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Philip Kerr Lindsay Clandfield Ceri Jones Roy Norris Jim Scrivener

Straightforward Second edition

Teaching made simple Guide to Presenting Grammar

Straightforward 2

Second edition

The Straightforward Guide to Presenting Grammar Contents Why a guide to presenting grammar?


What makes a good grammar presentation?


The big choice


Grammar presentation toolkit

6 - 20

Welcome to the Straightforward Guides. We hope that they will be particularly helpful for less experienced teachers, as well as providing a number of fresh ideas for everyone. Each guide follows a simple, easy-to-use format.


The first section presents an aspect of language teaching practice in a clear, accessible way, with the busy teacher in mind. The second section provides a selection of classroom activities that require only minimal preparation, along with tips on how to incorporate this kind of work into your day-to-day teaching. This guide is all about presenting grammar in the language classroom. We look at what makes a good grammar presentation as well as factors to take into account when deciding how to explain and present grammar. We have included a grammar presentation toolkit – suggestions and tips for different ways to present grammar that you can incorporate into your teaching. We hope you and your students enjoy it! Lindsay Clandfield and Philip Kerr, Authors of the Straightforward series

Teaching made simple

2008 Straightforward Guide to Gr3 3

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Why a guide to presenting grammar? Most familiar approaches to English language teaching divide the language up into manageable chunks, bite-sized grammar rules, which the teacher must somehow convey to the learner. Not everyone agrees that the best way to teach English is to cut it up into discrete items in this way, and some people even question the usefulness of teaching ‘grammar’ at all. But, with few exceptions, teachers have little choice in the matter. End-of-year examinations are often oriented towards an evaluation of students’ grammatical knowledge. Many students embark on a language learning course expecting to be taught the rules of grammar – similar to the rules of grammar that they studied in their own language. Many, if not most, coursebooks follow a clear grammar syllabus. Most teachers are trained to structure their teaching around these same rules of grammar. And if you go to any English language teaching website or online discussion, you will find that a large proportion of the questions are about teaching grammar.


Like it or hate it, grammar is a big part of most language teachers’ jobs. The way that they present this grammar – the way they get it across to their students – will reflect their understanding of what is useful for their students. But there are many different ways of presenting grammar, and we need to select an approach that is right for a particular group of students on a particular course on a particular day. No single method and no single course book can provide all the answers all the time. This short guide aims to offer a wide variety of practical options for presenting grammar and help in selecting which is most appropriate at a particular time. This guide is not a reference book for grammar. The Straightforward Teacher’s Books tell you all you need to know, help you anticipate problems and find solutions. If you want to know more, there are many excellent grammar reference books already around, and we recommend that teachers have one just as they would have a good dictionary. This guide isn’t about practising grammar either. This isn’t to say that practice isn’t important. On the contrary, as any good teacher knows, simply showing students how something works won’t guarantee that they learn it or know how to do it. But extended practice opportunities won’t compensate for a presentation that doesn’t do the job. The difference between a lively, clear, enjoyable presentation and one that has misfired can be the difference between a memorable learning experience and a gentle snooze.

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What makes a good grammar presentation? The point of any grammar presentation is to help students develop their understanding of, and ability to use, a particular area of language. We can assess our choice of presentation by asking: Is the presentation we have in mind going to be a b c d

memorable clear effective appropriate

for students? A good grammar presentation must meet all four of the above criteria.


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The big choice Before looking at the wide range of classroom techniques, we need to make an early decision about our basic approach. We can classify grammar presentations, broadly speaking, into two main types. Teacher-centred




In fact, many grammar presentations combine teacher-centred and student-centred elements and there may also be a combination of deductive and inductive tasks. In a teacher-centred approach, the focus of attention will be on the teacher most of the time. In a more student-centred approach, students’ attention will be focused more on tasks that they themselves are involved in. There is nothing inherently good or bad about either of these approaches, but one or the other may be more memorable, clear, effective and appropriate for a particular class.


The terms ‘deductive’ and ‘inductive’ can be confusing. Basically, a deductive approach involves the teacher telling the students the information and rules they need. An inductive approach involves the students working out for themselves – with guidance, of course – the information and rules that they need. In order to decide which approach to select, we will need to take a variety of factors into consideration. Students level age learning styles and preferences expectations

Language degree of complexity new or revisited similarities to L1

Context time available resources available

Level of students Low level students may be less confident and prefer to be told a rule explicitly, while higher level students stand a better chance of figuring it out on their own.

Age of students Younger students may not have the level of abstract thinking required for some grammar explanations and will be better off with simple exposure and practice Younger students may also be unable to sustain attention and concentration for long periods of time, so think about variety and involvement.

