Teacher Training -Grammar Based PPP

Summary: How to prepare an English conversation lesson for a holistic, structural, four-skills syllabus: an article for new teachers or those unfamiliar with grammar-based syllabus or the PPP model of lesson planning (Present, Practice, Produce).

As an aside from my usual topics about using computers for language education, recently I am involved in a teacher training programme and would like to share an article I am working on to assist new teachers to plan a lesson.

As part of the course, trainees need to present evaluation lessons using a grammar based syllabus prepared with PPP.

I hope this will be interesting to other teacher trainers and helpful to trainees, and I would like to hear your comments and criticisms.

Planning a Grammar Lesson with PPP

This article is concerned with preparing an English conversation lesson for a holistic, structural, four skills syllabus and is aimed at new teachers or those unfamiliar with grammar based syllabus or the PPP model of lesson planning (Present, Practice, Produce). For simplicity, it takes a deductive approach. It is presented as if the teacher has no L1 ability or is not permitted to use it in the classroom.


Grammar based syllabus are one of the oldest methods of teaching English. The idea is that language can be learnt by a series of grammatical rules, presented according to notions of simplicity and complexity. A typical grammar based syllabus will start with simple tenses and fundamentals and work its way through past, future and increasingly difficult structures. Each lesson introduces one grammar item which must be mastered before moving to the next.

Despite coming under heavy criticism and many emerging alternative syllabus, grammar based syllabus are still popular, and are a valid tool in a language educator's arsenal . Contemporary grammar based syllabus often take a holistic, four skills approach to language learning. i.e, the lessons are communicative with authentic texts and real topics; they engage the learner in speaking, listening, reading and writing exercises.

PPP is one popular model of planning a lesson. Language is presented in context using methods including mimes, illustrations, visual stories and realia. The target language is then modelled and practiced using drills and controlled activities like gap fills or sentence matching. Finally, the students get to try to produce the target language on their own in a free activity without direct support from the instructor. This model is also intuitive to teaching outside the field of language education where students are first introduced to the topic they are learning, are guided through the process with an instructor, and then get to try by themselves with the instructor on the sideline for when things go wrong.

Begin with the End in Mind -Production

The goal of your lesson is to enable your students to be able to freely produce the target language of your lesson in a meaningful context. Therefore, firstly you need to determine what it is that you want them to produce. For example, if your lesson is simple present for everyday events, you might want the students to be able to talk about things that they and others do on a regular basis, and to be able to ask questions about what other people do every day. You would probably want them to be able to use the negative form as well. Your target language for this might look something like:


I/ you/ Sarah and Dave | do/ don't do something
| at this time
He/ she/ Bob/ Sarah | does/ doesn't do something

         | do you | do | at this time?
does he/ she

Do you
 | do something | at this time?
Does he/ she

Yes | I do/ he does
No | I don't/ she doesn't

List of activities goes here:   get up, brush my teeth etc

List of useful expressions goes here:   Wow, really?, I do, too!, etc

Or, more simply:

Simple present: positive, negative, question form

List of activities

List of useful expressions

In conjunction with determining the language that you want your students to produce, you need to find or create an exercise/ exercises that will give them the opportunity to freely practice this TL (Target Language).

Suitable choices for production activities include:

  • Role plays
  • Information gaps
  • Interviews
  • Problem solving
  • Games

The activity should be one that once you have set it up, the students can perform by themselves with you to one side taking notes of students' mistakes. It is important to provide class feedback and error correction at the end of a production exercise.

One obvious source for such an exercise is English language textbooks, which may well also have the other stages of the lesson and plenty of extra material provided for you. You can also search the internet for activities created by other teachers or design your own. Colleagues and contemporaries are always a useful resource at every stage of your career.

Once you know the target language for your lesson and have production activities for students to freely practice that language, you will be better able to prepare the presentation and practice stages of your lesson. This is because you will be aware of what the students need to know and be able to successfully communicate in order to complete the lesson.

Break a Leg -Presentation

You already know the target language required for your students to complete the production stage of the lesson. Now you need to think about how you will present that TL to them.

Language you use in the classroom should be at a level where the students know at least enough to be able to infer what you are saying from what they do understand or your actions. For lower level students, that can be quite a challenge. You can use language you have taught before, and with experience you may have a fairly good idea of what they are able to understand. However, it is often better and always important to utilise plenty of non-verbal communication.

Use mimes, pictures (flash cards, magazines...), illustrate stories while you tell them on the board or bring real objects into the classroom. If you like to get crazy, you could do a skit, puppet show or play dress up.

You might also try soliciting the topic of the lesson, which has the added advantage of helping you to assess the students' ability to perform the lesson. For example, when teaching can, jump up and down trying to touch the ceiling, then pick out students and get them to try. See if any of them say "I can't!" Picture speculation is another great way to lead into a lesson and possibly solicit the TL.

Once you have introduced the topic in a way they can understand it, put it up on the board and start modelling the TL. You do not need to model every possible sentence for the lesson. One of the points of a grammar based syllabus is that the learner learns the language like a collection of building blocks that can be snapped together to create language. You only need to model key sentences, vocabulary and expressions necessary to complete the lesson. Carrying on from the earlier example of a lesson for simple present for everyday events, you might present the following model sentences and vocabulary:

I wake up at 6am in the morning.
I don't eat breakfast.
What do you do in the evening?
Do you take a shower at night?

at time
in the morning
in the afternoon
in the evening
at night


eat breakfast
eat lunch
eat dinner
take a shower
go to school


Wow! Really?

