Mădălina Elena Roșcăneanu
MA in ELT Programme
Graduate of the 2019 class of the Programme : Lingvistica aplicata – didactica limbii engleze, “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iasi.


Teaching the comparison of adjectives can be quite difficult for teachers because they have to present a set of rules that their students usually mix up. However, the coursebook used in class and the teaching method chosen by the teacher together with the proper activities and tasks that integrate all four skills could ensure the proper acquisition of the new grammatical rules. This paper analyses the English and German comparison of adjective within two different coursebooks (Enterprise 1 and WIR 3) that are used in secondary schools in Romania, more exactly for 5th and 8th graders. The findings of this comparison reveal that despite using the same teaching method (the direct method), the lesson introducing the comparison of English adjectives is more elaborated and integrates all four skills into a wide range of activities and exercises, while the corresponding German lesson focuses mainly on speaking and uses a limited number of tasks, activities and ancillaries.

1. Introduction

The present paper demonstrates that in spite of the differences between the English and the German comparison of adjectives, the textbooks I analysed propose similar teaching strategies, activities and tasks, while the main differences are to be found in the way the four skills are integrated in the lessons, in the level of the students to be taught the comparison of adjectives and in the range of auxiliary materials used for teaching this grammar category. For that reason, this paper will first provide a very brief summary of the role of grammar, followed by the description of the most efficient grammar teaching methods. It will then present the investigation method that was chosen for the comparative analysis, followed by the results and the final conclusions.

2. Literature review

2.1. The role of grammar

To teach or not to teach grammar in the classroom is recognized as a common dilemma for teachers and researchers in the field of education. Various studies have debated the importance of teaching grammar over time. The results of all those studies have pointed out that grammar helps students not only understand correctly the meaning of some unknown

words within a new context (Pazaver and Wang 32), but also read, write and especially speak, because knowing grammar means clearer manner of speaking. In other words, grammar creates various opportunities that ensure both the development of fluency and the improvement of communication skills.

2.2. Grammar teaching – methods and techniques

Another quite meaningful issue that has been debated was how grammar should be taught. Presenting a new grammatical structure of a foreign language to a class of learners can be quite difficult for teachers because they should always take into consideration some significant aspects such as the level, the needs and even wants of their students. However, researchers have noticed that what it is essential for teachers is “to know how to present” (Ur 81) those new grammatical rules because their own way of teaching will ensure the comprehension of the learners which leads to the acquisition of that foreign language in the end. Several teaching methods can be identified in the two coursebooks I considered for the analysis in the present paper.

2.2.1. The Audio – Lingual Method (ALM) / die audiolinguale Methode (ALM)

The lesson from Enterprise 11 introducing the comparison of English adjectives seems to be based on techniques promoted in the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM). This method is also used in the teaching of EFL in Germany and is called die audiolinguale Methode. The aim of this “oral-based approach” (Freeman 35) that “focuses more on aural/ oral skills” (Brown a. 22), is to acquire the foreign language through forming good habits that are supported by repetition, imitation and positive reinforcement. In this case, grammar is taught inductively through various examples; explanations or grammar rules being not provided (Freeman 45). Researchers also argue that all these “healthy” habits (45) can be achieved only by making use of authentic materials (Neuner and Hunfeld 57) and various types of exercises such as: dialog memorization (Freeman 47), Übungen zur Ausspracheschulung2 (Neuner und Hunfeld 57), backward build-up (expansion) drill (Freeman 48), repetition drill (48) / Durchspiel (Neuner und Hunfeld 53), chain drill (Freeman 48), single-slot substitution drill (48) / Substitutionsübungen (Neuner und Hunfeld 61), multiple-slot substitution drill (Freeman 48), transformation drill (49) / Umformungübung (Neuner und Hunfeld 53),

1 the English coursebook
2 exercises for pronunciation training  

question-and-answer drill (Freeman 49) / Frage-Antwort-Übung (Neuner und Hunfeld 53) or Satzmusterübungen3 (57), use of minimal pairs (Freeman 49), Wortschatzübungen4 (Neuner und Hunfeld 57), complete the dialogue (Freeman 49) / Dialogergänzung (Neuner und Hunfeld 53), Lückentexte5 (53) or grammar games (Freeman 49).

3 sentence pattern exercises
4 vocabulary exercises
5 fill-in-the-blanks
6 the German coursebook
7 exercises that help building and developing vocabulary
8 Sammeln-Ordnen-Systematisieren

2.2.2. The Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) / die kommunikative Didaktik (KD)

The lesson from WIR 36 that introduces the comparison of German adjectives proposes the use of another very well-known teaching method, the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), known also as die kommunikative Didaktik (KD) in German. The main aim of this teaching method is to acquire “communicative ability” within real-life situations (Nassaji and Fotos 6). As a result, grammar and vocabulary are learned from the context (Freeman 128) through a wide range of tasks and activities such as: scramble sentences (133), language games (e.g. information gap, choice and feedback games) (133), picture strip stories (134), role plays (134) / Rollen (Neuner and Hunfeld 94), simulations (Harmer b. 69) / Realsituationen oder Alltagkommunikation (Neuner and Hunfeld 92, 104), dialogues (Brown a. 44) / Dialogue (Funk and Koenig 52), Aufbauwortschätze7 (Neuner and Hunfeld 93), asking questions (Harmer b. 70) / Eigenschaften erfragen und angeben (Neuner and Hunfeld 96), questionnaires or interviews / Interviews (Funk and Koenig 52).

2.2.3. Deductive vs. Inductive teaching

For teaching the comparison of adjectives, educators have highlighted that teachers should always try to use a way that is “clear, simple, accurate and helpful” (Ur 81) regardless of the method they adopt, the deductive (explicit) or inductive (implicit) one.

The authors of two coursebooks that I analyse chose the inductive approach or the so called SOS8 (Funk and Koenig 124) as the most adequate method that should be used for the two lessons introducing the comparison of English and German adjectives. In this case, students “are left to discover or induce the rules” by themselves (Brown a. 365) through both

logical thinking and creativity (Funk and Koenig 114). They try the so-called “self-discovery” process while the teacher guides them (Kumaravadivelu 185-186).

As opposed to the inductive approach, the deductive method “involves rule explanation” (Erlam). “The teacher presents learners with a set of grammatical rules […] and then provides opportunities for them to practise” (Kumaravadivelu 183). In other words, students are given the new grammatical rules and then are told to memorize and apply them on other examples.

2.2.4. Explicit vs. Implicit instruction

The literature adds explicit and implicit instruction to the deductive and inductive teaching, but these notions are actually quite similar. In both English and the German coursebooks, the two lessons introducing the comparison of adjectives adopted the implicit instruction. The grammatical issue is therefore, taught “intuitively rather than consciously” (Scheffler and Cinciala 15) and the teacher introduces the rules “spontaneously” throughout communication (LingTEKworld). In short, grammatical rules are presented more naturally because this type of instruction involves “more interest and motivation from students who prefer to learn independently” (LingTEKworld).

On the other hand, “explicit instruction involves explaining rules and [..] having students repeat things” (LingTEKworld). Grammar rules are clarified by the teacher as in deductive teaching.

2.2.5. Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP Model) / Präsentation-Semantisierung-Üben (PSU Model)

Researchers have also proposed the PPP9/ PSU10 model of language instruction which is used by teachers during a grammar lesson (Nassaji and Fotos 3). This model is also known as “a basic lesson structure used in many current L2 classrooms” which consists of three stages (Crookes and Chaudron qtd in Nassaji and Fotos 3).

