Holistic Approaches to the Teaching and Learning of Grammar
           A workshop by Rod Bolitho, Norwich Institute for Language Education, UK

On 31 January 2012, at the Faculty of Philology, Belgrade, I had the pleasure of attending this
workshop organized by the British Council. It would be really nice – and most useful – for all of
us English teachers to have some more of such authorities as professor Bolitho and their
presentations, workshops or lectures.

I have been to quite a number of presentations/lectures/workshops and have also written
reports on them. So, how can I make this one different and in a way special, and why?

Firstly, the topic is my cup of tea: grammar. I believe that most of my colleagues have a lot of
questions about the place of grammar in teaching. Secondly, the holistic approach which was
presented and elaborated on does answer a lot of possible questions and also raises our
awareness as teachers. A very useful (and funny!) metaphor of a salami and its slices was
offered to show that if we teach only ‘slices’, we don’t teach our students the whole of ‘the
salami’ and also in that way favour only some slices and some students.

Professor Bolitho took us on a journey beginning with historical perspectives - the origins of
language and grammar, the typical textbooks with their dependence on written language and its
prescriptive rules and compared it all with recent data based on corpus studies, and offered
ideas on the implications. Then we went through child and language development, adding a
foreign language (motivation, expectations and the importance of attitudes and feelings),
common myths about the English language (the absence of standard English nowadays,
together with value judgments based on varieties of language; ‘grammatical’ myths about
reported speech, articles, if sentences…) with lots of examples. The examples were especially
useful in the workshop parts where we had a chance to stretch our feet a little (kinesthetic types
must have enjoyed themselves!). It is a pity we didn’t have more time to go through more of the
examples in the handout.

So, where is the place of grammar then? Right there, in communication, but not in ‘rules first,
communication later!’, but in making mistakes or errors because that is how learning takes
place. It is grammar that enables us to say what we mean, that shows us how language ‘works’,
that connects ‘form and function’ and imposes order on the building blocks of language.

Those who like to take home a ready made activity or idea how to do something in their own
class had plenty examples and activities to choose from.

Those who like to hear a native speaker with a linguistic background and knowledge of most
recent words and their (new) meanings also had their opportunity.

Those like me enjoyed the workshop/presentation on how to teach grammar in a communicative
way although the word ‘communicative’ was not at all used!

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