What is 'Presentation, Practice, Production' (PPP)?

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Presentation - Practice - Production (PPP) is a lesson structure, a way to order activities in your lessons.

Whilst quite old, and heavily criticised over the years, PPP is the probably the most commonly used lesson structure in TEFL today. It’s also still widely taught to new teachers, and seen on initial teacher training courses like the CELTA and CertTESOL.

Most course books that you’re likely to use will structure their chapters in ways similar or the same as PPP, meaning that you’ll get a lot of exposure to this method.

As the name suggests, there are three stages to this lesson structure, which we’ll look at now.

The ‘Presentation’ Stage

This is where the language is introduced, or ‘presented’ to the learners, usually by way of introducing a context or situation. For example, you could:

  • Tell or act out a short story or anecdote ( “I woke up this morning with a really bad cold… AHHH-CHOOO! I went to the doctor and…”)

  • Play a short audio clip

  • Show a clip from a movie or tv show

  • Show objects you’ve brought in (e.g. newspaper cuttings, plane tickets, hobby materials)

The aim is to make sure students understand the context, and to get them thinking about it. You could elicit ideas or suggestions from students, get them talk to each other about what they know or think about the situation, etc. This also helps them start to remember the language and vocabulary they already know about the topic (or ‘activate the schemata’, if you want the fancy term for it).

The ‘Practice’ Stage

The ‘practice’ stage is when students use the language in a controlled way. This stage is sometimes divided into two - a controlled practice and a freer practice. Again, among many things, you could get students to:

  • Drill sentences or sounds, chorally or individually

  • Substitution drill in pairs

  • Sentence matching activities

  • Gap fill exercises

  • Pair work asking and answering questions

The aim of this stage is accuracy. Error correction is important in this stage, so make sure you monitor the students closely and take time to error correct immediately. For target language errors that seem to be common, a delayed error correction section after the activity would be useful.

The ‘Production’ Stage

The ‘production’ stage is where the language is used in a more open way. Things like:

  • Role-plays

  • Communication tasks

  • Collaborative tasks

  • Discussion activities

The focus of this stage is using the language as fluently and naturally as possible, as students would do outside of the classroom.

Theory Behind Presentation, Practice, Production

This is where PPP gets criticised. It’s quite an old structure, started in the 1960s, and language learning theory has developed since then. Academics who study second language acquisition get annoyed at how PPP doesn’t tick any of the boxes for how we’re supposed to learn a language, and yet is still so widespread.

Some learning assumptions behind Presentation-Practice-Production are:

  • Students should be told the grammar rules, and then practice them (a deductive approach)

  • Language learning is a skill like any other, and should be practiced as such

  • There should be a high level of teacher control, slowly handed over to learners as the lesson progresses

  • Language is a series of items that can be learned in sequence

  • The target language should be practiced by removing unnecessary language to help focus

All of these have been shown that this isn’t how we best learn languages (in fact, the opposite is largely true!).

However, it isn’t all bad. Here’s my opinion on what the advantages and disadvantages are of PPP:

Advantages

  • It’s easy to learn for new teachers

  • It’s very flexible

  • It’s easy to plan for, and has a logical progression

  • It works for most types of class, including larger classes

  • Most course books use this, or a similar, method to structure their lessons and chapters

Disadvantages

  • Research shows that it may not be the best way to teach / learn a language

  • Weaker learners may overuse the target language from the practice session, so it sounds unnatural

  • Learners may not be sure how to use target language in different contexts

  • It can be boring if used repeatedly for higher level students

Thoughts on Presentation, Practice, Production

Academics are often far removed from the classroom and the real world, studying individual phenomenon in isolation.

I’ve often seen a light bulb moment for students whilst teaching PPP (although one could argue that it’s not strict PPP, and it’d be hard to isolate the teaching method from other variables). Teaching over a period of time with this method you do see students improve. Consider also, it’s not done in isolation - you should be getting your learners to interact in English in a natural manner and read extensively outside of class, for starters.

Presentation, Practice, Production works. Maybe not as well as something like TBL (Task Based Learning) but TBL takes longer to plan and implement, which becomes very difficult when your teaching hours are high.

Sure, so it might not be theoretically perfect, but it does work.

Also, I believe it has evolved from the ‘traditional’ PPP approach described above. Her are some ways you can adapt the classic PPP structure:

  • Spend more time in the presentation stage eliciting

  • Turn the deductive aspect of explicit grammar instruction into an inductive aspect (so learners have to figure out the patterns themselves)

  • Add collaborative tasks during the practice stage, where learners have to use the target language to complete successfully.

  • Include meta-learning strategies so students can learn how to learn

  • Include more incidental language throughout the class, so learners hear language in a more natural context

  • Change the final stage into a task, such as you’d find in ‘Task-Based Learning’

These changes turn PPP into something else, a blended approach, that addresses many of the criticisms of PPP.

There are other structures that have sought to improve upon the model of PPP. Variants include ESA (Engage - Study - Activate), and CAP (Context - Analysis - Practice) [articles coming soon!]

However the simplicity of PPP, combined with its notoriety, have kept it as the most widely used model. I doubt it’s going away any time soon.

What do you think of Presentation, Practice, Production? Tell me in the comments!