I do, too!

There may be other forms you need to model additionally, such as third person singular if the students have not already learnt it.

Model your key sentences with stress and intonation. You might even want to mark the stress and intonation on the board. Use non-verbal communication to present vocabulary (pictures, illustrations on the board, mimes, realia).

Always check for understanding and at this early stage, provide plenty of correction. Do not just ask, "Do you understand?" Ask simple questions (yes/ no, either/ or are good), or get them to demonstrate their understanding, like pointing to the correct picture/ word.

Once the students demonstrate that they understand the syntax and semantics of the presented language, it is time to move into the practice phase of the lesson.

Practice Makes Perfect

This is the point where the TL has been presented and the students get to try using it in controlled activities with instructor support. Suitable activities for practice include:

  • Substitution drills
  • Gap fills
  • Sentence transformations
  • Matching sentences to pictures

Student books and workbooks usually provide plenty of good practice activities that can be tailored to your lesson (remember, your goal is to enable the students to complete the production phase that you have already planned).

It is a good idea to choose more than one practice activity. If your production exercise is oral, then you should provide at least one oral activity, like a drill or a game, that ideally uses every form of the target grammar (positive, negative and question form). Written practice activities are especially useful because they provide a reference that the students can use for revision.

This stage also requires plenty of instructor support, error correction and checking for understanding. Be careful to explain each activity so the students know what to do. Perform examples. Keep coming back to students who make mistakes in the drills until everyone gets it right. Monitor every activity and correct individual and group problems as you become aware of them.

You will continue the practice phase until you are satisfied that your students understand and are able to fluently and accurately complete the practice activities. For this reason, it is important to prepare enough practice in case the lesson is difficult for your students, but also be prepared to cut them short once you are confident they are able to produce the TL on their own.

Additional Activities

In addition to the three P's, you should also have warmer and filler activities on hand. Warmers are for the beginning of the lesson when your students may still be half asleep or are still thinking about something else. Fillers are for when your students complete the lesson early and you need something to keep you going to the bell. These activities should be light and fun. Games are ideal, or possibly a nice conversation about what you did at the weekend.


This entry was originally from our blog, which has now been discontinued. Our readers contributed a number of interesting comments representing a variety of opinions on the topic, which we've copied in below. If you would like to discuss this further, please post your comments in our forums:


John Bennett | March 7, 2008 11:33 PM
This looks useful.

I think I would include a completed lesson plan form though. Also I don't see why you haven't used the term 'concept check'. It's useful and an early introduction to teaching terms is of benefit to both trainer and trainee alike.

I not sure about "You will continue the practice phase until you are satisfied that your students understand and are able to fluently and accurately complete the practice activities." This could encourage a trainee to continue practising a new item beyond the point where their students have lost interest. Here in Russia that is a cardinal sin - students complain like mad if activities go on too long - a cultural problem.

One final point, I realise you were intent on just one lesson but perhaps a mention of re-cycling and repeating material in later lessons might be worthwhile. This doesn't seem to come naturally to new teachers and most course books are weak in this area.

Anyway, thanks it was interesting.

Alex Russell | March 10, 2008 1:46 PM
Thanks John! I've taken note of your comments, and will include them in my revision.

Tdol | March 11, 2008 9:40 AM
"Each lesson introduces one grammar item which must be mastered before moving to the next."

How rigidly would this have to be enforced? Isn't there often a lag between the teaching of a form and the natural usage of it? If, say, we couldn't move on until all had mastered the present perfect, we not be moving for quite a while.

Alex Russell | March 11, 2008 6:13 PM
That would be the ideal of a grammar course. In practice, I think that depends on the school. I remember one school that would make students do the same lesson over and over again until at least one teacher passed them on it. Traditional grammar courses certainly focus on accuracy.

In any case, since the syllabus is supposed to be moving from easy to difficult, if a student hasn't mastered present perfect and goes on to lessons with past perfect, he will probably be no less confused.

harhouz hadjira | December 20, 2008 1:31 PM
thank you so much becuase i really need this piece of information. in fact i am a student of english and i have a module in teaching language which is called DIDACTICS .so thank you again

harhouz hadjira | December 20, 2008 1:41 PM
i m thinking if you can add :the diffrent possibilities in ordering the ppp i mean presentation ,practice and production or production , practice and presentation.......

Sydney Trainer | April 25, 2009 8:28 AM
Great information. Thank you for sharing as a trainer I found you site beneficial.. Great work.

Lina of Education Jobs | July 15, 2009 12:11 PM
I can still remember our grammar teacher who used to be very strict and a pain in the a** but if it weren't for her, I wouldn't be having a career nor enjoying an intelligent conversation with people.

Dr. Montasir | February 17, 2011 7:24 PM
The PPP approach is relatively straight forward, and structured enough to be easily understood by both students and new or emerging teachers. It is a good place to start in terms of applying good communicative language teaching in the classroom. It has also been criticized considerably for the very characteristic that makes it the easiest method for ‘beginner’ teachers, that is, that it is far too teacher-orientated and over controlled. A nice alternative to ‘PPP’ is Harmer’s ‘ESA’ (Engage/Study/Activate).

Arletty | November 29, 2012 12:04 AM
Hello, I Would like to know who invented the PPP method and what year it was invented in, please?

Tdol replied to comment from Arletty | November 30, 2012 4:45 PM
This site suggests it harks back to the 1940s, but doesn't give a name:

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