Teaching Grammar to Adult English Language Learners: Focus on Form

A. G. Rodriguez
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This brief provides a research-based rational as to why there is a need to teach grammar within a meaningful context. Of particular interest to the author is the focus on form technique. Rodriguez briefly covers the evolution of grammar teaching, in which she concludes that teachers should use a combination of implicit and explicit approaches to grammar teaching. In the next section of the brief she addresses why and when grammar should be taught. For example, allowing low literacy level or beginning level learners to focus on comprehension and vocabulary development before attempting an in-depth focus on form. She particularly emphasizes the need for grammar to be taught in context of current lessons (meaningful context) as opposed to an isolated grammar lesson. Rodriguez describes several instructional techniques (implicit and explicit) as well as activities for teaching grammar, such as error correction strategies and collaborative dialogues (most accompanied by concrete examples). She closes by stating questions that remain unanswered in the field regarding grammar instruction, for instance what is the appropriate balance between focus on form and focus on meaning. This brief provides an overview of teaching grammar and a snapshot of a particular approach towards teaching grammar.

Required Training

None, but more in-depth study may be necessary

What the experts say

This resource recognizes that adult ELL’s place a high value on learning grammar and makes a case for grammar instruction within a meaningful interactive context. Teachers who struggle with questions of how much, when, and how to teach grammar will find this brief both informative and thought-provoking. The brief uses the premise that a combination of factors come into play when teaching grammar—what learners value, research, provision of feedback, and direct teaching of form and meaning in a balanced approach. The latter is especially important for learners to achieve higher levels of language proficiency and accuracy.


  • Provides a review of the history of the teaching of grammar in ESL, describing a range of explicit and implicit approaches, including Grammar-Translation, Audiolingualism, and the Direct Method; and more recent, Humanistic and Communicative approaches, in which direct grammar instruction has receded. Yet, as the author indicates, substantial research (Ellis, 1996, 2001; Skehan, 1996, Doughty and Williams, 1998; Doughty and Verela, 1998; Gass and Selinkner, 2008) points to the need for some direct focus on form, both in instruction and feedback to students’ language production.
  • Gives an extremely clear explanation of Focus on Form for the uninitiated. Research-based references are cited to support the method. Examples illustrate the method in a concise way.
  • Discusses issues of how to time the introduction of grammar instruction.
  • Offers a number of research-based activities to incorporate explicit and implicit grammar instruction and a focus on accuracy within a meaning-based approach to language teaching. Suggestions include consciousness-raising activities to encourage learners to notice language structures; productive communication tasks including the use of collaborative dialogues and the language experience approach; and brief, explicit corrections or recasts of students’ errors.
  • Provides strategies for integrating form and meaning.
  • Defines associated terms such as input flood, input enhancement, and consciousness-raising tasks. Follow-up examples in the Instructional Activities section give substance to these terms and offer the reader a picture of how these activities would occur in a classroom.
  • Supplies an extensive reference list. More scholarly in nature, it draws from articles and research in the fields of foreign language, psycholinguistics and to a lesser extent, practice-based findings.
  • Raises, in the Areas for Further Research section, numerous thought-provoking questions about Focus on Form for further study, useful to researchers and teachers interested in delving into deeper aspects of this topic. It is a very refreshing approach to end a brief with unexplored questions; it leaves the reader eager to explore the topic.