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Explaining the tricky stuff

Wayne Trotman finds a book that tackles teaching grammar simply

LEARNING TO TEACH GRAMMAR

By Simon Haines

DELTA Publishing, 2020 ISBN: 978-3-12-501628-6

Who among us has never felt a degree of trepidation and perhaps inadequacy at the thought of having to spend the next lesson covering a tricky grammar point for the first time? Questions swirl in the mind: “Can I pull it off so that most of my students grasp it – or might they gang up on me and complain to the director of studies?” Such thinking occurs not only in those for whom English is a first language, but those who might have trouble explaining the mechanics. It’s also an issue for those who acquired their knowledge of grammar in an ELT classroom and now must pass it on to the next generation. The good news is that this excellent title will be of immense help, especially to teachers in training, those recently qualified and for old hands looking for fresh approaches.

In the introduction, the author, clearly an experienced trainer, presents several tips for easing anxious trainees’ fears about grammar. These include a reminder about not being obsessed with terminology. I paused to smile here as I was reminded of a former colleague who scolded his class when they were unable to correctly identify an example of the past perfect passive. Other points include admitting to the class you sometimes don’t know the answer to their questions on grammar. In my own experience, this is not so simple for those for whom English is not a native language – their students tend to view this apparent ignorance as a professional weakness.

“A former colleague scolded his class when they were unable to identify an 
example of the past perfect passive”

In the final part of the introduction the author provides expert advice on teaching grammar. He outlines the challenges involved in relation to the function of the teacher and to students’ needs. He next looks at initial considerations, such as the learners’ backgrounds and their existing knowledge, and answers several frequently asked questions like, “How is the language broken down for teaching purposes?” and “What can go wrong when teaching this structure?”

The format for each of the 10 chapters is a three-part sequence. ‘How to recognise it’ presents initial examples of a grammar point in context, and the reader is asked to think of the meaning and use. This, the author maintains, helps to shake off the students’ fear of grammar. In a way, then, I suppose my former colleague, even with his obsession with terminology, was helping his class. ‘How to use it’ provides details of the form itself, with a brief overview of the rules, while ‘When to use it’ lists common uses and likely related contexts and themes. Some ideas in this section are further developed in ‘Suggested classroom activities’ or are cross- referenced to the sample lesson plan for each grammar point.

‘How to Teach it’ is, of course, the central component of each chapter. Here the author once again simplifies matters by breaking this down into three areas. ‘Practical matters’ provides general notes on specific issues related to the grammar point, such as when is the best time to introduce the form. ‘What to watch out for’ lists possible problems or difficulties learners may have when first meeting the grammar point, including typical mistakes and first language interference, while each chapter contains 10 suggested tasks with which to help consolidate matters in learners’ minds.

Also providing support are worksheets, which come in two types: sample tasks to be used with new learners, and consolidation tasks which provide extra back-up. Digital material for support is freely available for download with an app from the publisher. Most chapters include a ‘Good to know it’ slot, in which related grammar points are noted. The first unit, for example, helpfully quantifies differences between never (0%), hardly ever (1%-10%) and occasionally (11%-20%).

Added to the above are summaries of how grammar has been taught down the years, ranging from grammar translation to the more recent lexical approach, plus commonly used lesson structures for doing so, such as PPP – presentation, practice and production. There are also two lengthy glossaries, one relating to grammar and vocabulary, the other to methodology. All of which means this book may be used as part of a course or for self-study, and would be an excellent addition to the shelves of all centres running basic training courses, plus those of any dynamic ELT department.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.

Images courtesy of JESHOOTS.COM ON UNSPLASH and Ron
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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