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Deductive vs Inductive Grammar Approach in a Communicative L2 Class: Effectiveness and Students’ – Teachers’ Perceptions

The grammar instruction constitutes a controversial issue within the area of Applied Linguistics. This study investigates whether Deductive or Inductive approach towards grammar instruction is more effective in a Communicative Second Language environment.  Additionally, this paper aims at revealing teachers’ and learners’ perspectives towards both methods as well as their frequency in Greek classrooms. A sample of six Greek students of English and of 110 ESL teachers took part in the research. Data were collected through classroom observations, interviews, and document and record collection. As far as the findings are concerned, they indicated that despite the preference of both teachers and learners towards the inductive method, surprisingly, the deductive seemed to be more beneficial for the learners.  We hope that this study provides a stimulus for further research in an area of Applied Linguistics that has not been investigated enough, despite its significance.

Обучение грамматике представляет собой спорный вопрос в области прикладной лингвистики. Данное иследование направлено на изучение вопроса о том, является ли дедуктивный или индуктивный подход в обучении грамматике более эффективным в коммуникативной второй языковой среде. Кроме того, данная работа ориентирована на выявление объективного восприятия учителей и учащихся по отношению к обеим методикам, а также частоте их повторения в греческих учебных аудиториях. В качестве испытуемых были предложены 6 греческих студентов, изучающих английский язык, и 110 ESL учителей, которые приняли участие в настоящем исследовании. Данные были собраны путём проведения наблюдений в классе, интервьюирования, а также с помощью печатного и аудио-материала. На основании изучения полученных результатов можно сделать вывод, что несмотря на предпочтения обоих групп - учителей и учащихся – относительно данной индуктивной методики, дедуктивная методика неожиданным образом оказалась более целесообразной для учащихся. Мы надеемся, что это исследование станет стимулирующим фактором для проведения дальнейших исследований в области прикладной лингвистики, которая, несмотря на свою важность, не является изученной в полной мере.


Grammar instruction constitutes an everlasting controversial issue in the second language pedagogy. One of its aspects is the deductive or inductive way of presenting a grammatical phenomenon. In the former, the students are first given the rule and then practice the target structure while in the latter, the students try to discover how the target structure works on their own (Ellis 2006: 97). A lot of research has been conducted in order to investigate which method is more effective, however, no absolute answer is available. Taking that into consideration, this research aims to investigate, in a first level, which of the above grammar approaches works best, especially with Greek learners, and in a second level, teachers’ and learner’s preferences towards both methods and their frequency in Greek classrooms.

Literature Review

In the past, the role of grammar was crucial. However, in the 1980s the communicative approach appeared, and the focus shifted from the study of language itself to an emphasis on the negotiation of meaning. Along with the “new” approach, an anti-grammar movement was born, mainly by Krashen (1982: 188), who suggested that grammar instruction does not contribute to language acquisition, since the latter can occur if the learner is exposed enough to the target language.

However, recent research provides evidence that there should be a focus-on-form within a communicative language environment since it can lead learners towards higher levels of accuracy and proficiency (Lightbown and Spada 1990: 440). Consequently, when the teacher decides to teach grammar within a communicative approach –adopting a weak version of it – questions and controversies rise again towards the way grammar should be taught. Some researchers have found that a deductive approach applies best (Robinson 1996: 52). More specifically, Erlam (2003: 253) proved by measuring leaners’ both spoken and written performances that a deductive approach towards grammar instruction is more effective in students of Secondary Schools. On the contrary, Shaffer (1989: 401), Haight C. et al (2007: 299) and Herron and Tomasselo (1992: 711) have found that an inductive or guided inductive grammar approach is more effective in a second language class due to the fact that learners participate actively and are engaged in a discovery kind of learning, which contributes to the retention of information.

To that point it should be mentioned that all the researches mentioned above share the same belief regarding the notion of deductive instruction, which includes at first the presentation of the grammatical rule by the teacher and then its practice through controlled and less controlled activities by the learner. Nevertheless, the inductive approach seems to be perceived differently among the researchers, since  Herron and Tomasselo (1992: 711) and Erlam (2003: 253) did not give the students the instruction to look for the rule whereas, Robinson (1996: 52) and Shaffer (1989: 397) asked learners not only to find the rule on their own but also to verbalize it. Haight C. et al (2007: 292) collaborated with the students in order to induce the grammatical rule together. Moreover, Haight C. et al (2007: 299), Herron and Tomasselo (1992: 711) and Shaffer (1989: 397) adopt a guided version of inductive approach, in which the teacher, through leading questions, helps learners to focus on the different aspects of the target structure. Therefore, it can be easily inferred that neither of the two approaches seems to outperform the other in terms of effectiveness as well as there is no standard way of applying the inductive approach. Furthermore, it seems that there are not sufficient findings regarding the effectiveness of the two methods on the Greek learners. In addition, there is a lack of research taking into account teachers’ and learners’ preferences regarding the two methods. For all the reasons mentioned above, our research will try to make its own contribution to this controversial issue with a specific focus on the Greek classroom as well as to teachers’ and learners’ perceptions.


