English Teacher Article 70 characteristics of a good grammar presentation

Summary: An in-depth look at how to present grammar

By: |Audience: Teachers|Category: Teaching English

A good grammar presentation:

 

1.       Is a surprise

As strange as it might seem, a disbelieving look, a "No, really??" or most of the class getting what you are trying to elicit wrong are all good signs in a grammar explanation- signs that you have really got their attention, that you are teaching them something they don't know yet, and that it is something they are likely to be something they are still thinking about when they leave class and so remember for a longer time than usual. Ways to achieve this sense of surprise include contradicting their previous teacher or lower level textbook, contrasting with L1, contrasting spoken and written English grammar, and contrasting prescriptive grammar and how the language is really used nowadays. Something turning out to be much easier than they originally thought is also a nice surprise!

 

2.       Is interactive

Ways of getting students involved in the grammar explanation stage include: getting them to give you example sentences from their imaginations, previous conversations or the textbook; eliciting the names of grammatical forms; getting them to match grammatical names, example sentences and meanings; getting students to prepare grammar presentations for the class for homework; using guided discovery tasks they work through in pairs; and deliberately making mistakes they can correct you on.

 

3.       Is copied down

After a student has understood your grammar explanation, the next stage should be copying it down. You can ensure that everyone has a chance to copy it down accurately by having the pause for copying written into your lesson plan, making sure nobody copies before you want them to so that they join in the eliciting and don't make others feel guilty for copying down later, and putting your OHP sheets etc somewhere students can see them after class to compare their own versions to.

 

4.       Is easy to copy down

You can make this easier by putting all the text on the board into a table (e.g. 3 columns for tense, example sentence and meaning, and three rows for the three past tenses), using very simple time lines and sketches, limiting the amount of text, and giving them a gapped version of the grammar presentation to copy the important things off the board into.

 

5.       Can be easily referred to

As well as something that is easy to understand and easy to copy down, you will want to make sure that the grammar explanation is something that the students and teacher can easily refer to during later grammar practice and error correction stages. To achieve this you will need to make sure that the grammar explained is exactly the same as is used later in the lesson. You can also make it easy to refer to by keeping it up on the board (in which case you will need to make sure when you write it that there is room around it to write other things that come up), saving it as an OHP slide you can put up when you need it, or by making students write it in a separate grammar part of their notebooks.

 

6.       Is actually referred to

The easiest way of making sure that students actually do refer to the grammar presentation later in the lesson is to make some of the answers to the exercises you have given them exactly the same words as you used in the grammar explanation. The same thing can also be done with useful phrases for communicative activities, or for sentences from the homework. You can also encourage its use by getting students to refer back to it every time you do error correction on that grammar point in future lessons.

 

7.       Stays up on the board

This point is mainly just one aspect of the points above, but you will also need to make sure that at least part of the grammar presentation can stay up on the board without giving too much away- for example by erasing key words from the example sentences so they can't copy the whole of the next grammar exercise straight from the board or by briefly making it unavailable with paper stuck over it with magnets or sellotape or by turning off the OHP.

 

8.       Is at the right time in the lesson

There are two parts to thinking about this- making sure the students are alert enough when the grammar explanation comes to understand it and remember it, and making sure that it fits in with the rest of the lesson. You can make sure they are alert by making the grammar explanation near the beginning of the lesson, perhaps after a quick warmer. The end of the lesson is the second most alert period, with the middle being the worst. You can add to this alertness by making them need the grammar by getting them used to a lesson structure where practice always follows a grammar explanation, or by asking them to do a task where the language could be useful first as in TTT and some versions of TBA.

 

9.       Is at the right stage of the lesson

This depends very much on what your teaching approach is and on the specific grammar point. For example, do you want to introduce the grammar point after the students have had a chance to use a task or text where it could be used and so know why they need the language, or will they feel "safer" if you introduce it from the start? Do you want to tackle it after revising the most recent or most similar grammar point, or is there the chance you will get bogged down in that and not be able to concentrate on the new point? Which stage of the lesson grammar explanations come in can often be a compromise with the timing of the lesson in other ways. For example, lots of revision and seeing the language in context might put the grammar explanation right in the middle of the class when students are least alert.

