articulating grammatical rules.

The set of materials designed for the Comp plus Prod Groupconsisted of the same explicit instruction, the same set of input-based tasks covered by the input-only group. However, their focus was the production of the targeted structure. For example,where the input-only group had to choose the correct option or state  whether they are true or false, the Comp-Group were required to produce sentences.In addition the Comp plus Prod Groupworked on a number of production-based mechanical, meaningful and thencommunicative written and oral activities.The mechanical and  meaningful activities limited or controlled students’ language production while the communicative activities reflected normal communication. In line with the output hypothesis(see section 2 ) other recent output-oriented  tasks, all of which  involve language production, were also employed in the present study. They mainly included: i) Dictogloss (a form of dictation, which ‘requires learners to process the whole text at once’(29﴿. Students listen to a short text and then work individually (in pairs or in small groups) reconstruct the text from memory and some notes and ii) Input-output cyles(an integrated skills technique for language learning in which students learners  read (or listen to) a text and  individually or in pairs work  to write a reconstructed version of the text).

4.5 Testing

A pretest/posttest design was adopted to assess the impact of the two types of formal instruction on the learners‘interlanguage system. The same test was used as a pre- and posttest. The purpose of the pretest was to characterize the learners‘state of knowledge of the structures used in the study. The post-test was conducted immediately after the treatment session. The test comprised both reception and written production tasks. The following is a detailed description of the test (Appendix B):

Written gap-fill production: A grammar test covering the various English tense-aspect forms was used to assess the familiarity of (EFL) learners with these tense-aspect forms. In this test students completed a rational cloze instrument consisting of  a descriptive passage eliciting verbs from all  three simple tenses: present(12 verbs), past (6 verbs), future tense (1 verb)  and 5 aspectual forms of the present,7 aspectual forms of the past and  3 aspectual forms of the future. From the lexical aspect viewpoint, the distribution of the 34 missing verbs includes: 12 state verbs, 22 dynamic verbs (of which 18 are activity verbs and 4 accomplishment verbs).

Grammaticality judgement test (OR):In the test, the learners gave grammaticality judgments on  45 test items , half of which contained ungrammatical or problematic tense/aspect usage (29 sentences).These ungrammatical sentences were made by students during previous exams. The rest of the sentences were generated for the purpose of the test. The rationale for selecting these items was primarily pedagogical and practical rather than theoretical.

Picture description task Forthis task students looked at 8 numbered pictures telling the story of a girl involved in  various activities. Participants had to tell the story that the pictures suggest by writing sentences to describe what was happening in each of the pictures.The contexts carefully elicit the use of target language features such as the simple present and present progressive.

4. Results

To answer the research questions, the results data were analyzed to determine a) whether there were any significant changes within groups regarding their performance over time, and b) whether there were any significant differences between groups regardingtheir performance after the treatments. The alpha-level of significance p < .05 was determined prior to data collection and was used throughout the study which is a generally accepted standard for all statistical analyses for all social and education research.

4.1Comparison of baseline performances in the pretests

Pretreatment equivalence of groups in their knowledge of English verb tenses and grammatical aspect was checked by submitting the pretest scores to statistical analyses. As demonstrated in Table 1 below, the pretest Mean differences in the two groups were quite

Table1: Descriptive Statistics for Pretest

Test                   Comp-Group         Comp plus Prod Group        

                             M        SD         n               M           SD      n 

GJT                     19.52   4.68    19             19.26     4.17       19


Written gap fill  19.15     8.75   19            16.37    7.76        19


(Max = /34)

Picture               4.02     0.92       17           4.70          1.10     17



Marginal: On the GJT the pretest Mean was at 19.52 for the Comp-Group and 19.26 for the Comp plus Prod Group; On the written gap fill production task, the pretest mean score was at19.15 for the Comp-Group, and at 16.37 for the Comp plus Prod Group.

The pretest mean score was 19.50 for the Comp-Group  , and 16.37 for the Comp plus Prod Group  on the written gap fill production task.On the picture desciption task the pretest mean score was 4.02 for the Comp-Group  , and 4.70 for the Comp plus Prod Group.ANOVAs performed on pretest scores indicated that there were no statistically significant differences between the scores and that is why it can be safely concluded that learners’ performance on the reception and production of the target structure was similar  at the time of pretesting.

4.2 Comparison of Students’ Mean Performance on Pretest Posttest

For the sake of clarity, the presentation of results is divided in two parts. The first part concerns the data referring to the reception of the targeted feature, whereas the second part has been devoted to the examination of the results of the tests tapping the participants’ production of the target feature.

