Teaching-Learning

Integrating Grammar and Writing

Grammar instruction holds an important place in foreign language learning. Image source: Search English
Written by Masum Billah

Grammar instruction holds an important place in foreign language learning. It is the rules of a language. Grammar is a system of meaningful structures and patterns that are governed by particular pragmatic constraints (Larsen-Freeman, 2001).

In another definition, grammar is a description of the rules for forming sentences, including an account of the meanings that these forms convey‖ (Thornbury, 1999, p.13). Now, how to learn and how to practice it is a big question. What happens to students? They fall short when the question of applying grammar comes to their own writing. Most probably, this happens as they are taught writing and grammar as separate concepts. Teaching grammar is meaningful when it is taught through reading and writing instead of in isolation.

It is better to show the students a model paragraph or text which illustrates this concept nicely. When teaching indirect/reported speech, we can take a news article and highlight indirect speech examples for the students to expose them to this new form. Then we can ask students to study these bolded sentences and ask why they are written the way they are.

For indirect speech, we could show two copies of the same article, one with direct speech and one with indirect speech and allow the learners to compare and contrast to figure out the grammatical rules underlying this concept. Alternatively, we can show students a text after introducing the grammar concept to them and ask them to find all of the examples of the rule we have just taught. While teaching past perfect, we can give students a story to compare and contrast past simple and past perfect events.

Whether it is a paragraph or a full essay, immediate writing with a prompt to elicit the grammar structure will get students to produce the grammar more naturally than sentence drills. When students write frequently, it means they are building their association between grammar and writing. Emphasizing writing more than grammar in the classroom means students can get the idea that language learning is not simply memorizing grammar rules rather practice.

We might assign students a narrative essay in which they should use at least five examples of past perfect. Alternatively, we may wish to be less legalistic and implement a point system that rewards students with target grammar. If we have been reviewing sentence variety, we can assign students to write a paragraph in which they get one point for every simple sentence they use, five points for every compound sentence they use, and ten points for every compound/complex sentence they use.

We remind students that often essays are awarded higher points for using more complicated structures, so they should begin this practice now. The present progressive is used quite infrequently compared with the present simple. As a way to elicit a wide range of tenses, we can use pictures in our writing classroom. Depending on the particular grammar structure we are teaching, pictures give writers the freedom to practice virtually any tense. For present progressive, we can ask students to describe what is happening in the picture.

For present perfect, we can show a picture of a person and ask students to write down this person’s life experiences. We can ask advanced students to predict that person’s future using the future simple and progressive. Grammatical structures are quite useless on their own if successful writing strategies to use the grammar are not followed.

Research shows that teaching grammar concepts separately from the student’s writing process is ineffective at best and deleterious at worst. The most effective way to teach grammar is within the context of student writing projects and through mentor texts. Grammar rules are made easier if they are given in a context, and teaching grammar in context provides accuracy in the target language.

There has always been a debate about the most effective way of teaching grammar. Grammar instruction through context positively affects learners’ competence to use grammatical structures accurately in language skills. It is always useful for learners to see how language works in sentences or paragraphs; therefore, teaching grammar in context will allow learners to see how grammatical structures function in sentences.

Teaching grammar in context will help learners acquire the language’s nature, which will facilitate their understanding of the language. Grammar skills will help learners to organize words and messages and make them meaningful. Knowing more about grammar will enable learners to build better sentences in speaking and writing performances. With little understanding of how language functions, learners cannot develop their language skills. It needs to be noted that grammar skills will make a great contribution to language competence.

The teacher’s chief task when teaching grammar is to show the students what the language means and how it is used; and must also show them what the grammatical form of the new language is and how it is said and written” (Harmer, 1991, p.56). Teaching grammar in context will allow learners to understand how language works, which will improve their communication skills. Presenting grammar in isolated sentences will not allow learners to see how grammatical structures function in sentences.

Students need to learn a language in logical contexts, either through authentic discourse-length input or through language learning materials that stimulate authentic input using sentences that follow in logical sequence‖ (Hadley, 2003, p.152). David Nunan says grammar is very often presented out of context. Learners are given isolated sentences, which are expected to internalize through exercises involving repetition, manipulation, and grammatical transformation. These exercises are designed to provide learners with formal, declarative mastery.

However, unless they provide opportunities for learners to explore grammatical structures in context, they make the task of developing a procedural skill- being able to use the language for communication- more complicated than it needs to be because learners are denied the opportunity of seeing the systematic relationships that exist between form, meaning, and use.

In grammar instruction, the goal is not to teach grammar rules but to teach how to apply them in language skills. In conclusion, when learners are given grammatical structures in context, they will be able to master the language better. Teaching grammar in context will help learners to acquire new grammar structures and forms. Learners will use grammatical conventions more effectively in communication if they learn them in context.

The research shows that the most effective method of teaching grammar is to give students the time and space to see language, use language, revise and edit language, and strengthen language through writing. The fundamental connection between grammar and writing cannot be overlooked in language arts instruction. It provides teachers with the tools necessary to help students master grammar skills and the writing process so that students can become effective communicators.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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