 

10.   Is at the right point in the day

Similar to being at the right point in the lesson, students are usually most alert first thing in the morning, with the second most alert time being in other parts of the morning, the next being late in the evening and the least alert period being in the hour or two after lunch.

 

11.   Is at the right point in the week

Similar to the points above, for a particularly difficult or important grammar point the beginning and end are good and the middle is bad in terms of alertness, but you will also need to take into account having a chance to practice it enough before they forget it all over the weekend.

 

12.   Is at the right point in the course

Ditto. A particularly big, difficult or important grammar point should be dealt with near the beginning of a course when the students are still keen and unconfused by other input, and if possible the same thing should be revised right at the end of the course after the rest of the less troublesome points. This approach of putting the most important grammar first often doesn't match with a step by step approach to grammar, and how you compromise between the two can depend on things like how likely the students are to actually use that grammar outside the classroom, how possible it is to explain the grammar without studying more "basic" forms first, and how much they will need their confidence boosted with easier points before tackling something big.

 

13.   Is at the right point in their language development

The difficulty of choosing to tackle a grammar point just by when the students are most alert is that their brains still might not be ready to take that particular grammar point in. This is often connected to the idea of Natural Order (the theory that both L1 and L2 language learners make progress with grammar points in a predictable fashion), but sometimes is more just simple logic of whether it is easier to explain the use of will for predictions before or after teaching the use of will for conditionals.

 

14.   Comes at the right interval since the last connected grammar explanation

Another factor worth bearing in mind when putting grammar into a syllabus is how long it will take students to really absorb a grammar point and therefore be ready for the next step with it. This factor can both shorten and lengthen the amount of time you wait. For example, students might be able to produce the first conditional at the end of the lesson but for them to really get a subconscious feeling for what it means and how it is used they will probably need at least another couple of weeks of chances to mull on it, use it in conversation and/ or see it in context before they will benefit from more conscious examination of this or a related grammar point (e.g. will for predictions or the second conditional). At the same time, the theory of Natural Order suggests that however much time and help we give students, they will still make errors with the Present Simple, so we shouldn't get stalled on that before we move onto forms we can contrast it with like the Simple Past or Present Continuous just because they are still making mistakes.

 

15.   Comes at the right interval since the last unconnected grammar explanation

As well as needing time to absorb the last connected or contrasting grammar point, students might just need a bit of a rest for their brains after even a totally unrelated grammar or even vocabulary explanation in order to make sure they have a clear space in their heads and the energy for the next grammar explanation. Ways of giving them a rest whilst still improving their English include mechanical tasks like drilling, skills development like reading and listening, fluency tasks where they can use the language they already know, and other kinds of revision.

 

16.   Is for the most useful language at that point

As well as looking at what language students are mentally ready to learn, we also need to look at what language they need. This can be defined by what they need for their work or studies, what they need for an EFL or other exam, what they need in order to cope with the next class they are going to go into, what they need to catch up with the better students in this class, what they need in order to boost their motivation, what they need to be able to understand classroom instructions, what they need in order to be ready for the next grammar point, what they need in order to understand important functional language (e.g. Can for ability leading onto Can for requests), what they need in order to use a particular communicative skill (e.g. relative clauses for talking your way around a word you don't know), or what they need in order to benefit from English that is all around them (e.g. popular songs or station announcements in English).

 

17.   Is something students understand the need for

A teacher who has decided a particular grammar point is what students need will also need to make sure that students identify that need. This can be achieved by some explanation from the teacher ("With this grammar you will be able to..."), by doing a communicative activity where that grammar would be useful before you present it, or, even better, something that is obvious to students straightaway as something they can use inside or outside the classroom.

 

18.   Is the right length

This usually means short, so that they can write it all down in their notebooks and there is plenty of time for practice. Sometimes, however, grammar presentations can be too short. You might need to plan for extra example sentences if they don't understand the ones you have chosen and/ or an extra little tricky bit of that grammar if they knew all the rest of it before you started the presentation.



