Alexandra Chistyakova

Grammar Issue – Alexandra

Alexandra Chistyakova

Grammar Is …  – Alexandra Chistyakova

Grammar is boring. No one enjoys grammar: neither learners, nor teachers. Fluency is more important than accuracy. Why is I need to study grammar if everyone can understands me good?

These and many other assumptions about grammar can be heard every time and then. Grammar seems to be an ugly duckling of the foreign language teaching and learning.

However, it has never been so for me, especially, since the time I started learning English consciously and then teaching it. Actually, I could never relate to the notorious dispute on what is more important: accuracy or fluency. I have always been convinced that accuracy and fluency are equally important.

Moreover, throughout my teaching practice I’ve had numerous examples of both schoolchildren and adults expressing the wish to study English grammar more thoroughly. Thanks to these examples, I can say with certainty that there is a really high demand among learners for the good grammar instruction.


Grammar Is Important

Fortunately, there are a lot of learners who never question the importance of grammar. Unfortunately, there are those who doubt it. If the latter is the case, I like to give my students the following situation to consider. I say to them:

“Just imagine this: a brilliant idea comes to your mind and you immediately want to share it with your English friends. There is no time to consult a dictionary or a textbook: you are dying of how much you want to share your idea right now! And here you go! You put your idea into words; you quickly select some phrases, words, structures – you are wrapping your idea, like a gift, with the language – and then send it off to your friends. You are anticipating their joy and surprise at your idea!


But if you weren’t careful with the wrapping, the gift your friends receive could be surprising indeed. But will it be joyful? It could rightfully be rather puzzling: instead of a beautifully wrapped gift that can easily be opened by simply pulling a colourful ribbon, they might receive an ugly trunk with an unfriendly-looking heavy lock in front. And now, if your friends really wish to unlock your message and discover your brilliant idea, they have to strain their every nerve and struggle to find the appropriate key to your “trunk”.

What a laborious and tedious task! Do you expect your friends to enjoy the process of unlocking your idea? Do you think they will be looking forward to communicating with you more in the future? Was it possible to avoid this awkward situation and make communication pleasant and smooth?

Surely, this could have been done: Grammar is the key! Correct grammar unlocks messages easily.”

Usually, this story is enough to persuade my students to study grammar better. Only stubborn or naughty students continue denying the necessity of grammar for them. How to persuade such students or if at all there is the need to persuade such students is a different story which has nothing to do with the grammar itself.


Grammar Is Fun

But is grammar really that tedious? Or perhaps, it’s the way it is taught that is boring? In fact, grammar itself presents no limits to imagination, creativity and fun. To quote from Shakespeare: there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. So why not to make grammar engaging and meaningful to our students?!  Even grammar drills can be turned into a fun and interesting activity.

For example, one of my favourite activities on extensive practice of interrogative forms, past and present tenses is the “With your back to the class” activity which I borrowed from Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games (Cambridge,2006). This activity is suitable for students of elementary to intermediate levels.

In the activity, the teacher has a short story with an unusual ending. The teacher writes two or three key words from the story on the board for the students to restore the story by asking Yes/No questions to the teacher. However, all communication between students and the teacher goes on silently: the questions are written on the board and the teacher puts his/her answers on the board too. But the teacher gives answers only to the questions which are grammatically correct.  If a question is grammatically incorrect, the teacher draws a question mark on the board, and students need to work together to find the mistake and correct the question.

At first, all this writing and the close focus on grammar forms might seem boring and off-putting, but as soon as students get the idea and receive the first answers they get engaged and enthusiastic about solving the mystery. Moreover, they become eager to find what is wrong with the question and spot the mistake. So while being highly grammar-focused, this activity is both meaningful and fun.


Grammar Is Useful

Teaching grammar can bring students to a better understanding of how the language works. Thanks to studying the grammatical framework of a language, students can see the language as a single whole. They can see how many different linguistic features are intertwined and interdependent. Through teaching grammar, teachers can raise students’ linguistic consciousness and understanding of how grammatical errors can influence a message and a communicative act in general. For this purpose, teachers can exploit learners’ mother tongue, for instance. Teachers can imitate a similar grammar error in the learners’ language to vividly illustrate how absurd, funny or even inappropriate a sentence might sound to native speakers. So, grammar can change students’ attitude to their language studies and to the language itself.

All in all, teaching grammar is important, fun and useful. But to make it so is the teacher’s task, which sometimes requires creative and even artistic efforts from the teacher. Teaching is an art. Teaching grammar is rightfully so, too.


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Published by

Alexandra Chistyakova

Alexandra Chistyakova is an English teacher at the Physics faculty of Moscow State University, Russia. She also works as a freelance teacher giving one-to-one English lessons to the large range of learners: from preschoolers to senior adults. She's always been engaged in the continuing professional development, taking various teacher-training courses, reading specialized literature and participating in ELT conferences and seminars. She received her CELTA at BKC-in, Moscow, in 2011. Her professional interests include: professional development, classroom management techniques, motivating the non-developers, teaching English to young and very young learners, integrating web 2.0 tools in the classroom. She believes that no success can be achieved without motivation and that there is no better source of motivation for teachers as being part of the vibrant international ELT community. Apart from her job, Alexandra has a fascination for astronomy, nature, travelling and meeting new people.

32 thoughts on “Grammar Issue – Alexandra”

  1. Grammar is the skeleton of any language and as we know without the skeletal structure the body is nothing but a mass of flesh that never stands. So, grammar is essential for all learners of language and should be reinforced in all language teaching. The question is how to make it fun for the students.

  2. In the activity, the teacher has a short story with an unusual ending. The teacher writes two or three key words from the story on the board for the students to restore the story by asking Yes/No questions to the teacher. However, all communication between students and the teacher goes on silently: the questions are written on the board and the teacher puts his/her answers on the board too. But the teacher gives answers only to the questions which are grammatically correct. If a question is grammatically incorrect, the teacher draws a question mark on the board, and students need to work together to find the mistake and correct the question.

    1. I don’t know why I see a paragraph from the text next my name..this is not what I have written (and my text is missing)???

  3. I completely agree with your opinion. Grammar is considered tedious, useless sometimes by our students but our goal as teachers is to find the right way to present it properly and to have students understand, accept and make the most of it.

  4. What you have said is very interesting.
    At present I am teaching Russian language. I know how much grammar is important for every language, can I use activities for teaching Russian grammar, because my students don’t like to learn Russian grammar a little also

  5. I substantiate the idea that grammar is so important for communicative accuracy, e.g expressing the future when you mean a project act; using the past is misleading in this instance.

  6. I do agree with you Alexandra teaching Grammar is important for learners to deiver the right message.What matters most is how we as teachers to be creative and to think of ways to make students get some attention in a grammar session!

  7. I’m totally agreed grammar is useful and concerning its funny aspect, well I think that depends on the teachers activities and ways to teach grammar points as you said. In my case, I was taught grammar with both tedious and funny activities. Using stories and images get into the teaching show and make it easier and meaningful. Of course, this is a thing we can’t overuse as you mentioned. In my teaching practice, I’ve used unfortunately both. I use the tedious way because of the demand of some students who have been taught to learn through long explanation about grammar points, and even when I’ve tried to show them this is not the best way, it’s hard to change their mind. I’ve used fun activities and they enjoyed them. To be honest, at times teachers strategies depend on the group of students (their previous background or experiences). Anyway, I really like this strategy and we can mix with others. Magic comes in different boxes, we give it the shapes we want.

