From Published Elt Materials English Language Essay

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Grammar has always been a prominent issue in English language teaching. Several questions have been raised in literature concerning its teaching. The first is whether grammar should be taught. Based on the research into naturalistic L2 learning principle, Krashen (1981, as cited in Ellis, 2001) and later Schwartz (1993, as cited in Ellis, 2001) claimed that langue should be learned by natural exposure and grammar instruction is of little value. However, subsequent research has indicated that grammar teaching could contribute to learners' attainment in both accuracy and fluency (Ellis, 2006; Nho, 2005).

The second is when it should be taught. There are two contradictory views. One of them suggests that grammar should be taught from early stage, since it is difficult for learners to get rid of an incorrect habit once they have formed it (Ellis, 2006). The other supports that it is better to begin with meaning-focused instruction and start grammar teaching when "learners have already began to form their interlanguages" (Ellis, 2006, p 90).

Another controversy is how it should be taught. By observing lessons, varied procedures for grammar teaching can be found. The Teacher may first explain a preselected grammatical structure to learners and let them practice it; he/she may guide learners to discover grammar rules through exposure to reading or listening materials with model patterns; they may correct learners' grammatical errors and give practice on them after learners perform a communicative task (Ellis, 2006).

Different procedures for grammar teaching are shaped by different approaches to languge instruction. In general, there are two types: form-focused and meaning-focused (Ellis, 2001). The former refers to "instruction where there is some attempt to draw learners' attention to grammar" while the latter refers to instruction where learners only "attend to the content of what they want to communicate" (Stern, 1990, as Cited in Ellis, 2001). Form-focused instruction can be further divided into focus-on-forms and focus-on-form (Long, 1991, as cited in Ellis, 2001). Among various teaching approaches, the Grammar Translation Method and the Audio-lingual Method belong to the former; Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), Content-based Instruction (CBI) and Task-based Instruction (TBI) belong to the latter. Meaning-focused instruction includes the Natural Approach and the Immersion program.

The title seems to indicate that this essay has to analyze various approaches and find out the best ones teachers can use for teaching grammar. However, it is apparent that it fails to designate a specific group of learners. There does not seem to be one or certain effective approaches catering to all contexts. Elements such as learners' levels, ages and needs influence the way teachers teach grammar in their lessons (Celce-Murcia, 1991). In effect, the essay will explore the nature of different approaches and the teaching of grammar within them while also taken into account specific learning and teaching contexts they can fit in. It will be divided into four main parts. The first part will examine in detail the variables teachers should take into account when making choices of teaching approaches. The next section will discuss five teaching methods which are focus-on-forms. The third section will explore focus-on-form approaches: CLT and TBI. This paper will not discuss meaning-focused instruction because little teaching of grammar is involved in this approach. It is worth noticing that the essay is not an exhausted survey of teaching methods and the approaches or methods analyzed are by no means the only ones relevant to each type of approach to grammar.

Variables related to choices of approaches

When choosing an approach for a lesson, a teacher's decision should be based on the features of his/her learners. The teacher has to take into account many learner variables. These are learners' ages, learning styles, proficiency levels, educational and cultural background and learning purposes.

Learners of different ages have varied needs, competences, and cognitive process (Harmer, 2006). For instance, young children have higher language-acquiring ability, which means that they are very likely to become proficient speakers through enough exposure to the language (Harmer, 2007). However, adolescents or adults may need "some explicit focus on form" to facilitate their learning (Ellis, 2006, p463).

Students learn new things in their own ways. For example, learners of an analytic style learn best by "formulating and testing hypotheses or rules" (Ellis, 2006, p463). In this case, language should be taught in an inductive way. Some maybe concrete cleaners and prefer to learn language from direct experience of using it (Harmer, 2006).

Often learners are divided into beginners, pre-intermediate, upper-intermediate and advanced learners according to their levels of proficiency. Materials and activities used have to match their levels. For example, it is unwise for beginners to discuss an abstract or complex topic with regard to the language available at their level (Harmer, 2006). Drill focusing on a simple pattern can be workable for beginners, but is perhaps inappropriate for advanced learners (Harmer, 2007).

Cultural and educational background to large extent decide learners' attitude toward learning, learning style and classroom behavior. Learners who are well educated may require more focus on the "formal aspects of the language" (Ellis, 2006). Learners from educational cultures being used to "learning by rote" may prefer deductive learning of language.

Learning purpose is another factor to consider. There are general English, survival English, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic Purpose (EAP). For EAP learners, their English is expected to attain high level of accuracy. Consequently, their teaching needs more focus on form.

These five variables all affect the importance of grammar for learners and the effectiveness of a teaching approach. In addition, there are still several other factors related to choice of teaching approaches, such as learners' motivation and learning contexts (EFL or ESL, school types, class sizes (Harmer, 2007). This essay will not explain them in detail.

2. Focus-on-forms Approach

Focus-on-forms is based on the assumption that "learning is a process of accumulating distinct entities' (Ellis, 2001). The aim of such instruction is to learn a predetermined language item. Depending on whether the grammatical rules are generalized and presented to learners, it can be divided into explicit focus-on-form (rules presented) and implicit focus-on-form (rules not presented) (Dekeyser, 1995 as cited in Ellis, 2001). Further, rules can be imparted to learners both deductively and inductively. If learners arrive at rules themselves by "analyzing data containing exemplars of the feature in question", they learn inductively; if rules are presented to them, they learn deductively.

2.1 The Grammar Translation Method

The Grammar Translation Method, used to be a method for teaching Latin and Greek, became a predominant method in Europe for teaching modern languages such as English and French (Richards, Schmidt, Kendrick & Kim, 2005). It emphasizes the accuracy of language and shows a bias towards writing and reading competences. Although it is regard as old-fashioned and criticized for its neglect of communicative use of language, it is still used today at some universities in a few countries such as Japan and China (Keita, 2009; Wang & Cheng, 2009).

By this method, grammar is taught explicitly and deductively as sets of rules which are presented and explained in learners' first language (L1) and practiced through written exercises (Lowe, 2003). A typical procedure would be like this: the teacher preselects one or more sentences out of the "text for today", points out the structures of them, explains the rules of the structures and gives students some sentence -making and sentence-translating exercises on the structures. In addition, the text is often accompanied by a bilingual word list. The lesson Profit of Praise (Appendix 1) is taken from College English: intensive reading (Qu, 1999), a textbook used at most universities in China just several years ago. It could be a lesson material for the Grammar Translation Method. First, it presents a long passage without any pre-reading tasks. Followed the passage is a list of vocabulary with pronunciation, part of speech, and translation in Chinese. Next are some notes for the passage mainly to highlight and explain the key structures. The last part consists of more than ten written exercises such as sentence rewriting, blank filling and sentence translating. Usually, the teacher attaches great importance to the Chinese- to-English translation exercise which will be left for learners as written assignment He/she will check and give feedback on their answers.

Despite much criticism it has received, this method has helped numerous people learnt English to a high level (Bowen, n.d.). Admittedly, it is not suitable for teaching learners of general English who want to learn it for daily communication or just for a travel to an English-speaking country. However, considering its systematic treatment of grammar rules, it is advisable to incorporate this method into certain ESP courses such as English for academic writing and English for legal documents which demand high grammatical accuracy.

2.2. The Direct Method

The Direct method, one of the Natural Methods, was developed as a reaction against the Grammar Translation Method. It emphasizes speaking and listening and advocates target language only in the classroom; it encompasses the idea that a second or foreign language could be learned by following the way native-speakers learn it (Richards & Rogers, 2001; Richards, Schmidt, Kendrick & Kim, 2005).

By this method, although no explicit teaching of grammar rules is involved, correct grammar is emphasized (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Usually the teacher presents a dialogue or short text at the beginning of the lesson; then phrases and sentences in it are taught through the mode of the teacher asking questions and learners answering; meaning of language items are demonstrated through the use of objects, pictures and action just like how a baby learns its mother tongue (Richards & Rogers, 2001).

