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Tools and Techniques for Effective Grammar Instruction in the Twenty-first Century Classroom

PRTESOL – 2010 Convention – Saturday, November 13, 2010

Presenters: Evelyn Pérez Mass, Universidad del Turabo and University of Phoenix, and Gloria M. Custodio, Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas

Summary of the presentation: Since grammar is an essential component of language acquisition and learning, ESL teachers must be enthusiastic grammarians who balance the descriptive (the rules) with the procedural knowledge (the application) that students need in order to become proficient in English. Teachers must prepare and deliver effective grammar lessons that target the specific needs of their students, according to their age and level of proficiency. Technology, particularly the myriad free resources available on the Internet, can help teachers and students in the quest to improve their English grammar skills.

Objectives: By the end of this workshop, the participant will:

  • Undertand the importance of both direct and implicit instruction of grammar in the ESL classroom, regardless of the age and proficiency level of the students.
  • Appreciate the need to develop both descriptive and procedural knowledge of grammar.
  • Know where to find new resources to teach any grammar skill. (Hint: Google your grammar topic!)
  • Have at least one practical, effective activity or strategy for grammar teaching that can be implemented immediately in his or her classroom.
  • Practice at least one activity and discuss it with his or her peers.

Resources:

  • For links and more information, including an e-version of this document, please visit Gloria Custodio’s blog, My Teaching Life, at https://gmcustodio.wordpress.com.
  • You can also follow Gloria’s mostly education-related tweets on Twitter (@gmcustodio).
  • We have also created a group (All About Grammar) on the social bookmarking site Diigo. Visit diigo.com, create a free account, and join our group, to access an ever-growing array of grammar-related resources. You can also add new resources that you find on the Internet for other group members to use.

Tools & Techniques for Teaching Grammar

Grammar is important! – View Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Boring: A Response to Elbow and Graves, by fellow English teacher Sheri Viota.

Teachers often encounter obstacles in teaching grammar. The experience of teaching grammar varies depending on the level of the student (both age and proficiency), as well as the teacher’s mastery of the subject, comfort and enthusiasm for teaching it.

But there is help! There are good, free online materials for all levels of age and proficiency which can be used directly by students and also adapted by teachers for own use in the classroom. Resources range from online presentations and handbooks, to online interactive exercises, printable worksheets, lesson plans, etc. Don’t despair: whatever you and your students need, whatever resources you have available at home or at school, there is material online to help you teach more effectively and your students learn more efficiently.

The key to good grammar instruction (well, the key to good instruction in general) is preparation – never step into a classroom to teach a grammar lesson that you haven’t first reviewed, no matter how long you have been teaching. Always do a Google search to see if any useful new resources have become available since you last taught this lesson.

Other keys:

Decide what kids should know and when they should know it – planning is essential.

And no, you do not need to follow the order of your grammar textbook! Teach topics in the order that makes the most sense for your students. That means you need to determine what they know, so give a diagnostic test at the beginning. You might also want to give a post-test at the end of the year, to see how much the students have improved after two semesters with you.

Collaborate with the other English teachers in your school to create a structured, cohesive Grammar Work Plan that shows which grammar skills should be taught (and reinforced) when, taking into account your student population and its needs.

Identify resources to implement the Grammar Work Plan: textbooks and workbooks, Internet websites, PowerPoint presentations, test banks, lesson plans, etc.

In the classroom

Cultivate a positive attitude about grammar (and the other more ‘arid’ facets of language learning)– if you don’t approach grammar with a joyful, enthusiastic attitude, how can you expect students to enjoy learning grammar?

Adjust to the level of the students – if you have markedly different levels, you need to differentiate instruction, which can be done through:

  • small group work,
  • jigsaw teams (different proficiency levels working in one group or dividing kids into specialty groups and then having the groups reconfigure so one ‘expert’ from each specialty is in each group) – the idea is to have kids teach each other;
  • different (more complex) exercises on the same topic for students who have mastered the basics, or conversely, more basic exercises for students who are struggling.

Aim for a mix of activities and instructional strategies that promote both descriptive and procedural knowledge of grammar. Students should know the grammatical terms as well as how to recognize and apply the grammatical structures.

Use both free-standing explicit grammar lessons and integrated mini-lessons within larger reading or writing units.

Review. Review. And then review some more. The goal is for good grammar to become automatic for your students, and that happens after much repetition. Approach grammar instruction in a spiral fashion, revisiting the concepts periodically with greater complexity and depth as the students gain a better grasp of the grammatical structures and how they work.

Correct grammar mistakes – this doesn’t mean that the teacher has to stop everything and explicitly correct the student (which might have an undesirable chilling effect in the classroom), but rather, that the teacher rephrases the student’s words using the appropriate grammar. The teacher also takes advantage of teachable moments to introduce or reinforce concepts that are giving students trouble.

Post grammar posters as reminders in your room – these might be as simple as “they’re, their, there” to remind students to pay attention when using these three often-confused words. Have students do their own posters and display them in the classroom; you could also scan them and post them online.

When targeting mistakes in writing, focus on patterns of grammatical mistakes and tackle them one at a time, instead of drowning students in red ink. Corrections that are too nitpicky only discourage students; they cannot focus on solutions if they are just looking at an overwhelming problem. This strategy also works well for improving performance on standardized tests.

Brush up on your own grammar. You cannot teach what you do not know. You shouldn’t teach what you have not yet mastered.

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