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Learning styles and preferences Much has been written about learner styles and it has been suggested, for example, that some learners are primarily visual – seeing things helps them learn – whilst others may benefit more from hearing or doing things.

Expectations Think about the kind of approach students (and teachers) are used to. In some educational contexts, the students expect the teacher to explain everything explicitly – it’s a sign of a good teacher. In others, students are expected to take more control of their own learning. Sensitivity to the culture of learning and teaching you are in is necessary when choosing how to present grammar.

Degree of complexity of the grammar point Some grammar points are so clear and easy to understand that they need little or no presentation. Other grammar points are more complex and not so obvious at first glance.

New or revisited grammar If the grammar is familiar to the students then the teacher will need less (or no!) time to present it.

Similarities to students’ L1


If the grammar point is the same in the students’ language (or very similar to it), it might be best presented with this in mind. If the grammar point is something that doesn’t exist in the students’ language the teacher might need to work more carefully on getting the concept across.

Time available Grammar isn’t the only thing that students have to learn – in your syllabus, it’s competing with vocabulary, pronunciation and skills work. Which approach to grammar will be more economical?

Resources available Do you have the time and money to develop new resources or will you have to make do with what you have for the time being? In all probability, you’ll need to consider more than one of the above factors when choosing how and when to present grammar. The Straightforward Teacher’s Books will give you lots of suggestions for varying the way you present individual areas of grammar. In the rest of this guide, we will take a closer look at the basic tool kit.

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Explanation A straightforward oral explanation of a grammar point is a classic technique. It’s also the first thing many people expect in a teaching-learning scenario. And, paradoxically, it’s one of the hardest things to do really well. Making an explanation memorable isn’t easy.


Here are some different ways that you can make an oral explanation more memorable: • try to avoid starting off the lesson with an explanation of grammar. • prepare your explanation in advance – an improvised explanation is generally less successful. • try to anticipate what your students will find easy or difficult in your explanation. • break it into a small number of stages – e.g. There are two important things to remember about when to use the passive. One, when the agent is unknown or unimportant. Two, to emphasize what happened rather than who did it. • keep explanations brief and ensure that you have enough time for plenty of opportunities for practice. • calculate how long the explanation needs. Too slow and the students get bored, too fast and the students don’t follow. • support your explanation with visual aids and diagrams to make it more memorable. • support your explanation with examples in context – either from the written text, or the students’ text, or a teacher story or a generative situation – see later notes. • ask questions to check that students have understood what you are saying – the Teacher’s Books give lots of examples of concept questions • allow and encourage the students to ask questions. • look for opportunities to take the focus away from you from time to time. • look for opportunities to include humour and imagination. • use mnemonic devices or rhymes – e.g. use Since to say when something Started.

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Your aim will probably be to move towards explanations in English. In order to help you and your students get used to using only English • •

Use the language notes in the Teacher’s Book for concise and accurate phrases to explain language. Be tolerant of L1. Even though you may choose to speak only in English, consider accepting questions in L1 from students who are not sure they’ve understood. You can, after all, reply in English.

The usual approach to explanation is to use students’ L1, whenever this is possible. There is nothing wrong with this, but remember: • • •

There is a danger of encouraging the students to rely on explanations in their mother tongue. At some stage in their learning careers, it will help your students to know grammatical metalanguage – words like noun, participle, infinitive in English. Even at lower levels, begin to introduce some of these words in English. We need to ensure that the language of our explanations is not more difficult than the language we are trying to explain.


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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Using diagrams Diagrams to present grammar are especially helpful to visual learners and help give it an order. It’s a good idea to prepare the diagram clearly before on a piece of paper if it’s the first time you’re using it. Here are some examples of diagrams to illustrate different grammar points:

Clines quantifiers


a few



a lot

quite, fairly

a bit



very, really, extremely

modal verbs to express future


may, might


opinion verbs love


don’t mind

don’t like


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Arrows To show the difference between two verbs A



He has gone to Singapore.



x He has been to Singapore.

To indicate a change of word order


You are a student.

Are you a student?

Timelines To illustrate a verb tense different jobs

x past


x now

I have had many different jobs.

2008 Straightforward Guide to Gr11 11

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Written texts There are three ways of obtaining a written text to teach a particular grammar point. 1. 2. 3.

find a real, authentic text that contains examples of the grammar point you wish to teach find a real, authentic text and rewrite it slightly so that it contains examples, or more examples, of the grammar point you wish to teach write a text yourself with examples of the grammar point you wish to teach

To focus on the language in the text, here are some techniques you can use, with sample grammar points.



