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.

TEFL Methodology: Two Common Methods

How to Teach English as a Foreign Language

One post is nowhere near long enough for you to learn all you need to know about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL or EFL). However, in this post what I can do is introduce you some of the basic methods commonly used in the EFL classroom, and I can provide you with links to several good on-line resources.

One of the best resources around for good solid basics is: Basic Teacher Training for EFL Teachers. Some of the material here on TEFL Teacher Training is drawn and expanded upon from my own on-line training course at  TEFL Boot Camp.

It’s Not Only What You Teach—It’s How You Teach

As for methodology, the two most commonly followed methods taught by TEFL Certification schools are “Presentation, Practice, Production” (PPP) and/or “Engage, Study, Activate” (ESA).

Advocates of each teaching camp often think that the method they know is the only way to teach properly– but to an impartial observer, the two methods are actually quite similar.

What your students really need is for you to take a relatively flexible approach to how you teach, and if you do this, you will see there are benefits of both methods. In fact, you can use a bit of both methods in every lesson.

These methods and my explanations here are primarily for teaching speaking skills, though the methods can be adapted to teaching reading, writing and listening skills as well. In future posts, I’ll also address how to teach non-speaking skills individually.

Let’s start with PPP.

“PPP” Means Presentation, Practice, and Production

“Presentation” is where the target language, the language to be taught to the students, is “presented” to the students.

In this stage the teacher elicits language from the students with cues, to see what they already know (often you’ll find some of the students know a lot of– even all—of the target vocabulary). If no one knows any of the words for this topic, then the teacher will provide some vocabulary, but usually a good portion of the target phrases can be obtained from the students.

Now, why do we do this? Eliciting and cueing the students makes the topic (and your class) more relevant to the students.  After all, they gave you the material they are going to practice and learn.  That’s relevant to them and when things feel relevant, students are more motivated. (Yet another topic for another post!)

The teacher will put that lesson’s target language up on the marker board. This might take different structures, perhaps as grammar, in charts or written in dialogs.

The presentation stage of a lesson features more “teacher talk” than the other stages of the lesson.   Teachers probably should budget as much as 20-40% of the total lesson time for this stage.

That said, less teacher talk–in any part of the lesson–is better. Our goal is to have the students talk, not the teacher. You already have plenty of practice speaking and they don’t. So don’t hog the lesson – that’s the classic symptom of a poor language teacher.

Next comes the “Practice” stage of the lesson. The students practice the target language in one to three activities. These progress from very structured—providing little possibility for error–to less-structured as the students master the material.

These practice activities should include as much “student talk” as possible and not focus on written activities, although written activities can sometimes provide a structure for the verbal practices.

Practice activities should have the “student talk time” range from 60-80% of the time. Teacher talk time should be as minimal as possible. The practice portion of the total lesson may take 30-50% of the total lesson time.

The third stage, “Production”, is when students take the target language and use it in conversations they ideally create and structure. They now can talk about themselves or their daily lives or situations using the language they have just learned.

The production stage of the lesson involves “student talk” as much as 90% of the time – and this component of the lesson can/should take as much as 20-30% of the total lesson time.

As you can see, the general structure of a PPP lesson is flexible. An important feature is the progression from controlled and structured speech to less-controlled and more freely used and created speech.

Another important feature of PPP, and other methods, is the reduction of teacher talk time and the corresponding increase in student talk time as you move through the lesson.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most common errors untrained teachers make is that they talk too much. Let your students do the talking and watch how quickly they learn.

 “ESA” – means Engage, Study, and Activate

The stages of ESA are roughly equivalent to PPP, though ESA is slightly different in that it is designed to allow movement back and forth between the stages. However, each stage is similar to the PPP stages in the same order.

Proponents of the ESA method stress its flexibility compared to PPP. The ESA method as defined by Jeremy Harmer, its primary advocate, uses more elicitation and stresses more “Engagement” of students in the early stages of the lesson.

Both elicitation (drawing language from the students by use of questions, prompts and cueing) and Engagement are important in raising student motivation, but both tactics can just as easily, and should, be used in the Presentation stage of PPP.

ESA is superior method to PPP when both are looked at from a rigid point of view.

But, EFL is not rigid and you should not adhere to any one viewpoint or method. PPP is often an easier method for teacher-trainees to get a handle on.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Study and learn one method well – branch out to other methods as you increase your experience and skill level.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t get hung up on terminology or married to any one method. There are many ways to approach language instruction and PPP and ESA are used primarily because they are easy to teach in the relatively short four-week TEFL Certification or CELTA courses.

PS: I have developed the GRO method – similar to but different from PPP and ESA – for helping my students improve. The GRO Method is more student focused, even in its description. “G” is for Growing student knowledge by Getting new information and Grasping the function of the target language of the lesson. “R” is the portion of the lesson for student Reaction to and Rehearsal or practice with the target language. And the “O” is for the students to Optimize their use of the language by making it more personal and relevant.

I know my method is effective and no other method is nearly as flexible. So there!   I hope you don’t mind my humor.

You can create your own method too – as long as you have the best interests of your students in mind as you do it.

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EFL ESL Teaching Methodology Made Simple

A reader recently wrote:

I am trying to find out more on Teaching English PPP

She was having trouble getting a grasp about what PPP or ESA or any teaching “method” was about.

There is a good basic and simple way to look at EFL teaching methodology – or, for that matter, any kind of good teaching method.  But . . . let’s use PPP as a simple example.

PPP is only an extension of good basic teaching methodology and that is this:

Presentation = 1. Teach something

Practice = 2. Have your students practice working with it to become familiar with it and understand it and how it works.

Production = 3. Have your students manipulate it and use it with their own information to help put it in long-term memory.  PRODUCE something new from what they have learned.

You can even teach mathematics that way.

Give your students new information, have them practice it in a structured sort of way (to help ensure success) and slowly remove the structure as they get better at using it.  The removal of structure can come in activities that provide at first, a LOT of structure and little chance for error and the following activities provide less and less structure as confidence and skills grow.


and listen to the audio podcast that goes with it here:

and even more good material here:

One problem for teacher-trainees (student teachers) is that they often think methodologies should be perhaps more complex.  It is really not rocket science.  It is just good simple method designed to help students learn what you are hoping to teach.

Got it?

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t OVERthink teaching methodology.  It is simple and it makes good sense to keep it simple.  When things get too complex, students tend to not learn what you are hoping you are teaching.

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