Since the Direct Method operates on the principle of naturalistic L1 learning, that is to learn the language as its native speakers, it is difficult to implement in EFL classrooms of regular schools. For one reason, there are not enough teachers "who are native English speaker or who have native-like fluency" (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p13). For another, due to big class size, time limitation and inadequate exposure to English, it is impractical for such EFL learners to learn English through the way native speakers master it. However, it could be a feasible method to be applied to teach young learners in bilingual schools or in ESL environment for such learners have much more time and opportunities to communicate native English speakers. Even for these learners, learning would be more effective if the method could be combined with some grammar-based activity, for example, homework on grammar. It is also a workable method for lower-level oral courses in private training center, in which learners simply want to pick up some daily English.

Due to the fact it distorts the "similarities between naturalistic L1 learning and classroom foreign language learning, it gradually declined though it is still used in some private language schools (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Later, the Audio-lingual Method in American and the Structural-situational Method in UK came into dominance.

2.3 The Audio-lingual Method

The Audio-lingual Method was developed from the method American army used to train its serviceman over the world in foreign languages during the Second World War. It draws on the behaviorist theory of learning that language learning is a process of habit formation (Harmer, 2006). Similar to the Direct Method, it emphasizes speaking competence and advocates that learners be taught in L2 directly; the difference is that this method focuses on the use of grammatical structures (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).

By this method, grammar is taught implicitly. Grammar patterns, sequenced from basic to complex, are learned relying on oral drills, for example, repetition, substitution, completion and transformation (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). By small steps, learners are making new sentences of target patterns. By the design of drills, the possibility of errors is reduced. Once there is an error, it will soon be corrected. After learners have practiced a structure in various contexts, learners get to know the roles without awareness (Harmer, 2006). Taken the pattern "I went to + place + time" as an example, a typical Audio-lingual drill will be like this:

Teacher: I went to the cinema last Sunday… repeat

Students: I went to the cinema last Sunday.

Teacher: The library

Students: I went to the library last Sunday.

Teacher: The hospital

Students: I went to the hospital last Sunday.

Teacher: The day before yesterday

Students: I went to the hospital the day before yesterday.

Critics of this method suggest that language structures are de-contextualized and their function and use are neglected. It is also criticized for its attempt to banish mistakes, which is against the belief that learning from error is part of the acquisition process (Harmer, 2006). Results of practical instruction were found to be unsatisfied: learners often felt boring in class and were unable to apply the patterns in real-life communication (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Therefore, all evidence seems to indicate that the Audio-lingual Method is not an effective approach for learners to internalize and apply grammar patterns.

2.4 The Structural-situational Method: Presentation, Practice and Production

In UK, there appeared a teaching method referred to as the Structural-situational Method almost at the same time as the Audio-lingual Method did in America. These two methods are similar except that the former contextualize the target language, giving it the social meaning (Lowe, 2003). This approach led to the well-known procedure: Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP).

While the procedure is based on explicit grammar syllabus, grammar is actually taught implicitly. Teachers first situationalize the target language item, and present it to the learners. Learners then practice the item under teacher's control through "accurate reproduction techniques" which are similar to the Audio-lingual drills mentioned above but carry more meaning as they are put in contexts (Harmer, 2006, p80). In the production stage, learners are given free practice to use the new language item, for example, making their own sentences or performing a role play.

A lesson plan for elementary level by Barroso (1985) on the present tense of must for expressing obligation illustrates the PPP procedure (Appendix 2). The lesson is on the present tense of must for expressing obligation. The language is initially contextualized by a picture and a recorded dialogue between two men in the picture. The teacher then draws learners' attention to the modal expressions in the dialogue. The expressions are practiced through chorus and individual drills, blanking filling exercise and at last a role play as freer practice. Concept checking technique is employed to clarify the meaning of the expressions.