Good for

Find examples of X and underline them

different parts of speech - e.g. past tense verbs, adjectives, adverb

Find examples of X and underline them along with word(s) next to them

collocations and word partnerships, quantifiers with countable/incountable nouns

Find examples of X and circle them along with word they refer to


Find examples of X and change them to similar words

modal verbs - e.g. change the word will to might

Find examples and think about why the writer/speaker used that word or phrase

modal verbs, articles

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Flashcards Flashcards are cards with pictures or words on them to help present language. They are most commonly associated with vocabulary teaching but can equally serve for grammar presentations. Here are some things you can put on flashcards.

Pictures tennis.

To elicit/drill a sentence – e.g. He’s playing tennis.

To set up a generative situation – e.g. You’ve won the lottery. What are you going to do with the money?



Yes/No To provide a prompt for short answers.





To provide prompts for a substitution drill.


Time reference



To provide prompts for sentence transformation exercise.

To indicate if an error has occurred.




To provide prompts for sentence transformation exercises.

2008 Straightforward Guide to Gr13 13

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

A story from the teacher Like using a written text, an oral text told by the teacher is another effective way to present a grammar point. If it’s a true story, and told well, it has the added effect of providing some intrinsic motivation for the learners to listen. Prepare your story first. It is best to write it out. Make sure that you include examples of the grammar you’d like to highlight, but not so many as to make the story sound strained or awkward. In class, tell the students that you are going to share a (true) story about something that happened to you. Tell, don’t read, the story. Ask the students to work in pairs and recount as much of the story as they can remember to each other. Ask one pair to feedback to the rest of the class.


Now ask specific comprehension questions about your story. These should relate to parts of the story which included the target grammar. Ask questions like: What did I say about… What did I do next? Try to elicit the sentences in your story that contain the grammar you wish to present. As you elicit them write them on the board. Once you have elicited all the examples you want from the story and have them on the board you can underline (or mark them in another colour – see boardwork) you can then proceed with an explanation or use a guided discovery to explain the grammar. In this way, the grammar is presented in context.

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Boardwork When writing a grammar explanation or examples on the board bear in mind that students may be copying it down. Using colours, circles or lines can make things clearer. Use a different colour to indicate a typical error or wrong form.

Never you listen to me We were often boring in class Use a different colour, underline or circle to indicate a part of the sentence(s) you wish students to focus on.

Causative have

subject + have + object + past participle

They had the tickets delivered by special courier.


Dividing the board into ‘sections’ can also help make things clearer.

Negative They can’t hear the music. He can’t speak English. Question Can you open the door? (remember in questions can + subject + verb…?)


USE To talk about ability I can speak English and French. To ask permission Can I go to the toilet please? To make a request Can I have a pen please? Can you repeat please? PRONUNCIATON I can swim. /k n/ Can you speak Spanish? Yes, I can. I can’t understand. /ka:nt/ e

FORM can/can’t + verb Affirmative I can sing. She can play piano.

You can also use the board to copy grammar reference boxes or substitution tables.

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Grammar Boxes


In many course books there are grammar reference pages. These usually include the information about a grammar point in a table or written explanation of some kind. There are a number of ways these can be used in class: • Ask students to read quietly through the information for themselves. • Ask one or two students to read the information aloud to the rest of the class. • Ask students to work in pairs and read the information aloud to each other. • Read the information aloud yourself to the class. • Allow quiet reading time and then ask questions based on the information in the box. • Books closed, before students look at the grammar box, read it aloud to them. At various key points, pause and elicit what the next word or words might be. Clearly confirm right answers. When you have finished, allow students to open the books and read the information through quietly. • Books closed, write the information from the grammar box on the board, trying to keep the same layout as the book. Leave gaps at key places. Ask students to either copy the diagram and fill it in, or come to the board and fill in the information there. Allow students time to discuss the suggested answers before they check with the book. • Books closed, elicit the information item by item, example by example, from the students and note it on the board. When the information is complete, allow students to open their books and find the same content printed there.

2008 Straightforward Guide to Gr16 16

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Substitution tables Substitution tables (STs) are arrangements of grammatical items containing a number of example sentences, so that learners can create complete correct sentences by substituting one word or phrase with another. They give a helpful visual insight into the way that the grammatical item is structured. For some students, information presented in this way may be easier to understand and use than similar data given as explanations or using grammatical terminology. You can use substitution tables: •

As an aid to introducing a new grammatical item While you are introducing new items, start to build a partial ST on one part of the board. Add to it as students meet new example sentences and variations.

