Teaching Grammar to ESL Students? Here Are 4 Sensational Sources They’ll Enjoy
Do you want your ESL grammar lessons to be memorable and dynamic?
Fret not, because with a little time investment, you can turn grammar days into engaging lessons.
With the shift from teacher-directed instruction to a hands-on, student-directed contextualized approach, you can teach the building blocks of the English language in a way that appeals to your learners.
Modern technology helps make it possible for educators like you to inject fun into teaching grammar.
But how, exactly? Below you’ll find four types of resources that you can use to build interesting grammar lessons, plus several example activities for each.
How to Make Grammar Meaningful for Your ESL Students
Here are three main ideas to keep in mind while creating grammar lessons.
- Contextualize.We all know that grammar should never be taught in isolation. By teaching your students grammar in context, they will understand its usage better. Each of the four sources below can be used to teach grammar in context.
- Incorporate all skills. Grammar cannot be taught as a stand-alone teaching item. Incorporate your target grammar in your reading, listening and writing activities to help reinforce your students’ understanding of its usage.
- Teach thematically. Always teach with a theme in mind. Your students will be thankful because it helps them make connections to daily context, which in turn helps your students remember better.
4 Rousing Resources for Cleverly Teaching Grammar to ESL Students
1. Singing Songs
Ever wonder why music is so popular? It’s a way to express one’s emotions and chill out. People also use music as a means to escape from reality. Music brings people closer together. Music also helps your ESL students learn English better. Try using songs to teach grammar and make your grammar teaching come alive.
- “The Song of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkel
- “Because You Loved Me” – Celine Dion
- “Roar” – Katy Perry
- “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks
- “Haven’t Met You Yet” – Michael Buble
- “Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears
- “Hero” – Enrique Iglesias
- “The Best” – Tina Turner (Comparatives and superlatives)
- “Michael Learns to Rock” – Take Me to Your Heart (Adjectives)
- “Unbreak My Heart” – Toni Braxton (Prefixes)
- “Way Back into Love” – Hugh Grant & Haley Bennett (Present perfect)
Additionally, here’s an awesome site specifically for using songs to teach English. Clicking on a song will pull up a page telling you its level, song facts, a link to its lyrics and video, and most importantly, the language lessons found in the lyrics.
Grammar Activities with Songs
Select a song appropriate for your class level and age of your students. Remove certain words from the lyrics related to the target grammar you intend to teach, and replace it with a blank instead. Pass out these lyrical fill-in-the-blank worksheets for students to try and complete on their second listen.
Prior to starting any speaking activity, encourage your students to participate in a karaoke session to warm up. For this, it’s best to choose a simple song with lots of repetition to boost your students’ confidence.
Aside from a karaoke session, pose questions about the song they have just sung to get your students talking. Discuss the main theme and the target grammar points.
Working in pairs or groups, have students write a response to the song or write an entirely new set of lyrics for the tune, preferably using the target grammar. To add an element of fun, you can get the pairs/groups to sing out their verses.
For example, in the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy, “ you could highlight verbs such as “wrote,” “lay,” “give,” “call,” etc. Students could rewrite the song entirely, or just the verses (leaving the repetitive phrase “Don’t worry, be happy” in the song). Monitor to ensure students are sticking as closely to the rhythm as they can.
2. Watching Movies
Everyone loves a good movie, and they form lasting impressions in our minds, making them great resources for ESL lessons.
Choose a movie with powerful scenes that you can use to teach grammar in the classroom. I’m sure your students will remember it for a very long time.
If you’re after a more immersive class based on movie and film content, check out the FluentU library.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Below are two links to sites with full movie transcripts.
- Go into the Story — Click on the movie poster, and a PDF document of the full script will open in a new tab.
- Simply Scripts — This is a database of listings pulled from a variety of movie script sites. So when you click on the movie name, it will take you to a different site, wherever the script is hosted.
To watch the actual movies, you can borrow a DVD from your school library, purchase one on Amazon or access the movie through a paid streaming site online, such as Netflix or Hulu.
Grammar Activities with Movies
Have your students watch a short segment of a movie and afterwards provide them with a transcribed dialogue. Discuss the target grammar and then set them loose on a treasure hunt, searching for (and highlighting) examples of that feature in the script from that scene. Watch the scene a second time so students can hear the grammar in action again.
Reading and Speaking
In a different lesson, have students read the script of a scene they have watched. Highlight the grammatical item, such as present tense verbs and write them on the board. If the present tense is your focus, ask your learners what’s happening in the scene, and get them discussing—using the present tense of the verbs you’ve written on the board.
For example, here are a few lines from “Home Alone,” with some present tense verbs highlighted:
Kevin’s mother is on the phone, talking to a friend. She packs clothes on the bed, while her husband is in the bathroom. A small boy, KEVIN, walks into the room.
“Mom, Uncle Frank won’t let me watch the movie. But the big kids can. Why can’t I?”
“Kevin, I’m on the phone,” responds his mother.
“It’s not even rated R. He’s just being a jerk.”
“Kevin, if Uncle Frank says no, then it must be really bad.”
Kevin jumps on the bed. His mother tells him to get off, but he ignores her. Kevin picks up a book that is a travel guide to France. “Hang up the phone and make me, why don’t you.”
Storyboards are useful tools that can lend itself to writing. There are a number of free online storyboards creators you can use in your lesson. Have your students recreate the scene discussed in a previous lesson and show it on a storyboard.
Encourage your students to write speech bubbles and other pieces of information, such as the setting and action, in each box provided in the storyboard. This hands-on activity will surely arouse your students’ interest.
3. Short Stories
Short stories are timeless, and often contain themes and morals that makes good teaching resources. Categorize any stories you find according to themes and grammar items for future use.
Short Story Resources
- Rong Chang — This website has a huge collection of short narratives for beginners. The stories are varied and each comes with an audio component and a script.
- Agenda a Web — This website contains a good-sized collection of stories suitable for intermediate students. The short stories are read at a slow pace that’s easy for ESL students to follow.
- Many Things — This website features short stories from the classics. The stories come with MP3 audio and a script. These stories are suitable for advanced students and they’re read at a slow pace.
Grammar Activities with Short Stories
Provide your students with a selected short story. First, read the story and discuss the content. Then, deconstruct a passage by highlighting some examples of target grammar items and discussing how they’re used. Extract a sentence containing the grammar item and have students substitute in other words, to use the grammar structure in new contexts.
For example, in the sentence “He is taller than his brother,” students can replace “taller” with “bigger,” “shorter,” “fatter,” “slimmer,” etc. to practice comparative adjectives.
To kickstart your grammar lesson, have students listen to a short recorded script, like one from these listening exercises from 5-Minute English. This helps them to tune in and get ready to focus on the lesson.
Pass out a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet of the script. If you’re teaching a beginner or low intermediate level class, you can include options for every blank space, so that students can cross out the wrong words. Ideally, the words that your students are expected to fill in are examples of the target grammar items to be taught. Draw your students’ attention to these words and then explain how they can be used.
Writing and Speaking
Use the short story that your students have read as an extension activity. Now that the grammar topic has been explicitly taught, invite your students to use their creativity to create a dialogue involving characters or a scene from the story. Put the actual story aside so students aren’t tempted to grab anything word-for-word, but leave up any nouns or adjectives (or other structures) that have been highlighted.
This exercise aims to reinforce students’ understanding of the story and the target grammar topic taught. After the scripts have been written, have students take on each of the characters and read out their parts!
Most of us love cartoons, as they take us back to our childhood or teen years. Cartoons evoke fun and they’re easy to read, which is why they also make a great grammar teaching resource. Bring them into the classroom and see your students’ faces light up.
- Toonut.com — This website contains worksheets suitable for a speaking activity. Each topic comes with duplicate comic strips. One of them is original and the other has blank speech bubbles.
- Make Beliefs Comix — This is a very user-friendly comic creator platform. Students can create their own comics, choose their own characters and print or email their completed work.
- Read Write Think — This is a very simple black and white comic strip maker. Comics can be created quickly using this platform. Students get to choose the number of boxes, character, speech bubbles and objects in building their own comic strip.
Grammar Activities with Cartoons
Speaking and Writing
Provide your students with a comic strip containing blank speech bubbles. Have them verbally guess the speech. This is a fun exercise, as there will be a variety of answers that may turn out to be hilarious.
Reveal the original comic and write it on the board. Then teach the target grammar item explicitly.
After verbally guessing the speech and learning the grammar from the original comic, have students fill in the speech bubbles on their own, using the target grammar but changing the content to be different from the original. This may be suitable for advanced students. You can tweak the activity for beginners by getting them to fill in the blanks. For intermediate students, you can give helping words to guide them in their writing.
Select an online comic strip creator and get your students to have free rein over the space by creating their own comics. The only restriction in the activity is for students to use the grammar item they have learned. Students can choose their own characters and print their completed comics for display.
Alternatively, you can have students fill in the first and last speech bubbles of a comic strip.
There you are: a wide range of ideas to keep your students motivated and occupied in your grammar lessons.
You can add a touch of fun into grammar by incorporating a variety of activities and resources. Invest some time in compiling your resources, and you’ll be thankful you did when you see a difference in your students’ levels of motivation in the classroom.
I can assure you that grammar lessons will never be the same again!
Emmie Sahlan has taught English Language and Literature for ten years and has been teaching ESL for the past five years.