Delta Book Review: Uncovering Grammar

Here’s a second book review while studying for my DELTA course; only three months away now. After reading 'Uncovering Grammar' my students are really using their brains.

Book Details
Uncovering Grammar by Scott Thornbury; Published by MacMillan (March 2005)

Book Description from MacMillan
“As teachers we often talk about ‘covering’ grammar points. Scott Thornbury explains why is it more useful to think about how we ‘uncover’ to reveal the workings of the system to our students and encourage them to notice what is going on.”

What’s the book about?
As MacMillan’s definition above explains, the book is all about getting the students to discover the grammar or uncover parts of it so that they notice how it works. Scott’s new and inspiring classroom techniques go against the traditional methods of present and practise. He explains how learning grammar is a process; much like first language acquisition, and that grammar is the ‘glue that binds the language.’ The book is full of classroom activities and at the back there are a lot of printable worksheets.
How has my teaching changed?
I’ve found Scott's conscious raising activities really useful. Before I was very much a present and practise teacher; I engage students in a text, highlight the grammar points, and the students nod, copy, and do some exercises while I hope that they retain some information. This is all good and well, but there are other techniques.

I still use texts to engage their interest in the topic, but now I get them to underline what grammar they have noticed and write their own rules depending on the contexts.

The first time I tried this was with a group of adults doing future with will, going to, and present continuous. The text was a questionnaire about holidays and provided questions with answers in the various future tenses. Instead of presenting the grammar to the class I asked them to notice the different ways the text mentioned the future and explain in their own words the different uses. By the end of the class they seemed to have a better understanding because they’d been forced to notice the difference.

I’ve repeated this with different levels and grammar points and the students appear to take more in (mainly because they are forced to). The teenagers hate it though because they have to use their brains. I’ve caught a lot sneaking a peek in the book to find out the grammar rules instead of working it out by themselves. Make sure they do it individually and check each students definitions before you do feedback.

Best Classroom activities
There are many activities, but here are a few of my favourites:

·        Put students in pairs and give them each five new words from a text you're about to read. They have to describe the words to their partner. Creating an information gap between students forces them to use more grammar to make better explanations.
·         This can also be done with photos (great for PET and FCE). Again put students in pairs and ask them to describe the photos to each other. Without looking at each other’s photos they have to explain the differences. This pushes them to use more detailed descriptions and ‘grammar up.’ Making them present the differences to the class also forces them to use better grammar because of the added pressure.
·      Put a subject, verb, and object on the board and get the students to create as many sentences as possible. Great for revision of tenses.
·       Tell students that you're going to tell a story, but that you've added a lie. This can be a story about your weekend or whatever grammar point you want to practise. Students are more engaged as they have to work out the lie. Then get them to explain the lie and their reasons. Students then make up their own stories and repeat in pairs or groups. The trick is getting them to explain their reasons because they have to produce better structured sentences.
·      Maximise small talk sessions to get the students to speak more. Turn the conversations to them so they talk about themselves and produce better sentences. Recently I’ve been really chatting with my students and keeping the conversations flowing and I find the amount of English increases a lot.

Would I recommend Uncovering Grammar?
Definitely; it’s a great book with some fresh new ideas that really challenge your students. I’m still waiting to see if the affects of the conscious raising activities pay off; exams are round the corner, but I feel as though my students are thinking more about the grammar, even if they are too cool to admit they are.

There's load more information in the book so get a copy, or even ask your DOS to get one for your language school. You can buy a copy of Uncovering Grammar here.

For Further reading about Conscious Raising activities try this article.

For more DELTA blogs look at Beyond the Sentence and my DELTA page.

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