The very word ‘grammar’ may send your students to sleep. However, it’s an important part of language and for teachers of English, who are sometimes noticeably slack on this front, it is something to go about carefully.
Why we use grammar
Jim Scrivener, in his book ‘Teaching Grammar‘ (2003, p. 1), rightly points out that grammar is ‘a living resource that gives us the ability to communicate our ideas and feelings… Grammar only makes sense if you can use it’.
With that in mind, memorizing countless tenses and teaching lists of verb forms and irregularities is not going to be an effective teaching method. Instead, teach your students something practical and then show them how grammar works inside that to give it meaning and structure.
Have you ever taught grammar?
Take, for example, the ‘present perfect simple’ tense. It sounds intimidating. I would argue that – unless it is relevant to an upcoming test or part of the curriculum – even calling it the ‘present perfect simple’ is unnecessary (especially so in conversation classes, where reciting experiences or past actions is necessary, but where grammatical knowledge is not paramount). Show them, rather, what you can do with that tense and how to use it in day-to-day English.
The four steps
Jim Scrivener wrote about four essential steps to learn grammar effectively:
1. Notice – regularly point out uses of a certain item in various and numerous contexts and situations
2. Understand – teach the form, meaning and uses of an item so that students know how it’s made
3. Try – let them practice using the item. Mistakes are natural, but repeated use and correction will give them a clearer understanding.
4. Use – Help them to make the item part of their language ‘repertoire’, something they can use comfortably when needed.
I’m grateful to Jim Scrivener for his invaluable advice, and I’d recommend his book ‘Teaching Grammar‘ to any teacher, especially those with limited resources available to them.