  8. Hi! I really like the way the importance of grammar is underlined here.

    And the activity “With your back to the class”, is learner-centered, creative and fun…while students work together on ‘solving problems’, they use their grammar knowledge, analyse, create new things (ideas, questions) use their imagination, which incorporates so many important aspects of learning + fun…

    I would also agree that accuracy and fluency are equally important, but also stress that, at the very beginning of learning, while young learners are making their first steps and need a lot of support to raise self-confidence, we should not insist so much on accuracy/grammar

  9. Hi!
    I did enjoy reading your post because most of us criticize the teaching of grammar but it is necessary.
    You have shared a nice story and I related to my adult students… they want to speak English but they don’t know how to and when I teach some grammar, they angrily say “I don’t want to study it”! Contradiction ah?
    Thanks for having shared your story and such interesting facts about grammar.
    Smiles from Argentina,
    Maria 🙂

  10. Hi, Alexandra! I have just completed the pre-task on the course for today, and following an instruction that I always give my students, I read ALL of the description…and came right over here.

    As a linguist, I completely agree that grammar is a must in the learning of ANY language. Being a fluent speaker of four languages, and a language teacher, I have a first-hand experience on the importance of grammar.

    Understanding WHY something is wrong, or incomplete, or not accurate is the best way for students to correct their mistakes. The conscious knowledge of the grammatical rules, even in mother tongue, helps the students to express themselves better.

    I am like you, in the sense that I actually enjoy grammar, I love explaining it and making connections to mother tongue so my students can better understand WHY being fluent is not enough if you are not accurate… I really need to work on my creativity when it comes to the teaching/drilling/reviewing of grammar, and that’s why I am really excited about your session…which I am just now going to watch,,,

    Thanks in advance for your presentation!!!

    Greetings from Puebla,

    Queralt C.

  11. I find teaching grammar challenging, because I have to find a way so that my students will understand grammar without feeling bored or falling asleep in the middle of my explanation. Because as you’re saying, accuracy and fluency are equally important. I do agree with that. That’s why I always try to make it as interesting as possible that my students don’t realize that they’re actually learning about grammar. Sometimes we would play grammar games, or with children, I use story telling or building up a situation with pictures, etc. The key is to make it as interesting and fun as possible for the students so that they would enjoy and feel comfortable in class.

  12. Adult learners are usually interested in learning grammar explicitly, whereas young learners, as you point out, need a more playful teaching of grammar. I loved your idea of grammar seen as a carefully wrapped (or not) gift!

  13. Kida and teens are full of energy and just need fun, fun and fun. The methods that I use to add fun to grammar is using songs related to the grammatical point, storytelling, acting, and games.

  14. I read this post a long time ago, when it was new, and I’m so glad for the iTDi MOOC that has led me back here again. You know how sometimes you have to see something at the right time for it to have its greatest impact? This is the right time for me to read this post. Now I am ready to make grammar learning creative and interesting for my students, who are so tired of it. Thank you!

  15. I really enjoyed your session on the iTDI Summer MOOC.
    I love the analogy you use with gifting an idea, the time hill and the lesson shell concept.
    I have always enjoyed the challenge of teaching grammar and although I do not currently teach Young Learners, I just love your storytelling and grammar game approach. We all love stories and gaming kids and adults alike.

    By the way.
    Yesterday I received an invitation from Cambridge University Press, which I thought I would share here with you and the visitors to this inspirational blog.


    Take a grammar Quiz –
    Happy gaming!

  16. The story you used to explain why learning grammar is important is great! I’m always afraid of using L1 during the lessons, but when comparing the mistakes they make in English with similar mistakes in my sts mother tounge has proved and excellent resource!
    Thanks for this amazing article!

  17. Very interesting post highlighting the importance of grammar and teaching it through story telling.

  18. Alexandra, I enjoyed your presentation on the iTDI Summer MOOC and this post, too. Having some collegues who don’t like teaching grammar and actually avoid it I myself find it an integral part of the teaching process. I agree with you that it can and should be enjoyable for both the teacher and the students.