4.3Reception Data

 Results of scoring for reception data are presented in Table 2 the Comp plus Prod Group  experimental group  with a mean of (Mean =19.50) outperformed the Comp-Group comparison group (Mean = 18.89) on the posttest. A one-way between-groups ANOVA was conducted to explore the impact of input practice only and input-based instruction combined with output practice  on the posttest scores as measured by the grammaticality judgement posttest .The results(Table 3) showed that there was no statistically significant difference at the p<.05 level  between the mean scores in the posttest of students who received their verb tense practice through reception-based tasks in combination with production-based and those who only used  reception-based practice.

Table2 :Descriptive statistics for the pretest and posttest on reception data

Test               Comp-Group         Comp plus Prod Group        

Grammaticality Judgement(Max/36)


Number             19                             19

Mean                 19.52                         19.26                      

SD                     4.68                           4.97


Number            19                              19

Mean                18.89                         19.50                                                                         

SD                    4.14                           5.26


Table 3: One-way ANOVA on Grammaticality  Judgement test

Source of  Sums of  Degrees of  Mean square  F

variation   squares  freedom                                                   

Between    3.4803            1           3.4803        0.16

Within      808.2895       36           22.4525

Total         811.6997                                                      .                                                                    

The significance level is  p<.05


     What remained to be seen is whether the differences between the pre- and post- test for the groups were significant and attributable to the different practice methods.  Repeated Anova procedures  indicated that the mean scores were not significantly different over time (Treatment group F(1,18)= 0.02, p=0.889 ; F(1,18)= 0.02,p= 0.889 ; comparison group F(1,18)=1.15,p= 0.297) (See Appendix C for statistical tables).Thus, there was no significant loss of learning for Comp-Group group on the receptive  measures between  pretesting and   and posttesting

4.5 ProductionData

      The results of the  production tests are displayed in Table 4.This table shows that the subjects from the Comp plus Prod Group showed better performance on the written gap-fill production tests  (M = 17.39) tests  (M = 17.39) than subjects from Comp-Group  (M = 16.28).

      However, ANOVA results (table 5) revealed that there was no statistically significant d difference at the p<.05 level in test scores for the two groups. The F observed value for the effect of treatment the  is 0.56 .This amount of F-value at 1 and 36 degrees of freedom is lower than the critical F, that is, 4.11 for both tests.This might indicate that both types of instruction are capable of bringing about important changes in the learners’ performance as as measured by the written gap-fill production posttest. On the the picture description task, table 4   reveals that the subjects from the Comp plus Prod Group   showed better performance  (M = 5.75) than subjects from the  Comp-Group  (M = 5.52). The ANOVA results shown in Table 6 indicated that there was a statistically significant difference at the p<.05 level in scores for the two  group

Table 4 :Descriptive Statistics for the Pretest/Posttest

   Test      Comp-Group   Comp plus Prod Group                                        

Written gap fill production(Max = /34)


Number           19                                 19

Mean              19.15                             16.37

SD                   8.75                              7.75


Number         19                                  19

Mean             16.28                             17.39                          

SD                 5.25                               4.55


description (Max/10)


Number       17                                   17

Mean          4.02                                 4.70

SD             0.89                                  1.10


Number    17                                     17

 SD           1.93                                   1.34



Repeated Anova procedures for each group  indicated that the mean scores did not significantly changed from pretest to  posttest . (Treatment group

Table 5: One-way ANOVA on written gap fill production tests.

Source of   Sums of   Degrees of   Mean square   F

variation    squares    freedom                                                   

Between   11.6053          1            11.6053     0.56

Within     748.9474      36           20.8041

Total        760.5526      37                                                           

The significance level is  p<.05

 Table 6: One-way ANOVA on picture description tests.

Source of   Sums of   Degrees of   Mean square   F

variation    squares    freedom                                                    

Between    0.1176          1            0.1176            0.04

Within     88.3235        32           2.7601

Total       88.4412       33                                                             

The significance level is  p<.05

F(1,16)=6.3,p=0.02 ; comparison group F(1,16)= 11.66, p=0.0035). This means that the differences between the pre- and post- test for the two groups were significant and attributable to the different  practice methods.

