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To grammar, or not to grammar?
by Kendall Peet
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Is there an alternative to a coursebook-focused, grammar-centred lesson?

In short, the answer is yes. As already mentioned, there is growing support for the idea that teaching is most effective, that learners learn best, when the communicative aspect is put before grammar. As a result, there are now many schools of thought and methodologies offering teachers an alternative to coursebook-based teaching. To highlight just a few, there is Berlitz, which continues to use the Direct Method of teaching. There is the Natural Approach developed by Krashen, based on Chomsky's ideas regarding L1 acquisition(11). There is TBL, that has evolved out the work done by Allwright and Prabhu.There are the various Humanistic Approaches, again based on Chomsky's ideas, including Suggestopaedia (developed by Lozanov) and TPR (Total Physical Response, developed by Asher)(12). There is the Lexical Approach (developed by Michael Lewis), which has gained a lot of support within the industry recently. There is LBT (Learner-based Teaching), there is the material-free approach advocated by Adrian Underhill, and finally there is the Process Teaching approach presented by Thornbury in Uncovering Grammar. Each one of the approaches mentioned, and there are others, is worthy of extended elaboration, however, in this article we shall focus on PT (Process Teaching)(13).

What is PT?

First and foremost, PT is a communicative method. PT places primary importance on the conversation and direct communication that evolves from foregrounding the inner life of both the learner and the teacher(14). The acquisition of language is, therefore, viewed more as a by-product of real communication, which is to say, PT "assumes that grammar is a kind of organic process that, in the right conditions, grows of its own accord and in its own mysterious way"(15). It is the role of the teacher to provide these conditions. In particular, Thornbury lists 10 fundamental rules that are to be used not so much as rules, but rather as guidelines for Process Teaching(16):

1. Teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom - i.e. themselves - and whatever happens to be in the classroom.

2. No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all "listening" activities should be the students and teacher themselves. The only recorded material that is used should be that made in the classroom itself, e.g. recording students in pair or group work for later re-play and analysis.

3. The teacher must sit down at all times that the students are seated, except when monitoring group or pair work (and even then it may be best to pull up a chair). In small classes, teaching should take place around a single table.

4. All the teacher's questions must be "real" questions (such as "Do you like oysters?" Or "What did you do on Saturday?"), not "display" questions (such as "What's the past of the verb to go?" or "Is there a clock on the wall?")

5. Slavish adherence to a method (such as audiolingualism, Silent Way, TPR, task-based learning, suggestopaedia) is unacceptable.

6. A pre-planned syllabus of pre-selected and graded grammar items is forbidden. Any grammar that is the focus of instruction should emerge from the lesson content, not dictate it.

7. Topics that are generated by the students themselves must be given priority over any other input.

8. Grading of students into different levels is disallowed: students should be free to join the class that they feel most comfortable in, whether for social reasons, or for reasons of mutual intelligibility, or both. As in other forms of human social interaction, diversity should be accommodated, even welcomed, but not proscribed.

9. The criteria and administration of any testing procedures must be negotiated with the learners.

10. Teachers themselves will be evaluated according to only one criterion: that they are not boring. Thus, in contrast to the Direct Method, he does not exclude grammar, but rather he argues against the Direct Method and the Natural Approach in writing that "A diet of nothing but unrehearsed fluency activities…may make learners over-reliant on lexical processes at the expense of developing their grammatical competence"(17). PT is therefore presented as a balanced approach, which recognises the importance of both fluency and accuracy activities, with grammar emerging organically from the language. Or to put it another way, Process Teaching is effectively Jeremy Harmer's Communicative Approach, but with emerging grammar, rather than grammar as an end product, and less emphasis placed on course texts.


11 Lowe, M. July, 2002. "Stepping out of Chomsky's shadow". Lowe explains that Stephen Krashen founded the Natural Approach
based on the idea that adults acquire L2 in essentially the same way as children acquire L1; a view that is now strongly questioned
by many linguists, including Lowe. Lowe also writes that Chomsky "helped to create the climate in which MET's defender of
coursebook use (Jeremy Harmer) has a defensive air, while the attacker (Scott Thornbury) is felt to be on the side of angels. p. 49
12 Lowe, M. July, 2002. ibid. Lowe argues that if Chomsky's ideas are found to be flawed, then the Humanistic Approaches will lose
much of their theoretical justification. p. 49
13 Thornbury has not yet named his approach, therefore, for convenience purposes alone, I shall henceforth refer to it as PT (process
teaching), which I have derived from the title in chapter five, "Process teaching", from the fact that he returns to the idea of process again and again throughout Uncovering Grammar, and from the following quote, "I will argue that grammar is better considered as a dynamic process", found on p. vi..
14 Thornbury, S. Feb, 2001. "Teaching Unplugged". p. 3
15 Thornbury, S. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. p. vi
16 Thornbury, S. Feb, 2001. "Teaching Unplugged". p. 4
17 Thornbury, S. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. p. 20

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