When it comes to learning any language, there’s one subject that students (and teachers) tend to dread: grammar. Not only is English grammar difficult to understand for non-native speakers, it’s generally just plain boring. That’s because in traditional classrooms, grammar is taught through memorization, and students tend to view it as a necessary evil they need to pass a test, nothing more.
Even some ESL teachers dread their own grammar lessons. It can be overwhelming to teach complex rules and exceptions to your students, no matter what level.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that big of a deal. If we teach grammar in a way that’s simple, understandable, and maybe even fun, the classroom will transform! Making learning enjoyable will help promote a stress free classroom, and your students’ fluency will begin to improve.
Here are some tips to make teaching a grammar lesson pain free.
- Review the grammar before the lesson.
Okay, this seems obvious, but I’ve personally made this mistake. When teaching verb tenses, my students asked me certain questions that maybe…I had to promise to answer later.
That’s because as native speakers, there are all kinds of rules and idiosyncrasies that we know, but we don’t know we know. Get it? We’re taught grammar rules in primary school, but after that, how often do you think about the name of the part of speech you’re using? Me neither.
That being said, grammar is an important part of your ESL classroom. In South Korea, for example, students need to know grammar for their SAT’s, so it’s important that the teacher knows what he or she is talking about. Don’t get blindsided in the classroom; teach yourself before you teach others.
- The Warm Up
Instead of saying, “today I will be teaching you this grammar rule,” introduce the grammar point naturally. Depending on the students’ ages and abilities, give them an interesting topic to use as warmup. This is a sneaky way to have students recognize how to use certain structures without being aware of it.
For example, in my adult classes, I REALLY enjoy teaching second conditionals (if-then sentences). We warm up with several discussion points: If you had a million dollars, what would you do? If you were the president, what would you do?
We listen to a song that uses conditionals and talk about the lyrics. We conduct role plays using conditionals.
When we finally get to the actual grammar lesson, the students are happy and already recognize how to use the grammar goal in a sentence. They’re more inclined to participate when they feel less stressed.
- Go Slowly
You might be tempted to conduct a long, tedious explanation about grammar. After all, English is notorious for having a ton of rules and even more exceptions to the rules.
However, it’s important to keep the lesson simple so that your students fully understand. Think of it like building blocks: teach one grammar point today, and when the students demonstrate comprehension, add an exception to that rule tomorrow. This way you can check in with your students, and nobody gets left behind.
- Keep it Simple
Have you ever noticed how much time you waste with teacher talk? Teacher talk is everything you say in the classroom- “today we will” “I’m going to teach you ___” “this is how you do ___.”
It’s much more effective in the ESL classroom to eliminate all of these extra words. Beginner and even intermediate ESL students will have an easier time understanding you if you cut out all of the jibber jabber. Keep your language and your lessons deliberate.
So, when it comes to grammar, the simplest explanation works. I like to view grammar as math problems where the students fill in the blanks. I give my students explanations such as the following
|When?||To talk about things you wish could happen.|
|How?||If + simple past tense, I would + present tense.|
|Example||If I had a million dollars, I would buy an airplane.|
5. Practice the Target Grammar
Finally, you need to let your students actually practice the target grammar. And I don’t mean by simply doing worksheets. They should practice speaking to one another using the target grammar point. After all, the goal for our students is to SPEAK more English, right? Save the worksheets for homework. Let’s utilize class time to speak.
In order for your students to engage with the material more, get personal! Everyone loves talking about themselves. If your language goal has to do with preferences, have the students speed date (talk to several people for short periods of time). Give them sentence prompts about their favorite food, ideal partner, dream job, etc. and watch them get to talking!