Teaching English as a Second Language Online for Specific Purposes - Grammar - Part 6

Grammar is often thought of as boring and tedious when teaching English as a second language online. Nevertheless, it is the backbone of every language. When teaching English (or another foreign language) for specific purposes, it is crucial to have a good command of its grammar. An online teaching platform proves really useful in this respect.

In the two previous articles we addressed some issues that are particular to teaching foreign languages for specific purposes:

  • type of audience
  • materials used
  • teaching vocabulary

When teaching English as a second language online, designing a vocabulary-centered lesson means that all of the students must be at the same level of grammar in English. However, in many cases, this is not possible, especially in groups that come from different backgrounds.

Popular opinion says that progress in a foreign language is achieved through grammar. And we can see why this may be true: grammar gives students a more structured means of expression. It also allows for varied syntax and for a higher level of accuracy when expressing ideas. If vocabulary is the building blocks, grammar is the mortar that holds them together.

Often, when teaching English as a second language online, it is difficult to assess whether the students are at the same grammatical level. Why do you need to do this? Let’s deviate a bit from our subject.

Grammar consists of elements that form a system. With grammar, unlike with vocabulary, the learner often finds it difficult to grasp the way the system functions.

With vocabulary, there is a word and there is its meaning. With grammar however, we have a word, which has its place in a system, and this place confers to it a particular meaning. When teaching English as a second language online in class the teacher often stops the lesson and explains a grammatical rule, and then goes back to the lesson or the activity. But for students this means additional work. They are shifting their attention from one subject to another, which may be exhausting and causes them to lose motivation. In any case, students should be reminded of the rules, which may also need to be periodically reviewed throughout every foreign language course.

Determining a student’s grammatical level when teaching English as a second language online for specific purposes

For the teacher, this means defining some main grammatical points that should be reviewed throughout the course. If the teacher needs additional information about the grammatical levels of their students, they can prepare an online quiz at the beginning of the online course. At this point, the use of an e-learning platform when teaching English as a second language online for specific purposes becomes invaluable.

First of all, it lets the teacher conduct an online quiz in the same virtual space where they are holding their classes. Students can complete it online during class, rather than offline. In the latter case, students often lose motivation, either because they don’t understand some questions or because writing down an answer seems lengthy and tedious.

Second, the results are calculated instantly. Assigning correct answers to each question (e.g., in multiple-choice or closed types of questions) means that once the quiz is completed, there will be no time lost in grading. Results can then be discussed during class and shown to the students. This will constitute the basis for reviewing the grammar that needs to be taught throughout the course.

Using the classroom management software when teaching English as a second language online for specific purposes

Another group of rules are so-called “grammar essentials.” They may differ from subject to subject. Unlike the previous group of rules, grammar essentials are predefined by the teacher. When teaching English as a second language online, the teacher has to design a way for each group to learn and then review things that students might have forgotten or never knew.

After a few classes, it will become clear who knows what and what areas students are good at. At this point, the teacher can conduct an online quiz for students to complete after a particular class. The feedback from this quiz will become the basis for the next class session.

Here is an example of this. Let’s say that you are teaching a business correspondence class. You have identified the elements of a formal letter, you have given examples, and the students have written some paragraphs as parts of a letter. However, you notice that the majority of the learners don’t understand the phrase:

“Having read your previous letter, I am responding to you in order to clear up this issue […]”

After doing some analysis on the fly you manage to identify the problem. It’s the “having read” – a past gerund – that the students don’t recognize. You give them some short feedback and an online quiz on the subject. This way the detailed explanations of grammar do not bog down your course. Instead, the explanations get sorted out on the side and allow the students to proceed with their learning.

Finally, when teaching English as a second language online, the teacher should always be prepared to explain something that suddenly pops up during class. This goes in the section of general knowledge and preparation for the teacher. However, it is also true that this ability develops through experience. Further knowledge and competence with e-learning platforms renders this process much more straightforward. Once you design a handout or poster, it stays just a click away for use in any class.



Emanuela Svilarova is assistant-professor in French as a foreign language at Sofia University "St Kliment Ohridski". Her activity includes classes for beginners up to Advanced - B2 levels, and classes in French for specialized domains - humanities, economics. Apart from language teaching, her fields of interest include French and Bulgarian contemporary literature and comparative literature. She has participated in the creation of textbooks for high schools of intensive French classes, the handbook "Laughter in class" and in various teaching- and learning-oriented projects.
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For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.