ESL Activity of the month: The Grammar Grid

I used to hate teaching grammar with a passion. It wasn’t so much the teaching, but rather the questions that always seemed to follow. The ones that caught out my masterfully thought out plan of how to explain the grammar point and the examples I chose to use.

Grammar in a grid. Photo by smilla4

The main reason I detested grammar, was because the Spanish students were better than I was. When I first arrived here I had about enough knowledge of grammar as I did quantum physics. I would break into a sweat even teaching the difference between present simple and present continuous.

The thing is, I hadn’t had enough practise teaching it. Having taught mainly speaking and conversation skills while travelling the world, apart from a stint in Australia where I got absolutely grilled everyday by Chinese students, who would sit and laugh at me when I stumbled on my explanations.

After teaching for 10 years in Spain, I’m comfortable with it now. In fact, I rarely have to use google to look up a grammar tense rule and can master up decent enough examples to explain what I’ve just taught. I’m getting quicker at doing those unnatural concept checking questions afterwards too, but back in the day I’d be up all night planning them.

Doing the DELTA helped loads. Being forced to study the parts of speech and different grammar tense rules for the vigorous exams was a god send. Plus learning Spanish has assisted my understanding of my own language as I’m constantly comparing the two, so I’ve been able to get to know it on a deeper level. Not that I’m one of those grammar freaks. I’d much rather do a vocabulary lesson or speaking activity over grammar any day.

I find grammar a bit boring, and to be fair, I think that those students who really want to go on and use English in their lives will do much better with an extensive range of vocabulary rather than an extensive range of grammar. At exam levels though it’s vital to have a good control of different grammatical forms, so that they can communicate better.

So, enough of the theory, we have to teach it, they have to learn it, so what’s the best way to practise it orally?

This is where my extra exciting grammar grid comes into play. It’s a specific exercise to practise any grammar point, be it present simple, past simple, or even the 3rd conditional.

Here’s how you do it.

Prep: the time it takes to prepare 4 questions using the grammar you want, plus a grid on the board, 4 by 4.

Level: Any, although I tend to do this with younger learners up to about mid-teens.

How to start it off.

You have to do this activity, or at least I always do, after you’ve presented the grammar and also they’ve done a few boring grammar exercises in the book in class or at home.

The main aim is to see if they’ve understood the grammar and if they can put it into practise.

Here’s one I prepared earlier to practise ‘have got’

Name                                                                                                    ________           ________        ________

Have you got a bird?

Have you got a car?

Have you got a brain?

Have you got a pencil case with a picture of a willie on it?

I wouldn’t actually use the last one, but it would be funny, at least in my world.

Then you select 3 students from the class. You can do this by spinning a pen on the floor, asking for volunteers, or throwing a rubber at the general direction of the class with your eyes closed and seeing who is in pain afterwards. I normally do the spinning pen one, as throwing rubbers is generally frowned upon.

Once you have the 3 students, you ask them the four questions, and put their answers on the board. Simple.

Then the students have a guided model of what you want them to do next. In theory this is an effective and easy way of showing any activity, by doing a demonstration yourself, although there’s always a couple in the class who just need it explained in their own language.

Then you split up the class into groups of 3 or 4. Get the class to prepare their own grid, with different ‘have got’ questions, making sure to avoid anything to politically incorrect, like willies on pencil cases. Once the students have their questions, you then get them to write the names of the others in the groups.

Before letting them run riot and complete their grids, I usually double check they have understood by choosing two brighter kids in the class to do an example.

Give the class between 5 to 8 minutes to complete the grid, making sure they communicate in English and they are not sneaking into Spanish or just copying each other. If they do then I get them to stop and do it again.

Once they have their grids complete, I get them to memorise the information for about 2 mins, then I spin my pen, chose a student, and take their notebook. I then ask a couple of questions. For example, Has Pedro got a cat? Yes he has. You get the picture? This keeps them on their toes and forces them to memorise the grammar and put it into context.

I follow this up by then writing a sentence for one of the volunteers from my original grid. I do this in 3rd person and try to include positive and negative grammar. For example, John has a car, and a bird, but he doesn’t have a brain or a picture of a willie on his pencil case (although he said he would like one, a brain that is). Students then write one sentence about one student in their grid in class, and write up the others for homework.

As a follow up the next class. I get students to read their sentences to each other, maybe doing some drilling before, while I correct them, and also get a couple to read sentences to the class.

So there you go, a fantastico way of practising specific grammar points, with virtually no preparation, and the kids enhance their listening, speaking, reading, writing, oh and grammar skills, and you can just sit back and enjoy the afternoon.

Have you got a picture of a willie on your pencil case? If not, would you like one?

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