Posts Tagged ‘Grammar’

An introduction to systemic functional grammar – By Phil Chappell

February 7, 2013 16 comments

Right after I published a post on grammar and the verbs in English, Joanne Pettis asked for a text on Systemic Functional Grammar. I was fortunate enough to receive the following tweet:

Phil kindly agreed to write a guest blog post on SFG. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and also that you find it useful and helpful!

An introduction to systemic functional grammar

By Phil Chappell

There is a lot of misunderstanding among the ELT community about functional grammar. I won’t go through these ideas in any detail here; the main thing I want to do in this post is to show its usefulness for language teachers, no matter what kind of program you are teaching in, no matter what level your learners are, and no matter what methodology you subscribe to. So, what is functional grammar?

Defining Functional Grammar

Put simply, Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) is a grammar based on the view that language is a system for making meaning. Systemic refers to the fact that when we use language, we make choices from sets of available options. This is contrary to the traditional view of grammar as sets of rules. Functional assumes that every time we make a choice from the available options, we are doing so in order to fulfill a communicative purpose. And Grammar simply refers to the fact that there is an overall organisation to all of these possible options.

History of SFG in Language Teaching

Now by itself, this brief explanation may not be revealing anything especially new for teachers who teach both form and function of language. Indeed, those who do may not know that these terms originated in the work of Michael Halliday, the founder of SFG, and whose work was pivotal for the early moves to Communicative Language Teaching. Michael Halliday’s work in linguistics was highly influential around the time that language teaching was starting to shift its emphasis on mastery of language structures to mastery of communicative competence. Halliday himself developed his interest in linguistics and grammar through language teaching, first by teaching Chinese to English speakers, and later on teaching English and Russian to Chinese speakers. Indeed, Halliday’s functional grammar and theory of systemic functional linguistics has been a foundation for communicative language teaching; it also underpins the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages.

The theory behind SFG

But it’s not all just form and function to express meanings. SFG helps teachers and their learners work with whole stretches of language in order to develop their potential to communicate in the target language. This is made possible by the linguistic theory underpinning SFG, known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). Different cultural and social contexts lead speakers and writers to choose differently from the repertoire of language that they have at their disposal. SFG is an extremely useful tool to help teachers make sense of how language works in different social and cultural contexts, and thus be better equipped to help their learners understand these differences. This can refer to spoken or written texts (as SFG is based on the notion of text), and can range from everyday casual talk, through to a formal interview, a short email message, or an academic paper. In a nutshell, SFG helps us describe how language is used between people, which contrasts with traditional grammar that prescribes rules for using language.

Text and Context

By using systemic functional grammar (SFG), the teacher has a powerful tool with which to mediate her/his explanations of language, and thus mediate the learner’s understandings of how to use the language they are in the process of learning. This tool is the bridge between context and text – between the sociocultural setting in which the speaker is conducting her/his activity and the language that is a part of that activity. The tool is called Register, and gives the teacher the ability to pick away at the context of language use and identify:

  • the field: what is going on in the activity
  • the tenor: who is taking part in the activity
  • the mode: the part language plays in the activity.

So, each time you present a text to your learners, you can start with establishing the context, as above, and then proceed to highlight whatever grammar is important in each of the three areas.

An integrated grammar

Looked at individually, it is possible to, for example, identify the kinds of vocabulary that is relevant to the field, the kinds of interpersonal language that is appropriate for the tenor, and the kinds of textual features (say, cohesive devices) that are going to help the spoken or written text along. The Field might be a group of friends talking about the Australian Open tennis tournament, and therefore the vocabulary is mostly related to tennis things, people and actions. The Tenor is close friends who see each other regularly and thus have a lot of common understandings. The interpersonal language will be informal, without much language of power or authority, and possibly banter and joking. The Mode is likely face to face spoken language with speakers able to give each other immediate feedback.

Taken together, SFG provides a rubric for language teachers to plan their teaching around (be they spur of the moment explanations, or whole lessons) and for language learners to sort out in their own minds where, when and how language can be used to successfully communicate across social and cultural settings.

