I have moved away from the traditional methods of teaching English grammar through writing, rewriting and worksheets to using a more active approach through games.
Why I teach grammar with games?
Arif Saricoban and Esen Metin, authors of “Songs, Verse and Games for Teaching Grammar” explain how and why games work for teaching grammar in an ESL classroom. They say, “Games and problem-solving activities, which are task-based and have a purpose beyond the production of correct speech, are the examples of the most preferable communicative activities.” They go on to explain that grammar games help children not only gain knowledge but be able to apply and use that learning.
Additionally, games have the advantage of allowing the students to “practice and internalize vocabulary, grammar and structures extensively.” They can do this because students are often more motivated to play games than they are to do desk work. Plus, during the game, the students are focused on the activity and end up absorbing the language subconsciously. One can also add that fun learning games usually contain repetition, which allows the language to stick.
Also, we can use games to add excitement through competition or games which create bonding among students and teacher.
The theory of intrinsic motivation also gives some insight as to why teaching grammar through games actually works. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal factors that encourage us to do something. Most young learners will not internally decide that they want to learn grammar. They don’t yet understand the concepts of why it’s important to know proper grammar, so these external factors won’t affect them much either. Instead, intrinsic motivation can lead encourage them to play games. If these games are good then they will be learning while they are playing.
Using some movement is crucial because movement helps activate the students’ mental capacities and stimulate neural networks, thus promoting learning and retention. If you have a large class with no space you still have options. Children can stand up, sit down, move various body parts and pass things around to each other. Movement does not only mean children tearing around the playground.
Here are just few , of my favourite grammar games…(to be continued……)
Find someone who
A set of cards each of which has a task on it beginning :” Find someone who” plus the present perfect. For example, ” Find someone who has been to Disneyland”.There should be about 10 different tasks each one duplicated 3-4 times.I usually start by asking the students questions eg ” Have you ever ridden an elephant”? until I find someone who has or until it is apparent that nobody has. I write on the board ” Maria, has ridden an elephant” or ” None in the class has ever ridden an elephant”.
“Find someone who…”
Then, I tell them to take a card each, and try to find someone in the class who has done the action indicated on it, by going round asking each other questions . They should then note down the result in a full sentence, like the one I wrote on the board and take a new card. How many answers can they find and write down? This is a competition, so they are not to give away the answers to each other as they find them out! I check the answers at the end, by asking publicly for an answer to each task.
Participants, get one point for each acceptable answer. Anyone who writes for any item that nobody has ever done it, when in fact there is somebody in the class who has, loses a point.
Accounting for moods
Materials: A set of pictures showing people in different moods: individual copies .
I go through the pictures with the students defining with them the apparent feelings of the person depicted ( worried…surprised….exhausted )-you may have several possibilities for each picture. Then , I take one picture, and ask them what they think has happened to make the person feel this way.
“She is worried because her younger son has not come home, yet and it’s very late”
I write up a few suggestions on the board. Then, I let hem do the same for the other pictures , working individually or in pairs.
Then, we hear and discuss results.
The same, may be done in writing for homework.
I give the students a series of exclamations (Oh!, Ah!, Great! , Oh, dear!, Cheers!, Damn!, Yes!, Yes?, Rubbish!, Thank goodness! etc) and ask them what they think has happened to make the speaker say them. For example, ” Oh!” might mean that ” She has had a surprise” or ” She has remembered something”.
They may brainstorm their ideas orally, or write them down. They can even mime their ideas for the class to guess!
PAST TENSE -for narrative
I tell the students a story- improvising from skeleton notes or reading out from a text ( Two of my most favourite FUN stories , come from my mentor Olha Madulus! I first heard them, in one of her inspiring “Tesol Greece Convention” presentations, a few years ago….
The story should have plenty of action and be easily comprehensible to the students. As you can see in the photo below, I use pictures and hand-made flashcards, to help the students recall the events…
I get them to keep notes if they wish and focus on past forms, by asking occasionally for a translation of an irregular form, or by stopping and getting them to supply the verb-but not so often as to interfere with overall “pace” or comprehensibility. After I have finished, I ask them to recall some of the sentences in the past that were mentioned in the story- using one-word ” cues” to jog their memories.
“A story “
Guessing my abilities
The students are asked to demonstrate something they are very good at, some special ability or a special talent they have!
The class, guesses by asking questions. ” Can you …”?
I help them with vocabulary when necessary.The first student who guesses right, comes to the board and shows the class what he/she can do really well, in turn !
What’s interesting here is, the fact that I challenge the guessers, to try and do the same action they have witnessed, in front of the whole class! This way, they see for themselves how difficult it may be! This activity is a great self-esteem booster, too!
Here are some more photos, of my highly talented students!
This is an awesome guessing activity!The“Mystery Box” – a type of prediction game that you can create with simple items that you have in class.
Find a box, such as a shoe box, or any other kind of container which kids can’t see through, such as a cookie tin. Introduce the empty box or tin and discuss how the mystery box game will be played. Outside of the children’s view, place an item inside the box or tin. Ask the children to predict what is inside. If you want, you can let the children hold the box, to see how heavy it is or if it makes any noise bouncing around the box or tin.
Give the children one clue as to what is inside the box. For instance, if you have a teddy bear inside, you can say, “It’s soft.” After the first clue is given, ask the children to guess what might be inside. Repeat the process by giving a second clue, such as, “It’s brown” and then ask the children to guess again.
