There is a variety of techniques for presenting new grammar items. Below is an overview of nine of those most commonly-used. Note that no one technique will necessarily prove better than another, so the general rule when it comes to presenting grammatical rules is to combine a variety of techniques.
1. Direct Explaining (Explicit Approach).
You can explain a grammar rule directly using the students’ mother tongue. This has the advantage of allowing students to contrast an item of grammar in English with an item of grammar in the students’ own language. For example, the two languages might use past tenses in different ways. On the other hand, some teachers believe that it’s more effective to present and explain the grammar directly by using English at all times. Certainly, in classes where the students already have learnt some English, it’s usually possible to build on what they already know to introduce a new grammar point.
2. Discovering the Grammar (Implicit Approach).
Often, it’s helpful to have students discover the grammar rather than telling them what it is. Do this by choosing a text which contains lots of examples of the target grammar. For example, if the text includes regular verbs in the past simple form (e.g. lived, travelled, moved, etc), ask the students to underline all the verbs in the text. Then ask them to say what they notice about the verbs – which will be that they all end in -ed.
3. Using Pictures or Drawings (Illustrating Grammar Points).
A quick sketch on the board can illustrate a grammar point very quickly. For example, a picture of a person dreaming of a future ambition can be used to introduce “be going to” to talk about future intentions.
4. Drawing Timelines (Teaching Tenses).
Timelines are useful for teaching grammar structures that refer to aspects of time. Timelines are a simple and visual way to clarify the actions and events described in a sentence. They are often used by teachers for presenting the meaning of verb tenses in English.
The basic form of a timeline shows a horizontal line with a point in the middle indicating NOW or the moment of speaking. Before that point is the past and after it is the future. Some teachers also write the words PAST and FUTURE along the line. You can indicate single actions with an X and periods of time with an arrow. Continuous actions are often indicated with a wavy line.
5. Asking Concept Questions (Checking Understanding).
Write a sentence on the board containing the grammar structure. For example, this sentence uses the past simple: He left university in 2008. Next, ask the students concept questions which check their understanding of when the action happened. So, the teacher/student conversation would sound like this:
- T: Is he at university now?
- SS: No.
- T: Was the action in the past?
- SS: Yes.
Note that concept questions should usually be designed to elicit the answer Yes or No from the students because the aim is only to check their understanding.
6. Using Tables (Showing the Form).
Tables are very useful for showing the form of the grammar on the board. For example, these tables show the affirmative and negative forms of a verb in the present simple tense. You can refer to the different features of the tense when introducing it, and the students can copy the table for future reference.
- I/You/We/They live in England
- He/She/It lives
- I/You/We/They don’t live in England.
- He/She/It doesn’t live in England.
7. Using Objects (Presenting the Meaning).
Sometimes using objects can work as quickly as anything to present the meaning. For example, if you want to present the comparative form (… is bigger than …), the simplest way is to find two objects and contrast them. Alternatively, ask two students to stand up and compare their height to produce a sentence like: Hany is taller than Tom. Write the sentence on the board and underline the comparative form so the students notice the construction. Similarly, if you teach prepositions (in, on, next to, etc), using a selection of objects in different positions from each other is a very effective starting point.
8. Contrasting Structures (Showing the Difference in Meaning).
With higher-level grammar, it’s useful to ask students to contrast two grammar structures which are similar in certain ways, but which have an important difference in meaning. For example, these two sentences contrast two different meanings of the present perfect tense.
- He has been to London.
- He has gone to London.
A teacher could ask the students to compare these sentences and say what the difference in meaning is.
(Answer: A means: He went to London and returned back whereas B means: He went to London and he is still there).
9. Choosing the Correct Sentence (Correcting Common Grammatical Mistakes).
This is similar to the previous technique because you give students two sentences, but one sentence has a mistake related to grammar. You write them on the board and get students to say which they think has the mistake and why. For example:
- I’ve lived here since three years.
- I’ve lived here for three years.
Students discuss the sentences in pairs. Sentence A. is wrong because we use “since” to refer to a fixed point in time (e.g. March, 1989, etc.) whereas we use “for” to describe duration of time.
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