To come: putting SFG to work in language lessons. Some practical applications.

In the meantime, see my colleague, Annabelle Lukin’s video introducing SFG.


Phil Chappell

About the author

Phil Chappell is a Lecturer in Macquarie University’s Linguistics department where he convenes the Postgraduate Certificate in TESOL. His current research interests are in dialogic approaches to classroom learning and teaching, the role of linguistics in TESOL preparation programs, and novice teacher cognition. He taught English for many years in Asia and Australia before entering the wild world of academia.

Verbs… Some musings on grammar

January 14, 2013 28 comments

This post is slightly different from my usual posts. What if we were to think of grammar for a while? More specifically, I’d like to write about verbs in English and how to teach them. Now, if you’re not into grammar, I hope I’ll see you around for my next posts. If you’re curious about one of the things I may ponder grammar-wise, I hope you find this enjoyable and worthy of your time.

There are only two verb tenses in English

The past and the present walked into a bar and it was tense. The future just had an idea...

The past and the present walked into a bar and it was tense. The future just had an idea…

Now this is an issue that you may have a different opinion on. As a matter of fact, a quick look at two different books might give you a different perspective on the matter. Huddleston and Pullum (1) will tell you that you have two primary tenses – present and preterite – and two secondary tenses – perfect and non-perfect (p. 116). However, if we look at Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (2), they are very objective in saying that there are only two tenses in English – present and past (p. 109). In order to clear things up, a look at a third book. Biber (3) agrees that, “from a structural point of view, English verbs are inflected for only two tenses: present and past” (p. 453). Once I started to look at language teaching as a career, I’ve taken a keen interest on learning about the subtleties of the language, which I believe to be important for teachers. Mind you, I don’t think it’s necessary for students to learn grammar – or as much grammar – as teachers, but teachers should not simply choose to over-simplify something believing such over-simplification will end up helping students. I’ve found out that making what a tense is clear might be helpful, but only if we deal with the second point, which is…

 The tense and aspect system

If students are exposed to this concept, in particular older students who are able to grasp abstract concepts more easily, it is my experience that things end up being a lot clearer.  This opinion is also stated in Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (2) when they assert that:

Over the years, the important distinction between tense and aspect has become blurred. Instead, English has been said to have “12 tenses”. […] We feel that if the natural division between tense, which relates to time, and aspect, which has to do with the internal structure of the action occurring at any time, are dealt with separately at first, the system that results from their subsequent combination is much easier to see and, therefore, easier to learn. (p. 110)

The point is that we spend years and years talking to students about the form of the verbs in English, and we may even contrast them at times, but we don’t really get to the point with them. What I’ve learnt is that we don’t have to dumb things down for students and simply assume they won’t be able to do the math on their own. What if we tried to find ways to teach them about the core meaning of each one of the different aspects of English verb? Once they understand the meaning of each one of the aspects, it’s quite easy for them to understand the use of the verb forms when they match tense and aspect on their own.

Putting it all together

This kind of teaching, in my view, should be done from as early as possible. Not only will you be treating your students fairly by not dumbing things down, but you’ll be giving them a chance to realize that they are able to understand, for instance, the continuous forms – present, past and future – pretty much at the same time. When we don’t do this, I’m under the impression that they struggle a lot trying to understand each one of the forms in isolation as they feel they are learning something from scratch. This is exactly where the problem lies. By being introduced to the core meaning of each one of the aspects, and being aware of the idea of time (I honestly can’t see people having problems with this), students may find it quite easy to put the sentences together on their own.

One nagging point

This might be an issue for me only, but I really dislike seeing exercises where students are asked to “fill in the blanks with the present perfect tense”, or “fill in the gaps with the appropriate verb tense”, but what students actually have to do is use a combination of tense and aspect, i.e., a verb form. The question that I ask myself is whether the teacher who’s created such exercise: a) doesn’t share the view of the whole tense x aspect explanation above; b) doesn’t know that there is such a thing; or c) knows about it, agrees with it, but doesn’t believe that students are capable of understanding the matter.