To summarize, the  above  analyses indicated  that Output-free input-based instruction  did not bring significant improvement over time. Slight progress was observed in  the  input plus output  group but not to a statistically significant level. The  findings  in relation to the effect of the treatment type do not seem to fully substantiate the claim for the superior role of the Comp plus Prod Group.The two  groups did not significantly differ from one another; a slight and but statistically insignificant growth was observed in the scores of the Comp plus Prod Group .



This discussion has two main goals: to explore whether  comprehension-focused instructioncomprehension-based when used alone and when combined with production practicehas an impact on leaners’ ability to  comprehend  and produce English tense and grammatical aspect and to determine whether these two instruction types result in differential effects.

To summarize the findings  in terms of the three research  hypothesespresented above , the results did not confirm Hypothesis 1, which predicted that L2 instruction that is primarily comprehension-based would lead to improved performance on tasks involving the comprehension of English tense and grammatical aspect as measured by the grammaticality judgement posttest  in the short-term.Similar to the comprehension task findings, production task results suggested that comprehension practice alone did not result in a gain in ability to produce the target form,

However, hypothesis 1 was partially confirmed, in that the comprehension -only group was able to obtain statistically significant gains on the production of the target forms measured by a picture-based description. This means that the practice effect was not skill specific in the sense that the subjects given only comprehension practice improve more on the comprehension tests. At the same time, these findings do lend less support to theoretical claims that comprehension and production do not draw on the same underlying knowledge source. (30  ﴿In other words,  instruction  via input-based practice will only serve to develop learners’ability to comprehend the target feature, not to produce it.    

The results of the present study provide partial support for  hypothesis 2, which stated that a comprehension-focused instructional treatment that incorporates production practice would lead to improved performance on tasks involving the comprehension and production of English tense and grammatical aspect as measured by their respective tasks. According to the comprehension task descriptive findings, learners showed  a slight improvement in performance. However, this positive effect did not reach statistical significance.On the other hand; the increase from the pretest to the posttest on the picture-based description test was statistically significant.

Again the results  do partially support hypothesis 3.They do not conclusively show that a comprehension-focused instructional treatment that incorporates production practice will enable  learners to comprehend and to produce the target structure more effectively than  compehension-based instruction only.The instructional effect, statistically speaking, did not amount to significant  learning gains on the grammaticality judgement  and written gap-fill tests.However, both instructional groups made significant gains on the picture description posttest.

It also is important to consider these findings in relation to other studies that have examined the effects of comprehension and production practice. To start with, the results related to our first hypothesis  differ from those of previous research  that have found support for the positive effect of input-based instruction (e.g. Studies by  VanPatten 1996, 2004 and his colleagues).(31﴿On the other hand, the findings seem to be partially consistent with the general trends observed in other  studies  where the output conditions did  result in greater learning  than did the non-output conditions. For instance, Erlam’s(32﴿study  showed that  when instruction incorporates output-based practice, meaning-oriented output activities in particular, it might be more effective for developing both comprehension and production abilities than when only input-based instruction is provided.The results of  Izumi’s.(33﴿study also showed that output instruction benefited learners to a greater extent than a comprehension-focused instructional treatment for the learning of English relativization, with resulting positive gains for production groups  suggesting that comprehension-based practice  is not more effective than production practice.

Coupled with the findings for Hypothesis 1 and 2, the weak  findings  in relation to Hypothesis 3 do not seem to fully substantiate the hypothesis for the superior role of input-plus-output instructional treatments over that of  input-based instruction in language learning.Thus, in answer our research question , it cannot  be stated with confidence that a  combined instructional treatment had a significant effect with respect to  learners’ comprehension  and production of English tense and grammatical aspect .   

Why was the impact of the intervention not so promising ? why the receptive and productive measures failed to reach statistical significance ?  One reason that the impact of the intervention  was not as significant as we might have expected might be that our students came from an instructional context in which  grammar  instruction(if any) was quite  traditional and explicit. The students  were probably less used to learning in the implicit conditions demanded by the type of input tasks such as enriched input and enhanced input  or recent classroom applications of the Output Hypothesis such as dictogloss and  input-output cyles. The students most likely would have benefited more from (a) giving them a longer training period at the beginning of the experimental period, (b) extending the experimental period to the whole semester, or even (c) extending the time allocated for each  session which would have given students more time to build up confidence in classroom activities.Thus, it might be  concluded that contextual factors other than the tasks themselves play a role in learners’ ability to comprehend and produce the target forms.

