Grammar is the most controversial concept in the domain of language teaching and learning for both teachers and learners. Moreover, there has been debate galore on whether to teach it or not, and in the case of the latter, how and when to teach it. This article is an attempt to set the scene for language teachers to treat grammar more efficiently and effectively.
It is generally accepted that grammar is an indispensable part of being competent in language skills- listening, speaking, reading, and writing- and even the sub-skill of vocabulary. Today, grammar is not just a knowledge to be learned or acquired, but, at the same time, a skill to be practiced and developed to enable students to communicate accurately, meaningfully and appropriately (Larsen-Freeman, 2001).
Currently, almost all theorists in the field of language pedagogy believe that they cannot lead students towards success unless we teach them how to use it in real communication. In a righteous attempt, Larsen-Freeman (2001) depicts a three dimensional model of grammar: form, meaning, and use. Unaware of all three dimensions, students are unable to communicate successfully even when they use grammar correctly.
Taking all methods and approaches and their advantages and limitations into account, the most widely utilized approach to grammar instruction has been the PPP model (Presentation, Practice, and Production). Unlike its traditional background, PPP is considered in its current form in the post-method era where teachers are considered active decision makers in classrooms (Kumaravadivelu, 1994).
Presentation is the first stage in which the target grammatical structure is introduced in a meaningful context by first explaining the form, meaning and use, and then by arranging activities to check students’ understanding of the presented structure (Ellis, 2002).
It should be mentioned that teachers should choose whether to present grammar explicitly or implicitly. The former launches by stating the grammar focus and explaining it through the use of grammatical terminology. For example, the teacher states, “Today we are going to learn present continuous.” Then he continues by writing examples on the board or referring students to the grammar chart in their textbooks. Next, he models the structure by reading the sentences and explaining the form, meaning and use. “Present continuous means that something is happening around the time of speaking. It is used to talk about temporary activities.” On the other hand, the latter, i.e., teaching implicitly, begins by teaching grammar through examples without any reference to rules and patterns. The teacher, for instance, models, “We are studying English. I am teaching now, and you are learning.” Overt explanation of the rules may be delayed or avoided.
Overall, due to the attendance of students with various background and even different levels in the same class, teachers can develop their own theory of presenting grammar. Whether grammar is presented explicitly or implicitly, this stage should be concluded by checking the understanding of the students (Savage et al., 2010).
After presenting the target structure in a meaningful context, students are led to the next stage, practice, "in which the learner manipulates the structure in question while all other variables are held constant" (Celce-Murcia & Hilles, 1988, p.27). Here, practice is controlled and guided by the instructor through various activities like drills and dialog substitutions. Through this controlled procedure, students are able to "gain control of the form without the added pressure and distraction of trying to use the form for communication" (ibid).
Instead of providing information, in this stage, the teacher plays the role of a guide who leads students to use new structures in context. By modeling the activity, checking students' understanding of the task, monitoring, and providing feedback, the teacher assists students to do the activities (Ellis, 2002), and experience the pleasure of using target structures successfully.
Error correction plays a crucial role in every teaching and learning process. In guided practices, error correction can be done directly or indirectly (Lyster, 2004). In direct one, the teacher corrects students by providing the correct form himself, whereas in indirect error correction, the teacher involves students and encourages them to do self- and peer-corrections. However, students’ level should be taken into account.
Communicative production is the last stage in which students have "frequent opportunities for communicative use of the target grammar to promote automatic and accurate use" (Sheen, 2003, p. 226). Here, the class is more learner-centered, and they usually use more diverse language than the target structure in quasi-real situations.The end goal is being competent in real-life communication in which they decide what to say, but do not have control over the response. In this situation, when the conveyed meaning is not clear, the interlocutor negotiates and adjusts the language (Savage et al. 2010).
Error correction also plays an important role in communicative activities. Due to the nature of communication and its interactional nature, the teacher does not correct students' errors unless they block meaningful communication (Doughty, 2001).
The obvious role of grammar in language classrooms and its effect on other skills alongside the challenge of its efficient treatment have resulted in diverse frameworks, among them the PPP is the most outstanding one.
The PPP model starts with Presentation, in which the new structure is presented explicitly or implicitly considering form, meaning, and use. The process of learning continues by Practice stage, in which students practice the newly presented structure in a controlled context. The final stage is Production, in which learners participate in a real-like exchange of information to internalize the intended structure.
Celce-Murcia, M., & Hilles, S. (1988). Techniques and resources in teaching grammar. New York: Oxford University Press.
Doughty, C. J. (2001). Cognitive underpinnings of focus on form. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R. (2001). Investigating form-focused instruction." In A. Rodriguez (Ed.), Teaching grammar to adult English language learners: Focus on form. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Ellis, R. (2002). Does form-focused instruction affect the acquisition of implicit knowledge? A review of the research. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24(2), 223-236.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The postmethod condition: (E) merging strategies for second/ foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28 (1), 27-49.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2001). Teaching grammar. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language, Third Edition. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Lyster, R. (2004). Differential effects of prompts and recasts in form-focused instruction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 26, 3, 399–432.
Savage, K. L., Bitterlin, G., & Price, D. (2010). Grammar matters: Teaching grammar in adult ESL programs. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sheen, R. (2003). Focus on form: A myth in the making? ELT Journal 57, 3, 225–33.
Rodriguez, A. (2009). Teaching grammar to adult English language learners: Focus on form." CAELA Network Brief. www.cal.org/caelanetwork/pdfs/TeachingGrammarFinalWeb.pdf