19.   Includes revision

This could be revision of the form you are contrasting it with (e.g. Going to when presenting Will), revision of the grammatical forms it is similar to (e.g. Present Continuous or Past Continuous when presenting Future Continuous), or revision of a different meaning of the same form (Present Continuous for Present and Future).

 

20.   Gives the students something new

One of the biggest criticisms of PPP is that the teacher often ends up presenting language that the students already know. You can make sure that you are adding something new by gauging what students know as you elicit from them and then add one of the extra back up points you have prepared just in case. Possible back up points include exceptions (e.g. state verbs when presenting the continuous) and extra meanings (e.g. Present Simple when the word makes something true in "I name this ship" or "I do solemnly swear).

 

21.   Gives the students a sense of anticipation

From your own experience of being taught grammar at school, it might seem unrealistic that a class of students could be on the edge of their seats waiting to see how a grammar explanation turns out. There are, however, plenty of techniques to ensure that. One is to make sure that something about the grammar explanation is completely new to them (see other points). Another is to give them a spoken or written task they cannot achieve properly without the grammar and let them try it again after your explanation. In a similar way, starting a grammar presentation with a collection of real student mistakes from that class is great for getting their attention, Perhaps the most effective is to start with a statement that what they thought about the grammar before is (at least in part) wrong.

 

22.   Is asked for by the students

This is an example of the point above. The important thing to aim for is the letter ‘s', i.e. students asking (or at least wanting to know) rather than just one student. If more than one student asks for the same grammar explanation, then that is the ultimate sign that you have planned the lesson perfectly. Again, the best way of achieving this is to give them a task where certain grammar is necessary to complete it. Please note that many tasks in textbooks and communication games books are perfectly doable with much lower level language than the level of the book, and research suggests that at least some of your students will be perfectly happy with having dealt with such a task in pidgin English and so will be unlikely to listen carefully to any further explanation. The secret, then, is to design an activity where it comes to an end without a successful outcome without the language you are about to present, which as mentioned in a point above should be something that is in at least part new to them. It is very difficult to design a free communication task where particular language is absolutely vital, so this is generally easier with a comprehension question that most people will get wrong because of grammatical reasons (sometimes available in EFL exams like IELTS and TOEIC), or pairwork tasks where students try to achieve a language-based task together. Examples of the latter include grammar auctions and pairwork grammar correction tasks where one student has the correct version for each pair of sentences.

 

23.   Is something the students want to use straightaway

Another advantage of giving students a task that stops half way through or comes to an unsuccessful end until they get the grammar is that they are likely to want to turn straight back to the task at hand and finish it off successfully with their new knowledge. As with anything students do unguided by a teacher, this is likely to increase how much they learn.

 

24.   Uses a familiar format

In order to make sure that students can concentrate on the grammar being explained rather than the explanation itself, it is good to develop a familiar format of grammar explanations so that students instantly understand (consciously or unconsciously) what each part of your explanation means. Things to standardize include the colours of pens (red= name of tense etc), the layout of board (you always use tables and the right column is always the meaning of the grammar etc), the use of names and symbols (writing out "noun" or "subject verb" in full or just using first letters etc.), and gestures (hand over the shoulder to illustrate "past", always exactly the same hand positions to illustrate each preposition etc.)



25.   Breaks the format

Once you have set up a format, it becomes time to break it. This can be done systematically in steps so that they gain the ability to understand more and more difficult grammar explanations (moving from labelling just SVO to labelling the adverb, noun, pronoun etc.) or just to add a bit of variety to get their attention (the use of amusing pictures, new technology etc.)

 

26.   Is visual

This makes a grammar explanation catch the eye more, cuts down on the amount of difficult language you need to explain the grammar, caters well to students who have a visual learning style, allows you to approach the same grammar for several different directions, and can be easier to copy down and recall than the part of the grammar explanation that has words. Probably the most effective way of using pictures is to have a striking and memorable image such as a famous TV commercial or painting that the whole lesson is built around and students can use to recall the grammar point by picturing the image. Other techniques involving a visual element include the use of different colour pens to mean different things, time lines, simple stick man drawings and using flashcards.

