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HomeFeaturesMaking S-PACE for Grammar

Making S-PACE for Grammar

Manuela Gonzalez-Bueno introduces a new model to teach second-language grammar

The complexities of teaching and learning a foreign language have been greatly explored over the last decades. By acknowledging that, in addition to grammatical competence, pragmatic, sociolinguistic, and discourse competences play relevant roles in communication, we have made authentic, real-life communication our main goal for teaching and learning a foreign language. However, having removed grammar from the limelight, we might have unjustly lost focus on grammatical competence, which is still an integral part of the communicative competence. That includes not only rules of morphology and syntax but also rules of phonology. A contributor to this loss of focus on grammatical competence might be the lack of specific pedagogical techniques to teach grammar and pronunciation that are in line with the new and paramount goal of communication.

This article focuses specifically on the adaptation of two form-focused pedagogies which greatly line up with the principles of the communicative language-teaching approach: VanPatten’s (1996, 2002) processing instruction and Adair-Hauck’s and Donato’s (2002) PACE model. In both pedagogies, the attention of learners is drawn to the form without losing sight of the meaning, and most importantly, they highlight the significance of form in accurate communication. Although originally designed to teach grammar, these two form-focused techniques can be used to teach pronunciation, which is also part of the linguistic form (Gonzalez-Bueno and Quintana-Lara, 2011; Gonzalez-Bueno, 2018). However, processing instruction and the PACE model focus on the grammatical form from two different perspectives, a discrete-form, or bottom-up, and a whole-language, or top-down, perspective respectively. 

Two Procedures: Processing Instruction and the PACE Model

a. Processing instruction 

Processing instruction (PI) is an instructional approach based on the input processing model (VanPatten, 1996, 2002). Processing instruction consists essentially of exposing learners to strategically controlled exercises that require their active attention to the form of the input in order to attach meaning to it. The model assumes that by intentionally delaying production of the target language, the learner will have already processed its grammatical system and will be capable of accurately producing grammatically correct language. Practice in only recognizing the target grammar in structured input exercises is provided immediately after the input to facilitate intake, whereas output is not required until after intake has happened.

Processing instruction could be called a bottom-up approach, since it starts with concrete instances of the target grammar presented in the form of structured input exercises, followed by structured output exercises and then more open-ended activities.

b. The PACE model

Adair-Hauck’s and Donato’s (2002) PACE model, on the other hand, is a top-down approach in that it starts with the presentation of a whole text that incorporates many instances of the target grammar. Students interact first with the text by exploring the meaning of the text in various passes (presentation). The teacher then calls students’ attention to the specific target grammar in the text (attention) and then tries to elicit the rule from students, with the help of the teacher only if necessary (co-construction). Finally, students do activities using the newly learned grammar (extension). 

It appears that the gap between the co-construction and extension phases is too great for learners to jump by themselves. The swift move from the discovery of the target grammar to its production does not allow learners to properly process the rule, nor to incorporate it into their developing linguistic systems. To bridge this gap, S-PACE is suggested as an alternative that encompasses the teaching of linguistic form from both a whole-language perspective and a more discrete-form one, both integrated in a fluid procedure that does not deviate from the communicative nature of the lesson. The combination consists of inserting the structured input and output exercises suggested by PI between the last two phases of the PACE model, co-construction and extension. This way, after having co-constructed the target grammatical rule, learners are given the opportunity to practice that grammar in a structured way (thus the “S” added to the original acronym), ensuring the incorporation of the new rule into their developing linguistic systems before moving to the open-ended activities. 

Pilot Study

To test this technique, a pilot study was conducted with a small group of Spanish learners. After receiving a pretest on their ability to use Spanish formal commands, they were taught the target grammar using three different treatments: One group was taught in a traditional way, that is, a teacher’s lecture on the target grammar providing some examples, followed by output exercises taken from the textbook. Another group was taught using Adair-Hauck’s and Donato’s (2002) PACE model. And a third group was taught using the S-PACE model. Surprisingly, the results showed that all three groups improved at the post-test. The second group (PACE) showed better results than the two others in the post-test. However, only the third group (S-PACE) did better than the other two in the delayed test.

The fact that all three groups improved in the post-test can be attributed to the role of awareness. The post-test was given soon after the intervention, so the new structure was fresh in the mind of participants from all three groups. But because learners in the third group (S-PACE) got the opportunity to incorporate the new structure into their abstract linguistic system, they were able to retrieve it more easily during the delayed test.

In conclusion, the pilot study seems to corroborate the presumption that any type of explicit instruction that makes learners aware of a foreign language grammar structure is better than no instruction at all. The PACE model might be effective in the short term, but according to the results of this pilot study, the S-PACE model seems to allow learners to integrate the newly learned grammatical structure in their implicit linguistic systems, therefore making it easily retrievable in the long term.

Although the S-PACE model seems promising, in order to demonstrate its effectiveness in teaching foreign language grammar and pronunciation, it still requires testing on a larger scale. 


Adair-Hauck, B., and R. Donato (2002). “The PACE Model: A story-based approach to meaning and form for standards-based language learning.” French Review, 265–276.

Gonzalez-Bueno, M. and M. Quintana-Lara (2011). “The Teaching of L2 Pronunciation through Processing Instruction.” Applied Language Learning, 21 (1 and 2), 57–38.

Gonzalez-Bueno, M. (2018). “Issues Related to the Teaching of Spanish Voiced Stops /b, d, g/ and Their Lenited Allophones.” In Rao, R. (ed.) The Teaching of Spanish Pronunciation. Routledge series in Advances in Spanish Language Teaching.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input Processing and Grammar Instruction in Second Language Acquisition. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Co. 

VanPatten, B. (2002) “Processing Instruction: An update.” Language Learning, 52(4), 755–803.

Dr. Manuela Gonzalez-Bueno obtained a PhD in Spanish at the Pennsylvania State University in 1994 in the field of Spanish applied linguistics/second-language acquisition. She is a foreign language teacher educator at the University of Kansas and a contributor to the book Key Issues in the Teaching of Spanish Pronunciation (Routledge),

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