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!