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Benefits of teaching grammar

Grammar lectures allow teachers to introduce a variety of learning techniques.

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I teach based on how I like to be taught. First, I want teachers to use the target language at all times. Next, I want to have extensive listening practice, as this is the skill I need most. Finally, I want to know the tools - the grammar - of the target language.

A teacher of English at Ban Yangpao School in Chiang Mai instructs students in grammar. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN

There are four major benefits in overtly teaching grammar. First, it is an excellent listening exercise. Second, it can serve as a segue to either intensive or extensive reading exercises.

Third, it provides a common topic for students to discuss in pairs and in small groups. Finally, it provides a wealth of material for controlled and semi-controlled writing.

Listening

If grammar is taught in the target language, in a well-thought, short lecture, students gain an opportunity to practise listening. Particularly useful with classes in which it is difficult to find common themes to build on, grammar lectures allow teachers to introduce a variety of listening techniques and note-taking practice.

Students are introduced to grammar vocabulary - article, noun, verb, adjective, adverb, phrase, clause, and simple, compound and complex sentences. These words are: needed to understand the lecture; encountered in related reading; beneficial in discussions; and handy tools when discussing writing assignments.

While it would not be a good idea to introduce all these terms at one time, a series of lectures on grammar, followed by reading, speaking and writing, will help students to appreciate how they can learn vocabulary without constantly referring to lists of translated words.

In providing lectures, key points can be stressed and time taken to suggest ideas and words students should include in the notes they take. Then, based on work in the other skills, the next lecture can review and build on what students have been taught.

Speaking

In many classes, students do not have sufficient English ability, vocabulary or personal experiences to talk about many themes; for example, part-time work, travel or university studies.

However, if they have taken or have been provided with notes based on a grammar lecture, they will, to a certain degree, and based on their ability, share a common theme they can discuss.

While it might not be the most interesting topic and not one that will lend itself to extensive discussion, having students discuss grammar, for example, identifying parts of speech in a few sample sentences, will give them a chance to express their ideas and opinions at a level they find comfortable.

Reading

Intensive reading is practised when students need to read through grammar explanations and examples before beginning an exercise. In addition, and with many well-designed grammar exercise texts, as all questions can be answered by referring back to the correct example, this provides an excellent intensive reading exercise.

Extensive reading is practised when longer reading, graded readers and supplementary readings are provided and students asked to answer a few questions that require understanding and using some of the target grammatical structures.

Writing

When writing, students need to be encouraged to check their work by referring to grammar reference books. To do this, they will need to know the correct grammatical terms for their questions and how to find an answer in a reference book.

Although certainly time-consuming, it adds another concrete step to the editing process that should result in more-accurate writing and a deeper understanding of the grammatical points in question.

The key to teaching grammar overtly is to make certain all four skills are involved in a manner that reflects the way students might want to research information on other topics of personal interest.

Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through thaiednet.org , through his web site http://www.speechwork.co.th,  at tim@speechwork.co.th  or on 081-834-8982.

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