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Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener, Macmillan

reviewed by Shaun Wilden, IH World

For many teachers the lessons they fear teaching most are those that involve grammatical structures.  Given this ‘fear’, it is perhaps surprising that there aren’t many books on the market that deal directly with the teaching of grammar. “Teaching English Grammar” seeks to readdress this and provide a handy guide for language teachers.

The book is subtitled ‘What to teach and how to teach it’ and breaks down grammar into the seventy ‘chunks’ from ‘plurals’ to ‘ing or infinitive’ and covering all the aspects of an English verb.  Those teachers who don’t agree with the so-called ‘Grammar McNugget’ (Thornbury 2000) approach to teaching language might not like this handling of the language but there is logic in such an approach. It aims to provide support and an alternative to coursebook grammar presentations.

‘Teaching English Grammar’ addresses two key areas of language lessons – presentation and practice. Each unit gives the teacher a breakdown of structure covered, followed by ideas for presenting it to a class.  The introduction to the book suggests that the ideas are there as either a supplement or alternative to those your coursebook may use.  Opening the book at a random chapter (unit 9: some and any), the presentation is based around the idea of a shopping list:

  1. Find pictures of a number of countable and uncountable items
  2. Write ’my shopping list on the board’. Add the first picture to the board and say “I haven’t got any eggs. I need to get some eggs. Get the students to repeat.
  3. Continue with more countable items

 

and so it continues until a dialogue is built up.  There are then suggestions on how to give the students practice. In this case extending the shopping list idea, spot the difference pictures and being a celebrity TV chef.  All the ideas for both presentation and practice are very clearly expressed, making them easy for a teacher to follow. Though be warned you have to find suitable materials yourself.  One criticism I have is that the presentations are all based on the idea of the ‘teacher upfront’. Though Jim does make the point in the introduction that ideas can be made relevant to your teaching approach, I personally would have liked to see some variation from ‘situational presentation’. Though I accept that it still has validity as a classroom technique there are many criticisms of it, not least that it has the tendency to ignore students’ prior knowledge. As such reference to more student-centred approaches would have enhanced the book for me.

That said when approaching a grammar lesson I would still dip into it for ideas because there is so much more to it. What I especially like about each unit is the extra information it provides about a language point.  It highlights possible problems the students may face e.g. students may wrongly assume that any is always in the negative. Furthermore it provides concept questions (and answers) for the teacher to use and a breakdown of the meaning, use and pronunciation features. There are also excellent sections on key terminology both for grammar and classroom techniques, along with explanations of key notions in language lessons.

The back cover indicates the book is ‘suitable for both newly qualified and more experienced teachers.’ Falling into the latter category, I can see myself using it from time to time to check my own knowledge before a lesson or as I said, when looking for an idea for a lesson. As a teacher trainer, I think the book’s real value is for those teachers taking their initial teacher training course and in the first few years as a teacher.  It certainly provides one of the most accessible reference guides I have seen. For those teachers who really do fear language lessons, it should provide them with both the confidence and motivation to tackle language. Like other books in this Macmillan series for teachers, it is unique in what it is trying to do and for that reason alone is deserving of the English Speaking Union Award (ESU) that it received last year.

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