If the answer to my question above is a), I’m actually fine with it. I mean, if you just don’t agree with this or that, and as long as you are able to demonstrate that you’re right, then I’m fine with it. What you shouldn’t do is, on the grounds of “my students don’t need to know this”, justify your lack of knowledge.

Why bother, anyway?

“But why exactly would anyone spend his days thinking about such matters when all that matters is communication?” some might be asking right now. I believe that grammar is a point to be taught in any language teaching environment. This doesn’t mean

that grammar should be the goal of teaching, nor that a focus on form alone is sufficient. The goal of the communicative movement – communicative competence – embraces more than just grammar, and implies a focus on meaning as well. It may be that communicative competence is best achieved through communicating, through making meanings, and that grammar is a way of tidying these meanings up. If so, the teacher’s energies should be directed mainly at providing opportunities for authentic language use, employing grammar as a resource rather than an end in itself. As Leibniz is supposed to have said: ‘A language is acquired through practice; it is merely perfected through grammar.’ (Thornbury, S. How to teach Grammar, Longman, 1999 – p. 25)

If we care about meaning, why do we resist teaching our students about the meaning of the one things they seem to struggle so much with in learning English? We do we find it so hard to look at grammar not as a multitude of rules, but as something that will end up fostering communication and not hindering it? The key is knowing how to address it, I suppose. So, what is your view on the matter?


1. Huddleston, R. and Pullum, G. K., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, CUP, 2002.

2.  Celce-Murcia, M. and Larsen-Freeman, D., The Grammar Book, Second Edition, Heinle & Heinle, 1999,

3. Biber, D. et al, Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Pearson Longman, 1999.

4. Thornbury, S., How to teach grammar, Longman, 1999.

Categories: Teaching Tags: , ,

Using L1 in the classroom – an example

May 3, 2012 9 comments

I’ve already written about the use of L1 in the language classroom before here and here. I do believe that L1, if used properly in the classroom, might actually help learners. The problem, then, lies in knowing when to use L1 in a class and, most importantly, how to use it to promote learning instead of using it to promote laziness.

I think that it’s a lot easier to use L1 in an ELF setting. The fact that learners usually share the same L1, and many times the teacher is a NNEST who also shares the same L1 with learners, makes it much simpler than using a learners L1 in an ESL environment with students from many different nationalities and languages. To each his own, right? If ESL learners have the benefit of speaking L2 much more frequently and having many more meaningful encounters with the target language outside the classroom than EFL students, the latter may at least have the advantage that it’s easier for them to use their L1 to better (and more confidently) understand abstract concepts.

Yet, knowing exactly how to use L1 in the classroom is not an easy task mainly because most teachers who abide by CLT have been taught that speaking L1 in the classroom is a cardinal sin. However, if you are able to make it meaningful and useful to your students, how could this be doing more harm than good? Anyway, this is an example of an activity in which I used L1 in the classroom and, having had a couple of classes since then, I could tell it’s been extremely successful. Not only that, but apparently learners could clearly see the purpose of speaking L1 in the classroom at that moment, so no one whined about having to switch back to L2, or using L2 for everything else other than the activity itself.

Instead of telling students that we would be working on reported speech and falling in the trap of teaching some grammar McNuggets, we simply had a class in which they would end up producing the language I was hoping to help them with without having to explicitly tell them so. I started by telling them they would now have the chance to ask me any question they could possibly want. I handed out a couple of slips of paper and students could ask for more if they wanted to ask further questions. I let them choose their coloured pens and write questions that came to their mind. Once the questions had been written, the slips of paper were handed in.

I sat in the middle of the class and showed them the questions. They then had to guess who had written the question and ask me the question. Fortunately, they were trying to use reported questions at that stage, so I could collect lots of samples of language to work on. We actually dealt with emergent language as it appeared, and pretty soon they started correcting themselves. There were about 20 questions of all kinds – wh- questions, yes/no questions, questions in the present, in the past, in the future, and even the ubiquitous “to be or not to be?”.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the booth in the classroom. | Photo on Flickr by Anke van Lenteren

After that stage, I thought it would be nice if there was something slightly more practical and meaningful to them. I remember that there are many activities for learners to practice reported speech, such as pretending they have been the witness of murder and then they have to report what they’ve seen and heard at the scene, or working with comic strips by removing the speech bubble for student A and having student B reporting what they have in their comic strip, and chinese whispers. These are all nice activities that are likely to require the use of reported speech. However, what we did was playing the interpreter.

