Learning or teaching grammar consists of two main stages, learning the meaning and the form of a new structure and then getting plenty of effective practice. Here are some ways you can do this:
- For a quick and easy presentation of new language, the white board is a great place to start. Think about building a context. For example pictures (or postcards) from around the world establishes an understandable context of the present perfect for experiences. Include the affirmative, negative and question form by eliciting ‘I have been to China’ (showing a Great Wall of China photo), or ‘I haven’t been to Egypt’ with a photo of the pyramids crossed out. A photo of the Taj Mahal but not people could elicit ‘have you been to India?’ and from there you could add short form answers. Underline or use colour to highlight parts of the structure such as contractions.
- Bringing objects into the classroom or using the objects you find in a classroom can assist in bringing a grammar point to life while also creating a physical memory. Realia can be used to create a context such as food boxes or menus to use in teaching countable or uncountable nouns – the menus and a calendar could also be used to practice present continuous for future planning a restaurant meal – I’m meeting James at 7pm.
- Dictogloss (my favourite!) is where the teacher dictates a short text to the class (4-5 sentences) but instead of saying it slowly to ensure the students write a faithful copy, they read it at a more natural speed two times and the students note the key words. Prepare a text of about 100 words, read it out first for content and students do not write – check comprehension with a few CCQs. Then tell students to write the keywords, such as nouns and verbs as you read it out aloud again. Using their notes, students in pairs reconstruct the text in complete sentences as much as they can. The idea is not to reproduce the text verbatim, but to focus on the certain aspects of the language used and key elements – a little bit like you would take a phone message and what you would say to whom the message is for.
- To help students pronounce new language correctly, ask them to say it repeatedly so you can check for accuracy – this is called drilling. By experiencing the movement of the mouth as they say it, students reinforce their learning in a different way from when they write it down and see it. Simple drilling can be either choral, i.e. all students repeat the structure at the same time, or individual, or both. A good idea is to let students practise chorally first, but to insist on individual repetition so that you can check everyone is saying it correctly.
- Students want and expect error correction from their teacher. Choosing when and which mistakes to correct plus how is sometimes challenging. It’s important, however, to remember that students who need the most correction may not be those that make the most frequent or biggest mistakes. It is a fine balance of correcting those who are shy or lower level so they are not discouraged from using English, however imperfectly. We correct the class in the hope they won’t keep making those mistakes – vital at very low levels. We encourage them to think about their errors, let them try out new language, start to notice and listen or read for errors too. Then if we point out the errors, show them the corrections they could be better in the next practice.