Focus on form
Should we bother teaching grammar at all?
There is nothing quite so controversial as the role of grammar in the language classroom. For some, grammar is the cornerstone of second language teaching. Others believe that students acquire grammar naturally without the need for formal instruction (Krashen 1988). Recent trends in language teaching have played down grammatical accuracy in favour of helping students to develop effective communication skills, but does this mean abandoning grammar altogether? Should we dedicate time in our lessons to explicit grammar instruction, or focus on providing the right conditions for students to acquire grammar naturally? Focus on form (Long 1988), which draws student’s attention to grammatical structures as part of a broader communicative syllabus, offers an attractive happy medium. But it raises just as many questions as it seeks to answer about what, when and how (Ellis et al. 2002).
Ellis (2006) identifies some key questions about the role of grammar in the classroom:
1. Should we teach grammar, or should we simply create the conditions
by which learners learn naturally?
2. What grammar should we teach?
3. When should we teach grammar? Is it best to teach grammar when
learners first start to learn an L2 or to wait until later when learners
have already acquired some linguistic competence?
4. Should grammar instruction be massed (i.e., the available teaching
time be concentrated into a short period) or distributed (i.e., the
available teaching time spread over a longer period)?
5. Should grammar instruction be intensive (e.g., cover a single grammatical
structure in a single lesson) or extensive (e.g., cover many
grammatical structures in a single lesson)?
6. Is there any value in teaching explicit grammatical knowledge?
7. Is there a best way to teach grammar for implicit knowledge?
8. Should grammar be taught in separate lessons or integrated into
What do you think about the role of grammar in the classroom? Consider the above questions, with reference to your own teaching.
Long, M. H. (1988). Instructed interlanguage development. In L. M. Beebe (Ed.), Issues in second language acquisition:
Multiple perspectives (pp. 115-141). Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.