I started by asking for two volunteers. One of them was going to be interviewed by the rest of the class, and the other one was going to be the interpreter. This means the interviewed only spoke English, the interpreter spoke English and Portuguese, and the rest of the class spoke only Portuguese. The interpreters were naturally using the proper structure for “he asked you how…” and so on. At times I just had to say “try again” and off they went.

At the end of the class, students said they had a lot of fun playing the interpreters, and that they actually saw this as something they would possibly need to do in their lives. Perhaps this was the reason that they could remember it so well in the following classes and had no trouble at all coming up with the correct structure for reporting what they’ve heard or read. Isn’t this one of our main purposes? Shouldn’t we strive to make learning effective? If that’s the case, L1 should always be yet another tool you have available. It shouldn’t be used to make your job easier, and it shouldn’t be your only tool. We could have played the “game” in English as well, but that’s the point. When explaining a word, we can choose between paraphrasing, showing a picture, miming, drawing on the board, contextualising, providing synonyms and what have you. You have to choose one, though. This is how I feel that L1 can be used to help learning. This was definitely not the only activity we had in class nor was it the only thing I could think of. However, among all the activities I could have chosen from, I chose the one involving L1. This time, with this group, it was a fortunate choice. Oh, and no grammar rule had to be presented… 🙂

Categories: Activities Tags: , , , ,

World Englishes and standards

July 25, 2010 26 comments

Image by lumaxart

The idea of world Englishes, or even Globish, seems to be everywhere I look this past month. Not only was there an article by David Crystal on the Braz-TESOL magazine about world Englishes and the importance of learning a bit more about the variety of English of the country you’re going to visit – vocabulary and other features. In addition to that, the cover of the Newsweek magazine has on its cover a picture of the world saying, “Speak Globish?” what does this mean to our learners?

A couple of things that spring to mind are some conversations and articles I read a while ago when people said that nowadays people shouldn’t be so concerned about achieving native-like proficiency as there are many different varieties of the language. Non-native speakers of the language outnumber native speakers by far. Some years ago, Newsweek published an article talking about the rise of English as a lingua france where they said that there are 3 non-native speakers of the language for every native speaker. I guess there might be 4 or 5 nowadays. The trend, then, is to understand and acknowledge the differences. But this has always been something that kept me wondering: if I’m learning a language in order to be able to communicate with people from other cultures, and if this is the so-called lingua franca of the world, should teachers let their students get away with something that’s really distant from native-like pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar usage?

The first time I thought about it was probably about ten years ago. One of my students was in the Brazilian navy and he told me that anytime they met and had to talk to people from other ships, they spoke English. Now, he could easily communicate with Italians, Chileans, Spanish, French, and people from other nationalities using English. However, every time they had to talk to Americans, British, or Canadians, for instance, they couldn’t understand what they were saying and vice-versa. I’m sorry if this goes against what some people might believe in, but I truly believe there’s something wrong with this.

We learn to speak a foreign language to communicate. We study a foreign language because we want to be able to function in a foreign country using that language we’ve spent so long studying. When I think of native-like English, I’m not saying people should work exhaustively to reduce their accent, by no means! However, There are certain standards I feel that should be taken into account. Learners from languages whose rhythm is syllable-timed should learn that English is a stress-timed language. They should be taught some of the individual sounds which do not exist in their L1. And teachers ought to expect nothing but the best these students can produce.

I’ve always thought that language teachers are the worst listeners out there. Language teachers want to (and have to try as hard as they can) understand what their students are saying. We’ve got to do this if we want to recast, repeat, provide correct form, or do anything else that teachers have to do to get learners to learn the language. Things are not like that in the real world, though. One of the problems I can see there is that teachers might end up limiting their learners. By not showing learners that they do need to improve their pronunciation, to learn new words, and to change their speech to make it sound more natural, teachers are telling learners that they may be able to do whatever it is that they might want to in the foreign language. Well, sometimes simply being able to communicate and say, “me wants water” or “have a possibility is true” may be way less than what our students will need.

