Many students find grammar boring but there are ways we can teach it more creatively by actively involving the students in the learning process. My first rule about teaching grammar is to teach it in context by pulling out the grammar topics from the texts the students are studying or by making connections with the writing units. I never teach grammar in an isolated fashion.
My second rule is to use an inductive approach instead of a deductive one while teaching grammar so that the rules are inferred by the students through guided discovery. As I strongly believe in the power of active learning, I never teach grammar explicitly by giving students the rules. Instead, I guide the students to discover the rules themselves and have them create their own pieces through writing, making speeches or simulated conversations, creating videos, podcasts, infographics, and comics using the grammar topics they have learned. The reason why I choose to teach grammar this way is because my experience in teaching has shown me that students can’t use the grammar point in their speech or writing if it has been taught explicitly by the teacher. I have seen many students who can explain a particular grammar rule and complete the exercises about it correctly. However, the same students can’t use that particular grammar rule correctly while speaking or writing because they haven’t internalized it.
Here is how I do it:
• I give the students an extract from a novel, a story or a non-fiction they have recently read and analyzed in class. If they are familiar with the target structure, I ask them to underline all the examples of that specific structure. If they are exposed to it for the first time, we underline the examples together in class.
• I then ask them to discover the rule/s about the target structure by working in groups and make a chart showing each rule with an example. Since they are already familiar with the text, students usually don’t find this task hard. I also go around the groups and offer them guidance whenever they are stuck.
• After the groups complete their charts, we make one class chart choosing the best examples from the students’ work as the whole class and display it in the classroom.
• At the end of this 40-minute lesson, I assign them videos about the target structure they have just learned and ask them to write down each example together with its rule. They are then asked to write their own example that matches with each specific rule. Here is a list of websites to assign videos and interactive lessons for your students at different levels.
• In the next lesson we go over the video assignment focusing on the examples and the rules related to them. Students then listen to and read texts including the target structure and do the tasks about them. They also complete different types of exercises, such as gap filling, error correction, sentence completion, etc. on the target structure. You can assign them grammar games instead of worksheets at the end of the lesson. You can also assign them speaking tasks by using the target structure. Students can record themselves by using a podcasting tool like Audiboom and send the link to their teachers.
• The final step is creation. I have my students do an oral response through role play or by giving a speech and complete a writing task like this one given to students who are learning Past Continuous Tense. While I am teaching parts of speech, I try Wacky Web Tales. or the activities here. Since we all internalize what we have learned by doing and teaching others, for difficult grammar concepts, I give students options asking them to work in groups and create a video, an infographic, or a comic book to teach the target structure to their peers in a student-friendly way. If you are going to assign a similar task to your students, display the final products your students have created in your class website or blog and save them as treasures to show in future years. You can share this guide with your students who are going to make a video and this link with the students who are going to make a comic book so that they can choose the tool they want to use.
TIPS ON TEACHING GRAMMAR CREATIVELY
Infographics are great tools for learning. If your students aren’t familiar with infographics, you had better teach them what infographics are before they create their own infographics to display their knowledge and analysis of a grammar topic. Here is a post by Nik Peachey on how to use infographics in ELT. You can also check out my Pinterest board on infographics.
Many students love learning grammar via film clips and videos because they are authentic and students can easily make real life connections. They help the students see the aspects of culture and make the language comprehensible. That’s one of the reasons why I frequently use them in my classes. Here is a great post by Kieran Donaghy on how film can help you teach or learn English. As I mentioned in my previous post, I use the resources in his website, Film English a lot. Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals and Lessons on Movies are two other websites I frequently use to teach grammar.
You can also check the ideas and resources in the post that Larry Ferlazzo wrote for Edutopia and the comprehensive handbook on Using Video in the Classroom, by David Deubelbeiss, the creator of EFL Classroom 2.0 website. You can use the videos in these websites as class openers to grab your students’ attention, as brain breaks, conversation starters, to teach and review grammar and vocabulary, or in your assignments as you can see in my example above. I sometimes give links to the websites and ask my students to do the activities there or I adapt the resources according to the needs of my students as you can see in this example. The last activity in this worksheet has been taken from Lyrics training which is a language learning site through music, lyrics and karaoke. It offers gap filling exercises for each song at 4 different levels. You can also use the songs here and prepare gap filling exercises with the lyrics to review the target grammar and vocabulary. TEFL Tunes is another website where you can find popular songs to teach grammar.
You can generate many activities to teach grammar by using silent movies. Apart from the sites mentioned at the end of this post, you can also visit Bombay TV which is a fun site where learners can add subtitles and voice-overs to Indian television and film clips and Clip Flair where learners can dub and add subtitles to video clips. Students love these dubbing activities; so, we started a dubbing club at our school this year. The students in the club are working to organize a dubbing competition among middle schoolers soon.
Considering the different learning styles of your learners, try to include activities for your kinesthetic learners in each grammar lesson. There are many activities you can do with post-it notes, QR codes, and even with a ball. You can also use Russel Tarr’s QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator to create treasure hunt type of grammar games.
Games are very popular among students and you can easily design grammar and vocabulary games by using sites like Jeopardy Labs, Super Teacher Tools, Tiny Tap, and What2Learn. All these sites are so easy to use that you don’t have to be a tech expert to create games. You can also assign grammar games to your students from the list I gave above. What is more, you can use popular games like Minecraft that your students are playing online to teach them English. David Dodgson offers great ideas in his blog on how you can use Minecraft and The Sims in your English classes creatively. You can also try Quandary which is a free game designed for English Language Arts students by MIT and Learning Games Network. You may find this post on the game useful before you try it with your students. Just give game-based learning a try and see how your students will amaze you with their motivation and engagement.
Telltale Games published choice-based versions of Minecraft and Game of Thrones in which players personalize their gaming experience by choosing their own adventures. Since each student will come up with a different story about the same game, students can then write about their stories and swap them with their classmates for peer review. If your students don’t have the opportunity to play these games, you can use this online version of “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories or Inklewriter, a free writing tool which allows students to write their own interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories.
After each exam and each writing activity, I prepare a handout and a mini lesson showing common errors and creative examples of language use. Upon going over the handout in class, I give differentiated assignments to my students depending on their errors. Because I don’t have enough time to prepare these assignments for each student, I give them assignments from the websites in this list. It is really practical because most of the websites in the list also give the students the answers and show them their mistakes after they finish each exercise. Here is a creative assignment prepared by a teacher for the common errors she spotted in her class. I will try this next time I prepare one by including samples from this website as well. When there is not enough time for peer review during the writing tasks, I allow my students to use one of the grammar and vocabulary checker tools in this list. I believe they contribute to improving their grammar and vocabulary as they give immediate feedback.
Effective grammar instruction is an important component of a skills based curriculum as it gives our students the means to express themselves accurately. Therefore, it should be taught systematically together with listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Here is a list of listening, reading, and writing resources to reinforce grammar instruction.