Do you teach grammar explicitly? If so, how? If not, why not? – An #eltchat summary

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Do you teach grammar explicitly? If so, how? If not, why not? – An #eltchat summary

This summary was contributed by Shaun Wilden on his blog and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

The topic (for the 12 BST #eltchat on 20.09) was suggested after #ELTchatters had read and started to react to an article from the Guardian written by Catherine Walter.  Therefore you might want to read the article before the summary.  One of the points that chatters made is that the evidence not as solid as article suggested.  It was a fast and furious chat, nearing 600 tweets (which is double what we usually get for a lunchtime chat). As a result I have noit chosen all the threads for the summary or it wouldn’t be much of a summary (it’d be too long) . However I hope that what I chosen represents the meat of the discussion.


What do we mean by explicit?


“Doesn’t this equate explicit grammar teaching with teacher led grammar explanations though”.

The early part of the discussion focused on what was actually meant by the term ‘explicit’.  @AlexandraKouk asked if was referring to an inductive vs. deductive approach while @ louisealix68 interpreted “explicit” as inductive followed by deductive. @teflgeek wondered if ‘explicit grammar teaching’ was just telling the learners “we’re going to do some grammar today” as opposed to teaching grammar by stealth.  @michelleworgan asked if asking students for or give examples of grammar and try to get students to notice the rules/differences counted as explicit.

The debate continued with points such as whether explicit teaching was age related (see later in the summary) or if context of the learner played a part, with @teacherphili saying EAP/ESP would require a higher explicit grammar component.


Further comments added:

–       It’s not just writing rules on the WB – right?

–       Non-explicit to me would be e.g. via chunks

–       With explicit reference to grammatical terms and rules, perhaps?

–       So explicit teaching is when you deliberately set out to teach a specific language point, regardless of how you teach?

–       I think the problem with explicit grammar instruction comes when it overtakes the lesson and there’s little time for production.

–       Wouldn’t it be more relevant to use explicit teaching alongside other pedagogies throughout the year

–       Explicit grammar teaching does not necessarily mean rule GIVING – it could be rule DISCOVERY

–       Isn’t it just about using different tools for different jobs?  Sometimes learners need EGT, other times they need to figure it out

Perhaps the issues we had with the understanding of the word ‘explicit’ are best summed up by @waykatewit “it seems that there are different types of explicit teaching, some better than others.”


The role of metalanguage:


@ ElkySmith wondered if explicitly meant using metalanguage i.e. writing TL on WB, highlighting, underlining, explaining, providing additional examples.  He felt metalanguage is one of an array of tools for helping students understand otherwise opaque linguistic features. Others, such as @teflerinha wondered if you can draw students’ attention to grammar without using grammatical terminology? On the other hand, @AlexandraKouk felt it couldn’t be just a matter of using terminology or not – how about priming and scaffolding activities? Are they too explicit?

All in all opinion indicated that metalanguage had its place but it was definitely possible to have too much emphasis on learning ABOUT grammar


Who sets the syllabus?


A side thread of the discussion was how much grammar teaching was influence by the coursebook and workbook, which tend to be more ‘telling’ than ‘noticing’ when it comes to approaches. Chatters asked if materials and syllabi just followed convention? In many cases the course book is the syllabus setter rather than the teacher?  @stiiivProb said the blame lay with CLT  with grammar teaching in traditional CLT not taking context seriously. Context, participant relations, culture all shape grammar #eltchat. @ChrisGyford asked while so many local exams are designed to test explicit understanding of grammar so what choice do we have?


So what’s the best way to teach grammar (according to teachers)?


“If they demand rules, I give ‘em rules!”

