Teaching Grammar in the Communicative Language Classroom

By Jennifer Robertson Montes posted 07-09-2010 05:33


Teaching grammar in the communicative, integrated-skills language classroom can and should be student centered, but finding ways to ensure the delivery does not turn into a lecture can sometimes be tricky.  Remember that grammar should not be presented as an objective in and of itself.  The objective (or learning outcome) is what you want students to be able to do in the language at the end of the class.  Do you want them to be able to conjugate the verb to be or do you want them to be able to introduce themselves and give personal information?  Of course learning the verb to be is necessary, but grammar instruction should always be done in context.

Using a combination of questioning techniques and the Steps to Mastery™ will help you decrease your teacher talk and increase student communication, even at the beginner levels. The key to keeping your grammar lessons student centered is to always start with a question.  When presenting grammar, use the following questions and ask the students first to assess their current level of knowledge before just giving the information:

  1. Are students familiar with the grammar point?
  2. Do students know the correct forms?
  3. Do students know the rules of usage?
  4. Do students know the difference between this grammar point and its contrasting one (if any)?
  5. Can students apply the grammar point correctly in different contexts?
  6. Can students apply the grammar point in natural conversation?

If you remember from previous articles, the Steps to Mastery™ help guide the instruction from easy to gradually more difficult tasks, whether it be for teaching vocabulary, language functions, or grammatical structures.  Using the questions above, apply them as you go through the Steps to Mastery™.

  • Preview:  Find out how much students already know about the grammar point.
  • Input:  Show what the grammar looks like in real communication by presenting it in the context of a dialogue.  Be sure that the dialogue is related to the overall thematic unit of the lesson.
  • Structured Activities:  Practice with easy activities that do not require students to recall information since this information is new to them. You can start with a matching exercise, for example.
  • Less-Structured Activities:  Practice with activities that increase the level of difficulty and require students to start recalling some of the information that they have already learned.  This would include fill-in-the-blank exercises.
  • Open Activities:  Allow students to create with the language on their own. Give them the context that will force them to use the new grammatical structure.
  • Assessment:  This can be a formal test or a role play that requires students to use the grammar spontaneously and in context.

So what would a grammar lesson look like in the communicative classroom?  Here is a short example using the Spanish verbs SER and ESTAR for a mid- to high-beginner level class. This assumes that the verbs have been presented separately prior to this lesson, but now students need to know how they compare and contrast.  Remember that multiple activities may be required at the different steps.  This example is for illustration purposes only:

  1. Preview:  Identify the learning gaps by writing the verbs on the board and asking students the questions listed at the top of this page to find out how much they already know.  Do not provide the answers to questions 3 and 4 just yet.
  2. Input:  Provide students with a dialogue that incorporates both verbs and some of the different uses.  Ask students comprehension questions about the dialogue.  Ask students to deduce the verb use each time it appears.  Make a chart on the board and list all the different uses for each, including uses that do not appear in the dialogue.  Have students practice reading the dialogue in chorus as a class or in small groups.
  3. Structured Activity:  Have a list of sentences with matching pictures and ask students if the verb usage and forms are correct or incorrect.
  4. Less-Structured Activity:  Have students fill in the correct verb and correct verb form in a variety of sentences or mini-conversation speech bubbles. 
  5. Open Activity:  Have students work in pairs to create a dialogue using both verbs with at least two different uses each.  Present the dialogue to the class. After each presentation, ask the class to identify the different uses they could identify and confirm with the students who presented.
  6. Assessment:  Give a quick oral quiz at the end of the class on the uses and be sure that there is a component to test SER vs. ESTAR on the final exam.

Presenting grammar using a student-centered, communicative approach is just one component of establishing an effective language learning environment for your students.  Look for more articles in the future on this topic at: