To grammar or not to grammar?

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Yes, I know the title isn’t an accurate question – please don’t hate on me in the comments! What I want to ask is, how much emphasis should we put on explicit grammar instruction? Is discovery learning the best way to get students to notice patterns or do we need to, as the “experts” in the room, explain more so that our learners can get on with the business of using the grammar point?

Personally, I’m a bit torn on this issue. For some areas of English grammar, I’d say that we have to go through things to some degree with students, whereas other structures lend themselves better to a “Test-teach-test” approach. Take, for example, inversion (or negative introductory expressions – whichever is fine). My standard approach is to give students a few normal sentences along with the new structure I want them to re-phrase the originals with and see what they can do. This then allows me to see if anyone can work out how to use the structure before I step in with some direct instruction. On the other hand, for something like the Present Perfect I’d probably use a range of listening and reading activities to expose learners to the structure before giving them some speaking questions to practise and then elicit the structure and meaning after that.

At the end of the day it all boils down to the students in front of you. Some need to be led more carefully through the steps needed to be able to use a new grammar point, whereas others are quite happy to do more for themselves without getting flustered and frustrated. There’s also the question of differentiation within the same class, but that’s a point for a different post.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Reported Speech Speaking Game

Here is an activity I use to practise Reporting Verbs. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Put the class in pairs and give one person the Student A sheet and the other the Students B one. Students read the sentences they don’t have a reported version of and think of an appropriate way to report the phrase using a Reporting Verb (e.g. offer, deny, suggest, etc.) from the options at the top of the worksheet.

I have used this with B2 and C1 classes as either controlled practice for the former or a revision of the grammar point for the latter.

I hope you find it useful!

 

Teaching by example

Should you give rules when teaching grammar or should the students figure them out? Should you show them examples of new grammar before teaching or see what they already know? Should you elicit using specific terminology or “real” language? These are some of the questions I ask myself when going over grammar with my classes. I’ve found with my Cambridge Advanced groups that the old chestnut of “test, teach, test” is much more effective at building their confidence with using new structures. Take, for example, Inversion or Negative Introductory Expressions (whichever you prefer). The thought of going over all the rules in the coursebook we use gave me the shivers, so I simply put up the following slide:

Inversion EXAMPLE PIC

Having put this on the board, I then give students some time to do the task and therefore I can tell immediately who has an idea of the concept and who has not seen it before. We then go through the answers, I elicit the changes needed to write the new versions and then we can get on with using the grammar more actively.

All in all, this process takes about 15-20 minutes of a lesson. I feel that this method allows students to explore the grammar, apply exisiting knowledge and gain confidence in their own English skills. The rest of such a class would be taken up with activities to use the grammar point, along with other skills-based tasks.

Is this similar to how you would introduce this area of grammar? How would you do it differently? I always love hearing new ideas!

 

 

Welcome!

Hello world! Or rather hello to the few people who will probably read this blog. I thought I’d just briefly introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me already. My name’s Craig and I’ve been teaching English in Madrid to all ages and levels for the past four years. I’ve also written a complete online course at levels C1-C2 of the CEFR framework as part of a larger project, and I’m really interested in getting more involved with materials writing. Before all this I was Head of Languages and Business at a UK secondary school where I taught for just over five years. The time before that was filled with university, random jobs and lots of travelling!

I’m still not too sure what direction (if any) this blog will take. However, I am certain that it’ll be about all things ESL/EAL/EFL/[Insert random teaching acronym here]. Hopefully I’ll build up some sort of following and maybe make my (tiny) mark on the blogging world.

Stay tuned for updates – I hope to be writing regularly but, as you all know, life often gets in the way!