ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.


Picture taken from http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/kal/why.htm

Teaching Grammar, Overtly?
The enquiry of whether to teach grammar or not –overtly- in class is one of those questions asked over and over again by language instructors worldwide. Many language experts have tried to give a satisfactory answer since grammar has always been on the spotlight; grammar means the search for a better language performance in the eyes of many language teachers. For Swan & Walter (2013), “explicit grammar teaching can lead to sustained improvement in accuracy;” however, accuracy in ELT does not mean “perfection.” In the search for accuracy, grammar teaching is not just sentence writing with good subject-verb and tense agreement; it also deals with vocabulary use (parts of speech), and it implies being idiomatic (or the use of the grammar of the language as native speakers utilize it). Grammar is then


ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

central in language learning and teaching, but the question of what should be taught remains at times being unanswered. What should be taught? For Swan & Walter (2013), depending on who is being taught, the instructor has to teach basic structures to beginners (or A1 based on the CEFR); and for higher levels (B2 or C1) some remedial grammar or new syntactical items. Hulstijn (1995), also quoted by Swan & Walter (2013), focuses on grammar issues that are: 1) easy to explain, 2) reliable, 3) frequent, and 4) wide scope-oriented. Understanding that the grammar of the target language is impossible to cover, Hulstijn’s approach seems to be reasonable. On the other hand, because many Indo-European languages share many overlapping areas, these are the grammar units that are easy to explain, reliable, frequent, and cover a great scope. Let it be borne in mind that learners will not achieve a perfect grammar, but the grammar they get to learn can improve communication, whether they are the ones speaking or listening. How should grammar be taught? Different experts suggest different methods, but it must be understood that no single learner gets to learn in the very same way. Some experts claim that self-discovery, grammar journeys, or “guided grammar tours” are the panacea for learners. And what about teachers? Language instructors may also approach grammar teaching quite differently, so no single teacher will teach grammar in the same way.


ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

Principles for Grammar Teaching
Swan & Walter (2013) have come up with a simple and quite effective approach to grammar teaching, which allows instructors to deal with the subject-matter as they consider appropriate and allows learners to grasp new structures appropriately. Let us now explain a bit more extensively what the following steps stand for.

A. Input and Output: As suggested by Penny Ur (1996) in her book, A Course in Language Teaching, language presentations have to be
brief and direct to the point bearing in mind learners’ attention span. But if presentations are short, language practices must be ample, and these should include some sort of hands-on grammar in which students can feel free in “manipulating” the grammar point (for some sort of self-discovery on the learner’s side). If students have effective input, output can be greatly accurate.

B. Explanations:

Following and

Penny Swan

Ur’s &

rationale way

on of

language viewing



explanations (2013), instructors must keep them short, simple, and clear. The explanation should give room to the self-discovery of rules so that students can better grasp the piece of language they are learning. What still remains quite debatable is the use of students’ mother tongue for shorter and direct explanations. Swan & Walter (2013) back up the idea of using a bit of the students’ mother


ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

tongue. No doubt that many teachers worldwide second the idea of the native language to guarantee a quick and direct comprehension of the language explanation.

C. Examples: A very innovative feature outlined by Swan & Walter
(2013) in their principles of grammar teaching is that examples should not only be sentences, which is the most common practice held by language teachers. These authors suggest the use of a wider scope of written texts such as public notices, cartoons, ads, poetry, prose, and drama. And with the use of digital media, texts can also be infographics and the like. Teachers have a greater scope of written texts that can be used to illustrate grammar points to students.

D. Exercises: Practice is the core of a language class. For this reason,
as suggested by Ur (1996), language instructors have to devote class time to learning with lots of types of practice. Teachers can include mechanical grammar-oriented exercises, communication tasks, and/or all sorts of exercises aiming at different Bloom’s Taxonomy levels to foster the manipulation and usage of the new grammar points. In this way, keeping in mind the self-discovery of grammatical rules, students can fully experiment with the new structures being studied.


ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

According to Swan & Walter (2013), grammar is not divorced from other language skills and sub-skills. Grammar is indeed connected to: - Vocabulary: Understanding the grammar behind lexical items, their uses by native speakers syntaxwise, etc. - Reading: Use of realistic samples taken from real texts by native speakers as a means to potentialize student written expression - Writing: The search for accuracy and grammar self-discovery to help develop good writing skills - Pronunciation: Better understanding, perception, and production of sounds in all parts of speech like in lexical items that change pronunciation depending on how they are used: record (n) =

/’rɛkǝrd/, record (v) = /riy’kͻrd/.
Additionally to Swan & Walter’s scope of grammar outline above, it is also necessary to include the following two: - Listening: Better decoding of messages by receivers especially when new words in their grammatical contexts are very well understood - Culture: Comprehension of idiomaticity in how native speakers understand and see the world through the grammar they use to explain it To sum up, grammar could be the door to some good learning of the target language. Grammar is also the door to some great knowledge of a


ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

language’s mechanisms to encode meaning in messages. Grammar can also guarantee and/or lead to some great understanding of and communication with native and non-native speakers of the target language.

 To fully develop and comprehend this teaching issue, it’s advisable to research and expand these areas: 1 2 3 4 5 How to Teach Grammar Should we Use L1 When Teaching Grammar? Grammar and Vocabulary Grammar and Sub-Skills Grammar = Accuracy?

Swan, M. & Walter, C. (2013) Grammar Doesn’t Have to be Grey. IATEFL 2012 Glasgow Conference Selections. Ed. Tania Pattison. Kent: IATEFL Ur, P. (1996) A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP

ELT article published by Prof. Jonathan Acuña at http://reflective-online-teaching.blogspot.com/

Professor Jonathan Acuña-Solano ELT Instructor, Course Designer & Teacher Trainer based in Costa Rica IATEFL Member and NCTE Affiliate Resource Teacher at CCCN Senior ELT Professor at Universidad Latina Freelance ELT Consultant four OUP in Central America For further comments or suggestions, reach me at: @jonacuso – Twitter jonacuso@gmail.com – Gmail Other blogs and sites I often write for my students at the university are: 1. Pronunciation 1 3. Pronunciation 2 2. Readding Skills 1 4. Computering Applications in Education


Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.