“For me, EGI is about telling Ss: ‘This is what we’re focusing on, this is why it’s important, here’s how to use it, now you try”

@ michaelegriffin on his brief appearance into the chat asked made an honest statement “I’m honestly not sure what people mean when they say “grammar” “teach” “teach grammar” and all

@ Marisa_C asked whether it was age related i.e. is more useable with YL or adults? With @ stiiiv taking up this theme by adding explicit (deductive) teaching of grammar requires cognitive maturity. Explicit teaching is too conceptually difficult for YL’s – tell them what they CAN DO with this language rather than what language IS. The consensus on those who tweeted seemed to be that explicit grammar is not very effective for YL. And usually it bores them.

@worldteacher made the point that teaching context was important using her own teaching context as an example, “ in my teaching context I have to teach explicitly – discovery method wouldn’t work in Vietnam!”, with @antoniaclare  suggesting the same “I don’t think we can ever say that’s the best way. Will differ for each student. I think it’s helpful to focus on explicit grammar to help Sts to notice this language when outside class, or in later classes”

@ teflerinha asked Does anyone teach in a way where grammar is not commented on, but sts pick it up ‘naturally’? whereas @ esolcourses said “I’m not a fan of teaching explicit grammar, only do it if need arises – prefer to slip it in the mix.”

Of the different approaches raised one of my favourites was “I’ve always taught grammar explicitly, adding a “shit” rule is easy to teach deductively and quickly and easy to learn”. Others included….

@MissLadyCaz I find that you can embed explicit teaching of grammar within the context of good texts and relevant learning experiences

@louisealix68I feel correct pedagogy is teaching what your pupils want/need when they are ready for it. Cannot overgeneralise.

@ MarjorieRosenb I introduce grammar points, give rules & examples & then we do loads of activities to practice

Perhaps @teacherphili summed up the opinions of many taking part by tweeting “it’s when you teach grammar without you or the students realising you’ve done it ;) ”


But what do the students want?


@cioccas: I find students want grammar explicitly/visibly /directly taught more than Ts #ELTchat especially when they have exams approaching (@teacherphili) but @ShetlandESOL argued there’s a sense that ‘students don’t know what’s good for ‘em and explicit grammar instruction isn’t it’!

@ShetlandESOL I work with adult learners, and they are generally keen to feel they are taking away some concrete grammar knowledge.

@ Marisa_C Students’ desire for explicit grammar instruction closely linked to Ts’ thinking explicit teaching is what their job all about. Though many of the chatter own language learning experience led to believe that explicit language teaching made for dull lessons. @Marisa_C  also stated What your students want or think they need is not always what they really need or the best way to learn – that s why YOU are the teache

@ElkySmith I think students crave clarity and being explicit about grammar, aims, etc. provides that


Other issues raised:


–       How does explicit grammar teaching fit into the concept of the flipped classroom?

–       Doesn’t explicit grammar teaching and an explicit grammar syllabus imply make the assumption [our students in whatever situation] don’t know it already?

–       Linked to this, wouldn’t we be taking a one-size fits all policy?

–       Do other approaches such as the ‘natural’ way or suggestopaedia work when teaching grammar?

RT @teflgeek: Final words:  explicit or otherwise, teaching not equal understanding, and understanding does not mean use #eltchat

Thank you all that took part, Catherine has agreed to do a follow up interview for the podcast about the topic so if you have any questions let us know. 


The cast list for the chat was….

@teflgeek, @Shaunwilden, @AlexandraKouk, @ElkySmith. @antoniaclare, @cioccas, @theteacherjames, @teacherphili, @worldteacher, @louisealix68, @ShetlandESOL, @MissLadyCaz, @Absorb_English, @Marisa_C, @waykatewit, @MarjorieRosenbe, @teflerinha, @KathleenDrew5, @michaelegriffin, @stiiiv,@esolcourses,@Phoenixarc, @michelleworgan,@ChrisGyford, @SahalZyad, @pjgallantry, @roboseyo,@EvocationEFL, @AAwbathani, @pterolaur, @alturki3, @Macgyvelene,@GoldGrino, @AlannahFitz,@ StanzaSL