Rose Bard

Grammar Issue – Rose

Rose Bard

Grammar: From Knowing About It To Knowing How To Use It – Rose Bard

I used to think that presenting was the most difficult part of the lesson and I strived to make it as clear and interesting as possible when it came to grammar points. Then, once students had a lot of controlled practice, I thought they would naturally be able to use it on their own. But once they encountered the grammar point in a new situation, or context was not made clear enough for them, they wouldn’t know what they would need to use. So as you can see, focus mostly used to be on grammar and getting it right. At some point I started wondering why I couldn’t give my students more freedom to say what THEY wanted to say and help them reshape what they knew or thought they knew about how the words were put together to form sentences, paragraphs and texts.

As I learned English living in London and Arabic while living in Egypt, it was hard for me to follow that line of teaching as the way I learned languages while living abroad was different from the way I was trained to teach. Not because I had never received any formal instructions. I had. One of the first things I did was to buy a dictionary and a grammar book when I got to England. I used to wake up, have coffee and work on my grammar book on my own. I would translate word by word and fill the gaps of the exercise, then check the answer key. I would also ask people around me to teach me how to pronounce  words and sentences. I wanted to communicate to others, so I’d take any chance for that. Later on, I joined a language school. The same happened in Egypt. I had books and I counted on people around me to help me communicate.


EFL Context of Learning

In the classroom most of the interaction between teacher/students and students/students can be artificial and dull if it exists around grammar points only. Even if we make students spend a lot of time practicing grammar, and it is disconnected from what they would rather be learning to attend their needs of communication in the outside world, it would have little effect on their outcomes. By talking to my teens, I have discovered that they do a number of things outside the classroom related to English. Some of them like playing video games, chatting with other players, watching TV series, online surfing and listening to music. Some totally avoid doing it in English because they can’t deal with authentic language. And it is not uncommon for those who actually are in contact with English outside the class on a regular basis to bring their own doubts about the language and topics from outside the class , but most of the time we are so busy with our lesson plan to listen to them and use their knowledge of the world outside as a resource/material in our classes. Those moments could be great moments for learning how language works through conversation, by allowing them to bring their own subjects related to English usage.

Who has never heard about a phrase or word they heard from the movie, game or song which they were eager to talk about?

Instead of planning grammar lessons nowadays, what I do is create opportunities, or take every opportunity for language to emerge naturally and work from there. I also know that every learner is in a different point of the journey and they are the only ones able to make sense of the grammar they are learning. If you want to have a bit more control of what students produce and work from there, I would suggest using digital devices to record oral interactions and notebooks to record anything they write.

The purpose of audio recording is registering language that can be used in different tasks and for different purposes. Here is one example of how I use it with mixed-levels groups.

Once, I invited a student to have a conversation with me about the trip to an amusement park (they had been to one in the week before – it was a school trip) while the rest of the group just watched us talking. The most confident student accepted the invitation and took the hot seat. I informed the student that our conversation was going to be recorded and would be used later in a task. I tried really hard not to let the grammar police take over me and carried out the conversation as natural as possible. After the conversation, I asked the students to recall what their classmate had said about the trip. I didn’t ask them any questions. They recalled information and I wrote on the board. I wrote everyone’s contribution and then they discussed in pairs what they could notice about the sentences on the board. Back to the board we focused on form (simple past), quickly reviewed regular/irregular forms and answered any doubts they had about language and they took notes in their notebooks. The next step was to erase the sentences off the board and request them to write down the questions this time. Once they were finished, I elicited the questions and wrote again on the board making the modifications needed to make them correct. All contributions were accepted. They were not allowed to correct the sentences in their notebooks at that point. Just to listen to everyone’s contribution. Then, the next stage was for them to compare the corrected version on the board with their own, make corrections and add the contributions from others in their notebooks. Then it was time to listen to the recording and check the questions that were really asked during the interview.


