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TEFL Masterclass – Rethinking Grammar: Going Beyond The Coursebook

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Neil Harris – Teacher Trainer & Director of Marketing @ CELT Language School.

Neil Harris started his career in ELT in 1993 after completing a CTEFLA with IH London. He quickly realized that language learning and teaching was his true passion. Neil has worked in a variety of roles in the UK and Italy, including as a teacher, Senior Teacher, EAP Lecturer, DoS, Teacher Trainer, Business Development Manager, and Director of Marketing. Currently, Neil focuses on developing online ESP medical English and teacher development programmes in his role in agent-based marketing and course development.

What you will learn

For many teachers, and their learners, coursebooks seem to provide a rich resource for teaching and learning English. They are written by materials developers who are specialists in English language teaching and they generally include language development and skills work.

For many of us, therefore, our understanding of the grammar of English tends to be closely linked to how it is presented in coursebooks, in terms of what we teach, when we teach it and even how we teach it. But what if the coursebook approach to grammar teaching and learning is flawed, either in its scope or in its description of language use?

This masterclass follows the journey of its presenter, from newly qualified teacher to experienced teacher trainer, and how his view of grammar has come to diverge from the nearly packaged chunks of grammar served up unit by unit.  Find out how a shift from rules to reasons and an awareness that grammar isn’t just about verbs can help us to become more effective classroom practitioners.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to the Webinar 

In this ELT Masterclass series, the presenter discusses rethinking grammar in language teaching and how to engage students in meaningful interactions with texts. The focus is on moving away from a rule-based approach to a reason-based approach that considers the context and purpose of language use.

Problems with the Rule-Based Approach

The rule-based approach to grammar has limitations, as it doesn’t always account for the complexities and variations of real-life language use. Students can become frustrated when encountering language that doesn’t fit the rules they’ve learned. The presenter highlights the example of the phrase “The Queen dies,” which, given its rarity, challenges traditional grammar rules. This demonstrates the need for a more flexible approach to grammar that considers language in context.

A Reason-Based Approach

A reason-based approach to grammar focuses on understanding why language is used in a particular way in different contexts. This approach allows students to engage with authentic texts, analyse language use, and develop their understanding of grammar through exploration and discovery. Students are encouraged to consider the genre, intended audience, and purpose of a text, which helps them develop a more nuanced understanding of language use.

Implementing a Reason-Based Approach

The presenter discusses strategies for implementing a reason-based approach in the classroom, such as replication and transposition activities. Replication tasks involve students recreating a text similar in structure or style to the original, while transposition tasks require them to change the genre, medium, or style of the original text. These activities help students understand and engage with texts more effectively.

The presenter also emphasises the importance of considering grammar’s role in different domains of language, such as General English, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Focusing solely on verb grammar is insufficient in EAP and ESP, as students need a broader understanding of grammar to be successful communicators in these domains.


In conclusion, the ELT Masterclass encourages language teachers to rethink their approach to grammar by shifting from a rule-based approach to a reason-based approach. This allows students to develop a deeper understanding of language usage, tolerate ambiguity, and better engage with authentic texts. By focusing on the context and purpose of language use, teachers can help students become more effective communicators in a variety of situations.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. To what extent do coursebooks and other external teaching materials inform the grammar you teach and how you teach it?
  2. Do you ever see a grammar teaching point in your course book and question its validity? If so, what do you do?
  3. What do you do if you ever see an example of grammar in use and feel unable to explain it?
  • Carter, R. and McCarthy, M., 2006. Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide ; Spoken and Written English Grammar and Usage. Cambridge University Press.
  • Jordan, G. and Long, M., 2022. English language teaching now and how it could be. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Larsen-Freeman, D. (2015). Thinking allowed. Research into practice: Grammar learning and teaching. Language Teaching 48 (2), 263-280.
  • Norrington-Davies, D. (2016). Teaching grammar: From Rules to reasons. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Thornbury, S., 2015. What do teachers need to know about language. ENGLISH TEACHING professional, (100), pp.9-12.

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