What do students need to ‘know’ about grammar?

Grammar Teaching 101 – Language Analysis


Teaching grammar is one of the things that trainees and newly qualified teachers fear the most and generally, this stems from a lack of in depth knowledge about how English grammar works.

In a previous post, we discussed grammar books to help you throughout your teaching career. In this post we look at the essential elements you need to cover in order to be able to effectively present language.

So, let’s come at this problem like we should any grammar structure – where do we want the students to end up? What is it that we want them to be able to do? Presumably the almost universal answer will be ‘to be able to use the structure correctly in both written and spoken English’. So with that in mind, the next step is to figure out how to get them there.

So what do your students need to know about the structure in order to be able to use it correctly?

The three key elements that need to be conveyed to learners when encountering new language are the:

  • Meaning
  • Form
  • Pronunciation

We will deal with various ways to present these elements in later posts, but for now, let’s just look at what about meaning, form and pronunciation we need to convey to learners.

Let’s have a look at these in more detail with an example. Say we are teaching ‘used to’ to an intermediate class as in:

I used to exercise regularly.


This is where we, as teachers, need to strip away all the fluff and get down to the core meaning, something that covers the way in which we intend to use this structure. In this case:

We use ‘used to’ to describe habits, extended past states and repeated actions, which took place over a period of time and have now stopped.


This is where we look at the separate parts of the structure and how they fit together. Keep in mind that the majority of language structures can be used in positive statements, negative statements and question forms. So in the case of ‘used to’ we have:


subject + used to + bare infinitive

            I   + used to + exercise


subject + did + not + use to + bare infinitive

         I     + did + not + use to + exercise

subject + never + used to + bare infinitive

         I      + never + used to + exercise


(Question word) + did + subject + use to + bare infinitive

(Where)     + did +    you     + use to   + exercise?


If students are going to be able to use the structure, they need to be able to pronounce it. Keep in mind things like contractions, weak forms, and connected speech. Always think to yourself – ‘How would I say this naturally?’

Contractions: e.g. didn’t

Connected Speech: e.g. Did you /dɪʤjə/

                                               used to /ju:stə/

So these are the three essential elements of any language presentation. There are other things to consider, such as register and frequency, but in terms of the bare minimum, meaning, form, and pronunciation are key and should be covered for every structure. While thinking this through may take you some time in the beginning, it will eventually become second nature, and enable you to better teach your students and anticipate problems they may have during the language acquisition process.

Dave Fox is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer who has worked in Australia, the UK and Europe

Dave Fox is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer who has worked in Australia, the UK and Europe

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