Published 2nd December 2020

Teaching grammar in the EFL classroom

Conditionals. Adverbials. The present perfect. Uncountable nouns. Continuous tenses.

Does just looking at those terms gives us the shivers?!

Grammar is one of those things that can strike fear into the hearts of both students and teachers. Students, as you can imagine, may have had bad experiences with mind-numbingly boring grammar lessons. Teachers, on the other hand, are afraid of teaching those very same mind-numbingly boring lessons but they also realise they do need to teach grammar. To make matters worse, the majority of English as a Foreign Language teachers don’t themselves really know the grammar they are supposed to teach! Talk about a pickle!

So let’s look at how to teach grammar in the EFL classroom.

Do I need to be a grammar fundi to teach it?

But let’s get one thing out of the way first.

Yes, as a teacher it is necessary for you to know English grammar. But, to be quite honest, there is only so much you need to know. To be precise, you only need to know as much as your students. English grammar is a complex beast, and if you are not familiar with its complexities now, there is no way you’ll be able to learn it in a day. It takes years of experience to get to know English grammar fully.

When discussing how to teach grammar in the EFL classroom, let’s get this clear – it’s totally possible to break it down into chunks. If you are teaching your Intermediate learners the second conditional, then you need to know all about the second conditional. If you are teaching your Pre-Intermediate students comparative adjectives, then you need to know all about comparative adjectives. And if you are teaching your Advanced students inversion with negative adverbials, then you need to know all about inversion with negative adverbials.

Break it down

When we break it down like this, it becomes much more manageable, mostly because learning a particular structure is as simple as reading the student’s coursebook. In the coursebook, you’ll find simple explanations, example sentences, and practice exercises: everything you need to teach yourself. If it’s been written for your students to understand, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to grasp the subject matter quickly. And if you’re still a little confused – and remember, if you’re confused, your students will be confused! – then you can easily check a grammar reference book, do a Google search or ask for advice in the staff room.

So fear not if your grammar is a little rusty. There is no need for you to do a TEFL grammar course before stepping into the classroom. Your TEFL course should provide you with an overview of the English language system anyway and a top-up course won’t do you any harm, but you do not need to do a stand-alone English grammar course.

Now let’s get down to business.

Teaching grammar: approaches and methods

There are many different approaches and methods of teaching English grammar in the EFL classroom. When thinking about how to teach grammar in the EFL classroom, you’ll need to consider your students, your teaching context, and the language structure.

An age-old approach to teaching grammar: the Grammar-Translation method

Back in the day, teaching grammar through the Grammar Translation method was how it was done.

Learners would look at a text in English and compare it to the same text translated into their language. They could then look at the similarities and differences between the two texts. In this way, it was hoped they would learn the rules of English grammar and how to use them.

This method was utilised for many years, but lately, we have realised the shortcomings of this approach. For many languages, there are no direct translations of English grammatical items, so translation can be a messy business. While there is nothing wrong with using translation in the EFL classroom, we would prefer it if our students actually learned to think in English rather than think in their own language and then translate.

Read more: Using Translation in the TEFL Classroom

Teaching grammar

The deductive approach to teaching grammar

One approach is known as the deductive approach.

This is when the students are given grammar rules by the teacher. In other words, the teacher will explain the rules of the language structure, give example sentences, and ensure understanding. The students will then do a set of controlled and freer practice activities to practice the language structure.

You might recognise this as part of a PPP (Presentation, Production and Practice) lesson plan model.

Read more: What Exactly is PPP?

The inductive approach to teaching grammar

In contrast, the inductive approach requires the learners to figure out the rules for themselves. The teacher will present the target language structure along with example sentences – or in a context – and the learners must work out for themselves what the rules of usage are. The teacher may ask guided questions to help them along but doesn’t explain the rules explicitly. After the rules have been clarified, the students will do practice exercises to practice the language.

This is also known as guided discovery.

Read more: Guided Discovery in the EFL Classroom

A few miscellaneous methods of teaching grammar

There are a number of ways these approaches are realised practically in the classroom. We’ve already mentioned the PPP model.

Then there is also Total Physical Response or TPR. TPR uses physical actions to teach grammar. In practice, the teacher will give commands or directions to the learners who must respond appropriately. The actions are very good for teaching verbs and the continuous tenses. TPR works especially well with kinaesthetic learners.

Cuisenaire rods

If you’re a fan of the Silent Way, then you could teach grammar through the use of blocks called Cuisenaire rods. Cuisenaire rods are blocks of different sizes and different colours. They are a great way to give a visual representation of a grammatical structure and its patterns. As you can imagine, Cuisenaire rods are great for visual students.

All in all, the thought of teaching grammar can be enough to keep TEFL teachers awake at night, but it shouldn’t be. Teaching grammar can be daunting at first but after some practice. After all, once you’ve taught the present perfect once, you’ll feel more comfortable and be more prepared teaching it a second time…and you’ll be a professional when you teach it the 54th time! So don’t let teaching grammar put you off teaching English as a Foreign Language. All TEFL teachers are in the same boat when they start teaching, even native speakers. So trust in your TEFL training, always make sure you’re one step ahead of your students, and soon you’ll be looking forward to your grammar lessons!

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