Ways of presenting English grammar
Contexts, prompts and methods
- Model sentences for oral practice + picture e.g. The butcher's got some meat. He hasn't got any lamb. Contrasting sentence pairs.
Classic coursebooks (market leaders for many years!) adopting this approach include L.G. Alexander's "First Things First" and Bernard Hartley's "Streamline Departures". Modern coursebooks also contrast sentence pairs to focus on structure, though 'the structural syllabus' is likely to be twinned with a 'functional' one.
- Question & Answer e.g. pattern practice drills of both the "meaningless" and "meaningful" variety.
Click here for the two definitions.
- Dialogues e.g. A. I'd like some bacon, please. B. I'm sorry, we haven't got any.
The grammar demonstration dialogue has been criticised for promoting 'structure speech', though a skilled coursebook writer can find natural settings for both focus on 'structure' and 'meaningful exchange':
See the language laboratory drills for Robert O'Neill's "Kernel Lessons Plus" - e.g. courtroom drama (JUDGE: if you hadn't been driving carelessly, you wouldn't have hit the bus stop" ACCUSED: If I hadn't been late, I wouldn't have been driving dangerously. ) for presentation and practice of The Third Conditional - which combine grammar with situation, made more memorable through strong characterisation.
- Situations e.g. I'm going to check the flights / then I'm coing to book the hotel / pack a towel….
Some situations (e.g. future plans) invite repetition of structures, though skillfully produced materials should avoid the 'Tum-Te-Tum effect' of structure speech
- Demonstration e.g. prepositions of place - TEACHER: I'm going to put the cassette tape into the cassette player.
- Texts e.g. The sun shines more in Spain than in England. Contextualization.. Note the role played by 'knowledge of the world' in appreciating the context. Use texts (e.g. your selection of Level A1 readers or teaching material) which give learners from different cultures an equal challenge in understanding the relationships between syntax and functions such as contrast and comparison. In his famous introduction to 'the Novish language', a simulation to expose trainee teachers to the difficulties of learning a new language, Julian Dakin asks: "can language learning proceed without conceptual awareness and knowledge of culture?"
- Grammatical explanations - e.g. 'some' is used when the quantity is definite for plural or uncountable
the danger of explanations occurs when too little time is given to practice in speaking the language accurately and under pressure of a reasonably quick response. Nevertheless, grammar practice books containing explanations are among the top sellers:
Basic Grammar in Use with answers and CD-ROM Raymond Murphy [20/09/2010]
Essential Grammar in Use (with Answers and CD-ROM) by Raymond Murphy - Self-study reference & practice book [26/03/2015]
English Grammar in Use (with Answers and Interactive eBook) by Raymond Murphy - Self-study reference & practice book for Intermediate Learners of English [30/07/2015]
- Diagrams - e.g. Time Line for Present Perfect v Past Simple
I would highly recommend Meaning and the English Verb Geoffrey Leech [09/09/2004] to teachers who want their diagrams to work conceptually. I have seen cuisenaire rods placed on time lines to cue the use of auxiliary verbs in producing negative and interrogative forms. For these representations to work well, a good knowledge is needed of how time is represented in functional contexts and the syntax needed to match. For example, a future plan is more frequently represented through the Present Continuous Tense or a "going to" form than the Future Simple Tense with "will". I have often used time lines to present the difference between the Past Simple and Present Perfect tenses, but explanations of use depends on semantics (the meaning of lexical items) as well as syntax. Diagrams are most useful when there is a one-to-one relationship (e.g. defining a physical object) which does not vary through change of context.
- Drawings - now with the Internet, Smart TV sets, and the electronic whiteboard in many schools, obtaining 'all the drawings and pictures you need' is a lot easier than it used to be. For advice on how to use them in the language classroom, see Pictures for Language Learning by Andrew Wright . If you do not have ready access to pictures and need to improve your improvisation skills (as I did when I was teaching on the edge of the Sahara Desert in 1973!) try Stick Figure Drawing for Language Teachers by Francis C. Johnson  ISBN: 9780602215491
- Translation - Reasons to avoid or restrict translation would be [A] if the class is drawn from several different language backgrounds - you may irritate some learners rather than impress them [B] if a direct method approach is feasible, as it is likely to be in smaller sized groups where classroom management is easier. Usually, if the aim is to teach oral English, you do not want heads buried in bilingual dictionaries. Language interference will follow if there is too much translation, which makes it more difficult to focus on the syntax of the language you are teaching.
- Grammatical explanations in student's mother tongue - there is a market in many countries for books which offer explanations of how English grammar works in learners' mother tongues. A monolingual setting favours the use of the student's mother tongue as a teaching aid, though it also strengthens language interference.
Grammar Practice for learners
for independent study, self-access centre or occasional class use
[L1]-[L2] Basic Grammar in Use with answers and CD-ROM Raymond Murphy [20/09/2010]
[L2]-[L3] Essential Grammar in Use (with Answers and CD-ROM) by Raymond Murphy - Self-study reference & practice book [26/03/2015]
[L3]-[L5] English Grammar in Use (with Answers and Interactive eBook) by Raymond Murphy - Self-study reference & practice book for Intermediate Learners of English [30/07/2015]
[L6]-[L7] Advanced Grammar in Use (with Answers and CD-ROM) by Martin Hewings [18/06/2015]
[L4]-[L7] Practical English Usage, 3rd Edition Michael Swan [ 21/04/2005]
[L6]-[L7] A Practical English Grammar Thomson and Martinet [26/06/1986]
Grammar Activities and Games for teachers to use in the classroom
[L2]-[L5] Grammar Practice Activities (2nd Revised edition) Penny Ur [27/04/2009] contains wide-ranging examples for teachers wishing to design their own materials - grammar
[L2]-[L5] Games for Language Learning (3rd Edition) Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, Michael Buckby [03/04/2006]
Grammar for English Language Teachers (2nd Edition) (with Exercises and a Key) Martin Parrot [29/01/2010]
How to Teach Grammar Scott Thornbury [01/10/2000]
Meaning and the English Verb Geoffrey Leech [09/09/2004] a classic, especially helpful for essays relating language function to syntax or form e.g. "what are the main uses of the Present Perfect?"
A Communicative Grammar of English Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik [06/01/2003] should appeal to teachers or learners requiring explanations of grammar in the context of meaning