Planning a grammar lesson
• Which approach?
• Presentation, practice and production (PPP)
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 fulfill 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.
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 centered and the latter more learner centered. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
In my own experience, the deductive approach is undoubtedly time saving and allows more time for practicing 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 practice it through very controlled activities. The final stage of the lesson gives the students the opportunity to practice 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 regalia 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 practice and drill the sentence orally before writing it 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 student's 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, personalization activities and board games are all meaningful activities which give students the opportunity to practice the language more freely.
• When teaching the 2nd conditional, I would try to personalize 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 centered 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.
What is the Role of Grammar in Language Teaching?
Linguistic competence to communicative competence
In the 1970s we were just nearing the end of a period during which grammar had a controlling influence on language teaching. Approaches to grammar teaching and the design of course books at that time reflected a view of language that saw the sentence and sentence grammar as forming the building blocks of language, language learning, and language use (McCarthy 2001). The goal of language teaching was to understand how sentences are used to create different kinds of meaning, to master the underlying rules for forming sentences from lower-level grammatical units such as phrases and clauses, and to practice using them as the basis for written and spoken communication. Syllabuses were essentially grammarbased and grammar was a primary focus of teaching techniques. Correct language use was achieved through a drill and practice methodology and through controlled speaking and writing exercises that sought to prevent or minimize opportunities for errors. The title of the textbook I taught from in those days echoed the emphasis on controlled practice - Practice and Progress (Alexander 1967). Practice was viewed as the key to learning, embedded within a methodology with the following features (Ellis 2002, 168):
1. A specific grammatical feature is isolated for focused attention.
2. The learners are required to produce sentences containing the targeted
3. The learners will be provided with opportunities for repetition of the targeted feature
4. There is an expectancy that the learners will perform the grammatical feature correctly, therefore practice activities are success oriented.
5. The learners receive feedback on whether their performance of the grammatical structure is correct or not. This feedback may be immediate or delayed.
But in the 1970s Chomsky?s theories of language and his distinction between competence and performance were starting to have an impact on language teaching.
His theory of ?transformational grammar? for example, with core kernel sentences that were transformed through the operation of rules to produce more complex sentences sought to capture the nature of a speaker?s linguistic competence. It seemed to offer an exciting new approach to grammar teaching, and for a while in the early seventies was reflected in popular texts book series such as O?Neill?s Kernel Lessons (O?Neill 1974). Exercises in which learners ?transformed? sentences into more complex ones lay at the heart of Kernel Lessons and similar courses.
Linguistic competence to communicative competence
Gradually throughout the seventies the sentence as the central unit of focus became replaced by a focus on language in use with the emergence of the notion of communicative competence as well as functional approaches to the study of language such as Halliday?s theory of functional grammar. Krashen?s monitor model of language learning and his distinction between acquisition (the unconscious process by which language develops as a product of real communication and exposure to appropriate input) and learning (the development of knowledge about the rules of a language) as well as his claims about the role of comprehensible input also prompted a reassessment of status of grammar in language teaching and the value of explicit grammar instruction. Proposals emerged for an implicit approach to the teaching of grammar or a combination of explicit and implicit approaches.