What if your learners end up having the chance to work for a multinational company and are chosen to become spokespeople? I’m pretty sure their chances will be way slimmer if they can’t speak English with native-like pronunciation and correct usage of vocabulary and grammar. There’s a huge gulf between being chosen by a non-profitable organisation to speak in public mainly due to your contributions to a cause and being hired by a company. It would be naive of us to say that people don’t judge you by the way you talk. This doesn’t mean using obscure words and complicated structures will get people to hold you in high regards – but being able to use the language properly and naturally certainly will.

What should be done about world Englishes and all of the varieties of English one might encounter in the world? Well, I think teachers should look at things from two different perspectives: productive and receptive skills. When it comes to productive skills (speaking and writing), learners should be taught according to high standards and, in my view, respecting the rules of the two mainstream varieties of the language – British and American English. When it comes to receptive skills (reading and listening) the more varieties we can expose our learners to, the better. If teachers can show students examples of both natives and non-natives using the language, the better we will be preparing them for the world of ‘Globish’. If you ask me, the question is not really “Speak Globish?”, but it should be “Understand Globish?”

Over to you…

Pronunciation, Grammar and Vocabulary

May 4, 2010 10 comments

There are three things involved in knowing a language, and these have been called “the ‘what‘” by Penny Ur in her “A course in Language Teaching“. The three ‘whats’ would be pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. Needless to say, there are lots of things involved in each one of these topics. For instance, when we’re talking about grammar we can look at it from many different perspectives (Scott Thornbury has done a presentation on ‘7 ways of looking at grammar’, which you can watch here), and I myself like the idea of the 3 dimensions of looking at grammar (form, meaning and use). If we turn our attention to vocabulary, a lot has been said about it as well, and there’s even an approach that puts lexis on the spotlight. We know that there’s a lot more to learn about a word than just its meaning. Lots and lots of people have discussed/been discussing the importance of lexis in language learning these days, and grammar seems to still be the guiding principle of most curricula. What about pronunciation? (Just to make things clear from the start, I’m not talking about accent reduction, elimination or any other thing related to accents on this post. Accents are OK, but certain pronunciation problems really do hinder communication)

It seems to me there’s just so much teachers need to pay attention to that it’s easy to end up overlooking this leg of the tripod of language learning/teaching. We’ve arguably had more importance given to pronunciation these days – it’s more and more common for coursebooks to incorporate the IPA,  for example. However, it seems to me that whenever teachers have to sacrifice something due to time constraints or any other situation that may arise in the classroom, pronunciation gets it. Add to this the fact that language teachers are the worst listeners there are (well, we all try really hard to understand what our learners are saying, don’t we?) and there you go: the perfect scenario for lots of pronunciation problems. But why does this happen?

For one thing, we can look at teachers. Native speakers may sometimes feel it’s enough to model the correct pronunciation and learners will eventually pick it up, or they may simply not have been given proper training to work with those “greek” letters from the IPA. Non-native speakers, on the other hand, may not feel secure enough so as to correct learners as they themselves aren’t sure how that word should be pronounced. Oh, but if it were only the individual sounds. Teachers have to worry about supra-segmental features as well as segmental features when working with pronunciation. What if you’re teaching speakers whose rhythm of their native language is syllable-timed how to speak a stress-timed language? What I’ve noticed is that teachers tend to settle for anything they can understand and that’s it – no corrections are necessary. And right there we’re likely to have students making mistakes (which will be fossilised by the time they become aware of it) for a very long time.

Another problem might be the curriculum itself. If teachers are always pressed for time to do things, they’ll eventually have to choose to omit A or B, and guess what tends to be left out? Anyway, I guess the problem I’ve witnessed (and went through as a learner myself) is that teachers do not give pronunciation the importance it deserves in language teaching. It’s almost as if we took it for granted that learners would magically learn how to speak correctly as they progress. To be honest, I believe consciousness raising may help a lot in this regard. I’ve had many students who complained that native speakers spoke too fast or they couldn’t get any conversation in movies for the same reason, and I won’t even mention songs. But is that really so?

