Schools Improvement Net | New research shows teaching English language grammar rules in school improves lifelong

An Oxford University linguistics lecturer believes the evidence is now in and the conclusions are clear: research shows it is time to teach the rules of grammar in English language in order to improve learning. Dr Catherine Walter, who is also co-author of The Oxford English Grammar Course, writes the following in the Guardian… The straightforward, pre-planned teaching of grammar in English language teaching has been under attack for years. Various alternatives have been proposed: to expose learners to language that is just a bit more advanced than what they currently produce; to wait until a communicative situation demands a certain structure before introducing it; to let the grammar emerge naturally from vocabulary learning, or from the lived context of the classroom. Each approach has been defended with carefully structured arguments, and some approaches have been embraced enthusiastically by ministries of education around the world.

However, evidence trumps argument, and the evidence is now in. Rigorously conducted meta-analyses of a wide range of studies have shown that, within a generally communicative approach, explicit teaching of grammar rules leads to better learning and to unconscious knowledge, and this knowledge lasts over time.

This will not surprise the many teachers who have continued to teach grammar despite the tides of fashion. Behind classroom doors, the wisdom of the community of practitioners has often prevailed.

After exploring some of the reasons behind the resistance to teach grammar rules, Dr Walter makes the following conclusions… What does this imply for teaching? Teaching grammar explicitly is more effective than not teaching it, or than teaching it implicitly; that is now clear. What this implies is that the grammar in a course should be planned, to ensure coverage of the structures learners will need. Teachers cannot depend on a range of texts or a range of topics or a range of tasks to yield all the grammar in a course. Taking each class as it comes is not an option. A grammar syllabus is needed, along with the other syllabuses and word lists that structure a course.

This does not mean that grammar is the most important thing to teach: the title probably goes to vocabulary. But there is room, and need, for both vocabulary and grammar. Good teaching of good rules with good examples and good practice activities can mean that grammar teaching only takes the time it needs to take. And now it is clear that this grammar teaching works.

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