 

27.   Is active

This can partly be a case of getting the students involved by asking you questions or joining in when you are eliciting, and partly a case of making sure the physical movement and noise you can easily build into a warmer doesn't die to be replaced by still bodies staring blankly at the board when this stage comes. This can be achieved by using gestures to illustrate grammatical forms (e.g. pointing forward = future), example sentences ("I was jumping when you shouted stop"), word and sentence stress, and right and wrong answers.

 

28.   Is personalized

As with many things in language learning, making sure the example sentences used in grammar explanations are personalised to the students can really help them understand more easily, and make the language more memorable and obviously useful. Ways of personalising the language include statements about individuals in the class ("William is next to John"), statements about the teacher ("He is wearing a pink tie"), or statements about the class as a whole ("Most people live in a flat"). Another way of looking at personalisation is telling students that the language covered is aimed particularly at their weaknesses, most common mistakes, upcoming test, jobs or studies.

 

29.   Is topical

Another way to make any language stick in the mind is to make it connected to the particular time and day it is being explained on. In a similar way to using a striking picture, many people find they can then help recall the relevant grammar point by bring back to mind the time it was explained. Ways of making it topical include using recent news, celebrity gossip, weather, seasonal changes, natural events, national holiday etc. as an example sentence.

 

30.   Is memorable

The tips about being visual, physical, personalised and topical above can all really help with making a grammar explanation and therefore the grammar you are explaining more memorable. Other tips relevant to this dealt with elsewhere include making sure students are awake and ready to take it in. The use of humour and making sure you connect the grammar to things the students already know can also help a lot. Teaching grammar in context is also important.

 

31.   Is true

Although this one is very obvious, how difficult it is to achieve in practice is quite complex. The first problem is that the most accurate grammatical explanation is probably not the easiest to understand, easiest to remember or easiest to copy down, for example because it will need to include lots of exceptions. It might also be the case that the theory that students are mentally prepared to learn and that covers the most important uses for them is not the same as the most strictly correct definition of a grammar point. You may also find that the grammatical explanation that explains the language you are going to cover in the most generalizable way contradicts something you said in a previous lesson. It is also possible that grammar experts don't even agree on what the truest explanation is, or that there is still a gap between what most people say and what most people think you should say.

 

A practical way of working your way through this minefield is to choose lots of grammar explanations for the point you are going to teach and then to put them in order of how generally true they are. You can then reject or change the explanations by how well they fit in with the level and needs of your students until there is only the one or two best compromise explanations left.

 

32.   Is easy to understand

Ways of ensuring this include the use of gestures and visuals, but you will need to make sure that you introduce even these simple techniques for the first time during easy grammar explanations and that you use the same ones consistently. The same is true of grammatical terminology such as the names of types of words and the names of tenses. You can also simplify this point by using grammatical jargon that is most similar to that used in the students' first language, school system or dictionaries. For example, many students know SVO without knowing the words Subject Verb Object, and the same is true of dictionary abbreviations such as (n) for noun and (adj) for adjective.

 

33.   Is easy to reproduce

As well as being easy to copy down, a grammatical explanation should be something that students can easily repeat back to you when it comes to eliciting an explanation of the same grammar point for revision or to contrast it with another grammatical form. For example, you can make the grammatical terminology more memorable by explaining why an adverb is called an adverb and what the Simple in Present Simple means, so they can use those words the same way you do next time you ask them to correct their own or their partner's mistakes.

 

34.   Is linked in theme to the rest of the class

For example, you could make the character names and place names of your example sentences the same as in the textbook, use example sentences straight out of a listening or reading text, use student mistakes from a previous speaking exercise, or give sentences that could be useful in a future speaking exercise. This not only makes how the language links to the rest of the lesson clear, but can make everything dealt with in that lesson sit together as one memory in students' heads and so make recall easier. You can consciously use this effect in future classes by eliciting error correction with comments like "What was happening when the Italian waiter Paolo came into the room? Can you remember?"

 

35.   Is relevant to the tasks in the rest of the lesson/ course

The most well-known ways of tying in with the course is by choosing suitable practice tasks and (if you are using PPP) making free speaking tasks ones students could use that same language in. Other things you might want to look at is tying the grammar in with a present or future class graded reader, end of term student presentations, project work, a production (free speaking) task a couple of weeks later when they have had a chance to really get to know the language, a future reading or listening, or GTKY (getting to know you) tasks at the beginning of the course at the next level up.