1. Participants

The participants, who took part in this study, fall into two main categories. First, in order to examine learners’ preferences and performance regarding the two methods, we observed six participants. These were six learners of English, aged 9-13 and they were both male and female. Also, they were all native speakers of Greek and their level of English was B1. Secondly, regarding teachers’ preferences and the frequency of the usage of each method in the Greek environment, a representative sample of 110 teachers of English as a Second Language took part in the research. The age range was from 18-40 and the majority of the participants were 18-25 years of age.

2. Materials

During the lesson, Power Point presentations and handouts with contextualized examples of the target structure and exercises were used in the inductive approach (see Appendix B), whereas the deductive one was presented by handouts with special designed tables of the grammatical rule (see Appendix A). By the end of the lesson, tests were handed to the students in order to measure their performance, as well as questionnaires in order to examine their attitude towards the presentation of the rule. Furthermore, an online questionnaire was shared among teachers though emails and teachers’ websites (see Appendix C).

3. Procedure

For the purposes of our research we adapted the weak version of communicative approach, with the typical stages of Presentation Practice and Production (Hedge 2000: 61). We divided learners into two groups; group A was taught by the deductive approach while group B by the inductive. The Practice and Production stages were identical in both groups whereas the Presentation stage was different. The grammatical structure we chose to present was the Modal verbs and the duration of our lessons was one hour. Group A consisted of four learners and Group B of two. Instead of just adopting the role of the researcher, we also adopted the role of the teacher. We chose this kind of classroom observation, as a methodological tool, as it seems to be the most valid way of assessing each approach’s appliance and effectiveness.

In Group A we introduced the grammatical rule at the very beginning of the lesson through handouts, which included a table with modals and their meaning and usage (see Appendix A). On the contrary, in group B we introduced modals through contextualized examples (see Appendix B) without referring to any rule.  After that, we continued the lesson with the same controlled and less controlled activities, for both groups. When the lesson was completed, the performance of all learners was assessed by a common written test, which included two types of exercises: multiple-choice and fill-in the gaps. Furthermore, we handed to the students a written questionnaire, with both open and close-ended type questions. They were expected to answer in which way the particular Presentation stage differed from the ordinary way they had been taught grammar so far and whether they liked it or not.

Additionally, we created on a web platform an on-line questionnaire, which was shared to various teacher groups on Facebook and sent via e-mail to English teachers (see Appendix C). Those on-line questionnaires included two videos of two different grammar lessons, a deductive and an inductive one. After watching them, the teachers were expected to respond to three questions regarding which teaching style they prefer and actually adopt in their own classroom. On-line questionnaires were exploited as a methodological tool, because they can be easily handed to a great number of participants. As it can be inferred, we triangulated the data by conducting classroom observations, handing on-line and written questionnaires and collecting written tests as documents.


Classroom Observation

Classroom observation shed light on various perspectives of the effectiveness of each of the two methods. Regarding the factor of time, it was measured with a chronometer that the deductive presentation of the grammatical rule covered only the first fifteen minutes of the lesson, while the inductive, almost the half of the whole duration of the lesson. Moreover, after the deductive presentation of the rule, students seemed to feel more confident about their responses, whereas after the inductive, appeared more uncertain regarding their responses and the structure of the lesson. Nevertheless, learners’ spontaneous reactions throughout the lesson suggested that they were more concentrated and interested in the inductive method and more indifferent towards the deductive one. For instance, during the deductive presentation of the rule, students at certain points were talking to each other and not paying attention to the teacher, while during the inductive presentation they were constantly making questions regarding the appliance of modals and trying to figure out their meaning.

Written performance

As can be seen from Table 1, the learners who were taught by the deductive method (Group A) outperformed those who were taught by the inductive approach (Group B).  More specifically, only one student of Group A did not manage to get a high score, while both students of Group B had an average performance.

Table 1. Learners' performance

Table 1.Learners’ performance on the written test. (Note: The vertical axis represents the grading scale)

Learners’ Preferences

When learners were asked whether the particular presentation of grammar differed from their previous learning experiences, the four students who were taught by the deductive approach declared that the presentation stage was similar to their previous experiences as learners, whereas the two who were taught inductively found the structure of the lesson unfamiliar. In addition, the students taught by the inductive approach answered that they enjoyed the lesson, while only one out of three students who were taught deductively seemed to prefer that approach. When they were asked to justify their answer, the inductive group students claimed that the lesson was more interesting because they managed to discover the rule on their own. On the contrary, three of the students who were taught by the deductive approach answered that they found the lesson boring and predictable. For instance, one of them wrote: “Το μάθημα ήταν ίδιο με όλες τις προηγούμενες φορές και δε μας δώσατε πολλά παραδείγματα» (“The lesson was the same with all the previous lessons and not enough examples were provided”).

