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Teaching Grammar

Aims of the unit:

1. 2. 3.

The role of grammar in ELT Grammar presentation methods Grammar practice

7.1 The role of grammar in ELT


value of grammar in foreign language teaching has been a focus of debate for decades, and no conclusion is in sight. The answer to whether grammar should be taught and to what extent grammar should be taught depends on some variables in the language teaching /learning context, such as learner variables and instructional variables.

Grammar presentation methods


deductive method The inductive method The guided discovery method Teaching grammar using listening as input The synthesis approach

The deductive method


deductive method relies on reasoning, analysing and comparing. Presentation of an example explanation (comparison may be done between the target language and the native language) Sss practice (producing sentences) with given prompts

The deductive method is criticized because: Grammar is taught in an isolated way; Little attention is paid to meaning; The practice is often mechanical.

However, the deductive method is not without merits.


could be very successful with selected and motivated students. It could save time when students are confronted with a grammar rule which is complex but which has to be learned. It may help to increase student confidence in those examinations which are written with accuracy as the main criterion of success.

The inductive method


the inductive method, the teacher induces the learners to realise grammar rules without any form of explicit explanation. It is believed that the rules will become evident if the students are given enough appropriate examples.

The guided discovery method

The guided discovery method is similar to the inductive method in that the students are induced to discover rules by themselves but different in that the process of the discovery is carefully guided and assisted by the teacher and the rules are then elicited and taught explicitly. There are two key theoretical issues related to this method: the role of explicit knowledge in language learning and the value of discovery as a general method of learning (Ellis, 2002a )

In the guided discovery method, students are presented with contextualized scenarios illustrating a specific structure. Students are then guided to discover the underlying rule of the structure as well as its meaning in context followed by explicit teaching and learning of the targeted structure. For example, in teaching the too to structure, the teacher holds a picture of a heavy box labeled 200kg and asks the class to look at the picture.


What can you see in the picture, class? Ss: We can see a box, a big box. T: Is it heavy? Ss: Yes, its very heavy. It is 200kg. T: Can I carry it? Ss: No, you cant. T: You are right. I cant carry it. Why? Because it is too heavy to carry.

Having said this, the teacher writes the whole sentence on the blackboard. Then the teacher continues with more contextualised examples. More sentences are written on the blackboard. With the next few examples, the teacher can pause to wait for the students to produce the target structure and write them again on the blackboard. After this, the teacher draws students attention to the structure and let students discover the rules of the key structure as well as its meaning. The teacher then highlights the structure with colored chalks on the blackboard followed by students practice of it with some prompts provided.

Teaching grammar using listening as input


suggests the following procedures for teaching grammar using listening as input. (p.106)

Synthesis approach

(p.107) proposes a synthesis approach to grammar pedagogy . Grammar teaching should be collocational, constructive, contextual and contrastive, which can serve as useful guidelines for teaching grammar. (PP.107-108)


practice, the distinction between the deductive method and the inductive method is not always apparent.

Grammar practice

to Ur, practice may be defined as any kind of engaging with the language on the part of the learner, usually under the teacher supervision, whose primary objective is to consolidate learning .(Ur, 1988:11) (p.108)

7.3.1 Ur predicts that the following 6 factors contribute to successful practice:

Pre-learning. Learners benefit from clear perception and short-term memory of the new language. Volume and repetition. The more exposure to or production of language the learners have, the more likely they are to learn. Success-orientation. Practice is most effective when based on successful practice.

Heterogeneity. Practice should be able to elicit different sentences and generate different levels of answers from different learners. Teacher assistance. The teacher should provide suggestions, hints and prompts. Interest : an essential feature that is closely related to concentration

Two categories of practice:

Mechanical practice and meaningful practice

Mechanical practice
Mechanical practice involves activities that are aimed at form accuracy. e.g. Substitution drills: Transformation drills:

Substitute the underlined part with the proper forms of the given words: green lawn clean house pretty garden nice flowers
Mrs Green has the largest house in town.

Change the following sentences into the past tense. Use the adverbs given in the brackets.

he lives in London. (last year, Paris) We have English and maths today. (yesterday, music and P. E.) He usually gets up at seven. (this morning, eight)

Questions for discussion


is the purpose of mechanical practice? What are the advantages and disadvantage of mechanical practice?

Meaningful practice

meaningful practice the focus is on the production, comprehension or exchange of meaning, though the students keep an eye on the way newly learned structures are used in the process. e.g. After the presentation and mechanical practice of adjective comparatives and superlatives:

Pair work: Look at the table below. Rank the items on the left column according to the criteria listed on the top.
Cheap Health y Tasty Fattenin Importa g nt

Beer Water Fruit Cigaret tes Alcohol Milk

The students may come up with: I think beer is cheaper than fruit. No, no, I think fruit is cheaper than beer.

Questions for discussion


are the advantages of meaningful practice? Does it have any possible disadvantages?

A teaching practice task for you


you have just presented the simple past tense to a group of Junior 2 students. Design a mechanical practice activity and a meaningful practice activity. Write out the steps and give a mini demonstration in your practice group.(p.111)

There is no clear-cut distinction between mechanical practice and meaningful practice. e.g.

Chain of events

Teacher: Now lets play a game. The first student starts a sentence with a second conditional clause. The next student takes the result of the sentence, reforms it into another condition and suggests a further result. For example, the first student says If I had a million dollars, I would buy a yacht. The second students says If I bought a yacht, I would go for a sail.

The students may come up with:


I went for a sail, there might be a storm. If there were a storm, my yacht would sink. If my yacht sank, I would die. If I died, my parents would cry.

Using prompts for practice

Practice based on prompts is usually meaningful practice. Using picture prompts. Using mime or gestures as prompts. Using information sheet as prompts. Using key phrase or key words as prompts. Using chained phrases for story telling. Using created situations.

Using information sheet as prompts

Names Favourit Favourit Favourit e e sports e food subjects Maths basketba pork ll Hobbies





Pingpong football


collectin g stamps

Teacher: What about you? Tell your neighbour.

Adopted activity for using information sheet as prompts

Table for S1
Names Lily Susan David Chinese English football Favourite subjects Favourite sports basketball eggs Favourit e food Hobbies music reading

Table for S2
Names Favourite subjects Favourite sports Ping-pong icecream collecting stamps Favourit e food Hobbies

Susan David



Using created situations: for simulative communication


are a stranger in this town. You want to buy some fruit, you want to post a letter, and you also want to see a movie at night. Ask about the places.


was a robbery yesterday in the neighbourhood. A policeman is asking some questions to three of the neighbours, A, B, and C.

A: at work; came back at 6:30 p.m.; did not see anybody. B: a student; came back at 4:30 p.m.; saw a young man going upstairs C: an old man; stayed at home; heard some strange noise at 5:00 p.m.; came out to find a tall young man

Perhaps there will never be a solution to the debate on the value of teaching grammar, because language teaching and learning contexts vary so greatly. It should be noted that learning grammar itself is not the ultimate goal of learning English. The understanding of how to teach grammar is as controversial as that of the value of teaching grammar. We believe that both mechanical practice and meaningful practice are necessary.

Some suggestions about teaching grammar

1. 2. 3. 4.



Teach only those rules that are simple and typical. Teach useful and important grammar points. Teach grammar in context. Use visible instruments such as charts, tables, diagrams, maps, drawings, and realia (pl. of realis) to aid understanding; Avoid difficult grammatical terminologies as much as possible. Allow enough opportunities for practice. Live with the students mistakes and errors.


What are the major types of grammar presentation methods? What are the major types of grammar practice activities?