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.