Teaching Grammar at Advanced Levels

 This article is based on work from our Delta Module one course, and looks at teaching grammar to advanced level learners (CEFR C1/2) and why it needs to be remedial as well as focusing on new areas  It's in three sections:


a) why remedial teaching is necessary;

b) what new items you would expect to introduce at these levels;

c) how your approach to a remedial lesson would differ from or be similar to the initial presentation of this area. 


a)    Why is remedial teaching necessary?

1. By C1 level and certainly by C2 level, learners will have met most of the grammatical items that they need to communicate. However some of those encountered at B2 level may still have been assimilated receptively only – ie they will understand them when reading/listening but will not use them spontaneously when speaking in a “real time” communicative situation and possibly not even in writing. They therefore need to be recycled/reactivated to transfer them to productive use.    This may be true for instance of more complex verb forms such as modal verbs with complex infinitives (perfect, continuous, passive) or of eg cleft sentences.


Learners may, on the other hand be using specific structures but doing so erroneously. This may be...


2. ...due to misunderstanding or inadequate understanding of the rules of form or use.  As an example of this, I have frequently found that advanced learners use an infinitive after “to” in expressions like “I’m looking forward to…” not realising that it is a preposition rather than the infinitive particle, and the gerund is therefore necessary.

3. ...because they are mistakes which have fossilised – when they are pointed out the L may be able to self-correct, but continues to make them when speaking spontaneously.   Many of my advanced students still have problems with prepositions for example – in a recent lesson at C1 level a learner said “I’m not participating to the meeting” despite having met the correct form before.


b) What new items would you expect to introduce at these levels?


4. There will still be some structural items that learner may not have met and which need an initial presentation. Eg Structures using inversion of the subject and verb, such as subject/operator inversion after negative or limiting adverbs in initial clause position (“Never have I felt so embarrassed”) or subject/main verb inversion after fronted adverbials of position with a simple verb (“Round the corner came the procession”). 

5. Some grammatical rules may have been implicit in the language that Ls have met previously, but never explicitly focused on. this may lead to errors, particularly in written language, similar to those that native speakers often make – eg comma splices and dangling participles. If the L is working towards an exam which involves a written component, or needs to write for other purposes (eg business), these will need to be focused on.

6. If the learner is studying outside an English speaking environment, they may never have encountered colloquial grammatical items or other structures common to spoken English such as elliptical utterances, but may now come across them in authentic materials – for example, if watching soap operas or listening to songs.   Eg One item common in songs is the use of “ain’t” rather than “isn’t/aren’t” or “hasn’t/haven’t”. 


7. It may not be the item itself which is new to the learner but a specific use of an already known item.  For example, learners will certainly have met the items “suggest” and “may” but may not have come across their use to “hedge” opinions :  “This suggests that we may need to…”   This will be particularly important for learners studying for academic purposes, who will be expected to used such “hedges” when citing research or theory. 


c) How would your approach to a remedial lesson differ from or be similar to the initial presentation of the area?


8. Both recycled and new items could be presented through a text-based approach, where there are several examples of the target item in the text. After comprehension work on the text, Ls could be given a guided discovery task to allow them to work out, clarify or consolidate their understanding of the form and/or use of the item.

9. For new items this could be continued with controlled practice activities. However, in the case of point 1 above, the Ls could be asked to move straight to free practice, to encourage them to transfer the already known language to productive use.

10. Alternatively the follow up stage to a speaking or writing activity could be used to focus on the item. If it was a fossilised error (point 3), this can be put on the board and the L asked to self-correct

11. If the item is known but  had simply been “avoided” in the productive activity (point 1), the learners could be asked to upgrade what they had said using a key word or words provided by the T as a prompt. Eg if the L had said “It will be nice to see my son again” the T can ask the L to “upgrade” this using “look forward”. This can be practised "on the spot" by providing more sentences starting “It will be nice to…” and asking learners to transform them to the new structure.

12.  The T. can also use this “avoidance” as an affordance – an opportunity to present the new item. This can be done by reformulating the L’s utterance, providing other examples and asking concept check questions as necessary  – much as in a traditional presentation in a PPP approach.  As this occurred as “emergent language” (Meddings and Thornbury ), the T. will not have any practice activities ready but  could use the types of technique suggested in Demand High ELT (Underhill and Scrivener) – eg saying it faster, substituting items, repeating an example offered by another L, transforming examples which are easy to invent (as in point 11) etc. Alternatively or additionally, practice can be given in a subsequent lesson when the T. has had time to prepare materials.


Meddings, L. and Thornbury,  S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged  Delta Publishing

Scrivener. J. and Underhill, A. Demand High ELT

 What brought you here?

If you're currently working towards the  Delta Module One exam, you'll notice that the article is written in the type of format needed in the exam for Paper 2/3 - a succession of points which directly answer the questions set. Each point generally starts with a summary of the basic point, and examples, explanations etc are then added.  You'll find a lot of articles on the Notebook in this format, and can use them to practice for this task by first looking at the questions, then writing your own answers, and finally comparing them with the points included in the article.

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