Teacher’s Questionnaires

The on-line questionnaire handed to teachers included two videos of samples of inductive and deductive methods. After watching the videos, teachers were expected to answer three close- ended questions:

  1. “Which teaching style do you prefer?”

According to Table 2, the majority of the teachers (82%) preferred the inductive approach, while only the 18% favored the deductive one.

Table 2

Table 2. Teachers’ preference. “Which of the two teahing styles do you use in your class?”

As shown in Table 3, many teachers (48, 5%) claimed that they use both styles. The 45% stated that they adopt only the inductive approach and few teachers seem to prefer the deductive.

Table 3

Table 3. Frequency of both methods in Greek classrooms.

  1. “You want to teach modal verbs to B1 level students. Put the following teaching steps in the order you would use them in your class.”

In the particular question teachers were provided with a series of teaching steps and were asked to put them in the order they would apply them in class. Due to the fact that we are particularly interested in the presentation stage, we will focus only on the first step and we will omit the rest. While in the Tables 2 and 3 the deductive approach tends to be the least preferable, from the Table 4 it can be concluded that most of the teachers (44%) adopt the deductive approach.

Table 4

Table 4. Teaching steps of modal verbs to B1 level students.


The findings of this research provide interesting information to the field of grammar pedagogy. As far as learners are concerned, it became obvious from the classroom observation that they seemed to enjoy more the inductive grammar approach, while they appeared to be rather indifferent towards the deductive one. A possible explanation of that could be their active participation, since they were trying to discover the function of the grammatical structure whereas during the deductive presentation they did not participate actively. However, as we observed from their reactions, they seemed to feel more comfortable during the deductive grammar presentation and more insecure towards the inductive structure of the lesson. This may result from the fact that students are probably more familiar with the deductive approach, since it seems to be the most traditional among English teachers in Greece (Table 4). Our observations are confirmed by the responses of the students in the questionnaires, in which those who were taught deductively favored that approach while half of the students taught by the deductive approach did not enjoy it.

Despite their preferences, the written tests by the end of the lesson revealed that the students taught deductively performed better than those taught inductively. This result may be explained by the fact that in some cases students may not to be able to understand the function of the entire rule and its exceptions, unless the teacher explains it. For example, when we taught students inductively the function of the modal have to and do not have to, they managed to notice the transformation of meaning in the negative form, only after several guided questions by the teacher, which covered almost half of the duration of the lesson. As a matter of fact, the inductive grammatical presentation was far more time-consuming than the deductive one and thus, students did not have the opportunity to practice on the rule as much as in the inductive approach. The lack of practice during the inductive lesson may be one factor that affected their low performance on the written tests.

The findings considering teachers’ attitudes towards the two approaches were rather surprising. Despite their general tendency to favor the inductive method, teachers seem to actually apply the deductive method in the teaching of grammar. In more detail, in spite of their claim that they usually apply the inductive approach (Table 3)   when they were asked to explain their first steps in teaching modal verbs, most of the teachers responded that they would start their lesson by presenting the rule to their students. It should be noted here that this particular choice of them was possibly determined by the nature of the specific grammatical structure (modal verbs). Another possible explanation of that might be that teachers are usually influenced by their own learning experiences (Chiu Yin Wong and Barrea-Marlys 2012: 71). Therefore, we could assume that the teachers finally adopted the deductive approach, since for many generations in Greece there has been a more traditional perception of the role of grammar.

The results of the current study do not support the previous research of Shaffer (1989: 401), Haight C. et al (2007: 299) and Herron and Tomasselo (1992: 711). Even though we followed the same deductive and guided inductive presentation of a target structure with practice activities and performance tests, we found that the inductive approach was not effective among Greek learners. However, our findings are in agreement with Erlam’s (2003: 255) and Robinson’s (1996: 64) findings which showed that learners learn best when they are taught grammar deductively.


In a Communicative language teaching environment the way of presenting a grammatical rule is of crucial importance, since it determines the effectiveness of our whole grammar lesson. As it is mentioned in the introduction, the research findings in favor of inductive and deductive grammar approaches are confusing and therefore, we hope that our research shed light on the effectiveness of the deductive approach as the most effective in the Greek environment, despite teacher’s and learners’ preference for the inductive one. Some limitations should also be taken into consideration. Firstly, our research was held during a short period of time, secondly the number of the learners who participated was not representative enough and thirdly, a single grammatical phenomenon was examined. Consequently, we strongly believe that further research needs to be undertaken, since this area of applied linguistics has not been investigated enough, despite its significance.


Hedge, T., 2000. Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Herron, C. & Tomasello, M., 1992. Acquiring grammatical structures by guided induction. The French Review, 65(5), pp.708-718.

Lightbown, P.M. & Spada, N., 1990. Focus-on-Form and corrective feedback in communicative language teaching. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12(4), pp.429-444.


Appendix A

Appendix A

Part of the handout given to the students during the deductive lesson

Appendix B

Appendix B

Sample of the Power Point presentation used in the inductive lesson

Appendix C

Appendix C

Sample of the on-line questionnaire answered by teachers

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