As a written record of new grammar Write a ST on the board and ask students to copy it.

As a cue for drilling Write a ST on the board and ask students to find and say true sentences from it.

As a puzzle for students Write a partial ST on the board and ask students to copy and then work out the missing words. Or add their own ideas.

As a cue for writing Give students a copy of a ST and ask them to write a paragraph (or story) using at least five (or ten) sentences from the table.


You can also ask students to read quietly through the information for themselves. Sample substitution table for Is/Are there...?


a there



bathroom dining room cameras garage restaurant windows lift

at your school? in your classroom? in your bedroom? in your house?

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Translation Translation, although frowned upon in certain language teaching circles, can be at times the clearest and most direct way of explaining a grammar point. Using translation to reduce anxiety If the grammar point in question is the same in English as in the target language, you could use translation to back up your explanation and reduce anxiety about the particular language point (by showing that it is the same in both languages). Using word-for-word translation Translation can also be effectively used to show how something in English is not possible in the learners’ L1 (or vice versa) For example, when talking about birth in English the passive structure “to be born” is used. The verb bear is rarely used actively in this case. However, in Spanish for instance the verb nacer is usually used in active, not passive voice. You could use a word-for-word translation here to show how the structures are different.


English sentence: She was born in Madrid. Word for word translation: Ella fue nacido en Madrid. Correct translation: Ella nacío en Madrid. Getting students to translate contrasting structures You can also use translation to contrast structures which may be similar in the students’ L1. Choose a pair of sentences to contrast, for example: I’m speaking to John on the phone right now. I speak to John on the phone every morning. Put students into groups of four. Give one person in each group a sheet of paper with the two sentences written at the top. The student must write a translation for the two sentences underneath them. The student then folds the paper so that only the translated sentences are visible and passes it to the next person in the group. This person must write the two sentences in English again. Repeat stages 1 and 2 for the other people in the group. At the end, the group unfolds the paper and compares the original and the final version.

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Concordance lines A concordance line is a piece of data taken from a corpus – a random sample of uses of a particular word or words – used to highlight a piece of language. Here are some concordance data for the word manage. 1 sident who will consolidate partition or to manage a crisis, he said yesterday. 2 ays are at a peak will be more difficult to manage. Action: Unit level. The 3 lems. Halberds would also be easy enough to manage, and although the pike was 4 <20:244> Well. <20:245> I’m sure I’ll manage. <20:246> GRANT Sometimes 5 . Don’t worry. Leave it where it is. I’ll manage. Hello cocker! What you 6 ashes with as pure a color mixture as I can manage. However, first I thoughtfully 7 ean? So I’ve got to watch that. But I could manage. I could certainly manage to have 8 rse is not so great as the writing poet can manage, it is still great enough for him 9 stuff just for you. I don’t know if I can manage it tonight or tomorrow, but I’ll 10 ound full of children. Do you think you can manage it”? Mavis smiled. “I’ll 11 you want Have a little hold oh yes I can manage that for short distances. I 12 ng in Pest -- for those children who never manage to attain the standards of 13 ttle fault with the design. We didn’t quite manage to construct the er item 14 med to them. I know that so long as I don’t manage to count up to one hundred


Using this information, you can ask students questions about the word. For example: What part of speech is manage? What words or phrases come before manage? What words come after manage? Does the verb manage take an object? What form does a verb take after manage? Concordance data is free on the internet. The following corpus sites contain functions which allow you to make concordance lines like the one above. British National Corpus Collins Cobuild Corpus Complete Lexical Tutor

Simply enter the word or words you wish to focus on and the programs will give you several examples of ‘real English’ from the corpus.

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Guided discovery In a guided discovery approach, the learners work out grammar rules using examples. This can be done entirely by students or with more or less teacher intervention – the guided part. The section on concordance lines in this guide uses a guided discovery approach. First, you need examples containing the grammar you wish to focus on. These may come from a text – written text – a story by you the teacher – story by the teacher – or by the students – story from the students. It can be from a series of concordance lines. Once you have your examples, the discovery can proceed in different ways, from less guided to more guided.



provide the examples and ask students to formulate a rule.


provide the examples with contrasting examples and ask students to explain what is different, and why.


ask questions about the form – e.g. What part of speech is…? How do we make the…? What comes after the verb?


ask questions about the function and meaning – these are sometimes called concept check questions – e.g. Do the speakers know each other? Is this statement still true now? Does the writer think X will happen?

5. make the examples into a puzzle and challenge students to solve it – e.g. rewrite the sentence using this word, fill in the gaps from these sentences, put the words in the correct order.

