Teaching Grammar at the Intermediate College Level Grammar for the English as a foreign

Grammar for the English as a foreign language student can be daunting. As a native speaker grammar can be challenging, but for the non-native speaker, grammar can represent a boring and insurmountable task. The instructor’s mission is the art of helping students make sense, little by little, of a huge, puzzling construct, and engaging them in various activities that enhance usage abilities in all skill areas and promote easy, confident communication. Teaching grammar does not mean lecturing on grammatical patterns and terminology. It also does not mean standing at the front of the room and bestowing knowledge and being an arbiter of correctness. It is the teacher who animates and directs the students’ language-learning experiences. “Using grammar as the base to promote overall English usage ability, teacher and text can engage students in interesting discourse, challenge their minds and skills, and intrigue them with the power of language as well as the need for accuracy to create understanding among people. Our goal is to balance form-focused language-learning activities with abundant opportunities for engaged and purposeful communicative interaction” (Understanding and Using English Grammar, 3rd Edition. Teacher’s Guide. Betty Schrampfer Azar and Barbara F. Matthies. Longman. 2001).

Presentation techniques vary, but variety is key and you should not expect your students to learn or memorize charts. Students and teachers need to be involved. The goal of language is to understand and communicate. Interaction is the true bridge to real communication. The teacher provides the leadership role. Yet, group and pair work expand the students’ opportunities to use what they are learning and greatly increase the knowledge gained. They will often help and explain things to each other during pair work, with both benefiting greatly. The environment is comfortable too. In teacher-centered activities, they may sometimes feel shy and may experience stress. Groups and pairs are non-competitive and more cooperative. They tend to help one another, have fun, encourage and experiment with the language more. This is learning. The variety of exercises available to instructors is limitless. Instructors may use oral exercises such as, noun clauses beginning with a question word and have the students work in pairs. They will begin with a question word. Or, the instructor may choose to involve the whole class in a pronunciation exercise. By using examples, and having volunteers to speak the same sentence. They can be relaxed and you can even have fun by having them teach you the same sentence in their language. Oral production is increased and a relaxed and fun atmosphere is conducive to learning. Variety is important, but only if the students are progressing. Teachers have noticed that students may do well in a grammar exercise class where the focus is on one grammatical form in one type of exercise, but these same students may experience writing problems when trying to transfer or apply this knowledge to original writing. “For some reason, students do not tend to transfer knowledge they were just taught to their own writing. Language in context is important for English as foreign language learners.” By focusing on language editing skills first in the sentence, then paragraph, and finally the essay, students learn and improve if they edit, then apply the knowledge to their own editing and writing. (Top 20, Great Grammar for Great Writing. Keith S. Folse, Elens Vestri Solomon, and Barbara Smith-Palinkas. Houghton Mifflin Co. 2004.).

In summary, grammar is such an integral part of good student writing that a focus on grammar problems that are common is key for the success of the English language learner. Grammar can be introduced and emphasized in a variety of formats in the classroom. The important point is to check for students’ understanding and address the need at the time. Pair and group work have proven effective because the stress level is lessened and students can encourage one another. The teacher is always the best judge of which information should be covered and to what extent. No one knows the language needs of your students better than the teacher. It is up to the teacher to gauge the needs of your students and match those with the materials at your disposal. You are the best judge. They are depending on you.