Another related reason that may explain the findings is the individual differences. Although the participants’individual differences were not inspected, it might be assumed that the measure of success in the two groups that underwent the treatment was not so much the type of instruction they received but their individual characteristics, their positive attitude and eagerness to learn. An attempt to establish how many of the participants actually benefited from the treatment and whether the gain was maintained over time would have helped to interpret the collected data more fully.    

Researchers recognize that individual differences that comprise such factors  intelligence, cognitive and learning styles and strategies play an important role in experimentation aiming at establishing effective ways of teaching target language grammar. Erlam’s(33﴿ study demonstrates that the cognitions and perceptions the participants hold might be of greater significance than the mode of instruction in a particular group which means that   individual variables have to be carefully considered when exploring the effectiveness of different options in L2 instruction. According to Erlam  instruction that targets language input and does not require students to engage in language output may benefit learners who have higher language analytic ability and greater working memory capacity.In contrast, output-based instruction seems to minimise the effect of differences in language learning.


The absolute predominance of any of the two approaches i.e. comprehension-only vs.comprehension-plus-production was not established in  this quasi-experimental study. Nevertheless, the  study  indicated that the comprehension-plus-production instructional treatment  had a practically (although not statistically) significant effect on gains in  grammatical accuracy in  the use of the target form. Despite the relative complexity of the structures and the brevity of instruction, the participants managed to attain better control of the target linguistic forms , as evidenced by the descriptive results.

From a theoretical perspective, though it may be hard to give an answer to the debate between the two different views to grammar teaching in this study stresses the important roles of  production (in addition  to comprehension ) practice and contributes to the understanding of the efficacy of  teaching interventions more specifically, to  the body of comparative studies on form focussed options in grammar teaching .

Pedagogically, the results seem to support the use of production as well as well as comprehension-based practice in the classroom as a means for building grammatical accuracy. Although the instructional materials incorporating the principles of a combined approach are scarce and rare, their preparation is not very problematic, as evidenced by the treatment materials included in the present study. At the same time, it needs to be pointed out that the implementation of the approach in the language classroom and the weight given to the two options is bound to be the function of the inherent characteristics of a particular educational context as well as the specific conditions in which teachers operate. It would be imprudent to assume that the findings of this study constitute sufficient grounds for the formulation of far-fetched pedagogical recommendations.There surely exists the need to explore the issue much further and more research needs to be carried out on the differential effects of the grammar teaching options on various cross-linguistic structures with better operationalization of instructional treatments.

(1)Ellis, N. C. (2007):The Weak-Interface, Consciousness, and Form-focused instruction: Mind the Doors. In S. Fotos and H. Nassaji (Eds.), Form Focused Instruction and Teacher Education Oxford: OUP.

 (2﴿Dörnyei , Z. (2009):The Psychology of second language acquisition. Oxford :OUP.

 (3﴿Larsen-Freeman, D., and Long, M. (1991): An introduction to second language acquisition research. London: Longman.

 (4﴿Norris, J., and Ortega, L.:  Effectiveness of L2 instruction: A research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis. Language Learning ,No 13, 2000, p 202.

(5﴿Doughty, C., and Williams, J.:(1998): Pedagogical choices in focus onform. In C. Doughty, and J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: CUP

 (6﴿  Rod Ellis, et al: Preemptive Focus on Form in the ESL Classroom, Language Learning2001,p51

(7﴿Long, M., and Robinson, P. (1998): Focus on form: theory, research, and practice. In C. Doughty, andJ. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroomsecond language acquisition  Cambridge: CUP

 (8﴿Ellis, R. (2008):The study of second language acquisition Oxford :Oxford University Press.

 (9﴿Spada, N.: Form-focussed instruction and second language acquisition: A review of classroom and laboratory research. Language Teaching,30,1997,pp73-87

 (10﴿Ellis,R.(2001):Form-focused instruction and second language learning. Blackwell, Oxford,UK.Malden, MA.

 (11﴿Larsen-Freeman, D., and Long, M.,op.cit.,

(12﴿VanPatten, B. (2004):Input processing in second language acquisition. In B. VanPatten (Eds.), Processing instruction: Theory, research, and commentary . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

 (13﴿DeKeyser, R. (Ed.). (2007): Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology. New York: Cambridge UniversityPress.

 (14﴿Swain, M. (2005): The Output Hypothesis: Theory and research. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of Research in Second Language. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

 (15﴿Gass, S. (1997:Input, interaction, and the second language learner. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence

(16﴿Swain,M. (2000):The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through

collaborative dialogue. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning. Oxford: OUP.

