or not to grammar?
by Kendall Peet
Is there an alternative to a coursebook-focused,
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
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
by many linguists, including Lowe. Lowe also writes that Chomsky
"helped to create the climate in which MET's defender
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
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".
15 Thornbury, S. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. p. vi
16 Thornbury, S. Feb, 2001. "Teaching Unplugged".
17 Thornbury, S. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. p. 20
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