Tips for Teaching Grammar

For me, teaching grammar to English language learners was always a challenge. In fact, to teach English grammar I had to learn English grammar first. It's truly amazing how native-English speakers can produce a language so well, but not know the grammar rules of English. If someone had come up to me before I started teaching English and asked me to explain the Present Perfect to them, I would have been clueless. What additionally makes teaching grammar so difficult, is that even though your students might not be able to speak or write English well, they may know more about English grammar rules than you do. Combine that with the fact that grammar itself can come off as pretty dry and dull to many students, and you can see where some of the challenges lie.

In this blog, I'll give you some of my tips for making grammar exciting and understandable for your students. As mentioned earlier, teaching grammar has never been my strength, but I feel that my classes were mostly successful by using these tips.

Tip 1: This should be quite obvious, but you must know the grammar you are about to teach. Do yourself a favor and take a TEFL or TESL course that has a strong grammar proponent, so you can introduce yourself to English grammar and how to teach it before you go abroad. Even if you do this, you are probably going to have to study grammar before every grammar class for at least for the first couple years of teaching. As I mentioned before, your students will most likely have a strong knowledge of grammar rules. If you go to Asia for example, your students have probably been studying grammar since they were little kids. They will call you out in class if you teach the wrong information and you have to be prepared for tough questions. Nothing calls your teaching expertise into question more than being corrected by students or being stumped with questions (at least at the beginning).

Tip 2: Student Engagement is Key. If you walk into your class as say "Hey everyone, today we are going to learn about the 'Simple Past,' I wouldn't expect that you'd receive anything but blank stares. Instead here are some approaches to engaging your students:

  • Make learning active - One thing I used to do was to open class with a discussion question like "what did you do yesterday?" then I would jot down a couple of their responses and have students analyze the sentences. Especially if I was comparing two grammar structures like the simple past and present perfect; I'd get student to try tell me the difference between two responses on the board. Getting students to use their previous knowledge to help explain grammar to you is a good way to build upon what they already know. As the lesson proceeds you must elicit and promote interaction between you and your students and the students themselves to keep everyone interested. Keep your students on their toes and willing to participate, and they'll be much more engaged in the lesson.
  • Make learning interesting and relevant - Instead of saying today we are going to learn the "Simple Past" you could say "Today you are going to learn about how to tell your friends about your last vacation" or "Today we are going to learn to tell you co-workers about your past job experience"
  • Make learning fun - Another great way to start (or end a class) is by engaging your students in fun grammar activities (role plays, discussions, etc) or games (Grammar jeopardy, grammar auctions, etc). There are literally thousands for fun grammar activities/games that you can do with your students; just try googling them as see how many ideas pop-up. When using games make sure they are relevant and well-timed though. Games should not be used to kill time, but instead further learning.
Tip 3: Use your board. The white board / black board in your classroom is an invaluable tool for teaching. Students more than ever before are visual learners. The board can be used in so many ways to foster and cement learning, especially in grammar. Follow this great link for suggestions on how to effectively use a whiteboard in an ESL classroom:

Tip 4: Lesson plan sequence / order is crucial. If you have taken a TESL/TEFL or any teacher training course you will already know that your lesson plan sequence or order is essential, especially with grammar. My grammar lessons almost always followed this type of order
  1. Engage students
  2. Introduce grammar point
  3. Explain the grammar point (rules) with as much help from students as possible. Get them to help you with the explanations and lots of examples. If the grammar topic is complex I would always teach a little bit, then give an exercise/activity on what I just taught, then teach a little bit more followed by another exercise, and continuing this until the whole grammar topic was explained 
  4. Then I would give students a more complex exercise/activity (or a few exercises) to complete where they had to use the whole grammar point. 
  5. While students are working, it is imperative that you monitor and check for understanding
  6. Give students a communicative activity where they have to use the grammar point
  7. Give the students homework (they may hate homework, but it is crucial that you give it to them)
  8. The next day, I would have students explain the previous day's grammar point to me and then check homework. Usually additional days are needed to make sure the students fully understand the grammar, and eventually they must be tested on this material
Tip 5: If you do not know the answers to your students questions, do your research (ask a colleague) and give them the correct answers as soon as possible. It's OK to admit once and a while that you don't know the answer to a question, but it shouldn't be a habit. Like Tip 1 suggests, you need to know the grammar you are teaching inside and out.

Tip 6: Grammar doesn't have to be taught alone. A lot of teachers only teach grammar by itself without integrating other language skills, which can be dull and miss out on opportunities for students to use what they are learning in 'real' scenarios. As mentioned earlier, I always like to have a communicative activity in my grammar lesson plans, but I've also used reading, writing and listening activities to help students grasp the grammar that is being taught to them. You can even use music and movies to teach grammar. There are so many possibilities and I encourage you think outside the box with your grammar lessons.

Please, if you have any other tips for teaching grammar write them in the comment section below. We all need as much help with grammar as we can get.


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