Notebooks: Keeping a Record

Nowadays notebooks are an essential part of my classes. Whenever there is a speaking activity where students have to discuss a topic, add their opinions, tell an anecdote, I ask them to write it down in their notebooks first. When they write down they use more language and make more mistakes, but it is also the moment when I will walk around or they will come to my desk and we will discuss language and how it works. There are times, depending on the activity, when I will ask students to use my feedback rubric to guide them in self-discovering. I’ll try to make them think of what they already know to help them rewrite their sentences or discuss a word/phrase that they want to use but which might not be the best choice for that context. Using the notebook means to personalize learning for each student.

I really believe that language learning has to be also a personal journey even when they are studying in a group. There should be enough space in the class for each one of them to be seen as individuals with their own needs and knowledge. Students should also know that they can contribute to each other’s learning by creating the right atmosphere to become better users of the language.


Connect with Ann, Adam, Alexandra, Arzu, Rose, Miguel, and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

Published by

Rose Bard

Rose has been teaching English in private language schools since 1998. A passion for teaching and learning led her to pursue a major in Pedagogy with emphasis on Early Childhood education. She has been working as an English educator for the past 5 years for SATC School, a great Educational Institute. She works in the language center department with all levels and ages. She loves learning from and with other teachers. She is also very interested in online professional development and the role of technology in order to enhance authorship and language learning through a process of dialog.

17 thoughts on “Grammar Issue – Rose”

  1. This is such a perfect post to solve one of my most burning dilemmas!! Thanks so much again 🙂
    It is essential to focus on what our students want and have to say, otherwise they themselves tend to forget why they are putting the effort in attending those lessons and doing their homework.
    Get off the factory belts, away with those cookie cutters!

    1. Thanks Barbi for reading and commenting.

      I’m glad you found the way I approach it useful for one of your classes. I loved the way you explained the reason why it might be important and also it is more practical. Students do tend to miss the grammar rules, teacher centered kind of teaching at the beginning and some might be a bit resistent. I follow the same principle when comes to assessment. Instead of giving traditional grammar tests, assessment is often based on daily interactions in class and what they can and can’t do. That helps them to identify the areas they need to improve. Like, for example. one might know that I have to say goes instead of go (memorized grammar rule/ this particular verb), but doesn

  2. This is a wonderful, detailed post of class activities Rose and I´m sure you did work hard on writing them down step by step. They show the type of caring and responsible educator you are: a mixture of entertainment and academic learning is the ideal environment for a class!

  3. Hi Rose, amazing the way that you encourage your students to learn grammar in a delighting atmosphere. Using their own device, and contextualization their doubts with what they are exposed everyday, these ideas can motivate and engage them go beyond. I really liked the way that you have explored the grammar point with them! Constructing a learning opportunity in a issue that many teachers don’t like to work with. Very good indeed!!

  4. Great task it is. I really hate when I have to make learners to do most of the grammar tasks from the book. Interaction makes a person to learn This is a task I will remember while teavhin past simple. Do you have other ideas? Is there any website about it?

  5. Dear Rose,
    It is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. Sometimes I feel the same when the syllabus is grammar-based. I have found that students are just trained for gap-filling exercises which they can do really well. However, as you mentioned, communication is the aim. Your post made me think about those books that intend to ease grammar with reading. It could work, but I will go with your idea: starting with a topic of their interest and make it happen naturally. A surprising thing that happened to me is that once my students came with some perfect sentences, sadly they were not ‘inspired’ by the grammar book, they came from songs and quotes on the internet. When they write compositions, there are a lot of mistakes. It is very disappointing. For sure, I will try the recording activity, it is interesting and completes the whole process for real use of the language.
    Looking forward to reading more in your posts!

  6. Truly said, it couldn’t have been better in putting foward the topic. Yes this kind of approch is very effective in getting learners to use the language in a well controled and less controled enviorment. It goes deep into learning the language as a language and not just as an artificial learning of key grammar topics. Experience shows us that it is better to touch the topic of grammar in a way that you do. Congrats!!!

