In the past, in a traditional classroom, grammatical competence and explicit knowledge of language rules were emphasized. Grammar teaching held such an essential part in language teaching that other aspects became either ignored or downplayed. People assumed that if the grammatical rules of a language were mastered, the success of communication in that language was ensured (Richards and Renandya, 2002, p.145). Therefore, at that time this assumption required learners to pay much attention to grammar rules, sentence structures and forms. Every leaners, even children at a very young age, were made to study the complicated rules of grammar (Dash, 2007, p.91).
This viewpoint inherits in itself several weaknesses. Dash also pointed out one of them, saying that modern educationists believe although a pupil has known all the grammar rules, he or she still makes the most elementary mistakes in grammar. Moreover, increased knowledge in grammar doesn't help students to increase the ability to use english correctly (p. 92). If learners just spend years learning only the formal properties of the language, they cannot exchange information, express ideas or feelings. To be able to communicate, they must learn grammatical rules in real communication. That is the reason why though students can do excellent exercises after studying grammar lesson, their ability to speak may not be improved. It is traditional grammar teaching that led to failure in communication.
Acknowledging the imperfection of traditional view of grammar, things began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is argued that "to be a competent user of a language, one needs to knows not only the rules of grammar, but also how the rules are used in real communication" (Richards and Renandya, 2002, p.145). During this period, grammar teaching became less important or in some cases was abandoned. Many other teaching methods which were sought to replace traditional language teaching such as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), Functional grammar and Consciousness-raising mainly focused on how to use it communicatively.
To replace traditional grammar practice, Consciousness-raising is offered. Consciousness-raising, also known as awareness-raising, is part of the process a learner can go through with new language. Students first become aware or conscious of the new language, then recognise and distinguish it, then produce it. Through Consciousness-raising, "learners will develop an explicit knowledge of the grammar of the language which facilitates their ability to communicate" (Richards and Renandya, 2002, p.146. Opposite to traditional approaches, the goal of teaching grammar in a consciousness-raising is to instil correct grammatical patterns and habits directly through carefully-designed activities. This means it is not always a must to teach grammar points explicitly. Learners may also be led to grammatical rules implicitly. Nevertheless, this method has its own limitations. Because this method requires thinking much, it may not be appropriate for young learners and beginners, or others who prefer learning by practising to thinking may dislike it. In addition, the aim of this method is helping learners to know about the language and it does not emphasize on immediate language use. Consequently, it may take a long time for the learners to be able to communicate in L2 spontaneously.
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) mainly focused on the communicative process and the negociation of meaning between participants. Learners need to know not only forms but also meanings and functions.That is, according to Hymes (1971), in CLT they will develop communicative competence, knowing when to say what to whom and how. (Freeman, 2002, p.121). Therefore, the activities in CLT are often meaningful tasks which involve real communication such as: language games, picture strip story,role play..etc. Though this is an effective approach of teaching grammar communicatively, it is believed to fill the gap in traditional grammar between forms and usage indirectly. The reason is that it does not necessarily deal with grammar sytematically. Actually, when communicative approaches are adopted, they are often represented as a combination of traditional grammar with communicative enhancements. (Hinkel and Fotos, 2002, p.79)
Another approach related to CLT is teaching functional grammar. It is a general theory of the organization of natural language developed by Simon C. Dik, Michael Halliday and others. In general, the difference between functional approaches and traditional approaches is their focus. Functional approaches primarily focus on the communicative aspect of language in a particular context while traditional grammar focus on rules and syntax. According to this method, a given language form cannot guarantee an effective communicative skill without referring to the circumstances because some forms of expression may be appropriate while the others are not. Therefore, this way of teaching grammar provides leaners with good knowledge of using the right forms in different situations. Nonetheless, "though representing an important advance in tying grammar to meaningful functions" (Hinkel and Fotos, 2002, p.79), it causes some difficulty for learners. For instance, systemic functional grammar developed by Halliday mainly deals with meaning in context, it is often more complex than traditional grammar in terms of labels while traditional grammar is more concerned with rules. Therefore, it may take time to learn functional grammar.
After a period in which the role of grammar declined, in recent years it "has regained its rightful place in the language curriculum" (Richards and Renandya, 2002, p.145). Now people realize that grammar is very important to the leaners' language development.
Teaching grammar in classroom today
In today classroom, though there are many methods for teaching grammar, some teachers still prefer traditional grammar because it does not require much of the their language competence beyond the texbook. (Ho, 2007, p.28). This method is also supported by public attitudes. People assume that in public high schools teachers will teach good grammar for student success. Therefore, traditional grammar teaching is still widely accepted. There are others who believe an integrated method may be a good choice. In sum, until now there is no conclusion which is the best method in teaching grammar and methodologists are still doing researchs to find as many effective ways as possible.