Teaching Grammar – an impossible mission?
Teaching Grammar is not an impossible mission. I have been an English teacher for over 40 years and I would like to share my experience and teaching approach with teachers and students who may or may not be familiar with the books I have published and the lectures and workshops I have given over the years. Having this objective in mind, I designed my website ten years ago.
Grammar in my website
My first project was to review the most important Grammatical issues studied mainly in Junior High, High School and Teachers’ Training Colleges both from the students’ and the teachers’ point of view. I have published posts on different Grammar issues. I don’t pretend to have covered the whole English Grammar (an impossible mission), but I hope the posts cover the main issues that Hebrew speaking students need in order to reach a high verbal and writing proficiency.
I started with the Verb – Tenses – and published parallel posts for students – שעורי אנגלית לתלמיד ולסטודנט – and for teachers – טיפים למורים. The posts intended for students mainly focus on explanations and examples. The posts intended for teachers mainly focus on teaching strategies and teaching tips.
As long as teachers know Grammar as most of them certainly do and understand its role in the English lesson – not as the objective of the lesson but as a means toward reaching verbal and writing proficiency – it gets easier and easier to introduce Grammar into every lesson and teach it in context.
I will try to explain my approach to Grammar and teaching Grammar.
Grammar should be taught not as an end but as a means toward reaching the highest achievable standards of excellence in all domains of foreign language teaching.
And since Grammar is still a controversial issue for many people, let me say most clearly:
Grammar is back. It is no longer IF, but HOW, WHEN and HOW MUCH!!!
It is very important to understand this statement and identify with it because only if we are convinced that teaching Grammar is absolutely necessary, a very important part of every lesson, only if we, as teachers, know Grammar and love it (it is very easy to love what we know and quite natural to hate what we don’t know), will we be able to motivate our students, convey the importance of learning and knowing Grammar and teach it effectively in an enjoyable way.
Grammar is important for every student, but most important for the non-native student who does not absorb grammatical rules without explicit instruction. It is most important to make students (and many reluctant teachers) understand that Grammar is not a separate domain but an integral part of of the language. We cannot speak and write correctly without knowing the underlying grammatical rules.
And last but not least, we should always remember that structure conveys meaning. Therefore, knowing Grammar can lead to a dramatic improvement in Reading Comprehension. There is a very close connection between Grammar and Reading Comprehension. When a student lacks knowledge of Grammar, he reads a sentence as a collection of words and therefore fails to comprehend the real meaning of the text. If Grammar were not important, we could simply memorize the dictionary and master a foreign language.
Grammar has been a controversial issue for many years. The arguments for and against teaching Grammar, voiced by teachers and experts, may at first seem very convincing.
Arguments against teaching Grammar:
Grammar is not important as long as you can get your message across.
The underlying assumption is that students of English as a foreign language acquire the grammatical rules by understanding input containing these rules. However, although some learners may acquire Grammar naturally without explicit instruction, most of them don’t. Today, most experts agree that it is very difficult to reach a high level of oral and writing proficiency without a sound grammatical background. Therefore, language structures have to be taught. Most learners will not acquire them on their own. This argument applies not only to verbal and reading proficiency but to writing as well. Even with massive reading, complete acquisition of the conventions of writing may not take place and accurate writing will seldom be reached without systematic acquisition of Grammatical structures.
Teaching / learning Grammar is boring.
This myth derives from the impression that Grammar can only be taught through repetition and other rote drills and by mechanic memorization of rules. However, teaching Grammar need not and should not be boring. We, as teachers, can foster Grammar acquisition by using interesting, relevant texts and by developing meaningful and rich classroom activities that are not only useful and interesting but even enjoyable.
This is about all for today. I have tried to explain my approach to Grammar and the philosophy behind all the lectures I have given on the subject, the books I have written and my newest baby – the posts in my site. In my next posts I will discuss various teaching methods, lesson plans, etc. I am eager to share 40 years of experience teaching in Junior High, High School and Teachers’ Training Colleges with students and teachers.