Why teaching grammar is important?
“Grammar is the business of taking a language to pieces, to see how it works.”
~ David Crystal
What Is Grammar?
Grammar is the language system that defines how its various parts work together. It is about the morphemes (the smallest units of meaning in a language) and the syntax (the patterns in which words are combined to create meaningful phrases and sentences) that convey meaning.
Without grammar, your words fail to convey meaning – they mean nothing. Grammar forms the backbone of any language and teaching grammar is even more important for children’s language development.
Consider this example: ‘Why did you take my pen?’
Do you understand what this sentence means? Is that a complete sentence? What makes it a correct sentence? I am sure your answer will be, ‘Yes, of course. It is a complete sentence because the parts of speech are in the correct order, there is an end-punctuation (a question mark showing that it’s an interrogative sentence), and it has an interrogative adverb.’
Now read this question, ‘Did why take my pen?’
Does this sound correct? Why not? Of course, it does not sound natural and it does not follow the grammar rules.
So grammar is the language system that allows us to create words and sentences in a comprehensible and interpretive manner. It lets us give meaning to our thoughts, feelings, and observations when we try to string simple words together.
Why Teach Grammar?
Teaching grammar not only involves teaching how the language and its patterns work but also how to effectively convey a meaning when using a language. ‘Sarah baked a chocolate cake’ and ‘A chocolate cake was baked by Sarah’ are both grammatically correct and convey meaning. But we know they carry different meanings and purposes. The second sentence ‘A chocolate cake was baked by Sarah’ has a different emphasis. So language learners need to know more than constructing sentences. Language learners need to go beyond creating sentences. They need to know the different forms and variations they can create and use. They also need to be able to understand and create different word patterns that convey the intended meanings. That’s where effective grammar teaching comes and to be an amazing grammar teacher, you should read some good grammar teaching books such as How to Teach Grammar by Scott Thornbury, The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching by Constance Weaver, or Teaching Grammar in Context by Constance Weaver.
Teachers need to keep grammar rules concise and present them in fairly simple ways. We know that teaching grammar starts with the basic English grammar rules: words as parts of speech, such as nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions, etc. but the bigger question is, ‘How should we teach grammar?’ Well, there are two main approaches to teaching grammar: the deductive approach and the inductive approach.
01. The Deductive Approach To Teaching Grammar:
The deductive approach relies upon presenting the language rules, examples, and then practice. This approach is highly teacher-centered because the teacher first presents the grammar rules, shares examples, allows students to practice the grammar rules (mainly through gap-fill or other similar exercises), and finally the students produce independent work.
Classroom example 01:
The teacher gives a handout to students to read the rules of simple past tense and draws a table on the whiteboard to explain the rules of simple past tense (The basic affirmative, negative, and interrogative forms). Then she gives them a worksheet with gap-fills where the students have to write the correct forms of the verb. Lastly, she asks them to write ten sentences in the simple past tense.
The above classroom example shows the deductive approach to teaching grammar. It has its benefits such as saving time, direct teaching and guided practice. However, this approach won’t suit all students. Especially when we talk about 21st-century learners, we know that our classrooms are now student-centered where students take ownership of their learning.
02. The Inductive Approach To Teaching Grammar:
The inductive approach to teaching grammar starts with presenting language in context, allowing students to work out the patterns of the language used as they discover common patterns in the language using their observational skills. Such an approach to teaching grammar promotes critical thinking as well as language skills. Since students work out the patterns of language on their own, the inductive approach is more student-centered and fits well in a student-centered classroom.
Classroom example 02:
The teacher asks the students, ‘When you were a child, what was your favorite dessert? Who would make that for you?’ She allows the students to give responses as a group or in pairs and then asks students to read a short story about a girl who loved cupcakes when she was young. The students read the text and respond to the teacher’s questions about the phrases that show the actions that took place in the past (use of ‘used to’). She asks students to highlight all the phrases that show that the actions do not take in the present, but in the past. Then the teacher writes the grammar rule understudy and invites students to guided practice.
The above classroom example shows the inductive approach to grammar teaching where the teacher does not ‘give out’ information and rules, rather she presents the language in context with relevant examples so that the students can work out the target language pattern and then complete the practice exercises. This approach is quite beneficial in that it keeps students engaged and makes them accountable. They observe, think, and practice the grammar rule and finally take ownership of their learning which results in better retention and understanding of the grammar rules understudy.
Before Teaching Grammar, Ask Yourself…
Before you plan your next grammar lesson, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I presenting language in context?
- Am I allowing my students to discover real-life examples of the grammar teaching point?
- What grammar rules does this lesson teach?
- Does the text/activity I have selected present ample opportunities for students to work out the grammar patterns?
- Does this activity focus on form and rules only?
- Does this activity build meaning-making too?
- What method should I use: the inductive or the deductive approach? Or a combination of the two?
To Teach Grammar Like A Pro, Read A Grammar Teaching Book By A Pro:
To become an inspiring grammar teacher, I recommend you read books on grammar teaching by some of the great language teachers. There is no substitute for reading and learning especially when it comes to teaching language. Here is a list of grammar teaching books that will help you improve your grammar teaching skills:
- Catching Up on Conventions: Grammar Lessons for Middle School Writers by Chantal Francois
- Teach Terrific Grammar, Grades 6-8: A Complete Grammar Program for Use in Any Classroom by Gary Muschla
- More Grammar to Get Things Done: Daily Lessons for Teaching Grammar in Context by Darren Crovitz
- Grammar Survival for Primary Teachers: A Practical Toolkit by Jo Shackleton
- Grammar Survival for Secondary Teachers: A Practical Toolkit by Geoff Barton
- Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener
- English Grammar For Dummies by Geraldine Woods
I hope this post was helpful to most of you. If you have any questions about grammar teaching ideas, don’t forget to leave a comment below.