We all enjoy a bit of controversy from time to time, so now it is my turn to stir the pot . . .
What I find most frustrating about many formally – and well trained – EFL teachers is the way EVERY lesson is really just a grammar lesson. It might seem we are teaching about hobbies or animals, but really we are just teaching grammar.
Got an ESP class teaching Business English? Let’s have them talk about business using the past perfect. Teaching six-year-old kids? How about teaching them adverbs of frequency? No! No! No!
I am NOT saying don’t teach grammar. What I am saying is that it is often the primary focus of many teachers because they were trained that way. And it need not be so.
My issue with teaching and over-emphasizing grammar is that you can quickly lose the motivation and interest of your students. And for ESP classes, you can end up way off track from what your students REALLY need. This is primarily because teachers often make up a reason to talk about the grammar point they want to cover.
Teach FUNCTIONS instead of GRAMMAR
The most basic of functions we can write as this: Asking and answering questions about ___________ . How do you fill in the blank? Get to know your students! Ask them what interests them.
What really motivates students is teaching them the specific language needed to talk about things they WANT to talk about. For teenagers, this might be talking about the current pop/rock/movie stars. For young kids it might be talking about puppies and kitties or even the latest coolest toy. For business people it might be how to deal with a customer complaint or how to express their opinion about an important issue in a meeting.
What interests your students? Find something relevant to them and they will stay motivated during your class.
Now . . . I didn’t say DON’T teach grammar. Students learn grammar best when it is learned in context of a function. In every function lesson there is a place for reviewing the grammar needed to properly ask and answer those questions about their motivating topic. So – what I am suggesting here is that you teach functions and within your function lessons that you teach the grammar needed to serve that function.
Eventually, you will cover almost everything and – okay – it probably is fine every now and then to do a straight grammar lesson to help your students organize their thinking about grammar. Forgive them though if the students in the back snooze off after a while . . .
Many teachers complain about their students’ lack of motivation and often real disinterest in their English classes. Could this be why?
TED’s Tips™ #1: Try teaching function lessons and you will find a real uptick in student motivation. An increase in student motivation will also likely lead to better, faster skill development that is retained rather than quickly forgotten. Try it. What do you and your students have to lose?
Those of you with rigid methodology welded into your brain – this is just my opinion.