Grammar. The very mention of the word strikes fear into the heart of the staunchest language learner. Many English EFL and ESL teachers also feel the pit of their stomach churn at the thought of preparing and giving a grammar lesson. But what are we to do? If lexis and vocabulary are the building blocks of language, then certainly grammar is the mortar or structure that holds them together. Teaching it and learning it are therefore inescapable. The only thing to do then is to make it as interesting, pleasant or at least as painless as possible. Here are some ideas to help you do just that.
Use grammar games
Both learners and teachers alike love to use games in the English EFL ESL classroom. So, make extensive use of games to teach and reinforce critical grammar points. What, you say you don’t know any grammar games? Or perhaps you’ll quip that you don’t have a good stock of them so you can’t count on regularly employing them for use in your classes? Au contraire! They abound on English teacher websites, commercial publications and in the minds and hearts of your colleagues worldwide. If you have a good game to share, post it on an ELT forum or TEFL materials / activities website. Create your own based on popular games you’re familiar with. Use pursuit and turn-taking games, card games, board games or TPR-based games to get maximum involvement of your learners. Actually, you should get in there too. Don’t be a lazy butt.
Use movie and video clips
“Go ahead, make my day.” Now who was it exactly that first said that? Yes, yes I’m sure you know. Now change it to other verb tenses. Change it to a question. Change it into different question forms. Make it imperative. You get the idea. “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” If you don’t know the initial speaker of that line, three slaps with a wet noodle for you. What verb tense is there? Now change it into different forms.
Watch a three to seven minute clip from a movie scene or video. Write down what grammar forms you hear. Then have the class do it. Does everyone agree? No? What are the different forms they come up with? What’s correct? Go back, watch the clip again and check. Do it until you’re satisfied.
Use audio-only segments
Now it’s getting tougher. Listen to an audio clip. A commercial, story, dialogue or news segment. From where? The radio, cassettes, TV, CDs / DVDs, etc. Note the grammar points used. Can you change any of them? How? Why? What does the change do to the meaning? Does it become formal or informal? Imperative? Humorous? Don’t forget to have the learners practice and deliver these short dialogues aloud. (Everybody wants to be Dirty Harry or the Godfather) My learners like scenes from “Matrix” and “Frantic” with Harrison Ford. James Bond film scenes rate highly with my learners too. The ladies like to be Julia Roberts or Demi Moore from almost any of their flics. Angela Bassett and Sigourney Weaver frequently portray “strong women” with good dialogue strings and soliloquies which give the female learners character choices. It works for me and it definitely works for them.
Try it out for yourself. You’ll see. Just remember to pick an interesting clip that’s not too long. It must have snappy dialogue either between two characters or a quippy comeback on the part of one of them. You could even have the learners suggest some clips, programs and/or scenes to use.
So Bunky, don’t let the term “grammar” strike fear into the hearts of your learners (or you) ever again. Work up some grammar – teaching activities using these techniques and grammar could become your – and their – favorite lesson type.
I agree every bit of the way with your article! The hours I spend preparing teaching material in the form of cards and interactive activities so that I can get the grammar across in a fun way that involves every student pays off inside the classroom. If you are prepared to put a little extra time into making the teaching aids (which can be used over and over) to suit varying grammar demands, I just cannot resist the fun of teaching grammar! Sorry, but I do enjoy watching my students use the grammar thinking it is a ‘game’ they are playing!!! Tricked again!
I like your idea of using movies and picking small sections out of them. Is there an existing list of recommended movie clips for ESL teachers? And the clips that are useful for particular grammar points? Or can people who have used clips send their picks to your site for adding to such a list? I would really appreciate getting such a list and being able to utilise the clips. Much appreciated!
Excellent article! Can I add one idea? I find this method very rewarding: I introduce the grammatical item to be learnt through a short text. I ask the students two or three comprehension questions, then I provide them with a chart and ask them to extract the form from the text themselves. They work in small groups and, believe me, they love the activity!
Very interesting and helpful. Most teachers find it difficult to explain grammar to students. Some find teaching grammar deductively is better and others find that teaching grammar inductively gives better results. I have found that the methodology of teaching grammar whether deductively or inductively differs according to the age of the learner. However, I would like to know more about which is the best way to teach grammar to adults – is it the deductive or inductive way?
Hania – in answer to your question – how would you like to learn a foreign language? If you have a limited number of hours on a course you have paid a lot of money for, you are probably wanting to maximise your learning in the classroom. Would you feel happy if you were left every lesson to construct meaning from contexts set before you, or would it help to have the teacher ‘signpost’ certain points? there are some fantastic grammar teaching books available that help teachers know what to say when explaining language points, as well as providing activities that give the students the opportunity to use the grammar in a real life context.
My favourite referral book is Teaching Tenses by Rosemary Aitken, published by Longman. I think inductive learning is good to use, but not all the time, because as teachers we can’t always be sure that the student has correctly understood the concept, although they may think they have understood it. I remember being in a language school where the Japanese teacher wanted us to learn a whole lot of particles (similar to prepositions, kind of), but she could not explain the concepts well, hoping that we would understand them from the context. In hindsight, I realise she needed to be able to ask specific questions to clarify our understanding.
I really enjoyed reading this article. The three ideas given by Larry are not difficult to use with students, and are definitely effective ones. I also enjoyed reading the comments from different teachers. It’s great to see, teachers are aware of the importance of teaching grammar, and want to facilitate learning. As a consultant, I need to do classroom observations in different schools in my country, Guatemala. I find that there’s a tendency to use inductive grammar teaching in EFL books. However, as I have discovered through reading several articles on Inductive teaching, the fact that a teacher is not a native speaker, nor has been immersed into an English speaking culture may cause problems, especially when it comes to providing a variety of clear, contextualized examples. Any suggestions on how to help teachers who are not native speakers?