Explicit vs. Implicit Teaching and Learning
Almost every world language teacher will agree that the controversy of the effectiveness of explicit and implicit teaching has been questioned for decades. Some researchers agree that explicit teaching methods are more beneficial for learners, some researchers agree that implicit teaching methods are more beneficial for learners, and some researchers believe that a combination of the two methods are beneficial for optimal learning.

On this website, I will explore the definitions, purpose, applications, and the affordances and constraints of both explicit and implicit teaching methods. I will also explain how implicit and explicit teaching methods are related to the Second Language Acquisition theory.

  • What is explicit learning?
Explicit learning is a “conscious awareness and intention” (Brown, 2007, p.291) to learn. In addition, explicit learning involves “input processing to find out whether the input information contains regularities, and if so, to work out the concepts and rules with which these regularities can be captured” (Brown, 2007, p.291). Explicit learning is an active process where students seek out the structure of information that is presented to them.
Some synonyms of explicit learning are: active, intentional, deductive, rational, formal, intellectual, conscious, monitoring, problem-solving, analysis, abstract, metacognitive, inferencing, and systemic study.
  • What is explicit teaching?
Explicit teaching involves directing student attention toward a specific learning objective in a highly structured environment. Topics are taught in a logical order directed by the teacher through demonstration, explanation and practice. Explicit teaching also involved modeling thinking patterns. This involves a teacher thinking out loud while working through a “problem” to help students understand how they should think about accomplishing a task. The attention of students is very important since explicit teaching is very teacher-centered. Explicit teaching is closely related to deductive teaching, which means that rules are given before any examples are seen.

  • What is the purpose of explicit teaching?
    • Introduce a new topic or skill
    • Provides guided instruction for understanding rules, skills, and thinking
    • Gives students specific instruction through modeling, which allows students develop understanding through practice

  • How do I apply explicit teaching in my classroom?
One generally associates explicit teaching with traditional grammar teaching: giving students the formula for conjugation and the different stems and endings. This approach is very straightforward, and begins teacher-centered and concludes student-centered.
    • Step 1: Set the stage for learning by telling students the purpose for learning
    • Step 2: Explain to students what to do
    • Step 3: Model the process of how to do it
    • Step 4: Guide students with hands-on application/practice

To summarize, explicit teaching begins very teacher-centered with little student responsibility and ends with a goal of complete student independency with very little teacher involvement.

Affordances of Explicit Teaching
Constraints of Explicit Teaching
  • Good for logical, mathematics, linguistic or verbal intelligences
  • Adult learning benefit from a more structured approach
  • Straightforward rules
  • Doesn’t offer communicative learning
  • Students memorize rules; doesn’t enable individualized understanding
  • Generally doesn’t allow for authentic, contextualized learning

What is implicit learning? Implicit learning is “learning without conscious attention or awareness” (Brown, 2007, p.291). In addition, implicit learning occurs “without intention to learn and without awareness of what has been learned” (Brown, 2007, p. 292). Implicit learning a passive process, where students are exposed to information, and acquire knowledge of that information simply through that exposure

Some synonyms of implicit learning are: passive, unintentional, inductive, intuitive, automatic, subconscious acquisition, unreflective, behaviorism, mimicry and memory, exposure to language in use.

  • What is implicit teaching?
Implicit teaching involves teaching a certain topic in a suggestive or implied manner; the objective is not plainly expressed. Implicit teaching is closely related to inductive teaching, which means that rules are inferred from examples presented first.

  • What is the purpose of implicit teaching?
    • Introduced new concepts in a student-centered manner
    • Gives students instruction with a variety of several examples, without teaching students the actual grammar rules
    • Allows for students to create their own schemas for understanding rules instead of memorizing specific rules which enables long-term memory retention

  • How can I apply implicit teaching in my classroom?
There are many different ways to implement implicit teaching methods into a classroom. Some methods that coincide with implicit teaching are: TPR and TRPS. The basic idea is that students are given examples of a desired topic through any medium. Any kind of topic can be taught implicitly including: grammar, vocabulary, culture, etc. Students should be aware of what the learning objective is. Students are never taught the actual rules; they deduce their own form of rules based on the examples given.

Affordances of Implicit Teaching
Constraints of Implicit Teaching
  • Can be more contextualized and authentic
  • More communicative
  • Young learns benefit in a more natural approach
  • Can build off of multiple objectives
  • Can be difficult for learners to deduce rules
  • Vague, unstructured
  • Students may misinterpret rules


  • Relationship between SLA and Implicit and Explicit Learning and Teaching
Many studies have been performed to determine which teaching technique is the most effective according to research results, and according to the Second Language Acquisition theory. In one study by Robert DeKeyser, he found that “explicit and deductive learning is better than implicit for simple categorical rules” and “Implicit learning is equally good as or ever better than explicit learning for prototypes. In addition, many researchers have found that “a combination of implicit and explicit learning may yield the best results”. This is because every learner has a different learning preference, so it is necessary to vary one’s teaching method to optimally influence students.



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