When teaching English, you should always integrate grammar and the correct terminology. Below are 5 mistakes that are made when teaching English and how to avoid them.
1. Don’t use imprecise language in teacher talk.
Studies have shown that teacher-talk helps students learn the terminology that they will later use and provides a model for the students’ own use of language. If you talk about “words” or “doing-words” so will they.
INSTEAD, start with the basics. Don’t talk about “words” talk about nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. If you don’t use it then how can your students?
2. Modelling is not using a text example which the students copy and change a few words.
Writing should involve creativity and a personal investment from the students so that they can use the new skills or techniques that they have learned in the past few lessons. Modelling should not stifle students but allow them to have fun with their work. Copying is passive, boring and although it may tick boxes, feels a little bit like plagiarism.
INSTEAD, show students a few examples of the text you would like them to produce. Have the students work together to work out what makes each of the examples a great text. Then get them to apply their knowledge in a new context. Modelling when done well can transform learning, but it is complex and can go wrong. It needs to be an embedded technique that students are used to, along with all the mistakes that they will make along the way.
3. Don’t drill and kill.
Grammar really does deserve better treatment than this. Research shows that teaching grammar exercises by worksheet or rote learning does not work. It is also boring and turns students off learning. Drill should not be banned but used as a tool in the correct place when needed. You wouldn’t use a drill to paint a wall, so why use drill to blanket teach grammar when there are other much more interesting ways?
INSTEAD, use a drill type activity to check learning or to teach/model the grammatical concept you want the students to learn, then find a text which uses it. Using a grammar for writing approach such as the one used by Professor Deborah Myhill has been shown to help students learn the grammatical knowledge needed for writing as the grammar is in context and used in a way that the students understand and don’t think is false. By using a drill activity for writing, then seeing it used in context before being asked to try it in their own writing, the grammar is contextualised, helps with learning and helps with the memory processes needed to learn. Do use drill, but like sugar, use sparingly and for maximum effect.
4. Thinking that correcting grammar is only important in writing.
Grammar in speech is just as important. When children from disadvantaged backgrounds start school, not only do they have a disadvantage in the words that they know and can understand but also a disadvantage in the grammatical constructions that they use in speech. Speech has an impact on learning in two ways: the language they hear and the language they use. If a student can’t say it, then they won’t write it.
INSTEAD, make sure students use correct grammar in their speech and are corrected if they do not. Sloppy speech = sloppy writing.
5. Don’t show the students your own feelings about grammar if they aren’t positive.
In the UK there is a generation of people who weren’t taught grammar or were only taught grammar through languages. We were also “taught” that grammar was boring and wasn’t useful. Consequently, there are many teachers who think that grammar is boring and hate teaching it, just as there are many teachers who dislike teaching drama, or hate teaching poetry, or are bored by Shakespeare. However, teachers are powerful and students pick up on your feelings. If you don’t like it, then it is very likely that your students won’t like it either. If they don’t like it, then they won’t try as hard or with as much enthusiasm and it makes learning grammar that little bit harder than it needs to be.
INSTEAD, fake it. Use a big smile and an excited tone. Convince the students that you love it and then hopefully they will too.