As teachers, we’ve likely all been given grammar to teach students and have asked ourselves how we could possibly communicate the rules to our students. True, it is difficult to convey the complicated rules of grammar to students learning a language, and, as I’ve expressed countless times in this blog, simply explaining the rules is not enough. When it comes to TEFL teaching, there are traditionally three different approaches to teaching grammar.
Before moving on, it’s important for me to point out that the three strategies I discuss are meant to only take up the presentation phase of the lesson; the teacher should NOT make this the focus of the lesson. Teach the grammar, then make sure you have plenty of activities planned for the students to practice the grammar. That said, if the presentation phase of the lesson doesn’t go well, the students won’t be capable of practicing the new grammar. Read on for my explanation of the three approaches, and a discussion of the pros and cons of each of them.
Or, if know all this already and you’d like several examples of ways to use the inductive approach, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Using the Inductive Approach
When using the non-explicit approach, grammatical rules are not given to the students. The presentation of the grammar is mostly visual: through actions and pictures. The students then discover how to put together a sentence by copying the teacher. While the teacher may put up a sample sentence on the board, there is no direct discussion about how the grammar works.
For example, if a teacher were to teach about prepositions, the teacher could use a their hands or a block to express some prepositions (in, on, under, next to, etc.) then teach, using visuals, chair and table. After that the teacher could start speaking in full sentences, “The block is under the table” and having students do activities (e.g. moving the blocks) so that they discover what is being conveyed in the sentence. The students now have an idea of the form, and are able to move on to controlled practice of the language.
The advantage of this approach is that it completely engages the learner. The learner needs to stay focused, or they might miss out when called upon for an activity. Also, as the non-explicit approach uses only the language being taught, students are immersed in the language throughout the experience. Additionally, it’s fun and exciting, which keeps students focused.
Many say that this is the best method for young learners, but that it isn’t as effective with adults. True, adults aren’t as ready to be taken out of their comfort zones as children, but it is my opinion that using this approach with low level adults can still be effective as long as the students are shown respect and are aware of why you are doing different things. For example, it may be fun for a child to put a stuffed animal on a chair, an adult who has just finished a long day may not be as open to this.
Another disadvantage to this approach is that for some students, it can be frustrating not to know the rule precisely. It can lead to confusion for some students, and it is harder to gage whether the concept has been mastered. Due to this, regular concept checks are important during a presentation of new grammar when using this method.
The deductive approach is the most traditional method of grammar teaching. Basically, the teacher explains the rule, usually in L1, and then has the students practice some examples. If a teacher was teaching comparatives using this method, adjectives would be given and translated into the students’ first language. The teacher would explain how the adjectives change when comparing and show a few examples. The teacher would then have the students practice in pairs while checking that they understand.
The advantage, and disadvantage, of this is that it is easy and familiar. Many students are used to learning passively in this way. Also, students can be sure that they understand the rule as they were told it in their own language.
The reason that this can also be disadvantageous is that students aren’t as focused on remembering what words mean or what the rule is because it is explicitly laid out for them. It’s easier to forget, because the student didn’t need to put the mental energy into memorizing it initially. Also, as it’s not as engaging, it’s easy for the students to lose focus and mentally drift off.
The most obvious disadvantage is that if the teacher doesn’t speak the students’ L1 fluently, they won’t be able to explain the grammar. If the teacher does a long grammatical explanation that isn’t in the students L1, there is a good chance that the students will get confused. Either way, this makes lengthy grammatical explanations a chancy enterprise.
There are a lot of similarities between the inductive approach and the non-explicit approach. For the inductive approach, rules are likewise discovered and not directly discussed. Instead, students learn the rules through examples and testing them out.
If a teacher was trying to teach how to change regular verbs into the simple past, they could put six verbs on the board and show how they are changed from present to the past by writing sample sentences and getting the students to repeat. Once the teacher thinks the students get it, the teacher can ask students to try and change additional verbs into the past. While the student may not be 100% sure, they will probably successfully add -ed at the end of the word and other grammatical features (e.g. ‘y’ to an ‘i’, doubling the final consonant when appropriate, etc.) as long as the teacher has given enough examples.
As a learner, this approach keeps your brain active as you try to figure out how the grammar works. When using this approach, the teacher will notice students asking questions, not necessarily directly, but by giving examples to test their theories. The teacher can then correct errors when appropriate or, if students don’t ask questions to solidify the rule in their mind, the teacher can give examples of incorrect sentences and make sure to show why they are wrong.
As you may have guessed, the disadvantage of this approach is that it takes more time. It takes more time to prepare for, and it takes up more class time. That said, as you get used to using this method, the amount of time will decrease. In fact, if you’ve taught a specific grammar point a number of times before, it will likely come to you quite naturally.
If you’d like several examples of ways to use this approach, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
There is no right or wrong approach to use when it comes to teaching language. The truth is that different situations call for different approaches. It’s important for you as a teacher to recognize these situations and use the right method. Keep your students on their toes, vary your methods, keep things fresh.