 

36.   Helps the next grammar explanation

For example, explaining "going to" as "a plan i.e. something in your head" in today's lesson can help explain Present Continuous as "something in your diary" when you introduce it in next week's lesson

 

37.   Stretches the teacher

Ways of making sure you are as interested in the grammar explanation as the students are and therefore pass on some of your passion include introducing new technology such as a video extract, teaching an exception to the rule that you have always tried to avoid before, dealing with the stages of a grammar lesson in a different way (e.g. TTT instead of PPP), teaching the same grammar but to a different level (all the uses of Present Simple to an Advanced class or Simple Past before Present Continuous to a Beginner class), using an explanation from a different book, finding the best explanation from all the possible books, adding phonemic symbols to the drilling of the grammar, and copying the grammar presentation of another teacher you have observed.

 

38.   Looks at the grammar in a different way

As well as adding a little something to the understanding of the students each time they see the same point, looking at the same grammar in a totally different way in the hope that is suddenly clicks in a different part of their brain is always worth a try to maintain interest and boost learning. Methods include combining grammar points in unusual ways (e.g. a lesson on all the Continuous tenses to cover Future Continuous instead of a future tenses review) and teaching grammar just as sentence stems ("If I were you I'd...").

 

39.   Looks at grammar in a different way

Even better than the point above is if you have manage it is to get the students to reconsider grammar in general, e.g. by looking at the different uses in spoken and written English, looking at the point where collocations merge with grammar, or looking at how quickly grammar has changed. In some classes you can also get the same effect with the much simpler techniques of making grammar interesting and explaining it without the use of translation.

 

40.   Is a myth buster

This is another way of stating a couple of the points elsewhere. If you can choose a common language myth such as something that is usually badly taught or that is different in old fashioned prescriptive grammar books, that will make sure that all the students in your class are learning something new and that you will really get their attention.

 

41.   Takes into account common student difficulties

For example, is designed with difficulties in mind such as commonly confused grammar, common misconceptions, common mistakes in EFL exams, or common mistakes in academic writing.

 

42.   Takes into account L1

For example, deals with grammatical forms that look the same in English and L1 but have different meanings or uses, and is designed in such as way as to subtly point out the differences- also possible without using L1 if you have an English-only policy.

 

43.   Takes into account how that grammar is usually taught

If 90% percent of the grammar books around the world teach that you must always say "If I were you...", you'll need to know that before deciding whether to give them a jolt with the expression "I was you..." or just to go with the flow on that point so you can teach something more important such as Second Conditionals in general.

 

44.   Takes into account the education the students have already had

This includes taking into account the grammar explanations they have probably already had as a basis for you to build on, a source of your myth-busting surprise, or just a warning to yourself on possible problems. Knowing about how grammar is dealt with in their country can also give you some information on how much grammar terminology they are likely to know, their attitude to the conscious teaching of grammar, the use of L1 in grammar teaching, and their attitudes to prescriptive and descriptive grammar. How they were taught their own language can sometimes be as relevant to these points as how they were taught English. Please note, however, that many people will go into an English class they have chosen precisely because they expect the opposite approach to grammar to the one they had at school.

 

45.   Isn't contradicted by what you are going to do in the book

Despite the suggestions above on giving students the truest grammatical explanation from the best of all possible sources and one that contradicts common misconceptions, if you then go onto do a grammar practice exercise in the book that is based on a much more simplified or old-fashioned view of the language, you are in for trouble. Ways of combining your best practice with the textbook's less than best practice is to use the exercise before the grammar presentation TTT-style so you can then correct the book to get their attention and then carry on with a better grammar practice exercise you have written or found elsewhere. Another possibility is to get students to just skip controversial questions in the book, perhaps by giving it to them as a photocopied page with the dodgy bits Tippexed out.

 

46.   Is in context

You can make the language easier to understand and more memorable by making sure the sentence on the board has as much context as possible. This can be achieved by basing it on a previous book listening or reading or a previous communication activity, or by the tips above on personalisation, making it topical, using character names etc.

