2 Using the textbook to practise English grammar

Grammar is not an isolated part of language. You can use the lessons in your textbook to help students understand how English is structured and to teach how the language is actually used.

Pause for thought

Read this extract of a lesson from NCERT Class X textbook, First Flight. As you read it, think about the following questions:

  • What kinds of grammatical structures are regularly used in the passage?
  • How could you use this passage to help students with English grammar?

Early in the New Year of 1956 I travelled to Southern Iraq. By then it had crossed my mind that I should like to keep an otter instead of a dog, and that Camusfeàrna, ringed by water a stone’s throw from its door, would be an eminently suitable spot for this experiment.

When I casually mentioned this to a friend, he casually replied that I had better get one in the Tigris marshes, for there they were as common as mosquitoes, and were often tamed by the Arabs. We were going to Basra to the Consulate-General to collect and answer our mail from Europe. At the Consulate-General we found that my friend’s mail had arrived but that mine had not.

I cabled to England, and when, three days later, nothing had happened, I tried to telephone. The call had to be booked twenty-four hours in advance. On the first day the line was out of order; on the second the exchange was closed for a religious holiday. On the third day there was another breakdown. My friend left, and I arranged to meet him in a week’s time. Five days later, my mail arrived. I carried it to my bedroom to read, and there, squatting on the floor, were two Arabs; beside them lay a sack that squirmed from time to time. They handed me a note from my friend: ‘Here is your otter…’

This extract has examples of several grammar points. Here are some, but you may have others to add to the list:

  • past tenses (‘travelled’, ‘had crossed my mind’)
  • reported speech (‘he casually replied that I had better’)
  • passive voice (‘were often tamed’).

Passages such as these provide examples of how grammar is used, and you can point these out to your students. You can also ask your students to read the extract and look for – or underline – examples of a certain grammar task. For example, they could underline all the examples of the past simple tense. This is a good way to help students review grammar points that they have already learned, or should know at this level.

Case Study 2: Mr Banerjee reviews present tenses

Mr Banerjee was recently transferred to a government school in a rural district. He had previously taught in the capital city.

When I began teaching the students of Class IX, I was shocked to see how quiet students were during their lessons: they did not laugh at my jokes, or respond to my questions, or enjoy writing on the board. They seemed to be afraid that I would punish them for making grammatical mistakes in their speaking and writing. I realised that I would have to make my students relax in the class and develop the confidence to speak and write in English.

I looked for an appropriate lesson in the English textbook to illustrate this. Unit 3, of their English textbook (CBSE’s Interact in English), called ‘Environment’, had a description of the Indian rhinoceros [see Resource 2]. I felt this would be a good way of showing how the present simple tense is used to describe people or things.

Before I began, I divided the class into groups of five and asked them the following:

Two groups managed to write accurate descriptions in simple English, but most others wrote descriptions that were not grammatically correct. Some wrote sentences without the verb. Others used a mixture of tenses.

I then asked students to put their texts aside and told them we would come back to them.

I told students to open their book at Unit 3 and to read the passage on the Indian rhinoceros. While they were reading, I wrote sentences with verbs in the present simple tense and asked students to complete them with information from the passage:

After they completed the sentences, I drew their attention to the parts of the text that described the features of the rhino, and then to the verbs used in these sentences. I pointed out how the present simple tense is used to describe something that is true generally.

I then reminded them of subject/verb agreement rules for the present simple (‘It lives’ and ‘They live’; ‘It has’ and ‘Rhinos have’). At that point I felt that students had noticed how present simple is used in passages, and I had reminded them of the rules of forming it. I then wanted to see whether they could correct their own writing.

So I asked my students to look back at their own descriptions of the classroom and to see if they could make them better. I was pleased that the students were eager to edit and then read out their passages to the class. This time, the students structured their sentences far more accurately.

Activity 2: Using the textbook readings to teach grammar

This is an activity for you to do with your students.

In Case Study 2, the teacher used the textbook to help students notice how the present tense is used and to use it more accurately in their writing. The textbook is a useful resource for teaching and reviewing English grammar, especially if you don’t have a specific grammar book. Follow the steps below to use this technique in your classroom:

  • Identify an area of grammar that you feel your students are having problems with (for example, using past tenses).
  • Choose a lesson that has some examples of this grammar point.
  • Organise students into pairs and ask them to find – or underline – examples of the grammar point in the lesson reading. Before they begin, do an example with the whole class so that everyone understands what they need to do. Set a time limit, e.g. three minutes.
  • After several minutes, ask students to give you the examples, and write them on the blackboard. Try to ask students from different parts of the classroom to make sure everyone feels involved.
  • For each example, ask students to explain why that grammar point is used. If students can’t explain, help them by asking more questions. Try not to give the explanation yourself.
  • Ask questions about the form or spelling.
  • To find out how much your students have understood, give them an error-correction exercise. Take a few more sentences from the lesson and copy them out onto the board, inserting a few mistakes.

Ask students to copy down the sentences and correct the mistakes in pairs. Give them a time limit for this and then review the corrections with the class.

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • Were your students able to identify the examples in the lesson from the textbook? If not, how could you help them?
  • What did this exercise tell you about your students’ skills? Which students found it difficult to correct the mistakes? How can you help them to correct their own mistakes?

You could help your students find examples by discussing the grammar point before they look, and giving them some examples. You could give them clues such as: ‘There is an example in the third paragraph.’ For examples of the language you could use in this kind of activity, see Resource 3.

If your students can’t identify their own mistakes, you could mark them so that students know where the mistakes are. Don’t tell them what the mistake is – just tell them what sentence it is in. Or you can ask questions about the mistake: for example, ‘The person here is “my mother”, so what form of the verb “have” do you need?’

When doing this kind of activity, make a note of which students seem to grasp the language easily, as well as ones who find it difficult. Some students may be ready to learn more, while others need more practice. If you notice that many of the students in your class need more practice, then you can do a grammar activity like this every day. If only one or two students seem to be struggling, you can work with them individually or assign them special homework so that they can improve over time.

1 Different approaches to teaching grammar

3 Using other resources to practise English grammar