 (17)Van Patten, B. and Cadierno,T.:  Explicit instruction and input processing.  Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15,  1993 pp 225-243

(18)Erlam, R. : Form-focused instruction in L2 French. Unpublished doctoral thesis in applied linguistics. The University of Auckland,2003. pp193-197.

Available on :https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/docs/uoa-docs/rights.htm

(19﴿   Allen, L. Q. (2000): Form-meaning connections and the French causative: An experiment in processing instruction. Studies in Second Language   Acquisition, 22, 2000, pp69-84.

(20﴿  Toth, P., D.: Processing Instruction and a Role for Output in Second Language Acquisition, Language Learning 56:2,  2006, pp. 319–385.

(21﴿  Morgan-Short,et al (2006): Processing instruction and meaningful ouput-based instruction: Effects on second language development.Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 2006, pp31-65.

(22﴿DeKeyser, Robert M. et al:. The Differential Roleof Comprehension and Production Practice. Language Learning.51, 200,p105.

 (23﴿ S.  Moumene A.: Grammar Tasks and the Learning of English as a Foreign Language: A Case Study El Tawassol, 25, 2010, p76

(24﴿Cowan,R. (2008):The Teacher’s Grammar of English Guide.Cambridge:CUP.

 (25﴿Ellis,R., op.cit,p19

(26﴿﴿  Cowan,op.cit., p 40

 (27﴿Thornbury,S. 1999.How to Teach Grammar, Harlow: Longman


(29﴿  Cowan,op.cit., p 41

(30﴿  Ellis.R.: Input-based approaches To Teaching: a review of Classroom-oriented research, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,19,1999,pp6-68

(31﴿  VanPatten and Cadierno,op.cit.,  pp 225-243

(32﴿ Izumi. S. Output, input enhancement, and the noticing hypothesis. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 2002 p, 574

(33﴿ Erlam,op.cit pp193-197








Appendix A: Examples of Teaching Materials Used

  I) Sample Materials on explicit rule instruction

   The present simple             

  Form:The simple present tense is represented by  the third person singular ‘s inflection on verbs .It has a range of meanings ,some much more common than others.

 Basic Meanings:The simple present tense has a range of meanings , some much more common than others.the most commonly targeted ones are listed below.

The simple present tense expresses states ,as exemplified in 1, habitual actions as in 2, and general statement of facts or scientific truths as in 3.

1.a)He owns three cars b)He seems to be tired.

2.a)They always go to the mosque on Friday b)I usually have lunch at around one.                   

Notice that this meaning requires the use of time expressions(always ,frequently etc.)

3.a) The Moon goes round the Earth.   b)Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade.

Another common meaning is future actions in 4.

4.a)The film starts at two o’clock.      b)The next train leaves in fifteen min

Addditional Meanings:The simple present also occurs in particular contexts:

It is used by commentators at sport events.This is referred to as instantaneous present.

The simple present can be used  to refer to past events.This is known as the  narrative, or historical present, as shown in 5.

5.a) The phone rings .She picks it up and listens quietly [...]     b) A man goes to visit a friend and is amazed to find him playing[...]

II)  Sample materials with comprehension focus

 (3)   Input-based written activity :(input enhancement and consciousness raising ) Students are a given an enhanced text to notice the highlighted forms.( tense construction V+ed ).

They have to decide why  the simple past is used in the following sentences?

‘He put on his slippers, went to the door and opened it.’

a)states in the past    b)actions that happened one after the other

‘His eyes were red; grey hair fell over his shoulders and from his wrists hung heavy chains.’
a)states in the past   b)actions that happened one after the other

(4)  Input-based written activity: consciousness raising

 Now decide why do we use the simple past in the following sentences?

1.I saw two colorful fishes in the lake yesterday  2.He entered a room, lit a cigarette and smiled at the guests.  3.Mary tried the soup but it was too hot to eat. 4.I lived in Algiers for 10 years . 5.They saw us playing football. 6.He married a woman who lived in the same village. 

 III)  Sample materials with production focus

(1)  Production-based written activity: mechanical drill(Irregular Past Participles)

1. She has never _____________________ (let) her daughter have a boyfriend.

2. Have you already _____________________ (read) today's newspaper?

3. The house has been _____________________ (sell).

4. He has _____________________ (lose) his wallet again.

5. I have _____________________ (write) three essays this week.


(2)  Production-based written activity: dictogloss Task

Students listen to a text.On the second reading, students note down key words.Then they are asked to reconstruct the text  orally  in their own words
(3)  Production-based written activity: input-output cycles

Students read a  short passage and underline the parts they feel are particularly necessary for its subsequent reconstruction  (Input 1).Put the passage away and reconstruct it as accurately as possible (Output 1).This step is followed by class discussion and important ideas are written on the black board. listen the passage a second time (Input 2) and were directed to underline it as in Step 1.As in step 2, reconstruct the text as accurately as possible on another output sheet(Output 2).                             

