Don’t Teach Grammar — Teach Functions!

I recently read a blog written specifically about what is wrong with PPP methodology.  And, sadly, the author stated:

PPP means that teachers will first present a grammar point

While I would agree that PPP has some limitations, I would never agree that PPP must be about teaching grammar.   And the writer would not think that if he had been in my training classroom!

Now I quite understand that MOST TEFL training programs around the world take that approach, but a thinking teacher never would.   And method should be about thinking your way through a lesson, not just following a cardboard cutout over and over and over.

Why in the world would you make grammar the point of specific lessons?  I sure can’t think of any reasons beyond the banal, Because they need to know grammar.

Well . . . yes, students do need to know and understand grammar but this constant focus on grammar is one (of many) reasons why students come to hate studying English.  Why not teach students how to communicate about something they are interested in?  And then, inside that lesson, teach them how to do that communication in a grammatically correct way?

Teach Functions

Functions are simply language that we use to exchange information.  Language that has a purpose or a function.

Simple examples:

Asking and answering questions about your favorite sport

Dealing with complaints at work

Asking someone for a date

Asking and giving directions around town

Asking for assistance at work

Giving your opinion in a meeting

Making a sales call


Talking about your product

Introducing yourself

Describing your favorite toy (food, hobby, music, actor, and more more more)

Talking about your favorite video games

and on and on.

What is important and or most relevant to your students?  Talk about that and teach them the language for that.   Do you really think your students talk about present perfect when they are away from school?  Not!

Notice the functions always start with Something-ING.  Asking and answering.  Offering, helping, assisting, complaining, talking about, directing and on and on.  Or you almost can’t go wrong with the simple: Asking and answering questions about ______ .  Just ask your students what they want to talk about and fill in the blank.  Wouldn’t your students be more interested in your class if THEY got to pick what they are going to talk about?  Of course they would!

If you teach them how to talk about things they WANT to talk about – things they are INTERESTED in talking about, you will have a much more motivated student.  One who just might enjoy their class rather than hate it.

Now I did say – Don’t Teach Grammar – but what I meant was don’t make it the point of the lesson.  Just teach your students the proper grammatical structures they need to talk about the topic at hand.  That’s all.  They will get it.  Certainly faster than just memorizing irrelevant grammar points.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teach Functions!  Not Grammar.

TED’s Tips™ #2: This post is part of a series at: ESL Blog Carnival – the topic is Teaching Grammar Effectively.

What’s Wrong with CELTA and Most TEFL Certifications?

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.

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