ESL Teaching Methods: Teaching Grammar Creatively

Grammar probably ranked pretty high on your list of least favorite subjects as a student.  As a teacher, it can seem just as boring.  When it comes to teaching ESL, though, you’re going to be spending a lot of time getting very familiar with the minute points of grammar, and then figuring out how to communicate those to your students.

GrammarDoes that mean the grammar portions of your lessons always have to be a drag?  Nope.  It’s a huge part of your lessons, and you can definitely find ways to make it fun and interesting for you and your students.  Teaching grammar creatively isn’t nearly as tricky as you might think!

Teach Grammar in Context

One of the most important things to do if you are looking for more interesting ways to teach grammar is to teach it in context.

For example, let’s say you are introducing conditional sentences to your students.  You could start your lesson by writing a big title on the board: “Conditional Sentences”, followed by an example: “If I don’t study for a test, I get a bad grade,” followed by a lengthy explanation: “This type of conditional sentence means that every time the first thing happens, the second thing happens, too.  So, every time I don’t study for a test…”  Are you falling asleep yet?

On the other hand, you can start your lesson by tossing out some sentences for the students to finish: “If Jerry falls asleep in class, he…”  “If I don’t study for a test, I…” “If I eat too much, I feel…”   You might need to coax the answers out of them at first, but usually there will be one or two students who will catch on right away, even if they’ve never heard that particular sentence structure.  The other students, after hearing a few answers, will get the gist pretty quickly, too. Let some zany answers come up, and have fun with it.[contextly_sidebar id=”boTtg0D0bXEmWeT79WyGbYfETZPr0JHk”]

Once they’ve seen the grammar in context, take a few moments to clarify and point out the structure and usage.  Make sure everyone understands, knows what it’s called, and can identify and give examples of this particular sentence structure.  Return to the game or activity briefly after the lesson, too.  It will take on a new meaning and drive the grammar point home now that they have a solid understanding.

When students see grammar in context first – through a game, a story, an activity, or just frequently hearing it used – it lets their brains work a little bit to intuit the meaning before you formally explain it.  That’s how we naturally learn a language: by being exposed to it and picking up on the meaning. It’s more engaging, it develops an understanding that’s grounded in context, and it also develops their critical thinking and comprehension skills.

Don’t Over-Explain

Even though it’s useful to have a quick lesson where you explain the formal name of the grammar pattern and go over its structure and usage, don’t over explain.  The less you can possibly talk about grammar and the more you can actually use and practice that grammar, the better.

Often, your students’ textbooks will have explanations of new grammar points.  If it’s a very complex or advanced point, reading through that explanation and answering any questions can be helpful.  But, for the most part, grammar explanations are very, very confusing, and trying too hard to explain a grammar point is just going to confuse you and the students.  A few concrete examples are almost always better.

Incorporate Grammar into Other Activities

Grammar is something that runs through just about every aspect of language.  Even the simplest sentences have grammar.  Your curriculum may require you to teach stand-alone grammar lessons, and it’s important to introduce various grammar points and topics so that the students have a richer understanding of the mechanisms of language.  But don’t let that be the only time you think about grammar in the classroom.

Games and activities are the perfect time to revisit and emphasize grammar points with very little effort on your part and a lot of fun for the students.  For example, mad libs are a perfect way to revisit the difference between nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, without feeling like a dry review.

Stories are amazing teaching tools, too.  After reading a story, challenge students to identify examples of grammar points that you have recently taught, or to pick out sentence structure and patterns that are used frequently throughout the story.

The most important thing to remember when you are coming up with ways to teach grammar creatively is that grammar doesn’t have to be dry and boring. If you teach it in context and incorporate grammar into stories, games, and other fun activities, your students will pick up on grammar usage and structure relatively painlessly – and they will probably even have a lot of fun doing it.

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