This article will compare the two, describe how they work, what they look like, and what benefits they can offer us when we need to present something new to our learners.
- Inductive or deductive?
- What does the approach look like?
- Why use the inductive approach?
- Why use the deductive approach?
Inductive or deductive?
Inductive learning is the process of 'discovering' general principles from facts.
In a language classroom, an inductive approach involves getting learners to discover rules and how they are applied by looking at examples. The role of the teacher is to provide the language the learners need to discover the rules, to guide them in discovery if necessary, and then to provide more opportunities to practise.
The inductive approach is often thought of as a more modern way of teaching: it involves discovery techniques; it seeks in some ways to duplicate the acquisition process; it often exploits authentic material; it has learners at the centre of the lesson; and the focus is on usage rather than rules.
Deductive learning is the process of applying general principles to use.
In a classroom, a deductive approach means teaching learners rules and then giving them opportunities to apply them through practice. The role of the teacher is to present the rules and organize the practice.
The deductive approach is often thought of as a more traditional way of teaching: it is teacher-led and teacher-centred, at least at the presentation stage; it focuses initially on rules and then use; it often uses input language which is adjusted to the learners and not authentic. These do not in themselves have to be traditional ways of teaching, but they indicate a traditional approach.
What does the approach look like?
Here is an example of a lesson using the inductive approach. The teacher’s aim in this lesson is that learners understand meaning, form and use of linking devices in formal writing.
- The teacher gives the learners a text to read and respond to.
- She then asks them to identify all the conjunctions in the text and then put them into 5 or 6 groups according to use, e.g. to add something, to make a contrast, to show a result.
- The learners themselves suggest headings for these categories.
- The teacher monitors and guides. Groups of learners then work with one category each to analyse structure, meaning and use, and finally present their findings to the class.
Here is an example of a lesson using the deductive approach. The teacher’s aim is for learners to be able to use the present perfect continuous to describe a present result of a past action.
- The teacher shows the learners pictures of people who have been doing some kind of activity, for example somebody covered in paint, somebody who is very red and sweaty, somebody who is looking green and nauseous, and the learners match these pictures to others which show activities, e.g. a rollercoaster, a freshly painted room, a running track.
- The teacher then presents the new language by describing what these people have been doing.
- The learners listen and then repeat the language. The teacher then explains the structure, how it works, and how it is made.
- Learners then practise the language in another matching activity, where they have to report their findings in sentences, e.g. ‘On card A there is a man who has been eating chocolate cake, on card B there is a man who has been running for a bus’. Freer practice is a game where learners act and others guess what they have been doing.
Why use the inductive approach?
- It moves the focus away from the teacher as the giver of knowledge to the learners as discoverers of it.
- It moves the focus away from rules to use – and use is, after all, our aim in teaching.
- It encourages learner autonomy. If learners can find out rules for themselves then they are making significant steps towards being independent. We can take this further by letting learners decide what aspect of the language in a text they want to analyse.
- It teaches a very important skill – how to use real/almost-real language to find out the rules about English.
- It can be particularly effective with low levels and with certain types of young learners. It enables these students to focus on use, not complex rules and terminology.
- If we use authentic material as our context, then learners are in contact with real language, not coursebook English.
- We can exploit authentic material from a wide range of sources to present our target language.
- The rules and structures students discover are often more valid, relevant and authentic than in a deductive approach, as they can be drawn from real use of English.
- The action of discovery helps learners remember.
- It reflects the acquisition process that children learn by, i.e. being in contact with the language and using it, then finding rules and applying them to new contexts.
- This kind of task – and the independence it fosters - is stimulating and motivating for many learners.
- This approach naturally encourages more communication, as learners need to discuss language together.
- We are able to respond better to the needs of our learners. For example, we can clearly see and address problems with understanding of a certain rule or item of lexis as learners go through the process of identifying and analyzing it.
- We can support and encourage new learning styles and strategies. For example, this kind of approach is good to develop reflective learning and learning in groups, and encourages the strategy of using the English around us to find rules and examples.
Why use the deductive approach?
- It can meet student expectations. For many learners the inductive approach is very new and somewhat radical, and it does not fit in with their previous learning experiences.
- It may be easier. A class using the deductive approach, if well planned, goes from easier to more difficult – which may be more appropriate for some learners. It can also be easier for less experienced teachers as there is more control of outcomes.
- We can control the level of input language more.
- We can control our learners’ understanding of rules more – making sure that the ideas they form about language are the right ones. In this way we can try to avoid learners forming incorrect hypotheses.
- It may be a more efficient use of time; the inductive approach can take longer.
- It can be designed to meet the needs of more learning styles. The demands of the inductive approach make it more suitable for a specific kind of learner.
- It is used by many coursebooks and it fits in better with many syllabus structures.
As can be seen, both approaches provide opportunities for learning and address the needs of different kinds of learners and learning contexts. Like almost all the decisions we make in the classroom, we must be guided by our learners’ aims.
- The inductive approach may be more attractive to us as teachers but does it support our students’ learning fully?
- The deductive approach may be more controllable but does it give our learners the opportunity to develop their strategies and learning styles?
And like many of our decisions regarding the way we teach, the best way forward may be to blend the two, guided by our aims and our understanding of our own learners. For example, it may be useful for a class to start with a deductive approach and then move on to a more inductive way of learning once they are used to analysis of the language and ways of describing it.
Written by Paul Kaye, Materials writer, Bolivia