Grammar is a word that often freezes the hearts of students and teachers alike. Here are some fresh approaches.
Grammar has a bad reputation because:
- It has often been taught as a separate skill strangely disassociated from the rest of language learning
- Students have had to learn the labels for language e.g. ‘past continuous’, which can be like learning a third language
- Students have had to do lots of grammar exercises that have had little or no meaning for themit’s not been fun it’s not been meaningful
- It’s not been memorable
The following pages offer an approach to teaching grammar - not the only one, but a very teacher and student friendly approach.
When teaching Grammar the following aspects of the language items need to focused on:
Meaning – must be clear
There is no point learning ‘grammar’ if the meaning of the language item is not clear. Remember that some bits of grammar have more than one meaning and this could confuse students.
e.g. present continuous – Peter is playing tennis could mean three different things. Look at the responses to the following questions:
- I want to talk to Peter. What’s he doing at the moment?
Peter is playing tennis. (= now, present time)
- Peter has a three month holiday. What a lucky guy. What is he doing with his time?
Peter is playing tennis. (= these days, past, present and future)
- Can I see Peter tomorrow at three o’clock?
No, Peter’s playing tennis. (= the future)
Choose one meaning and teach that separately – do not confuse children with multiple meanings. Be clear in your own mind about what you are teaching.
It is vital that students hear the target language and are able to practise saying it correctly in order that they can later communicate effectively: understanding it in speech and saying it correctly so that others can understand what they are saying.
If you feel unsure about your own grasp of English grammar, a great book to help you clarify it is: Discover English, Rod Bolitho and Brian Tomlinson
The age group that I will refer to is nine + years old.
Why this age group?
Under nine year olds have usually not passed what Piaget refers to as the pre-operational stage (see How children learn at different stages of development for a detailed analysis of children’s development). The overt teaching of grammar to younger children is pretty much a waste of time, as the concepts of ‘past continuous’ etc are too difficult for them to understand in any language. Also they learn holistically, learning chunks of language through clear contexts like stories and videos rather than through analysis.
At around nine children become more aware of the structure of language and are often expected (by course book writers and therefore also teachers) to learn language structurally and be able to describe language grammatically.
Francesca Rossi from Italy contacted us and asked how best to teach can/can’t/is able to. Here are some suggestions.
Drilling activities for teaching grammar.
Some useful ideas to get your students to practise their grammar.
Some games to help teach grammar to teenagers and young learners.