Skip to main content

Three types of PPP

PPP, in case you don't know, stands for Presentation Practice Production. In language classrooms it's the approach adopted by most teachers when they introduce a new grammatical structure or vocabulary topic. The idea is broadly that you present the structure, give students a chance to practise it within narrow parameters, then finally an opportunity to use the structure in a less controlled context. This approach fits well with the skill acquisition view of second language learning and is akin to the way you might teach other skills in life, e.g. learning how to do a side-step in rugby or play a simple piece of music on the piano.

But PPP can come in different forms and may mean different things to different teachers. Let me offer three different ways of applying it.

1. Deductive approach

In this clearest and simplest approach you would present a new structure on the board with examples, e.g. you might explain and show how the comparative of adjectives functions. This is explicit grammar teaching in its purest form and you could enhance the process with translations, using underlining, highlighting or colour to make the key elements clearer to students. Students might then copy down the notes before moving on to some structured practice. This might be in the form of a cloze exercise, a matching task, a spot-the-error task or similar. Translation into English could be involved along with some tightly structured question and answer or other oral interaction. Once you think the class has mastered the structure you then move on, probably in a subsequent lesson, to some production whereby students get the chance to use comparatives in a less tightly controlled fashion. This could involve an information gap task, general conversation questions featuring comparatives or a written task comparing two people.

2. Inductive approach (1)

This differs somewhat from the above in as far as you do not explain the structure from the very start. In this case you would present a limited number of examples of the structure in a meaningful context, e.g. for comparative of adjectives showing three stick figures of different heights, body shapes and IQ (controversial?) and proceed to describe the differences between the three characters. Fred is taller then John, John is smarter than David etc. At some point in the teaching sequence you would then ask students to notice what is going on, what patterns they can see or hear.

At this point you could then present the structure as above in Section 1 in order to make sure all students have understood. You could call this "inductive-lite" since you have not given a great deal of time for students to pick up the structure. Once you have presented the structure, you could then continue as in Section 1.

3. Inductive approach (2)

This has been described in a recent Gianfranco Conti blog here. In this case, you make sure that students hear and read many, many examples of the structure in context. You avoid any explicit grammar explanation for a long time, allowing plenty of time for the structure to become embedded in students' memories. Indeed, you may choose to avoid any explanation at all, if you think students have mastered the structure for themselves. In this approach, which would be favoured by proponents of the comprehension hypothesis (language is acquired by understanding messages), the emphasis is on meaning, but with much repetition of the target structure.

After a lengthy period of assimilation you would then proceed to do some structured practice examples and freer production as described above. In a sense this third approach is barely PPP at all, especially if you omit the explanation phase.


Which of the above three approaches is best? Research does not help us a great deal since no study has convincingly compared in controlled conditions the effectiveness of each. My own preference was generally for (2) but I varied how I taught grammar depending on the class and the structure being taught.

For example, with the subjunctive in A-level classes I chose approach (1), giving quite detailed handouts summarising the formation and use of the subjunctive, before proceeding to structured practice and freer production. Why? Because the range of forms and uses is too wide to teach by drip-feeding and older students who have opted for the subject can handle detailed explanations better.

On the other hand, when introducing a new tense with younger pupils I would usually use (2), often with pictures to support the presentation phase. I felt more comfortable letting students figure out the patterns for themselves, sensing that they might retain them better if they had noticed the pattern themselves without prompting. In addition, the challenge of working something out independently should inherently be more engaging.

With other trickier grammatical structures, e.g. the use of the relatives  ce qui and ce que I felt that explanation was more likely to lead to confusion with some intermediate students and felt it was better to let nature take its course, just letting students see and hear them in context. With some classes I would not have taught that structure at all, of course. You have to pick and choose your grammar carefully with lower attaining pupils.

All of this presupposes that we can "teach" grammar at all - some scholars and teachers claim we cannot and that students acquire grammar at their own rate and in their own order. I cannot possibly say for sure, but because of the way I was taught and through my reading, I remain of the opinion that practising structures, as long as you don't do it excessively, is very useful and can, in a school setting, lead to effective acquisition. If I were to hazard a guess at the amount of time I spent focused on grammar I would say that with advanced level students it was less than 10%, and with younger students no more than 30%. And within that 30% the large majority of the practice would have been based on meaningful (if not "compelling") target language.

We discuss these issues in more detail in The Language Teacher Toolkit.


  1. This is very interesting. AIM teachers start with 3, then 2, then 1. We provide lots of PDL, pared down language and teach students to understand and speak using gestures and pleasant repetition. Students get lots of practice using the language via choral speaking and reading and learn to use the language. Then we begin to introduce short explanations of why via grammar raps. Finally, once the students have had ample access to practice and have learned to use the language, we begin to explain the mechanics in a more deductive way, via specific grammar lessons!

  2. For a discussion of PPP and task-based alternatives, with edtech, see Jarvis 2005

    1. An intetesting srticle. Thank you for the link. TBLT probably fits the context of ESL better than secondary MFL where GCSE exams exert such an influence. PPP may be actually gaining ground again in our field. The description of PPP in the article was vety accurate, as I understand it. A valid and common question to ask with TBLT is how students get the linguistic resources in the first place to perform useful tasks. I know Michael Long has attempted to answer this. It remains an open question whether PPP can lead to proceduralisation. My hunch and experience is that it can for some students even with limited time constraints.

  3. I thought we had finally recognised that PPP is not suitable for our age of easy access to linguistic models. Much to be gained from Lewis's lexical approach (slide 10) and social constructivism

    1. Not sure who the “we” is there! I follow this debate with interest, including Geoff Jordan’s strident attacks on PPP and explicit grammar. Most teachers are still wedded to it and my current feeling is that research is too young yet for us to draw definitive conclusions. PPP includes comprehensible input, of course, so we cannot be sure what is bringing about acquisition: output practice, mere input or some declarative knowledge of form. I lean (like academic scholars) towards input as the key but also think patterning of input within a PPP format makes sense and satisfies learner’s curiosity to understand. I’m a bit more Focus on Form than Focus on Forms.
      Thanks for commenting. I’ll follow up your link.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:

Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2018

It's coming up to that time of year again. In England and Wales. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

Don't forget the GCSE revision material on of course! How could you?

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher)