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Concourse 2

Strand 3: Using metalanguage in the classroom


You arrived here because you agreed partially or fully with

I am unsure of how much terminology and jargon to introduce to my students.

There are undoubtedly some teachers who enjoy befuddling their students with their grasp of the terminology of grammar as a way of making themselves seem learned and wise.  They are not, thankfully, in the majority.  Mastering the language of grammar does not have to make you join their camp.  It's not power you are looking for, it's precision.

technical language

Jargon or terminology?

The title of this guide was carefully chosen to avoid 'jargon' or 'terminology'.  Jargon, of course, is sometimes just terminology you don't understand.  What we are concerned with here is metalanguage, i.e., the language used to talk about language.

The judgement call to make in the classroom is when to use the proper form and when to use the technical term.  Will it help or hinder?
Here is a selection of terms which are often used in the classroom instead of the real term.
Can you fill in the right-hand column?  Click on the table when you have.



What terms to use in the classroom?

Should we use these technical terms in particular rather than the classroom terms?  We are talking here about students who want to learn English to communicate, not teach it to others.
Click here when you have and answer.

Similar considerations can be applied to any technical term we are tempted to include when teaching grammar (and much else).  It works like this:

using terminology 

It's easy to do this if you bear two rules in mind:

  1. Avoid terms which have no useful meaning outside the study of grammar and language generally.
  2. Plan how you will describe the language for your students before you teach it.


Which of the following terms would you bother your learners with?

present, pluperfect, modification, pro-form, modal auxiliary verb, conjunct, intonation, vowel, consonant, prosodic features, passive voice, present perfect, epithet, classifier, apposition

When you have decided, click here.


Gauging progress

There's a separate guide in this section of the site to gauging and measuring progress in your development.  Go there for more ideas.

One simple way to gauge whether avoiding grammar terminology where possible is working is simply to see if you think it made any difference to your ability to explain or the learners' ability to understand.
If you found the term impossible to avoid although it is obscure and technical, did you think hard enough about possible ways to explain non-technically?

Quirk, R, Greenbaum, S, Leech, G & Svartvik, J, 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Harlow: Longman