Despite the earlier criticism that it is teacher-centered and explains language learning process as liner, PPP and its variations, such as ESA, are still used in ESL and EFL classroom (Harmer, 2006). It could be effective to teach lower-level learners who lack sufficient language and need the teacher's guide and control; but it does not work at higher level, for such learners may feel drills are boring and unchallenging, and thus may be demotivated.

2.5 The Deductive Learning and Inductive Learning

The Deductive Learning is an approach to language teaching emphasizing the study of grammar rules. By this approach, learners are first presented with rules and modals of the target language item and then apply the rule to produce correct language (Ellis, 2006; Richards, Schmidt, Kendrick & Kim, 2005). It is claimed that mistakes can be avoided if an explicit explanation of rules is given at the beginning (Peck, 1998).

In contrast, the Inductive Learning emphasizes the use of language rather than the study of language rules. By this approach, learners are exposed to exemplars of target pattern; Grammatical rules are left to be discovered and generalized by learners themselves (Ellis, 2006; Richards, Schmidt, Kendrick & Kim, 2005).

The following two grammar teaching materials on the passive form respectively represent these two approaches of grammar teaching (Appendix 3). The one taken from New cutting edge: intermediate (Cunningham & Moor, 2008) follows an inductive way, in which learners are guided to generalize rules through analyzing the modal sentences while the one from Grammar and vocabulary for Cambridge advanced and proficiency (Side & Wellman, 1999) demonstrates the Deductive Learning by listing out complex rules first.

Research results supporting both approaches have been found (Ellis, 2006). Therefore, concerning which one to be employed, every teacher has to consider the learning styles of learners. The Deductive Learning caters to those may learn effectively by reading and memorizing rules, while the Inductive Learning is workable for those of analytic style just as mentioned in the first section.

2.6 Consciousness-raising

CR is a teaching approach focusing on aspects of grammar without imparting rules and principles directly (Yip, 1994). It is similar to the Inductive Learning (Butler-Tanaka, 1998). It is based on the idea that classroom teaching is to help learners to notice and become aware of the language feature little by little rather than to teach it for immediate mastery (Lowe, 2003). By this approach, learners are first given one or more C-R tasks. Through the completion of the tasks, they are expected to notice and generalize for themselves the rules of the target language item. Ellis (1993) divides C-R tasks into three types: grammar consciousness-raising tasks, interpretation tasks and focused communication tasks.

A copy of material (Appendix 4) on using going and will for future intensions (Soars & Soars, 2000) is a good example of interpretation tasks, which focus on "an aspect of interpretation" (Nitta & Gardner, 2005, p5). Through the exercises, learners are expected to notice the implicit difference between will and going to structures when they are used to express intensions.

3. Focus-on-form approach

In focus-on-form lessons, the primary focus is on meaning and attention to forms is to meet the need of communicative task (Ellis, 2001). It is different from focus-on forms whose overriding focus is on grammatical items and mean-focused instruction which rejected any kind of explicit grammar teaching.

3.1 Communicative Language Teaching

Communicative Language Teaching was developed in two stages: the functional-notional type in the 1970s and the proficiency orientation in the1980s. The first type groups bits of language according to communicative functions such as inviting, complaining and offering. This part only focuses on the second type. Embracing the view that the ultimate goal of learning a language is communication rather than mastery of language forms, CLT is an approach focusing on developing learners' communicative competence through interaction in the target language (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).

In CLT lessons, the teacher mainly uses games, role plays, stimulations, and authentic materials such as advertisement and newspapers, to promote active language use (Harmer, 2006). Learners are encouraged to use a variety of language forms when interacting in groups to perform activities; the teacher's role is to facilitate communication when it is needed (Harmer, 2006). As CLT emphasizes fluency, it only focuses on language occasionally when there are language problems arising incidentally out of performance on tasks. Although little research have been done on the effectiveness of communicative approach in improving accuracy, a study by Ã-geyik and DoÄŸruer (2009) shows that it is useful among learners at intermediate level.

CLT has been criticized for its relatively uncontrolled rang of language use and for its pursuit of fluency at the expense of accuracy (Harmer, 2006). However, just because of this "uncontrolled" feature which could create a more interesting learning environment, it could be applied occasionally in regular classes, in oral workshops or in spoken training courses. It seems ineffective in some cultures where it is a teacher's key role to control the teaching process and impart knowledge.

3.2 The Task-based Instruction

TBI, the weak form of the Communicative Approach, is a teaching approach focus on the successful completion of real-life or pedagogical tasks based on which the lesson is organized and language instruction is arranged (Nunan, 2004; Richards & Rodgers, 2006). Language learning is taking place when learners are engaged actively and purposefully in interaction to complete a task.

A typical TBI lesson can be split into three basic stages: the Pre-task, the Task- cycle and Language focus (Willis, 1996 as cited in Harmer, 2006). By this approach, grammar teaching may be occurred before and/or after learners' performing of the task. In the Pre-task, after introducing the topic and task to learners, the teacher may give brief practice on some useful words and phrases if needed. In the Task-cycle, learners perform the task in pairs or groups, plan the task report and at last report on the task in verbal or in writing form; teacher's role is to monitor learners' performance and note down the errors to be correct and successful language use for later practice. In the last stage, teacher analyzes both learners' errors and good language use and giving practice on them.

A lesson plan on Designing a tour in the book Task-based learning (Frances, 2006) serves as a good example of TBI lesson (Appendix 5). The teacher first asks lead-in questions to arouse learners' interest in the topic. Next, he/she introduces the task and recommends a five-day tour of England as an illustration of the task. He/she arranges an exercise to pre-teach useful patterns for the task. Much of time is devoted to learners' preparation, rehearsal, and presentation of the task. At last, the teacher gives feedback on good language use and further improvement.

Critics suggest that TBI is not applicable at lower level because it is too demanding for learners who do not have enough language knowledge to complete the task independently (Harmer, 2006). However, this problem could be solved by selecting tasks within their competence. Good examples are tasks designed by the Bangalore Project, for instance, drawing figures and formations or constructing a floor plan of a house according to verbal instructions (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). This method can be applied in business English course with business activities as the tasks such as telephoning, client-entertaining, advertising and negotiating, for the learning purpose of such learners is probably to communicate with certain accuracy.

This section introduces nine teaching methods. Nature of the methods is discussed. Their treatment of grammar is explored and illustrated by published teaching materials. However, these methods are just a small a small portion of the teaching approaches and methods available to teachers. There are many other methods such as the Natural Approach (different from Natural methods), the Lexical Approach, CLT and the Cooperative Language Learning. The essay will not discuss them in detail.


As clarified at the beginning, it is unlikely to find the most effective approaches available to teachers for teaching grammar without a clear specification of the teaching and learning contexts. The title (question) is based on an assumption that all learners can use the same approaches. However, it can be concluded from above discussion that no single approach caters to all types of learners. Learners have varied learning styles, levels of proficiency, learning purposes, educational and cultural background. In addition, to different types of learners, grammar is not equally important. These factors all influence the suitability and effectiveness of the approaches and methods. When a teacher makes choice of approaches, he/she have to take these elements in to careful consideration.

As can be seem, different teaching approaches and methods are based on different principles and assumptions, and treat grammar in different ways. Some focus only on grammar, particularly the Grammar Translation Method while others integrate meaning with grammar such as teach the grammar explicitly such as TBI. Some teach language forms explicitly, for example the Deductive Learning while others do it implicitly such as the Audio-lingual method. Some present grammar rules deductively while others do it inductively. It seems arbitrary to state which kinds of treatment is superior to others.

Recently, there is a voice advocates modern integrated teachers who are "able to use any approaches from the past as long as it is appropriate and useful" (Lowe, 2003). It just reflects that there are no most effective approaches fit in all contexts, but only approaches appropriate in specific situation.

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