Advice on Effective Reading of a Reference Grammar

Hear the Lecture

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of students comment about how hard reference grammar books are to read.  It’s true.  If they are not read in the right way, reference grammars can be terrifically hard on a reader. 

A reference grammar is a reference tool.  None of them is written to be read straight through like a novel—or even like an article in the TESOL Quarterly or the TESOL Journal

However, read in the right manner a reference grammar becomes an invaluable tool for an ESL/EFL teacher. 

So, what’s the “right manner”?


for Effective Reading of the Longman Grammar

I recommend the following strategies:

1. First look through the chapter—and read the headings.  Make a few notes for yourself about the overall content of the chapter. 

2. Pay special attention to the figures and tables in the text. Also, read their examples closely. Often you can better understand their explanations by starting with the examples and the charts and tables and then going back to the explanations.

3. Go through the PowerPoint overview in the WebCT site for our class.  Have the book in hand while you go through the slides and think about the information in the book. The slides are written to help you understand the grammar in the assigned reading.

4. Then, read the chapter in several sittings—one chunk at a time.  Make notes about questions you have.  Go back to that chunk again later to see if it is making more sense the second time around. 

5. Do the quiz set that goes with the chapter. They are on the web at Because information is given to help people who give wrong answers, you might even benefit from deliberately selecting wrong choices to see how feedback can be given in web-based quizzes. Remember you are learning about how to teach on the web as well as about English grammar!

Reading for Two Purposes

You need to read for information.  But you also are reading to become familiar with this resource so that it will be available to you later in your teaching career.  I’ve also found that knowing how to read one reference grammar prepares me to read in another reference grammar.  So, I’m hoping that you will not just be learning new content or new ways of talking about familiar content but that you will also develop skill at using this reference tool and others like it.

And always remember that you can email me when you have questions.  My address is