9 In English, Presentation-Practice-Production
10 In German, Präsentation-Semantisierung-Üben

The first sequence is called the presentation stage and during it “the new grammar rule or structure is introduced, usually through a text, a dialogue or a story” (Nassaji and Fotos 4). In the English lesson, the degrees of comparison are introduced through a set of  

pictures which have to be compared and a reading text called Los Angeles – The City of Angels (Evans and Dooley a. 82-83), whereas the German comparison is introduced through a questionnaire (Motta a. 45).

The next sequence is known as the practice stage and consists of controlled practice and semi or less-controlled practice (Nassaji and Fotos 4). During this stage, learners practice the new rules through choral repetitions, individual repetitions or cue-response drill (Harmer b. 64) and “gain control of the knowledge introduced” (Nassaji and Fotos 4). In regard to the English lesson introducing the comparison of adjectives, the practice stage is achieved through table completion (exercise 9), single-slot substitution drills (exercises 10, 12, 17 and 18), transformation drills (exercises 11, 13 and 16) and question-and-answer drills (the speaking activity and the exercise 14) (Evans and Dooley a. 84-86), whereas in the German lesson through table completion (exercise 14), single-slot substitution drills (exercise 13) and question-and-answer drills (exercises 15 and 16) (Motta a. 46-47).

The production stage is the last stage and encourages students to use “more freely” the rules they have learned and practised in the presentation and practice stage through “more communicative activities” (Nassaji and Fotos 4). In what concerns the two lessons introducing the comparison of adjectives, the production stage is missing in the German lesson whereas in the English lesson it is introduced through a composition.

The lack of the production stage within the German lesson is because the English PPP model of language instruction is a bit different from the German one. In both languages, there are three stages but in German the Präsentation and Semantisierung stages correspond only to one stage, namely the English presentation stage, whereas the Üben stage matches the English practice stage. In other words, the German Üben stage includes both the English practice and production stages (Bimmel, Kast and Neuner).

All in all, the most meaningful aspect that should be emphasized is that teachers should help their learners properly acquire the new rules of the foreign language even if they use different teaching methods: ALM, CLT/ KD, the deductive (explicit) or inductive (implicit) teaching.

3. Methodology

The present paper is based on a comparative analysis of two secondary school coursebooks used in the Romanian educational system published in 2000, and 2002, respectively. In both cases, the textbooks are approved by the Romanian National Ministry of Education and were used during my practicum.

English and German are the first foreign languages which are taught in the two schools where I did my practicum (Colegiul Mihai Eminescu, Iași and Colegiul Național Costache Negruzzi, Iași). The number of hours per week for English and German (for two different classes – 5D and 8C) is four in both cases.

The level difference of the two coursebooks (A1 for Enterprise 1 and B1 for WIR 3) is given by the grammar issue that I analyse. The German comparison of adjectives is taught much later (not during A1 level) because learners need further knowledge, such as the adjective’s declination, as opposed to English, where degrees of comparison are taught more quickly (starting with A1 level).

This paper analyses two lessons introducing the English and the German comparison of adjectives (Unit 12: See new places meet new faces vs Modul 8 – Lektion 2: Was wirst du dann machen?) by comparing the following aspects: the formation rules of the English and German comparison of adjectives; the content, layout and delivery of the two lessons; the teaching methods used in both lessons; and the activities and tasks used during the two lessons.

4. Results

The comparison of adjectives is divided into regular and irregular in both languages. Similarly, English and German adjectives have three degrees of comparison (positive, comparative and superlative). Nevertheless, German does not have a comparative and a superlative of inferiority. There are only some adjectives that are placed before the positive form of the adjective (relativ, ziemlich11, recht12, einigermaßen13, weniger14) to suggest inferiority (Călugărița and Danciu 165).

11 quite
12 fairly
13 to some degree
14 less

In the case of regular comparison, the most important difference is that German adjectives take the same suffixes and prefixes –er and am…st/ am…est for all types of adjectives with the exception of the monosyllabic adjectives that also take Umlaut whereas the English adjectives take “the comparison inflectional markers” –er and est/ iest (Ștefănescu 268) for one-syllable adjectives and “the analytic forms” (269) or the “adverbs” (Turai 131) more and the most for longer adjectives. To put it briefly, regular English comparison takes into account the types of adjective whereas the German comparison does not. In German, the adjectives, besides the specific suffixes and prefixes of comparison, also receive certain endings meant to emphasize the declination.

It would be interesting to note that some irregular English adjectives (such as schlecht for bad) are regular adjectives in German and take the suffixes and prefixes for the regular comparison. There are also irregular German adjectives that have equivalent regular adjectives in English, for example, high for hoch, near for nah or the adverb gladly for the adjective gern.

The evaluation of the two lessons was made according to three criteria: content, layout and delivery. In both cases, grammar is taught systematically through not only individual, pair work, engaging and real-life tasks and activities, but also using authentic texts, clear instructions and suggestive pictures.

The main differences between the two lessons indicate that the German lesson is not as complex as the English one. First of all, the level of the two lessons differs: the textbook Enterprise 1 is for A1 (Beginners) whereas Wir 3 is for B1 (Intermediates). This is because the Romanian syllabus states that the English comparison of adjectives should be learned starting with the 5th grade while the German comparison of adjectives is taught starting with the 6th grade, but this depends also on the coursebook, in this case starting with the 8th grade. Consequently, the German comparison of adjectives is provided in the textbooks starting with the threshold level (B1), because only at that level are students able to deal with this grammatical category in German.

Another meaningful difference is the range of auxiliary materials for these two lessons. The English lesson is supported by a large number of ancillaries (CDs, teacher’s

book, workbook, grammar book and test booklet) while the German lesson is accompanied only by CDs, a teacher’s book and a simple workbook.

As for the integration of the four skills, the German lesson focuses more on speaking activities. There are fewer or no reading, writing or listening activities whereas the English lesson covers all four skills. All in all, the higher complexity of the English lesson can be noticed very easily.

The inductive method or the so called indirect instruction was adopted in both cases. Students start from an example, a table with adjectives, and they have to notice by themselves the formation rules for the comparative and the superlative. After that they practise the new grammar category through several tasks (e.g. fill-in-the-gaps) or speaking activities (e.g. interviews, questionnaires). In both cases, students take an active role and try to acquire the comparison of adjectives naturally through communication based-activities (real-life situations: e.g. questionnaires, interviews, dialogues), therefore, in this case, we talk about implicit instruction.

The inventory was made according to the fours skills and started with the receptive skills (listening and reading) and continued with the productive ones (writing and speaking). In both cases, fill-in-the-blanks/ Lückentexte and question and answer exercises / Fragen und Antworten are the most frequent types of exercise whereas pronunciation, matching and T or F exercises are specific only to the English lesson. What is also surprisingly is that, in both cases, most exercises target the speaking skill. Not to mention that the listening activities are absent in the German lesson. All in all, there are more types of tasks and activities for the English lesson, more exactly 12 types than in the German lesson, 5 types.

5. Conclusions

The assessment of the two coursebooks (Enterprise 1 and Wir 3) confirmed that the similarities between the English and the German degrees of comparison are given by their common Germanic root. The English and German degrees of comparison are taught using the same teaching method (the direct method) and quite similar activities and tasks even if the level of the textbooks differ – A1 vs. B1. More than that, the English lesson proposes a range of activities and tasks, auxiliary materials and integration of all four skills, each skill being covered in an approximately equal proportions (30% for speaking, 20% for reading and 25%

for writing and listening) whereas the German textbook proposes a lesson in which listening is absent, speaking is the most used skill (75%) and the number of tasks, activities and ancillaries is limited.

As my results have hopefully shown, the lesson introducing the comparison of English adjectives integrates all four skills into a wide range of activities and exercises, while the corresponding German lesson mainly focuses on one skill, speaking.


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