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15 variations on PPP

By Alex Case
PPP (Present that language, do some controlled practice on that point, and then give students a production speaking and/ or writing task where they can use the same language) is in the strange situation of being rarely supported, especially in comparison with the Task Based Approach, but much used- again in comparison with TBA! Below […]

PPP (Present that language, do some controlled practice on that point, and then give students a production speaking and/ or writing task where they can use the same language) is in the strange situation of being rarely supported, especially in comparison with the Task Based Approach, but much used- again in comparison with TBA! Below are 15 ideas for how you can use the strengths of this approach and avoid the disadvantages by making changes small or large to the way it is done. I hope also to be able to show that change is something that you can easily achieve in your classes, moving between PPP and TBA in small steps being a good example.

1. PPP plus skills
Although textbook series like Headway (the most popular internationally available series of textbooks ever) are often taken as the defining example of PPP that have forced the whole industry to follow them, very few if any of the textbooks from the big publishers consist of an unbroken sequence of different language points presented and practiced in succession. Therefore, the commonly used method that newer methods like TBA must compete with is in fact better described as PPP plus skills work, mainly meaning reading and listening texts that may also contain the target language of the unit but are not specifically used to lead onto a grammar point. The advantage of this method is that it gives students a break between learning major language points so they have a chance to “digest” the previous points, it recycles language that they have seen or will see in other units, and it gives them a chance to pick up language as well as consciously study it. If your textbook or school syllabus does just have a succession of language points, you can supplement it with well-graded reading and listening texts.
2. The discovery approach
The discovery approach is another example of the PPP that people teach being a long way away from the PPP that people attack. The criticism here is that presenting the language to the students is passive and teacher lead, leading to the students not being engaged and not learning the active skills they need to pick up language outside the classroom. Again, the typical CELTA or Headway lesson does have a presentation, but hardly one that those criticisms describe. The standard approach to language presentation nowadays is to let the students see or hear the language in context first and lead them towards understanding how it is used, exactly how any language learning where your brain is consciously involved will be outside the classroom. If you haven’t tried the discovery approach before, you can easily produce materials from your textbook by giving them the answer key to the grammar practice activities and leading them towards an understanding of why those are the answers.
3. TTT
Talking of Headway, the higher level books are nowadays more often Test Teach Test than Presentation Practice Production. TTT theoretically avoids the criticism of PPP that teachers often end up presenting language that the students already know. In TTT you test them first (Test) to find out what they know, teach them what they don’t know yet (Teach) and then test them again to see what they have learnt (Test). Despite the very different terms used, this approach is basically just a rearrangement of the stages of PPP- basically making it Practice Present Practice. Therefore, any PPP lesson can be easily rearranged to make it into a TTT one.
4. TBA
I’m stepping into dangerous territory here, but for me giving students a task and, showing them an example of the language they could use to do it, and maybe doing it again also doesn’t seem like a huge step away from TTT and therefore from PPP. There is much disagreement about what the Task Based Approach consists of exactly and how it is best approached, but starting with the Production task, teaching the language they need, doing some controlled practice and then maybe giving them the same or a similar Production task to do both covers most of the definitions of TBA and can be easily adapted from a PPP lesson plan or PPP materials.
5. Students present
Another way to take away the passive students criticism of PPP is to get the students to prepare a presentation of a new language point or one you want to revise, for them to present to the class in the next lesson. If not done carefully, though, this can lead to the rest of the class being even less involved than in a teacher-led presentation, so make sure you set rules for the students watching to ask questions or be tested on what they have heard.
6. PPP whatever
Another criticism of PPP is that by leading the students through a predetermined grammar syllabus you are not leaving time for the more important points as they come up in the classroom. In fact, though, the PPP method is just as suitable if not more so for language points big and small you have picked up that students need and decided to explain and drill in the same or subsequent lessons.
7. PP, pause, P
Of all the criticisms of PPP, the one that soonest becomes apparent to the teacher is that students rarely if ever use the target language you have practised and presented in the final part of the lesson, the free production stage. This is hardly surprising, because if you could fully teach a grammar point in an hour it would be possible to be indistinguishable from a native speaker in a year of full time study, and some studies of TBA have found very similar problems. The solution can also be the same for both approaches, which is simply to delay or repeat the production task days, weeks or months later at a time when the students’ subconscious has really had a chance to absorb the language and make it its own.
8. P, pause, PP
Another possible place to split the stages of PPP is to end the class with a presentation stage. Students can then absorb the language in their own way in their own time, using their self-study skills to help them, and then come into class ready to test their ideas against what conclusions they have come to over the last week. This also has the advantage of holding students’ attention until the very end of the lesson, and of making sure the presentation of new language is not in the middle of the lesson, when attention is lowest and students are least likely to recall what went on later.
9. Vocab PPP
Another misunderstanding of PPP as it is actually used is that it means an overwhelming emphasis on grammar. In fact, most vocabulary points can be taught with exactly the same stages, including the mixed up stages of TTT and TBA as explained above.
10. Functions PPP
As with vocab, so with lessons on functions like “agreeing and disagreeing” or “requests”
11. Situational PPP
Ditto with “the language of coffee shops” or “airport language”
12. Genres PPP
And the same is also true of “business emailing” or “giving an after dinner speech”
13. Skills PPP
If the standard format of your lessons is to use a text you have explained the grammar and vocab in as a stimulus for conversation in the hope that they recycle that language while they are speaking and so retain it, under my definition that’s PPP too! If you don’t explain any of the language in a text and still hope students will pick it up and use it after that one lesson, then that is indeed not PPP- it’s wishful thinking!
14. Ideas PPP
If they get stuck for ideas when doing a speaking or writing task, brainstorm ideas, and then let them do the task again. The second time they do it, they should have a much better performance as they can concentrate fully on the language rather than using their imagination. If you do it this way, it’s Ideas TTT. If you know you have a class who can’t come up with their own ideas and so want to give them some from the start, that is (I have decided) Ideas PPP.
15. PP, different P
Although students not using the language that is presented and practiced in the final production activity is a valid criticism of PPP as the name makes it sound and it is often described, historically the main aim of including a Production stage in PPP was to combine language work and free speaking at least as much as it was to provide further practice. In other words, although it has taken on the characteristics of a method, its roots are in the Eclectic Approach. That being the case, if you can think of a Production task that is more useful or interesting for the students but has more connection to the language from previous weeks or even next week, there seems no reason not to go for it.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET March 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Tefl.NET


  • JackieT says:

    Rupa: Not quite sure what you mean about “resorting” to TPR. TPR remains the method that gets you most bang for your buck – the most language acquisition per time spent studying. Sure, you can only use it with commands, but it is one of the most effective ways of introducing new material that there is. There’s a reason James Asher calls it “the most researched idea in second language teaching”!

  • Rupa says:

    Quite heartening to know that there is someone else out there who thinks that PPP is not all bad!!!! I am not against TBA, but ardently believe that PPP has its own advantages.
    Would like to ask the proponents of TBA: “How do you expect beginner learners to respond to TBA without the teacher resorting to TPR or the learners resorting to L1?

  • fatiha says:

    I can now understand better task- based- learning approach.I
    hope you can provide me more with grammar- tasks or ideas that can help understand competency-based approach.

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