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.

Teaching Functions in the EFL Classroom

Teach Functions to Increase your Students’ Motivation

Why do so many TEFL courses put emphasis on teaching grammar directly as the goal of a lesson rather than teaching it indirectly and related to the direct teaching of functions?

I think it is because either they are lazy (putting together a grammar lesson is fast, easy AND boring!) and/or they don’t always really understand the purpose of learning English. Sad to say – but it sure seems to be true.

Very quickly, first, lets talk about what a function is. It’s simple: a function in teacher-talk is a specific task. So teaching students the English needed to find and rent an apartment, for example, would be a function. Most often functions are stated like this: Asking and Answering Questions about Renting an Apartment. Or in occupational language it might be the language required to deal with a customer complaint at a business or to inquire about the details of a service or product. Then the function might be: Dealing with Customer Complaints or Answering Customer Questions about Servicing their New Honda.

Let’s try a few more functions: Asking for Permission to Stay out Late on Friday Night. Expressing your Opinion about [fill in the blank].

Teachers who teach functions will generally have a much more motivated group of students. Why? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to do something than to learn – let’s say – about the future perfect progressive aspect of verbs . . . Ow! I almost fell asleep just writing it.  Students are motivated by learning functions that are relevant to their daily lives.  Future Perfect Progressive, on the surface anyway – doesn’t seem relevant to anything.

Particularly if you ever teach Business English or English for Specific (or Special) Purposes classes – you should always be teaching functions.

I am not suggesting never teaching grammar, but teaching grammar in the context of a function makes much more sense to students and gives them a motivation to use the language – rather than just the raw information of how to use a grammar point.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teach functions rather than grammar points.  Your students will thank you and you will feel far more productive.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Motivate your students to learn even more by asking them what they would like to learn to do or deal with – in English.