  7. Language learners should be able to talk about life and use the language to get that “without” focusing on the language itself. Teaching a language it’s, for me, teaching to face this life, in its diverse fields and shapes, through that language, otherwise we can find experts in linguistics, but not speakers or real-fluent users of the language. It’s true that we need to teach students what they’re supposed to learn(how the language works), but also what they need and want, and if anyhow we must teach what they’re supposed to learn, then we need to get students meaningfully use the things they learn. At times, that’s not easy, but we can use some of the ideas you suggested on this blog.
    I’ve not used recordings, but I consider them to be very useful. Several times I take notes of the mistakes or grammar pitfalls my students have while writing or speaking. An example of this is that two weeks ago I used notebooks; my students wrote about a pic and then shared it on the board and other students had the opportunity to correct and it was very significant for me and for my students. I hardly corrected them. Some of them, after watching carefully what they have written, corrected themselves.
    I’m totally agreed with your last remarks. When I’m teaching I try to see each student individually and his/her individual needs, and then write after each class about it, for it gives me the chance to adequate upcoming lessons to satisfy them. To be honest, it’s a hard work, but a very rewarding one, because I have the opportunity to approach each student and help him/her separately. It’s a worth paying price.
    Thank you for such lovely session.

  8. Dear Rose,
    Learning English( or any language) in an English-speaking country and learning it as a second language in a non-English speaking country are two entirely different and distinctive cases. You found it out for yourself. The latter is much more difficult and demanding. It requires inspiration, resourcefulness and patience on the part of the instructor in order to make the lesson meaningful for the learners since they don’t have the chance to interact in the foreign language outside the classroom.
    Grammar is considered a boring but at the same time an absolutely essential chunk of any language. Accuracy especially in writing is a must and it is better realized by adult learners who may wish to know about rules whereas younger learners should be taught grammar in a more playful way.
    I found your practices illuminating and very useful.
    Thanks for your ideas.

  9. I agree with you that mere teaching of Grammatical rules won’t help, language should be related to everyday situations.Very practical suggestions given out here, I shall try these ideas out in my classes.

  10. Sometimes, I really feel that I train my students to do only drills and most of times,unfortunately, the syllabus is grammar-based. Of course, this is not the aim as many mistakes are noticed in their compositions and some of them avoid speaking from fear of making mistakes.

  11. I liked that school trip/past simple activity a lot.
    Someone said here, in their comment, that they hate to make learners do most of the grammar tasks from the book. I hate that too and I’d like to say that teachers in my country are trying to move away from the textbooks but somehow it is expected from us to stick to them (not by school advisors/inspectors, but by parents) – we need to change parents’ understanding of what textbooks are for (it seems they think like “we paid for them, so you need to go through all the exercises in them, you need to use them”). I guess that that change is a process, but a good thing is that the process has started.

  12. Rose,

    I believe that grammar alone will not help students speak the language fluently. Native speakers of the language do not always speak grammatically correct. One of my university professors says “there are many dialects……….our job is to teach students how to convey what they MEAN to say”. Loved your article. Stay encourage and continue to share:)

  13. Hi Rose! Thank you for your post! I really liked your ideas about making a recording and then working with a “live” language. It is very engaging and motivating for students. I will definitely try your idea with my students. I think teens and adults will love it!

  14. I totally agree with Rosethat all learners are individuals on an individual language learning journey, however, some of us are bound by time and curriculum restraints. I work in a secondary school in Spain. Ther average class size is 26 at my school and I am expected to do a minimum of 3 exams a term! My problem is finding time to allow students to learn what they really want to learn. I dip in and out of the textbook as much asI can get away with but still feel frustarted at the constraints forced upon me. The other obstacle is class size. Attending to 26 individual students’ personal journey every class is a challenge to say the least!
    In theory I totally agree with eveything Rose says but for me, in practise it is virtually impossible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *