Ask any student what they love most about learning English, and “grammar” isn’t an answer you’re likely to hear.
Many of them see it as a necessary evil—something they’re forced to practice in order to improve their fluency. Rarely is it something they speak fondly of.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you make learning grammar fun, students will actually learn to love it.
Switch your boring, old grammar activities for ones that are exciting and engaging, and watch your classroom transform. Your students will become more capable and confident English speakers in no time!
Why Students Hate Studying Grammar
Grammar-focused lessons usually involve a lot of repetitive drills, which can be a real bore for students. While repeating something over and over again may be a good way to memorize it, it’s not engaging or stimulating. Some students find that no matter how many times they do grammar drills, they still can’t get a good grasp on the target language.
This can be frustrating, as it makes them feel as though they’re not making any progress. Instead, they need to apply these grammar points in creative ways, such as in free-flowing conversation or problem-based learning activities.
Another problem with repetitive drills is that the materials used are often difficult for students to relate to. If the topics or questions aren’t relevant to their daily lives, hobbies or interests, how can the connect with it?
Teaching Grammar to ESL Students: How to Make It Exciting
Thankfully, there are things you can do to make students enjoy learning grammar. Here are some of the most effective activities you can run in your classroom.
1. Show Videos
Students love watching videos.
The entertainment factor makes them more engaged and inspired and therefore more likely to learn. This makes videos ideal tools for teaching grammar.
The internet is packed full of great resources for this, such as the BBC Learning English YouTube channel. Here, you’ll find quick, six-minute English videos on a range of topics, as well as grammar videos based on hot topics from recent news stories. There are also some handy videos to explain word pairs that students often confuse, such as “which” and “what,” “while” and “during” and “been” and “gone.”
The British Council is another handy resource for both students and teachers, with “Grammar Snack” videos for beginners and intermediate English speakers. Each video takes a grammar point and presents it in a natural conversation before breaking down the rules of how to use it. Then, there are some exercises for students to try.
2. Get Personal
In order to engage with the subject matter, students need to be able to relate to it. An easy way to do that is to make it personal.
Instead of boring, irrelevant drills and exercises, run activities that allow students to draw on their own personal experiences. This way, they learn more about each other. If you get involved, they can get to know their teacher much better, too.
You can use certain grammar points to present your own photos or tell a personal story, then have your students do the same. You can also use grammar to create personal questions and surveys. Take “let” and “make,” for example. Using these words, students can ask each other questions about their personal lives. Here are some examples:
- Does your boss make you work overtime?
- Did your parents let you drink alcohol when you were a teenager?
- Does your sister let you borrow her clothes?
Perfect English Grammar has some “let” and “make” worksheets you can use, too.
You can apply this principle to just about any type of grammar. More advanced, confident students can do this in solo public speaking exercises in front of the class, while beginners or intermediate students can try in pairs.
3. Create a Competitive Quiz
A quiz is always a good way to wrap up the end of a course, semester or topic. Plus, competitive activities always inject some extra energy and enthusiasm into the classroom. When there’s a title or a prize at stake, even the shyest of students start getting involved.
It’s easy to set up, too. All you have to do is create a quiz with different sections relating to certain grammar points your students have studied so far. Each section should have five to 10 questions. You’ll also have to create an answer sheet, which students will use in pairs or small groups. Letting them work together takes the pressure off, making it feel more relaxed and fun.
Then, separate each section of questions and stick them up on the wall all around your classroom. Students will have to go around the room, tackling each question in their teams and writing the answers on their sheet.
This makes it much more fun than simply handing out a worksheet like it’s a test paper. It forces students to get out of their seats and move around the room, getting their bodies and brains more active. Just make sure students aren’t using their phones. There are always bound to be sneaky people who take photos of all of the questions and go back to their seats to work on them. This defeats the point of the exercise, so be on the lookout.
At the end of the class, you can add up the scores and crown the winning team as the “grammar champions” and even award a trophy or a prize. When you’re giving the answers, don’t just read them out without any explanation. Give yourself time to go through them in detail so students can see where they went wrong and fix their mistakes. This is the perfect learning opportunity for them.
4. Play Games
Introduce a game to your class, and you’ll hear the entire room breathe a sigh of relief. Students are always pleased to hear that they get to switch standard worksheets and tests for games with boards, cards, dice and balls. When they’re playing, they’ll have so much fun that they won’t even feel like they’re studying!
You don’t always need to have equipment, though. You can play speaking grammar games, such as “Never Have I Ever…” to get students to use present perfect tense or “Would You Rather…” to talk about imaginary scenarios. These are both ideal options for intermediate students.
If you’re teaching beginners or young learners, card-based games like “Happy Families” and “Go Fish” provide more structure and guidance. With these, they can practice using “Do you…” to ask questions.
If you have access to a projector or an electronic whiteboard, ESL Games also has a great range of interactive, grammar-based games you can use in your classroom.
English is a particularly difficult language to learn, and confusing grammar is the main culprit for that.
When you’re a native speaker, switching between different tenses, phrases verbs and idioms comes naturally. For an ESL student, it takes dedicated and consistent practice.
To make things easier for them, break things down into bite-size portions when you’re teaching grammar lessons. That way, it’s much less daunting, and they’ll enjoy learning more. It will be easier for you to teach, too. It’s a win-win!
Emma Thomas is an ESL teacher in Bangkok with more than five years of experience in teaching students of all ages. You can read more about her experiences as a teacher in Thailand at Under the Ropes.