Jon Hird, materials writer and teacher trainer, discusses inductive and deductive grammar teaching, comparing and contrasting the two, and debating the pros and cons of their use in the classroom.
There are two main ways that we tend to teach grammar: deductively and inductively. Both deductive and inductive teaching have their pros and cons and which approach we use when can depend on a number of factors, such as the nature of the language being taught and the preferences of the teacher and learners. It is, however, perhaps generally accepted that a combination of both approaches is best suited for the EFL classroom.
Some agreement exists that the most effective grammar teaching includes some deductive and inductive characteristics.
– Haight, Heron, & Cole 2007.
So what is deductive and inductive grammar teaching? In this blog, we will first take a look at the underlying principles of inductive and deductive reasoning and then look at how this applies to grammar teaching and learning. We will then briefly consider some of the pros and cons.
Deductive and inductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning is essentially a top-down approach which moves from the more general to the more specific. In other words, we start with a general notion or theory, which we then narrow down to specific hypotheses, which are then tested. Inductive reasoning is more of a bottom-up approach, moving from the more specific to the more general, in which we make specific observations, detect patterns, formulate hypotheses and draw conclusions.
Deductive and inductive grammar learning
These two approaches have been applied to grammar teaching and learning. A deductive approach involves the learners being given a general rule, which is then applied to specific language examples and honed through practice exercises. An inductive approach involves the learners detecting, or noticing, patterns and working out a ‘rule’ for themselves before they practise the language.
A deductive approach (rule-driven) starts with the presentation of a rule and is followed by examples in which the rule is applied.
An inductive approach (rule-discovery) starts with some examples from which a rule is inferred.
– Thornbury, 1999
Both approaches are commonplace in published materials. Some course books may adhere to one approach or the other as series style, whereas some may be more flexible and employ both approaches according to what the language being taught lends itself to. Most inductive learning presented in course books is guided or scaffolded. In other words, exercises and questions guide the learner to work out the grammar rule. The following course book extracts illustrate the two different approaches. The subsequent practice exercises are similar in both course books.
Which approach – pros and cons?
First and foremost, it is perhaps the nature of the language being taught that determines if an inductive approach is possible. Inductive learning is an option for language with salient features and consistency and simplicity of use and form. The basic forms of comparative adjectives, as shown above, is an example of this. Conversely, teaching the finer points of the use of articles (a/an, the) inductively, for example, would most probably be problematic. The metalinguistic tools that the learners will need to accomplish the task is also a factor.
However, the learner-centred nature of inductive teaching is often seen as advantageous as the learner is more active in the learning process rather than being a passive recipient. This increased engagement may help the learner to develop deeper understanding and help fix the language being learned. This could also promote the strategy of ‘noticing’ in the student and enhance learner autonomy and motivation.
On the other hand, inductive learning can be more time- and energy-consuming and more demanding of the teacher and the learner. It is also possible that during the process, the learner may arrive at an incorrect inference or produce an incorrect or incomplete rule. Also, an inductive approach may frustrate learners whose personal learning style and/or past learning experience is more in line with being taught via a more teacher-centred and deductive approach.
While it might be appropriate at times to articulate a rule and then proceed to instances, most of the evidence in communicative second language teaching points to the superiority of an inductive approach to rules and generalizations.
– Brown, 2007
Nevertheless, while there are pros and cons to both approaches and while a combination of both inductive and deductive grammar teaching and learning is probably inevitable, an inductive approach does seem to be broadly accepted as being more efficient in the long run, at least for some learners. Would you agree with this?
Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. Pearson Longman.
Haight, C., Herron, C., & Cole, S. (2007). The effects of deductive and guided inductive instructional approaches on the learning of grammar in the elementary language college classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 40, 288-309.
Thornbury, S. (1999). How to Teach Grammar. Pearson.