  19. I’ve always liked teaching grammar, for me it is a base of the language and it’s very important for expressing opinions. How could we involve students in learning grammar? Most of them might think it is boring process and it might be if the studied grammar material is presented just in a form of explanation. But do students need that, especially the new generation which is hyperactive, sensitive and wants to feel responsible for the learning process. I think, not. What we teachers can do is to adapt teaching to students ‘needs. The solution is to present grammar material in an interesting and engaging way, so students could do something with their hands and minds at the same time or in other words to apply learning by doing. I think when students see how motivated the teacher is about grammar they’ll also become motivated, it is just contagious.
    I liked storytelling in presenting grammar a lot and I’m very grateful to Alexandra for having shared it with us, teachers. I have already used two of the approaches in teaching grammar which are the inductive approach / rule-discovery path/, my favorite one and my students’ as well and teaching grammar through texts. Now I’m going to apply in my teaching two more approaches as teaching grammar through stories and through rap songs and rhymes. A big thank you to Alexandra and Jase!

  20. Dear Alexandra,

    Thank you for your informative and inspiring article.

    To picture the necessity for a balance between grammar and lexis I tell my students that grammar is like cement and lexical items are like bricks; as a building cannot exist without use of both cement and bricks, verbal communication cannot happen without grammar and vocabulary going hand in hand.
    I used to teach business correspondence to a class of business people who were fluent in speaking but not accurate at all in writing. I tried to bring the importance of good grammar to their attention through examples of bad grammar/ grammatical nuances resulting in misunderstanding/ unwanted contractual obligations and how they could adversely affect their business image, relations, performance. This could help to raise their awareness of (correct) grammar and its correlation to their business performance. (Examples: “We will deliver the goods IN two weeks.” vs. “We will deliver the goods WITHIN two weeks.”; How “shall” and “will” can be used to create senses of “obligation” and “promise”; Your welcome or You’re welcome?)

    Thank you again.

    All the best,
    Omid 🙂

  21. Alexandra,
    I can agree with you and the replies on this page no more. Grammar plus vocabulary make up any language. Teaching either vocabulary or grammar can be boring in the same way. We, teachers, have to recruit all our resourcefulness, creativity, imagination to make the teaching of these two components of language as interesting and pleasant as possible. I also believe, as it has already been mentioned by colleagues above, that they have to be taught in a meaningful way so that the learners can identify the usefulness of them and have a reason to attend the lesson.
    I liked the gift story as a trick of persuasion and the teaching grammar technique. I think I’ll use it with my students.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas!! 🙂

  22. True as you say Alexander. It is for many people a boring topic and kids got kind of disgusted at some at times especially if their experience in class is deductive with no proper controlled practice and less controlled practice. It can be fun if incorporated in games and other activities that the class will enjoy. It all depends on the students.

  23. I think that grammar is of major importance if foreign language teaching. Each teacher should find a way to present grammar points in such a way that students accept it.

  24. I share the same view Alexandra. Learning the grammar of a foreign language is the key to find ourselves in a better position to use it and evaluate others’ use of it. Also, to communicate effectively, to make sense with each sentence a learner should know the grammar of the foreign language. The lexicon of a language is the most important aspect which, however, loses its value without grammar.

  25. I do agree with you Alexandra that learning the grammar of a foreign language is crucial. In fact, in order to communicate intelligibly, we have to know the grammar of the target language. The lexicon of a language may loose its value without grammar.

  26. I agree with you. Fully understanding the grammar of a language is important. Though students may find it boring at times, they must realize it is is necessary if they want to communicate well.

  27. I am one of the stranger species who find grammar quite interesting! I agree completely with both Alexandra and Shakespeare. It’s not grammar per se that is bad or boring, it is how we think about it and get our studnets to think about it that makes it bad or boring. There are so many great activities out there like the one Alexanda talked about and so many web tools we can use to reach our students and motivate them. I am a strong believer in teaching grammar inductively and creatively. If our students are bound to their text books and not allowed any freedom to use and play with the language, then of course grammar is boring. It’s up to the teacher to awaken students’ curiosity and creativity and encourage them to have fun!

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