Having gone through this myself, I decided that the best way out would be to study. And this study is what enables me to tell my students to pay attention to how they should position their tongue in the mouth if they are to produce a certain sound correctly, or tell them which words are stressed and which are unstressed, and teach them a thing or two about elision, assimilation and intrusive sounds in connected speech. What I found out is that students from all levels tend to pay closer attention to these lessons than to vocabulary or grammar lessons – regardless of their level. (If you’re looking for a book on this, check Sound Foundations, by Adrian Underhill.)

So, if you agree that teaching a language is indeed teaching the tripod pronunciation/grammar/vocabulary, and if we’ve got a series of constraints that prevent us from doing all three as much as we feel we should at the same time, how does the following sound to you: we should work harder on pronunciation with beginners (A1/A2 students). This means we’d have to worry a lot more about correct stress and intonation. Grammar and vocabulary will also be taught, obviously, but these are rather simple at initial stages, especially these days when the English language is everywhere. Once we get students to pronounce things correctly and understand certain features of connected speech, they’ll have no problems listening to / speaking sentences in the “third conditional” (If I had spoken to my teacher, I would have been able to give you an answer.) when the time comes. After a short while (B1/B2), grammar becomes increasingly more complicated for learners. They need to learn more complex grammar structures to convey complicated messages so we shift our focus to the teaching of grammar. A while later, learners will know pretty much all they need to know in terms of grammar to communicate and we can then focus heavily on vocabulary (B2+).

Well, how does this sound to you?

Why bother?

March 21, 2010 7 comments

Why should I know this if I won’t be teaching it to my learners? This is a question often asked by some of the language teachers I’ve recently talked to when discussing about grammar, phonetics and phonology, and different methodologies. Well, in my opinion, there are certain things teachers must know. Teachers are supposed to be knowledgeable in order to guide learners in their own quest of self-discovery. This doesn’t mean I believe teachers should do all the teaching while learners sit passively and simply listen to their teachers – much on the contrary. However, there are a couple of things I think language teachers should know. Here it goes:

1. Teachers should know advanced grammar

Even though I believe grammar shouldn’t be more important than vocabulary or pronunciation in the classroom, it has its importance. The fact that the teacher knows the subject matter well doesn’t mean he is going to give chapter and verse of every little bit of grammar that comes up in a lesson. Nevertheless, the more the teacher knows about grammar, the easier it is for him or her to find a different way to get his or her students to understand that they should have said “I would have read it” instead of  “I would read”. I believe that English teachers should be able to pick up mistakes and take advantage of correct utterances equally as fast as possible in class – especially the latter. If, on the other hand, the teacher is trying to teach only the grammar and not use it as yet another aspect of language teaching, i.e. if grammar becomes the focus of the lesson instead of yet another aspect of it, then, as Nick said in his post, it’ll confuse students more than it’ll help them.

2. Teachers should know phonetics and phonology

The same thing that applies to grammar is true to pronunciation. I don’t think teachers should bother all their learners with names as fricatives, plosives, soft palate and so on. However, in my view, the teacher who is versed in such matter has an edge over teachers who lack knowledge in the area. It’s much easier to understand what is happening inside the students’ mouth and, consequently, show them what is right and show them the right way to do it. I found that, more often than not, when teachers rely only on sound and drilling, without raising learners’ awareness to the correct position of the mouth, the mistake tends not to be corrected. On the other hand, once learners are shown the correct way to produce the sound, the easier it is for them to repeat it later, when there’s no teacher to correct them. I agree with what Adrian Underhill says, “we should try to make pronunciation physical.” If the teacher knows about manner and place of articulation for individual sounds, for instance, it’s way easier to correct learners.

