Using deductive approach in grammar and language teaching

Deductive grammar and language teaching - illustration image of a teacher correcting a student's assignment

In a previous blog post, we looked at the two main ways to teach grammar in any language – the deductive vs inductive approaches. That earlier post focused on the inductive method (i.e. where grammar rules are inferred by the students through some form of guided discovery). This second blog post on the topic will instead look at the deductive method in further detail and will consider how it might be most effectively used by language teachers in grammar and general language teaching (whether your are teaching English or any Foreign language).


What is the deductive language teaching approach?

Deductive teaching is a traditional approach to second language learning where the rule / lesson content is presented by the teacher and the student then works through examples to reinforce their understanding. The principles of this approach are widely applied throughout the curriculum but are widely used in language teaching to teach grammar structures. As Nunan 1991 identified the principles are particularly appropriate in classes where the grammar translation method is applied.

To reiterate and provide a practical example of the differences between the two approaches: in a deductive classroom the teacher explains the grammatical structures in detail before giving students a specific set of activities to work through. However in an inductive learning, the teacher provides examples of the grammatical concept, from which students work out the rule / core learning point.


Its role in teaching grammar and languages

Although all language classes and classrooms are different, it is probably true to say that the majority worldwide are (knowingly or not) teacher-centered and therefore tend to use deductive ways of teaching. Advocates argue that such teaching methods emphasise the clear presentation of grammatical rules and that teachers are able to deliberately highlight those rules for specific attention. Furthermore they are able to provide more time for students to actually practise their use in spoken or written form.

In this approach, the teacher is solely responsible for providing students with the knowledge that they need to complete subsequent tasks correctly. Although it therefore creates more work for the teacher and can be time-consuming, it does ensure that students are 100% clear about what they have been taught. Yet it’s important that limiting students to identifying the right answer and providing them with clear rules should not mean that they are being spoon-fed. Educators must take care to ensure that students are still available to explore their target language and to find their own way to the right answers.

Deductive approaches may also be particularly relevant in specific situations. Its application is immediately relevant, for example, when beginners start learning a new language. It is obviously difficult for students to work things out for themselves without any basic understanding of the language or the grammar points.

Shaffer’s 1989 research also identifies that deductive approaches are “…more effective for language structures that are irregular, inconsistent and less commonly present in communicative language.” Languages that are regular and consistent are more appropriate for inductive approaches as they allow “..students to observe patterns, make generalisations and form linguistic rules.”


What are the advantages of a deductive teaching approach? 

A review of the literature and practitioner perspectives identifies a number of important additional advantages to this deductive grammar teaching approach.

  • Although there is more work for teachers to do when preparing lessons, it can be easier for them to maintain control when delivering in the classroom. Given that they are 100% in control of the lesson, educators may also find it easier to cover all of the content included in each lesson plan.
  • There is a reasonable expectation that this approach should give students a clear and detailed understanding of what grammar is and how and when to use it. Drills can also be deployed in this approach to reiterate key points and provide opportunities for students to practise.
  • Some students will prefer / be more familiar with this teaching approach. Students may also prefer being able to ask questions as soon as something does not make sense. Equally no-one wants to work through an inductive teaching task that ends with the learner arriving at an incorrect solution. This would obviously be highly frustrating and very demotivating learning experience.
  • The deductive approach can be highly flexible. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and educators can begin to transition towards more inductive approaches as students’ confidence and knowledge increases. Autonomy can be easily scaffolded and teacher support slowly withdrawn over time to enable students to flourish on their own.

Of course, the deductive approach also has its critics who would prefer educators to give students increased agency over their own learning. Given that the approach is so teacher-centred, there is a huge onus on teachers to be expert practitioners – any flaws in their own knowledge, in their classroom management or in their lesson delivery will have significant implications for students’ learning process and outcomes. Additionally, it may therefore be difficult for some teachers to retain the focus of all students throughout the whole lesson using only deductive techniques.


How to deliver lessons using the deductive approach in a language classroom?

Scott Thornbury’s 1999 book “How to Teach Grammar” provides three very clear and simple steps to delivering a grammar lesson using the deductive teaching methodology, These are:

  1. Presentation and explanation of the grammar rule or rules by the teacher. 
  2. The teacher gives relevant examples which highlight the relevant grammar structures. 
  3. Finally students practise working with the rules and then produce their own examples by the end of the lesson.

This structure does not explicitly reference the work that happens both before and after these three steps. It is essential that every deductive lesson is carefully planned to ensure that all content is appropriately covered and accurately delivered. Equally important is to ensure that the students’ work is submitted and marked afterwards – it is vital that the educator knows if the lesson has been successful and that the intended concepts have been grasped by all students. If not, follow up work and personalised instruction may be needed to fill any gaps.

It is obviously impossible to argue that either the deductive or the inductive teaching approach is the best to employ in all circumstances. The variety of students, their learning styles, educators and institutions is simply too great for a simplistic, universal application. The best route forward is for educators to trial different approaches in different settings with different audiences and carefully monitor feedback and learning outcomes. Expand and develop those that work well and seek to improve those that are less impactful.   

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References used in this article:

Harmer, J. (2004). How to Teach English. Pearson Longman.


This blog post was last updated 19 October, 2023.