 

47.   Is not swamped by other grammar

This includes making sure they have had a good break since the last grammar point as mentioned above, but also making sure small but important grammar points seem more important than they do small. This can be achieved by making it the only grammar point of that lesson or week, or by linking it together with several other related grammar points.

 

48.   Is adaptable

For example, is adaptable if students ask you questions half way through by leaving space on the board to add extra stuff.

 

49.   Involves everyone in the class

If there is one student who is too shy to speak out in whole class activities like eliciting grammar or one student who dominates all grammar presentations due to level or personality, you can tackle this by using guided grammar discovery tasks in their books or on worksheets and helping out each group individually. Alternatively, you can give parts for the grammar presentation like the example sentences and names of sentences to different people or groups, and ask them to cooperate to put it all together.

 

50.   Is the right level for everyone in the class

This means the right level in terms of which grammar point you present, which of the possible uses of and exceptions to that grammar point you deal with, what language you use to describe it, what approach you use to presenting the language first or not, and what texts and practice activities you use before and after.

 

51.   Uses the learning styles of everyone in the class

This can generally be achieved by using the visual and active techniques described above, but how much you use of each of those techniques and others such as setting grammar up like a logic puzzle will depend on individual students and classes.

 

52.   Ties in with the teaching philosophy of the school

This could be a case of thinking about how to tie it in with the use or not of L1, not letting grammar explanations interfere with student talking time, following a school syllabus, sticking to the textbook, cutting down on photocopies, getting through as much grammar as possible, or providing lots of student correction. Some of these can be difficult to tie in with the points I have made elsewhere, but most of them are possible.

 

53.   Ties in with the teaching philosophy of the textbook

To make life easier on yourself when you first start using a textbook, it is best to look at what its approach to grammar is (prescriptive, descriptive, discovery, TTT, PPP, (over) simplified, based on a particular native speaker model, mainly spoken grammar, mainly written grammar, taught in context, taught in isolation, taught consciously, taught unconsciously, building up grammar terminology, avoiding grammar terminology, step by step, and/ or needs based) and try to teach the first few lessons that way, maybe by following the teachers' book as closely as you can bear to. Otherwise you might have problems with practice exercises that do not fit in with the explanation you have just given, discovery exercises in the book that reproduce what you have just done on the board, or even a grammar explanation that contradicts yours. Students might also believe the book more than you until they have learnt to trust you.

 

54.   Stretches the teaching philosophy of the textbook

Once you have worked out what the textbook is trying to do with grammar and how much you are happy with it, it is time to throw some adaptation into the mix. Easy techniques include getting photocopiable communication games from elsewhere to use as practice or production tasks, mixing up the stages, replacing the grammar explanation there with one on the board, using a different warmer, and using a different prompt (e.g. a picture) to get the grammar presentation started.

 

55.   Ties in with your preferred teaching style

For example, if you have a very dynamic classroom personality, trying to subtly guide groups of students through a textbook grammar discovery task might not work when they are looking up from their books all the time to see which of your jokes the other groups are laughing about- in which case a whiteboard presentation might be better.

 

56.   Stretches your teaching style

When you and a new class have got used to you teaching them the way you like, it's time to make a change or two. This can sometimes be as simple as trying to follow the book more closely. Other possibilities include using different supplementary materials, planning the language to cover less and responding more to student needs on the spot, and letting the students give the grammar presentations.

 

57.   Doesn't overload the brain

As even a good grammar explanation can take a lot of mental power to understand, remember and use in future activities, any parts of the brain that are being used to work out other things that are going on will sap that vital energy away. Possible distracters include names of unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce people and places in the example sentences (e.g. "Jose went to Gdansk" for the Simple Past), needing some logical power to transfer the situations in the text into example sentences (e.g. because the text is a murder mystery), grammar terminology, trying to remember previous grammar points that are used elsewhere in the example sentences, unfamiliar vocabulary, pronunciation difficulties, the teacher's handwriting, new or only half remembered phonemic symbols, difficult timelines or timelines used for the first time, difficult or unfamiliar gestures meant to illustrate the grammar, and jokes and other examples of going off topic. 

