by Stephen Gaies

Stephen Gales is currently Professor of TESOL and Applied Linguistics, Department of English, University of Northern Iowa, U.S.A. He has been a visiting professor at Temple University in Japan since 1988. He is a former editor of the "TESOL Quarterly" and has taught French and Spanish at junior and senior high level. He has done research in the areas of testing, second language acquisition, and teacher education. He has also written books and articles for teachers and learners of English.

Rod Ellis and I wrote Impact Grammar because we wanted to offer teachers and learners something different from what is already available for grammar teaching and learning. There are a lot of grammar texts; many of them are very good at doing what they aim to do. We feel that Impact Grammar has a new and useful combination of features.

To describe Impact Grammar briefly, I would use these three words: selective, alternative, and flexible.

  1. Impact Grammar is selective. Impact Grammar is not intended as a comprehensive grammar text. It is remedial: it focuses on the most common and persistent difficulties that learners have with English - even those who have already made a lot of progress overall. And in each unit we have tried to emphasize what is most problematic about a grammar point. For example, learners typically have less difficulty with learning how to form the present continuous than they do with knowing when to use it. So in Unit 4 (as well as in Unit 11), the focus is on the use of the present continuous.

  2. Second, Impact Grammar offers an alternative approach to grammar instruction. In each unit the learners' initial encounter with the grammar point is a meaning-focused task. We believe that language learning must involve attention to form and meaning. Very often, learners -- and those who interact with them -- first become aware of a grammar problem in the course of working to communicate meaning to each other.

    In Impact Grammar, the task in which learners encounter the grammar point in each unit is a listening activity. This is in contrast to what is done in conventional grammar texts, which present grammar through written sentences or texts. For most learners, listening is a more challenging activity because the listener must process the grammar in real time -- not by analyzing the text over and over at leisure. Learners who have gone through a traditional language-learning curriculum usually have little experience with dealing with grammar through listening. We hope that by using Impact Grammar, they will expand their grammar-learning repertoire and become better able to use speech as the raw material for grammar development.

    In other ways as well, the approach we use in Impact Grammar is different from what most learners are accustomed to. Generally speaking, traditional grammar instruction features explicit presentation of rules and a lot of production practice. In other words, teachers (and textbooks) tell learners the rule, and learners spend a lot of time producing the grammatical forms, whether or not they understand when and why the form is used.

    In Impact Grammar, the first step in learning a grammar point is becoming aware of it: noticing it. In the Listening to Notice activity, students work with the same text they listened to in order to understand the meaning, but this time their attention is focused primarily on form rather than meaning. In most of the units, the grammar point involves a contrast between two or more forms: e.g., simple past vs. present perfect, other vs. the other vs. another. The gap-filling activity aims at getting learners to notice that a particular grammatical form is used on certain occasions and is not used on others. Once they have noticed this, they will want to understand why.

    The activities in the Understanding the Grammar Point section of each unit offer learners the opportunity to discover grammar rules and generalizations by themselves. Rather than simply presenting the rule, we want learners' cognitive abilities to be engaged in making sense of the language input they have been working with. Neither we nor anyone else can explain precisely how learners' cognitive processes will lead them to understand and state rules of grammar. But we can assert with some confidence that learners' cognitive abilities can be useful in learning grammar. Equally important, we want learners to work to understand the grammar point. The Checking section lets learners test their understanding of the grammar point by having them identify and correct errors.

  3. Third, Impact Grammar is flexible; teachers and learners can use it in a variety of ways. It can be used independently by learners, or it can be a class text. The units can be done in order, or teachers can have learners work on units in the order in which they are dealt with in their own syllabus or in some textbook. Although we have pointed out in the text how one unit relates to another, no unit requires learners to have completed any other unit.

    Teachers and learners can use the Review Tests after working through a level, or they can be used for diagnostic purposes to help determine which units should be taken up. And although we don't specifically recommend it, learners who are not sure whether or not they need to do a unit might look first at the Checking section; if they don't know which sentences are incorrect and which are correct, they will know that they need to do the unit. Finally, teachers can make a number of other decisions about how the text should be used. They can withhold the Answer Key from learners, they can exploit the listening comprehension practice provided by the Listening to Comprehend section of each unit, and they can supplement the Trying It section in each unit by providing various kinds of appropriate and personalized production practice activities.

We believe that teachers and learners will find Impact Grammar to be a challenging and rewarding approach to grammar learning. We hope that in addition to improving their use of English grammar, learners will have, by working with Impact Grammar, many entertaining and useful encounters with English.

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Last update October 2003