Why Learn Grammar?

The background

  • The topic of grammar has had a curious press. On the one hand, grammar was vigorously rejected by teachers in the late 50s and early 60s because they believed it made no difference to children's writing. On the other hand, the abandonment of grammar teaching has been the subject of forceful invective, to the point that in recent years politicians such as Norman Tebbit suggested that there was a correlation between the loss of grammar and crime rates!

  • In many ways, this debate has created a negative view of grammar. Public and media attitudes tend to concentrate on errors and the notion that more grammar teaching will remove these errors. But this is a pity. The best reasons for teaching grammar are positive.

Why teach it?

  • The language of grammar is a shared language for talking about speech and writing

  • Knowing about grammar can help writers take control of their writing: they can craft and create because they understand what they are doing

  • Knowing about grammar can help readers explore how texts operate and how their messages and effects are created

  • Language is fascinating! Many people enjoy learning about grammar simply for its own sake

Read more about the grammar debate

Below are some key articles related to grammar and teaching grammar, presenting often opposing viewpoints. Some of the journal article links will only be accessible if you are part of an institution which has subscribed to that journal.

English Teaching: Practice and Critique Vol 4 No 3 2005
This journal edition was dedicated to exploring issues about grammar and knowledge about language, and offers an international perspective. You might like to read my contribution 'Ways of Knowing: Writing with Grammar in Mind', as this considers a theoretical rationale for teaching grammar. Available at: http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/journal/index.php?id=1

Andrews, R et al 2006 The Effect of Grammar Teaching on Writing Development British Educational Research Journal 32 (1) 39-55
This article reports on two international systematic research reviews on different aspects of teaching grammar to improve writing in English. It argues there is insufficient quality of research to prove the case and recommends that more research, as well as a review of policy and practice in England with regard to the teaching of sentence structure in writing.

Wyse, D 2001 Grammar. For writing? A Critical Review of the Evidence. British Journal of Educational Studies 49 (4) 411-427
This article focuses on the primary phase and national policy initiatives which encourage the teaching of grammar. It reviews some available evidence about the impact and effectiveness of grammar teaching on children's writing.

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