Textbooks usually provide one or more of the following types of grammar exercises.
- Mechanical drills: Each prompt has only one correct response, and students can complete the exercise without attending to meaning. For example:
George waited for the bus this morning. He will wait for the bus tomorrow morning, too.
(Students must provide the simple future form will wait on the basis of the simple past form waited. Except for the time reference, the meaning of the sentences is not needed for completion of the task.)
- Meaningful drills: Each prompt has only one correct response, and students must attend to meaning to complete the exercise. For example:
Where are George’s papers? They are in his notebook.
(Students must understand the meaning of the question in order to answer, but only one correct answer is possible because they all know where George’s papers are.)
- Communicative drills, described in Strategies for Developing Grammar Knowledge.
Many textbooks provide a sequence that moves from mechanical drills to meaningful exercises to communicative exercises. However, you may find that you want to alter the sequence to align better with your students’ needs and proficiency levels. To use textbook grammar exercises most effectively, you need to recognize which type they are, devote the appropriate amount of time to them, and supplement them as needed.
Recognizing Drill/Exercise Types
Before the teaching term begins, inventory the textbook to see which type(s) of drills it provides. Decide which you will use in class and how you will use them (individual practice, pair work, team work, homework). Will you require all of them, or use some as optional practice? Will you alter some to align more closely with your students’ needs and interests?
When deciding which textbook drills to use and how much time to allot to them, keep their relative value in mind.
- Mechanical drills are the least useful because they bear little resemblance to real communication. They do not require students to learn anything; they only require parroting of a pattern or rule.
- Meaningful drills can help students develop understanding of the workings of rules of grammar because they require students to make form-meaning-use correlations. Their resemblance to real communication is limited by the fact that they have only one correct answer.
- Communicative drills require students to be aware of the relationships among form, meaning, and use. In communicative drills, students test and develop their ability to use language to convey ideas and information.
If the textbook provides few or no meaningful and communicative drills, you may want to create some to substitute for mechanical drills. See Developing Grammar Activities for guidelines.