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Approaches to grammar

May 18, 2008

Hello again,

I was discussing grammar teaching last week and one teacher asked me what I thought was the best approach. Of course there is no “best” approach. It all depends on the context and the learning preferences of the students.

By context I...

... mean the specific teaching situation: what materials do you have; is there a syllabus that needs to be covered; does the timetable require you to devote certain slots to grammar? In other words, the freedom of teachers to choose an approach will vary according to their teaching situation, with and FCE teacher being constrained by the syllabus and the materials in ways that, say a business English teacher will not.

With learning preferences comes the challenge. Last year I taught a highly conceptual, spatially aware businessman who simply detested detail. He liked to get the big picture and then swoop in on any item that he felt merited further attention. I drew up a concise, if complex chart for him mapping the patterns of English grammar in a diagram. This kind of approach doesn’t figure in course books, which always take grammar in series of bite-sized chunks. But he felt much happier with his overview: he felt in control once he saw the whole terrain and he was able make his own decisions about the parts that were interesting to him.

Students with an auditory learning preference would do better with rhythmic drills (try Carolyn Graham’s Jazz Chants if the book is still available – it’s very old). As they listen and repeat, the stimulation of their auditory sense helps them memorize. You can build up grammar patterns by progressing from simple repetitions to transformation drills.

Students who like puzzles and intellectual stimulus will enjoy more cognitive exercise. I find Cloze tests go down well with such students as do written transformation exercises.

Games are an excellent route into grammar for younger learners and for those who prefer learning to be fun. Jill Hadfield’s Grammar Games books are still available I believe and plenty of other ideas can be found online.

As to what place grammar has in the classroom, that too will depend on many variables. Some students want no more than a phrasebook approach to English, wishing to acquire some basic language items that can serve a particular purpose. But this is like building a house without foundations. For learners who wish to construct their own, original utterances and to really get to grips with English, a grounding in grammar is essential.

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  1. warren james Says:

    Brenda Hall's comments re-the teaching of a businessman spatially. was interesting. As a former Tertiary Qualified Engineer, I found the matter intersting. In fact my schooling in a small country town didnl;t include grammar to any depth. In my latter years I have shown interest (as with the theory of music!)and the Primary school's teacher materials have now to be applauded. It gets down to learning style. I am aware Japanese students almost expect English Grammar being taught, and often Aussie teachers almost shock them when they teach without even using text books. That's cultural,for the businessman it was his style of learning that speared off his desire--and impatience.

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