Appendix B : The Tests Used in the Assessment Procedures

    Written Production test:Directions: Read the passage quickly to get its general meaning then go back to the beginning and write the missing words using the verb  and the corresponding tense before the blank.

Said always (travel)(present perfect) ________________a lot. In fact, when he (be) (simple past) ________________only two years old when he first (fly) (simple past) ________________to Tunisia. His mother (be) (simple present) ________________Italian and his father (be)( simple present) ________________. Algerian.

        As a matter of fact, Said (visit)(present continuous) ________________his parents in France at the moment. He(live) (simplepresent) ________________in Tunisia now, but (visit)(present perfect continious) ________________his parents for the past few weeks. He really( enjoy) ( simple present) ________________living in Tunisia, but he also (love )(simple present) ________________coming to visit his parents at least once a year.

Grammaticality Judgement Test: 10 Sample sentences (out of 45)Read d each sentence carefully before you answer. If you think a sentence is good. circle G (grammatical) next to it. If you consider it a bad English sentence. circle U (ungrammatical).

Example:Lucy always watches television after school.……G……                                                                                            

1.She is finding her watch.                                                    2.He ate a cake for an hour.                                              

3.By this time next year I will write three chapters.             4.It is developed our knowledge.                                     

5.They are living in a rented house.                                      6.He said that there is a ball in the water.                   7. I will come before he will leave .                                      8.I am getting up at 7 every morning                                9.She cannot to come.                                        

 10. Julius Caesar has expanded the Roman Empire.       

Picture description task: Instructions for the picture description task

Students were shown eight numberd pictures.These pictures tell a story. Based on the pictures they are asked to  write sentences describing what is shown and tell the story that is suggested.Students were told that they should aim at grammatical accuracy, textual cohesion, and logical sense.                  

Appendix C:  Statistical Tables 

Table 1GJT (Comp-Group ): Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df          MS         F           p_____________

Between group                     12.7368       1       12.7389  1.15    0.297717

Within group   

Subjects error      497.8964        18

  -Error                   199.2652        18     11.0702

Total                          749.8947     37                                                 ._____

Table 2 GJT (Comp plus Prod Group  ): Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df          MS         F           p___________

Between  group                   0.5329          1            0.5329      0.02     0.889108

Within group

     -Subjects            518.0921       18

     -Error                 426.0921       18           23.6718

Total                        944.7171       37                                                    _                      

Table 3 Written gap-fill production (Comp-Group ): Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df          MS         F           p______________

Between group                     4.11            1              4.11         0.23     0.6372

Within group             

   -Subjects                448.07          18

    -Error                     320.70         18            17.89

Total                           775.8837      37                                                  _____

Table 4Written gap-fill production(Comp plusProd Group):Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df          MS         F           p____________

Between group                       4.1118         1             4.1118       0.12       0.7330

Within group

     -Subjects                8.31.7105    18

     -Error                     626.7632     18           34.8202

Total                           1462.5855    37                                                        .                 

Table 5 Picture Description (Comp-Group ):Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df       MS   F           p___________

Between group     19.115         1    19.155     11.66     0.003549

Within group

    -Subjects          51.2206       16        

    -Error               26.25           16            164.06

Total                     96.5956        33                                             

Table 6 Picture Description (Comp plus Prod Group   ): Repeated-measures ANOVA

Source                     SS           df          MS         F           p_____________

Between group                      9.5294        1              9.5294     6.3    0.23203

Within grou

   -Subjects               28.3676       16

  -Error                    24.2206        16           1.5138

Total                          62.117633     333                                             ._______                                     

Pour citer ce document

Nasser Gardaoui, «Effects of Comprehension and Production-Based Tasks on Learning Morphosyntax by University EFL Students»

[En ligne] مجلة العلوم الاجتماعيةRevue des Sciences Sociales العدد 22 جوان 2016N°22 Juin 2016
Papier : ,
Date Publication Sur Papier : 0000-00-00,
Date Pulication Electronique : 2016-11-10,
mis a jour le : 13/03/2017,
URL : http://revues.univ-setif2.dz/index.php?id=1806.