 

58.   Shows similarities

If you can show that the Present Continuous, Past Continuous and Future Continuous are all basically the same thing shifted along in time a little, that can mean the class is both a new grammar point and revision, that the explanation will be easier, that you can reuse timelines etc that they already know and so reduce the mental load, and hopefully that the grammar will stick together in their brains and so be easier to recall and to use.

 

59.   Shows differences

The human mind seems to respond well to oversimplified dualities like "good and evil" and "black and white", so contrasting two tenses, "make and do", "in and on" etc. should easily stick in their minds.

 

60.   Is not replacing something more useful

This not only means not interfering with another more important grammar point such as a little point that is usually left out or revision that would be more important than something new, but also on whether more vocabulary, skills development or functional language might be what your students need for their daily lives, to pass an exam or to get up to the next level rather than tacking more grammar at all.

 

61.   Teaches students how to pick up other grammar they come across/ makes students self-sufficient language learners

To justify the conscious teaching of grammar to those who still think that it is better picked up the way a child does in L1, we need to show not only that students learn each grammar point we teach better than just by reading examples of it in a text, but also that they will have more chance of picking up other grammar points that they see in texts because of the skills they have developed through talking about grammar. Techniques to achieve this include encouraging student questions, taking a discovery approach to grammar, and teaching them to use self-study grammar resources such as the grammar summary section at the back of their textbooks to do homework with a grammar point you haven't tackled in class yet.

 

62.   Combines prescriptive and descriptive grammar

Students will need to know not only what things native speakers don't say, but also the things native speakers do say but others don't approve of and so could get them in trouble in a language test, academic paper or translation of a company brochure.

 

63.   Doesn't take too much preparation

Ways of cutting down on preparation include: keeping the OHPs for previous grammar presentations; keeping laminated picture resources to elicit example sentences; having files of supplementary materials arranged by grammar point; and having lots of reference books to refer to for timelines, grammar explanations and simple drawings.

 

64.   Is given with you facing the students

This can be difficult to achieve when giving a whiteboard presentation, but techniques include using an OHP, guiding them through a discovery task in their books or on a worksheet, and explaining each point once orally facing them and again (maybe with different example sentences or just a summary of what you said) on the board.

 

65.   Boosts their confidence

This can be achieved by eliciting things they knew already but making a grammar explanation they didn't know they knew out of it, by tackling something that seems difficult but making it very simple, by emphasizing how simple it is, and by emphasizing how well they have done to understand it and to contribute when you are eliciting.



66.   Reminds them of something

One of the easiest ways of making a grammar explanation stick in students' memories is to make it stick to something they already knew before the class started, e.g. a song they know the lyrics to, maybe even one they did in kindergarten, or a famous quote or film line.

 

67.   Explains something they have always wondered

This could also be the explanation of grammar in a line they already know, or an explanation of something they have always been taught as a collocation, sentence stem or functional language for use in restaurants etc. that doesn't fit in with the other grammar they have been taught.

 

68.   Takes into account what nationalities students will be speaking to/ EIL

This could mean whether they will be encountering more British English or American English, or which non-native speakers they are likely to communicate with through the immigrant communities or business dealings. When taking into account which non-native speakers they will be speaking to, that gives you the option of telling them what mistakes people from that country usually make so that they notice the grammar each time they hear the mistake- meaning they not only don't copy the mistake but actually learn that grammar point more easily. Alternatively, you might want to avoid a grammar point as something that only native speakers use and therefore of little use to students who only communicate with other non-native speakers.

 

69.   Talks about real usage

For example, by saying "this grammar also exists, but 95% percent of the time we use this form". This can help make the distinction between two forms that seem interchangeable, help students concentrate on the most useful language, and be a way of introducing grammar that is different to what other teachers have shown them without being too aggressive about it.

 

70.   Is fun

Hopefully the sixty nine points above haven't made grammar presentations as daunting for the teacher as it was for the students before these kinds of things were taken into account. As with all parts of teaching, having a good atmosphere in class with smiling, joking and feeling like a group working together is at least as important as any more easily analysable technique like the ones described here.

Copyright © 2008

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com