TEFL Q and A, Chapter 4: Teaching Grammar

Q: Is teaching grammar similar to teaching vocabulary?

A: Yes, it is. For example, you should always give your students a chance to guess what grammar item you’re looking for. And, as with vocabulary, context is your main weapon.

Q: Could you give me an example?

A: Sure. Imagine you want to teach your class the following structure: “If I had enough money, I’d buy a new car.” It’s possible that some of your students already know this structure. To elicit it from them, you can say, “My car’s getting very old, and I’m having a lot of problems with it. The problem is I only earn £200 a week. Of course I haven’t got enough money to buy a new car, but … if ….”

Q: I see. So you have to make quite a song and dance about the context?

A: Yes, you do.

Q: And is teaching the use of grammar similar to teaching the use of vocabulary?

A: As with vocabulary, you have to show where the main stresses are in the sentence—especially the syllable with the biggest stress. In the sentence I just mentioned, the biggest stress would be on car. You can snap your fingers to reinforce this (but don’t forget to do this from right to left, following the students’ perspective).

Q: Even if students can say the grammar item correctly in a sentence (by copying the teacher), how do I know that they can use it outside the class? In fact, how do I know that they will be able to make new sentences with that grammar item? (Surely that’s what we want them to do.)

A: Imagine your students have just repeated, “If I had enough money, I’d buy a new car.” After that, you could use pictures as prompts to show that you want a slight change to the sentence. For example, you could show a picture of a house, and then a (nominated) student would have to substitute housefor car. Get the idea?

Q: Yes, but it sounds like I have to be pretty slick.

A: That’s true, but that will come with practice.

Q: And if the students make a mistake at this point?

A: Then use your normal gesture to indicate that they’ve made a mistake.

Q: And what kind of information would I write on the board?

A: This should be the same as a new item of vocabulary (within a sentence), but it’s also a good idea to write down a mini explanation—in a different colour. For example, with our sentence, you could write, “This is just an imaginary situation.” You could also write “The second conditional” (some students like to know the grammatical terms).

Q: Is there any way that I can help to consolidate a grammar rule?

A: Yes, you can write a simple fill-in-the-blank exercise, which encourages the students to make choices on the basis of the rules. For example, you could write

Which word goes in the blank in the sentence below?

travelling travel travelled

If I had enough money, I would __________________ around the world.

You could, perhaps, write an exercise with 10 examples like this, but make sure that the answers are not too easy.

Q: OK. Now I feel I need to develop a feel for the level of difficulty of structures. Is there a certain method of deciding which structures are more difficult than others?

A: There is no definitive method for determining the level of difficulty of a structure, but you will gradually get a feel for this. Here are some questions you could ask yourself: Does the grammar item have just one clause or are there more? Is it easy or difficult to pronounce? Could it be confused with some other structure? Is the meaning complicated or straightforward?

Q: Wow. That’s quite a lot of questions.

A: Yes, but, like I said before, you really will develop a feel for it.


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