6. ask students to analyse the examples, by finding specific things – written texts.

2008 Straightforward Guide to Gr20 20

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Generative situations By generative situation, we mean a situation that can generate a lot of the kind of language you wish to focus on. For example, the situation of two friends meeting each other after a long time could generate several examples of perfect tenses – e.g. How have you been? What have you been doing? I’ve changed jobs. I haven’t seen him in ages. When choosing a situation, it’s worth making sure: 1. 2.

that it is conceptually clear and easy for the students to understand. You don’t want to spend time explaining an extremely complex situation in order to get simple language. that it produces plenty of examples of the kind of language you want, and more importantly, that these examples sound natural. If you’re not sure, try your situation out with a colleague first

Once you have your situation, you can present it to the students either by using a teacher story or flashcards. You could include a more guided discovery approach to your presentation, by setting up the situation little by little and eliciting the examples from the students themselves.


Here are some sample typical situations and the kind of language they could generate: Two friends trying to arrange a time to see each other

Present continuous - What are you doing next Tuesday? I’m going to my parents’ house.

A memorable holiday

Past simple - I went to Casablanca in 1972. We stayed at this amazing hotel.

A sales representative and a customer

Conditionals - If you buy this, you’ll never need to ...

A patient in hospital with a broken leg talking to a friend

Requests and offers - Would you mind opening / Would you like me to open the window?

Planning a long trip

Reason clauses - We need sleeping bags because it’s going to be cold.

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Grammar Presentation Tool Kit

Reformulations / story from the students A rich source of language for grammar work is language from the students themselves. Be on the lookout for interesting examples of student language that could be exploited for future use. These could be errors, but also good attempts at using a particular grammar point. You can find such examples: • • •


in the students’ written work during communicative activities, when the focus isn’t on grammatical accuracy during casual conversation with the students in English, at the beginning or end of class

Keep a record of these in a notebook. Once you have sufficient examples, there are different ways you could use them. One approach is to give the errors to the students and ask them to correct them. Another approach is to correct them yourself, then use them to support an explanation or to conduct a guided discovery. This means that the students are revisiting their own examples of language use, but reformulated so as to be correct and useful for further study. A variation on the generative situation presentation technique is to ask the students to complete a task which will generate plenty of examples of the kind of grammar you wish to highlight. This could be, for example, telling an anecdote or story. Some tips on using this technique:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

choose a topic which students can relate to. allow students time to plan and think about what they are going to say. get students to tell each other their story in pairs first. monitor and give feedback at the end of the task. listen and write down examples of the target grammar you wish to focus on (correct or incorrect). provide an example of your own first, or of another proficient English speaker doing the same task.

After the grammar presentation, you can ask students to repeat the same task but with a different partner.

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Straightforward Second Edition Straightforward has come of age and has been treated to a review, revamp and facelift. Much of the content has been updated and made more relevant to our ever-changing world. You’ll find new topics, articles and exercises plus a shiny new design. All the old teachers’ favourites are still there – meaning it will still be a joy to teach with. Key features • Pick-up-and-use practicality – great for new teachers • Intuitive, easy-to-follow format • Flexible and adaptable for more experienced teachers • Strong emphasis on reading and vocabulary • Supported by one of the most comprehensive Teacher’s Books around What’s new? • A lot of the content has been updated and made more relevant to our ever-changing world. You’ll find new topics, articles and exercises plus a shiny new design. You won’t lose out on the old favourites though – they are still there with a facelift! • We’ve put a lot of emphasis on wordlists and lexical features and there is a vocabulary builder with activities from the new supporting online component. • The strength of the Teacher’s Book has been built on with the addition of a Teacher’s Resource disc that includes six 2–3 minute video clips per level, photocopiables and new methodology videos. There is a teacher’s resource website with additional reading texts and teaching support. • The CEFR still plays a prominent part in the series and there is even clearer signposting and self-assessment. • There is a new supporting online component – no more worries about installation or CD-ROMs sitting unused at the back of the Student’s Book. The content of the previous CD-ROM is now available via this website plus a whole host of other features.

Teaching made simple TRANSPARENT structure





 our Straightforward Guide to Grammar is all about presenting grammar in the language Y classroom. We look at what makes a good grammar presentation as well as factors to take into account when deciding how to explain and present grammar. We have included a grammar presentation toolkit and suggestions and tips for different ways to present grammar that you can incorporate into your teaching. For more information about Straightforward and more teaching tips and ideas visit the Straightforward website: Look out for the other booklets in the free Straightforward Guides series: Straightforward Guide to Roleplays Straightforward Guide to Dictation and Translation

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