3. Teachers should learn about language teaching and learning methodology

OK, I’ve said it before and I’m going to repeat it. I do enjoy the principles of Dogme, just as I like the principles of the lexical approach, TBL, and CLT – to name just a few. There’s no magic pill to lose weight, and there’s no one method “to rule them all”. Teachers should be resourceful, and different techniques can be used with different methods. Again, it’s only through knowledge of different learning strategies that a teacher can help students become autonomous and life-long learners. It might even be OK for novice teachers to be trained in this or that method, but as teachers become experienced, they need to keep an open mind and accept that, yes, there may be useful procedures in methods considered dated. It all comes down to the learners you have. If we accept that each learner is unique, why should we believe that A is the best method for all students?

I guess I could compare it to going to the doctor’s. When I see doctor, he or she doesn’t tell me what I have in medical terms, or, if so, I definitely ask for a “translation”. Yet, I expect my doctor to be able to make a diagnosis as fast as possible and treat me just as swiftly. If he isn’t knowledgeable about his or her area of expertise, I’ll probably be running lots and lots of exams – most of them unnecessary ones. Mistakes are part and parcel of learning, but teachers should have a very good idea of what they’re doing to help their learners when they make such mistakes.

Needless to say, this isn’t a comprehensive list. However, I’ve been thinking about these matters as they have been mentioned over and over by teachers I’ve talked to recently.

* The My ELT library series will continue, but I found out that it was preventing me from writing about different things I felt like writing.

My ELT library (part 2)

February 5, 2010 2 comments

Part 1 was about methodology books. Now I’ll focus on some other books for each specific area. As I said before, it’s not my intention to come up with a comprehensive list, nor do I mean that these are the only good books there are in the market. It doesn’t mean, either, that these are the books I abide by and shun anything else. Much on the contrary, I’d love to hear some suggestions on books I have not mentioned so I can add to my own library. Besides, we all know there are tons of grammar books in the field of ELT, which would make it impossible to suggest all of them in one single blog post, right?

Books on Grammar and teaching grammar

1. “Practical English Usage“, by Michael Swan. This is one of the most practical books I’ve seen for teachers who need to find an answer when preparing a lesson. It’s very straightforward and easy to follow. It contains lots of examples to help the teacher better visualise the explanations.

2. Scott Thornbury’s “How to teach Grammar“. The book addresses the issues of teaching Grammar and, just like the other books from the “How to…” series, can be used in training sessions with teachers. Quite insightful.

3. Diane Larsen-Freeman’s “Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring” has been a great asset in my training sessions. Larsen-Freeman writes about the 3 dimensions of grammar and explains the importance of addressing grammar from such a perspective. The book is filled with investigation questions, teachers’ anecdotes and questions, which also render it impossible not to read.

4. “The Grammar Book: an ESL/EFL teacher’s course” was written by Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman. It’s a course for EFL/ESL teachers and it is quite thorough. It brings all sorts of tree diagrams, which might be an inconvenient for some, but, in my humble opinion, is something English teachers should at least be acquainted with. Each chapter end with suggestions for classroom activities which focus on form, meaning, and use of the grammar point of the lesson.

5. If you’re looking for a complete reference book to have at home, I’m actually going to suggest three. I have them at home and they will definitely sort out your questions regarding Grammar. The winners are: “Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English“, a corpus-based grammar packed with graphs with corpus findings; “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language“, by Huddleston and Pullum; and Quirk’s “A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language“, which was written together with Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik.

6. If you’re looking for a more light-hearted way of explaining grammar and its intricacies, but at the same time you don’t want to go as deep as you would with the items mentioned in 5, you should try “Woe is I: the grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain English“, by Patricia T. O’Conner. It’s a fun read.

7. Finally, if you’re looking for books to give you some practical ideas to use in the classroom, I’ll recommend two: “Teaching Grammar Creatively“, by Gerngross, Puchta and Thornbury – packed with full lesson plans ready to use in the classroom or to be adapted; and Penny Ur’s “Grammar Practice Activities“, which will also give you some ideas when you’ve got your “teachers’ block” and can’t come up with an activity or a different way to engage your learners.

What other books on Grammar or on teaching grammar would you recommend?

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