They have to guess, by using different modals such as “it must be..”, ” it can’t be..”, “it may be..” etc
All the students who guess right, are given special stickers! If only one student guesses right , she/he is given the item in the mystery box, to take home , as a present.
After showing the kids how to play the game, I ask the children to bring their own mystery boxes from home, the next day, with an item inside the box for their classmates to guess what it is.
Materials: Simple sentences for guessing, using the Present Progressive. eg ” You are watching a comedy on TV”
Alternatively, similar situations depicted in drawings.
In this activity, I work with groups of students. It’s more fun!
Students are given a cue-card and mime the content for the rest of the class to guess. “Are you holding something”?
The students are encouraged to keep guessing during the mime.
This activity, is a common one , but can be hilarious!
The fairytale group mime
First , I read them Aesop’s ” The Hare and the Tortoise”. They are encouraged to take notes, while listening . Then, I ask some volunteer students to come to the board and , in collaboration, start miming scenes of the story for they classmates to guess what’s happening using the Present Progressive. eg ” The Hare is sleeping under the tree”
You can do the same with any story you like.
An alternative activity is to start reading the class any story in Present Progressive and later have groups of students stand up, and mime what I am reading!
This is an example of such a story ..
“……….Now the children are at school. Amy is sewing. She is practicing. She is sitting on a bench. She is sitting near Timmy. Timmy is at school too. Timmy is studying. He is sitting behind his desk. He wishes he could play with the other children. John and Susan are also at school. They are playing outside. They are picking flowers for their teacher. John is carrying his hat. Susan is wearing a bonnet. At this moment, Sarah is walking by the door. She is helping the teacher. She is carrying textbooks to the shelf….”
And this is another one..
“…Today, Abby is visiting her grandparents. She loves her grandparents. At this moment, she is sitting on her grandfather’s knee. She is listening to a story. She is smiling. She loves her grandfather’s stories. Jacob is Abby’s grandfather. He loves his granddaughter. Right now, he is telling her a story. He is holding her on his knee. He is holding her hands. They are sitting in the living room. Sarah is Abby’s grandmother. At this moment, Sarah is standing in the kitchen. She is baking cookies for Jacob and Abby. She is also listening to Jacob’s story. ….”
It works better with funny stories, though…
Acting the story out!
Going on a pic nic
When you are teaching noncount nouns, you will find that many of them fall into the category of food . Rice, milk, coffee, jelly and peanut butter are just a few of the noncount nouns one might find at a picnic. Playing this game will challenge our students’ memories while also reviewing count and noncount nouns. I arrange my class in a circle. Then start the game by saying, “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing a ________” filling in the blank with a food item, either count or noncount. The student to my left continues, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing a…” He then chooses his food item and repeats my food item. The third person in the circle chooses a food item and repeats the other two. Play continues around the circle until it has reached me once again, and I face the big challenge of remembering what everyone is bringing on the picnic! As play moves around the circle, I make sure sure to correct my students if they make an error with count and noncount nouns. For example, if someone says I am bringing a juice, I should remind him or her to say a bottle of juice.
A fun homework I give them is, to go home, open all their kitchen cupboards and the fridge and write a list of all the food items they find there! I am sure, mothers are not very happy with this kind of homework! haha…
Guess my Summer routines
I ask them to briefly discuss activities they do, as part of their Summer routines .I supply new vocabulary as needed.
eg ” I play beach soccer with my friends, every day”.
I give them 5 minutes to write down as many of their own routines they can think of.
In groups, they read out their lists to one another and delete anything they have written down which someone else has as well. So that at the end, each student has only his/her special Summer routines , that no one else has. Later, a representative from each group, describes these special routines in the third person. eg ” Paul, eats 5 ice-creams every day”
Some of these routines, may rise to interesting questions and answers-also in the Present Simple.
A fun variation I tried this year ,was to have them bring items in class from home, which we used to guess about their Summer habits and special routines . eg, ” Do you listen to music, during your summer holidays”?
Can you guess what his favourite Summer routine is??
What about her favourite Summer pastime?…
Students listen to a word or sentence and react one way if “an” is needed and a different way if “a” is needed. Possibilities include running and slapping opposite walls of the room, jumping either side of a line, slapping two pieces of paper on their table, and pretending to shoot pieces of paper on different walls. The same game can also be played with “a” and “the”, but it is quite difficult to choose sentences that are only possible with one of the two.
Another way of using Stations, and one that it is easier to bring “the” into, is to have students do the two reactions depending on whether what you said was right or wrong (grammatically, factually or logically).
EXTRA: I have recently read this amazing blog, by the teacher and blogger Claudio Azevedo, which is about movie segments to Assess Grammar Goals .
It contains a series of movie segments and activities to assess or practice grammar points through fun, challenging exercises. Here you will find the movie segments, the lesson plans, printable worksheets with answer key for each activity, and the tips to develop your own grammar activities with the DVDs you have at home. New activities are posted regularly. Teaching grammar with movie segments is inspiring and highly motivating.
Please, visit and I’m sure you’ll find loads of inspiring ideas !
Now, you can stop the eye-rolling and complaining from your students when you even THINK about teaching them a grammar lesson, and have some productive fun!