Teaching grammar is probably one of the painful aspects of teaching a foreign language. It can be quite challenging to choose the methodology and the tools to conduct a grammar slot in a way so that it is not boring, not conventional and easy to comprehend. Through time, different approaches were exercised to deliver a grammar session in an effective and easy-to-learn way. Some of them have proven to be quite useful, while some others have been criticised and left out of practice.
In this article, we are going to evaluate some different approaches to teaching grammar.
All educators will agree that at some point in their career they have come across an article, a course that advocated the idea of teaching the 4 language skills in an integrated way, create a context for each skill and avoid teaching skills separately/out of context. However, every rule has an exception. Here we might argue, that holding separate Grammar, Vocabulary, Listening and Reading sessions is something quite widespread in the modern teaching world. Conducting short sessions like these, we often don’t create a context for each and every skill, taking into account the target group, its need, and from my experience, it is completely OK.
Another view is that teaching grammar is outdated and there is no point in overwhelming the learners with this information. Educators adhering to this view put the stress on fluency rather than accuracy and believe that communicative competence is more important than learning rules and thinking where to apply them. Many language schools/educators practice this technique and do not correct learners when the latter is making a grammar mistake. This results in groups of foreign language learners with lack of accuracy patterns which in turn creates several issues when they need to use good English in work-related situations.
Another approach is the well known inductive vs. deductive one. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Inductive Approach
An inductive approach starts with examples and asks learners to find rules. It has been proven time and again that rules which learners discover on their own are more likely to stick to their memories for a longer period of time, fit their mental structure and background knowledge. It enables the students to take more active participation in their learning rather than being passive recipients. Being responsible for something makes them more attentive and motivated. This also boosts their self-confidence and makes them more autonomous learners – a very important skill, especially for young/teenage learners.
The approach has definitely some drawbacks. It can be quite time-consuming for the learners to figure out the rules on their own. It can sometimes be quite misleading in case the instructor is not monitoring closely, it can result in confusion when students get stuck and don’t get the necessary hint at the right time. It requires a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher, so as not to mislead the students with the prepared material. Finally, it can be very nerve-wracking for students who do not like this kind of tasks.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Deductive Approach
A deductive approach is vice versa and starts by giving learners rules, then examples, then practice. This approach allows the language trainer to get straight to the point, saves time and energy in having students make guesses, creates more time for the production stage and aims to improve fluency. This also saves the teacher the trouble of anticipating all the problems students might have during the rule elicitation stage. It also gives the instructor a chance to deal with language points one by one rather than getting confused with the student questions considering that they have a different level of information about the language at hand.
As for the drawbacks, they are quite obvious. It doubles Teacher Talking Time (TTT), it can get boring for the students. As practice shows, people cannot listen to lecturing for a long time, it is mostly not assimilated by the students as an explanation is far less productive compared to a demonstration for instance. Finally, it can be quite a buzz-kill for the students having a slot dedicated to learning grammar. As we know, grammar normally “scares” learners we do not want to have a “scared” group 🙂
Things to Consider While Introducing New Grammar
Like every other skill, teaching a specific language point should be justified. Following the book is not always the wisest decision, as each individual has their own learning needs. This does not suggest that the material should be dictated only based on the wishes of the learner, but it does suggest that the material should be chosen carefully.
First of all, learners age and language level come forward. We cannot expect an A1 student to understand the present perfect before the present simple. Similarly, we cannot bore the B2 student with initial uses of the present continuous instead of dwelling onto more sophisticated shades of meaning.
Will the students use this – is another question. There are tenses that are not being used even by the natives or are used only in bookish or highly formal styles (future perfect continuous, past perfect continuous, etc.). No need to overwhelm the learners with information which they will not need in their day to day interactions.
Making the lesson fun is another thing to consider. Though it is grammar, it should not be boring. We, as teachers, being responsible for the students’ learning, try to make the process as enjoyable as possible. Moderate fun is a great way to ensure motivation and success.
Creating a context is a must-do
A context can be anything – a text from the coursebook, most books have quite well-versed texts to introduce language points, a biography of a famous person or recent news if we want to get more creative and address the students’ interests, a listening task using the target grammar point and more. In each case, we can ask the students to get acquainted with the material, pick sentences that we want to focus on, and elicit the meaning, formation and pronunciation with the help of those sentences. This will complement the approach of teaching grammar through context and will make sure that the lesson is one unity.
It might be difficult to say that a single approach can be the best and the most effective one. To me, it works best if we consider all the existing theories and practices and adapt them to the needs of our students, their specificities and learning/cultural backgrounds.