It's ok to teach grammar!

grammar Feb 01, 2022

It’s ok to teach grammar!

I am a member of several World Language teaching groups, and while each group is filled with supportive and well-intentioned people, the takeaway I often sense is, “You aren’t teaching the language correctly.” If you don’t want to read the whole post then let me summarize: If your students can speak their second language better at the end of the year than they do at the start of the year: you are teaching it right.

Current research states people don’t need to learn grammar to learn their second language. There is no argument from me. I believe that. I taught my son to speak English by just, well, speaking to him. I also think it works well for students who are just getting into learning the language. However, this is where I diverge from popular theory - I think it’s important to include grammar in the classroom! I know! I said it! jajaja

Learning a second language as a student is different than learning it from your parents; and, while some of the principles are the same, like telling stories and reading books, other activities need folded in to make it work.

There are multiple facets to this debate and it seems we tend to focus on one or two facets and leave the rest ignored. First, there is our mental health. Having a day teaching grammar, and then having the kids work on worksheets, gives us a day when we can have our personality turned ‘off’ and not be center stage. It’s a day we can talk to the kids about their grades or to help them get caught up. It’s a day that we ourselves can take to catch up on grading and emails. As teachers, we are expected to work hours outside of what we are contracted to do and that’s not right. We all have lives and families, and if I can get some of that time back by giving my students a worksheet, then I will take it.

Even better, take that grammar and input it into your favorite online review game of choice and let them "play" for the class period.

Secondly, we can't forget about what the students want and need. At my new school, I was having constant discipline issues with my Honors Juniors and this went on for 2 years. I had moved from teaching 8th grade to teaching high school and I had to take a hard look at my teaching methods. What worked in an 8th grade classroom did not work with 11th graders. I put together a group of students that I trusted to figure out what was going on and it turned out they wanted grammar. They wanted vocabulary lists. They wanted worksheets. They didn’t want to stop Story Telling or Clip Chats but they wanted an additional way to define their progress. I took that information and folded it into the stories we were already doing, and, like magic, my discipline issues (mostly) vanished.

Along those same lines, some students really enjoy learning grammar and others really love getting those vocabulary lists. As teachers, it's our job to try and reach as many students as possible so folding in those activities is another tool in our toolkit.

Another facet is your administration. The push right now is for the teacher to be more of a facilitator, which is hard to do in a CI classroom. If your whole focus is telling stories, then you will always be the center of attention. If you teach a bit of grammar, you can facilitate their progress as they work in groups to answer the worksheet questions while admin gives you Highly Effective marks in your review!

Telling stories and teaching with CI will give you amazing results in terms of your students comprehending the language. But remember that you need down days just as much as your students do. Maybe it’s for mental health, maybe it’s to catch up on work, or maybe it’s something else.

A few years ago, when I was pushing myself hard to improve my language skills, I noticed something very strange. My Spanish was getting worse! I was reading Spanish books, listening to Spanish on Netflix, and speaking with a Spanish tutor and there were days when it seemed I had completely forgotten everything I had learned. Turns out that’s part of the process of moving up the levels. Your brain will go into neutral as it figures out where to put all the new information it has. Your students will go through that as well and by gifting them with days where they can fill out grammar worksheets, it will help give their brains that downtime to assimilate everything you have taught them.

It’s ok to not be the center of attention of every day. It’s ok to teach grammar and vocabulary. It’s ok to give everyone a worksheet day. Your mental health, your students, and your admin, will all appreciate it.

Remember, as long as your students can speak Spanish better in May than they did in August: you did a great job!

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