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Should Grammar Be Taught Explicitly Or Implicitly?

In this article, I’m going to discuss the main two approaches to teaching grammar points; explicit and implicit. This discussion will be ended by suggesting which approach you should use to teach grammar rules.

Traditionally, most teachers begin their grammar lessons by stating the grammar point and explaining it, possibly using grammatical terms to do so. This is ideally the explicit grammar presentation.

In an explicit presentation:

The teacher teaches grammar points following these steps:

  1. Announcing the grammar focus “Today we are going to learn about the present perfect tense”
  2. Writing examples of the structure on the board or/and referring students to the grammar sentences in the textbook.
  3. Reading or asking students to read the sentences on the board or in the textbook.
  4. Explaining the form, meaning, and use of the target grammar point (the present perfect tense, here)
  5. Eliciting the form and the meaning from the students. For example, asking the students the following questions to elicit the form and meaning from them:
  • What do you notice?
  • How do we form the present perfect tense?
  • Did the action happen only in the past?

I personally call the last step “the communicative explicit step of presenting grammar rules”

In an implicit presentation:

The teacher says the target structure (present continuous tense, for example) in a meaningful context avoiding analytical or technical explanations about the grammar point.

The teacher teaches the grammar point implicitly following these steps:

1. Providing a context including the present continuous tense or making sentences of things happening in the classroom:

  • I am teaching now.
  • I am not eating.
  • Ali is listening to the teacher now.
  • He is not writing. …etc.

2. Using visuals or audio to form sentences using the present continuous tense.

  • A picture from the textbook or other sources.
  • A recorded conversation accompanying illustrations in the textbook.
  • A song that has the target grammar point.

3. Using a reading passage that has the target grammar point (the present continuous tense).

4. Writing examples of the structure on the board highlighting the form of the present continuous tense.

5. Eliciting the form and the meaning from the students asking them the following questions:  

  • Did the action happen in the past?
  • Is it happening now?
  • Is the action finished or still happening?
  • What is the form that we use to express this meaning?

6. Contrasting the present continuous and present simple tenses.

7. Asking students to give more personalized examples using the two tenses.

It’s clear that there is a difference between the two approaches in the steps we follow to teach the target grammar point.

But, the question is:

Which approach should we follow?

In fact, it depends on the following variables regarding the students you teach:

  • Age.
  • Proficiency level.
  • Goals for studying English.
  • Educational background
  • Culture.
  • Individual differences.

In addition to:

  • Lesson focus; fluency or accuracy!
  • The main goal of the lesson; passing exams, remedial plan, review, … etc.

Still, the question is:

Which approach is the best as a rule of thumb?

I personally suggest:

  1. Start with the implicit.
  2. Move to the explicit.
  3. End with communicative activities.

Thanks For Reading

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