I’ve always been perplexed by this claim by some teachers: Teaching grammar doesn’t improve students’ writing. A problem with it is that it doesn’t define what is meant by “teaching grammar” nor what is meant by “improve students’ writing.” It seems to imply that they have looked at every conceivable way that grammar could be taught and worked with, and they found that none were effective.
When I questioned their basis for this belief, I was often directed to some studies in the 1970s and 80s. Typically, these studies started with students writing a paper. Then for a period of time, they worked on diagramming sentences, doing sentence-combination exercises, identifying parts of speech and completing some grammar worksheets. After this, they wrote another paper, and surprise, surprise, the writing in their essays hadn’t improved. From this, they concluded: teaching grammar doesn’t improve students’ writing.
On top of that, one researcher claimed that his students’ writing got worse, and somehow, he even knew that it was because the students had become obsessed “with avoiding error at all costs, to the point where fluency, content, and reasoning lost their importance.” *
Some teachers have pointed to this “research” as support for their justification to not work with grammar in their writing courses. Their philosophy tends to be: students improve their writing by writing.
How Working with Grammar Can Improve Students Writing
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students and a link to a video.) *
In the video, I explain how ESL teachers can best help their students deal with reduced forms of speech. Some examples of reduced forms are
• whaddya (what are you)
• gonna (going to)
• din (didn’t)
• isn (isn’t)
• cha > / t / + you) > I want you to start now.
It’s vital that we help students UNDERSTAND what OTHER PEOPLE are saying when they use these, but it’s COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE to tell students to use these when they speak.
The link to the video and two handout-activities
I’ve recently received emails from readers who have been unable to follow links to Pro Lingua Associates (PLA) about textbooks in in some of my posts and downloadable exercises. As of October 1st, PLA has a new owner and website: Pro Lingua Learning. The transition is expected to be completed soon.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:
1) They seemed interested in comparing the social rules in their countries and what happens to people who break them.
2) They had stimulating discussions how safe their hometowns were.
3) They were surprised by how tight or loose their classmates’ hometown and family rules were.
4) They enjoyed comparing how much or how little contact they had with people who were different from them (e.g. different race, religion, sexual orientation) and how open their neighbors would be to having them live next to them.
Here is the basis for this discussion: According to research, countries can be categorized as relatively tight or loose. Tight cultures, with stricter rules, tend to be safer more orderly, whereas, loose cultures tend to be more creative and more accepting of people who are different. After reading about the characteristics of different cultures, students compare their experiences and share their opinions about life in tight and loose cultures.
This and future discussion activities include four parts:
1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.
About Discussion Activity 9: Comparing Life in Cultures with Strict Rules and Ones with Easy-Going Rules and the handout.