Without grammar, words hang together without any real meaning or sense. In order to be able to speak a language to some degree of proficiency and to be able to say what we really want to say, we need to have some grammatical knowledge. By teaching grammar we not only give our students the means to express themselves, but we also fulfil their expectations of what learning a foreign language involves. Fortunately, nowadays with the emphasis on a communicative approach and a wealth of stimulating resources, teaching grammar does not necessarily mean endless conjugation of verbs or grammar translation.
- Which approach?
- Presentation, practice and production (PPP) Presentation
There are two main approaches to teaching grammar. These are the deductive and the inductive approach.
- A deductive approach is when the rule is presented and the language is produced based on the rule. (The teacher gives the rule.)
- An inductive approach is when the rule is inferred through some form of guided discovery. (The teacher gives the students a means to discover the rule for themselves.)
In other words, the former is more teacher centred and the latter more learner centred. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. In my own experience, the deductive approach is undoubtedly time saving and allows more time for practising the language items thus making it an effective approach with lower level students. The inductive approach, on the other hand, is often more beneficial to students who already have a base in the language as it encourages them to work things out for themselves based on their existing knowledge.
Presentation, practice and production (PPP)
A deductive approach often fits into a lesson structure known as PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production). The teacher presents the target language and then gives students the opportunity to practise it through very controlled activities. The final stage of the lesson gives the students the opportunity to practise the target language in freer activities which bring in other language elements.
In a 60-minute lesson each stage would last approximately 20 minutes. This model works well as it can be used for most isolated grammatical items. It also allows the teacher to time each stage of the lesson fairly accurately and to anticipate and be prepared for the problems students may encounter. It is less workable at higher levels when students need to compare and contrast several grammatical items at the same time and when their linguistic abilities are far less uniform.
In this stage the teacher presents the new language in a meaningful context. I find that building up stories on the board, using realia or flashcards and miming are fun ways to present the language.
For example, when presenting the 2nd conditional, I often draw a picture of myself with thought bubbles of lots of money, a sports car, a big house and a world map.
- I ask my students what I'm thinking about and then introduce the target language.
"If I had a lot of money, I would buy a sports car and a big house."
- I practise and drill the sentence orally before writing it on the board (positive, negative, question and short answer).
- I then focus on form by asking the students questions. E.g."What do we use after 'if'?" and on meaning by asking the students questions to check that they have understood the concept (E.g."Do I have lots of money?" No."What am I doing?" Imagining.)
- When I am satisfied that my students understand the form and the meaning, I move on to the practice stage of the lesson. During this stage of the lesson it is important to correct phonological and grammatical mistakes.
There are numerous activities which can be used for this stage including gap fill exercises, substitution drills, sentence transformations, split sentences, picture dictations, class questionnaires, reordering sentences and matching sentences to pictures.
- It is important that the activities are fairly controlled at this stage as students have only just met the new language. Many students' books and workbooks have exercises and activities which can be used at this stage.
- When teaching the 2nd conditional, I would use split sentences as a controlled practice activity. I give students lots of sentence halves and in pairs they try and match the beginnings and ends of the sentences.
Example: "If I won the lottery," …. "I'd travel around the world."
- I would then do a communicative follow up game like pelmanism or snap using the same sentence halves.
Again there are numerous activities for this stage and what you choose will depend on the language you are teaching and on the level of your students. However, information gaps, role plays, interviews, simulations, find someone who, spot the differences between two pictures, picture cues, problem solving, personalisation activities and board games are all meaningful activities which give students the opportunity to practise the language more freely.
- When teaching the 2nd conditional, I would try to personalise the lesson at this stage by giving students a list of question prompts to ask others in the class.
Example: do / if / win the lottery?
- Although the questions are controlled the students are given the opportunity to answer more spontaneously using other language items and thus the activity becomes much less predictable.
- It is important to monitor and make a note of any errors so that you can build in class feedback and error analysis at the end of the lesson.
When teaching grammar, there are several factors we need to take into consideration and the following are some of the questions we should ask ourselves:
- How useful and relevant is the language?
- What other language do my students need to know in order to learn the new structure effectively?
- What problems might my students face when learning the new language?
- How can I make the lesson fun, meaningful and memorable?
Although I try to only use English when teaching a grammar lesson, it is sometimes beneficial to the students to make a comparison to L1 in the presentation stage. This is particularly true in the case of more problematic grammatical structures which students are not able to transfer to their own language.
It is also important to note that using the PPP model does not necessarily exclude using a more inductive approach since some form of learner-centred guided discovery could be built into the presentation stage. When presenting the 2nd conditional I sometimes present the language in context and then give the students a worksheet with a series of analysis questions to do in pairs.
PPP is one model for planning a lesson. Other models include TTT (Test, Teach, Test), ARC (Authentic use, Restricted use, Clarification and focus) and ESA (Engage, Study, Activate). All models have their advantages and disadvantages and I, like many other teachers I know, use different models depending on the lesson, class, level and learner styles.
Grammar Practice Activities: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Penny Ur, Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers 1988
Grammar Games and Activities for Teachers. Peter Watcyn Jones, Penguin Books 1995
How to Teach English. Jeremy Harmer, Longman 1998
How to Teach Grammar. Scott Thornbury, Longman 1999
Tanya Cotter, British Council, Morocco
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