Experiences of an English Language Teacher

“Teaching English Grammar”: Book Review

If you are like me and you feel apprehensive about introducing or presenting grammar for fear of a teacher centred lesson, I would recommend that you consider buying “Teaching English Grammar” by Jim Scrivener.  It is a great book, published by Macmillan Books for Teachers, which breaks down the differing elements grammar in a ‘communicative’ methodology.

The grammar contained in the book breaks down grammar into sizeable chunks, what I like to refer to as ‘McGrammar Nuggets’.  It starts with the basic such as “singular and plural”, then moves on to more complicated grammar later in the book; “causatives”.  Once looking at a particular grammar point, it focuses on two important areas; presentation and practice.  The presentation of the grammar will make use of a context whilst the practice could include roleplay, pair work, mingling, etc to make use of a particular grammar point.  For example, section 43 looks at the present perfect progressive/continuous.  However, Thornbury, as mentioned in his “An A-Z of ELT“, suggests that the “present perfect is baffling for many learners”.  The book suggests presenting this grammar point by:

  1. Draw a picture of a cinema exterior.  A woman is waiting, looking unhappy.  Draw a clock showing 2.00.  Ask students why they think the woman is unhappy.  You could mime ‘waiting’ by tapping your foot and looking at your watch to help students if they are struggling.  Establish that she is waiting for her boyfriend.
  2. Change the clock to show 2.15.  Establish that she is still waiting.  Add in some rain starting to fall.  Mime the girl looking at her watch.  Ask students if they can guess what she is thinking (Where is he? Oh no! A trumpet!).  Elicit or model ‘I’ve been waiting since two o’clock.  I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes!  It’s been raining for 15 minutes!’

 The practice for students is interesting.  Scrivener suggests a number of different short role plays, prepare interviews, a desert island (Robinson Crusoe-esque role play between an islander and a visitor), etc.  Finally Scrivener highlights some particular problems that students could find themselves using as well as advising teachers to teach the present perfect progressive as a lexical item (i.e. – I’ve been; working, living, doing, looking, thinking, etc).  Furthermore, Thornbury also suggests uncovering the present perfect with typical contexts such as “talking about work and travel experiences, talking about things that have changed, and announcing news”.

One important point that is covered is the use of concept questions.  Within each grammar focus, there is suggested concept questions that can be used to ‘check understanding’.  For example;

Tony Blair is more interesting than Gordon Brown.
Can you make a sentence about Tony and Gordon using the word boring?
Who would have more friends?

I find this book more useful than the all too common and over-reliance of “English Grammar in Use” which is used by many EFL Teachers these days.  I find a few teachers, myself included during the first few years of my EFL career, opening up “English Grammar in Use” and photocopying exercises to fill time at the end of class.  It kills motivation immediately.  If you are a motivated teacher wishing to re-discover methods for uncovering grammar in lessons, using suitable contexts for classes, knowing what activities will provide a good ground for covering grammar and lexical areas, then “Teaching English Grammar” by Scrivener is for you.  It provides enough inspiration to enable confidence for EFL teachers and when combined with other grammar based books, you will provide a lesson that is grammar rich and more student centred.

1 Comment

  1. Hello Martin

    I am just applying to take a trinity cert.TESOL at Eckersley college, Oxford. I attend my interview next week (02/02/11) and wanted to pick at least one book to help me with preparation – I have never taught formally before (though I have a Diploma in Informal & Community Education (Youth Work).

    I was researching the usual suspects for recommended reading (so it seems) – Harmer, Swan, Parrott; then I went to look into Jim Shrivener's 'Learning Teaching,' when I came across his other book, 'Teaching English Grammar.' I browsed some of the pages and this book immediately grabbed me as the one that I wanted to buy.

    I am pretty sure I will buy a few more methodology books, dictionaries, phonology books etc., but I just immediately sensed that this particular grammar book was going to be up-to-date and a cut above the rest.

    From reading your review – looks like I was right! Good call!

    Can't wait for the book to be delivered so I can get started reading.

    Any other recommendations for a newbie like me?



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