‘Grammar is fun!’ is not something that English teachers often hear from their students. ‘To know English, you need to know the grammar’, many of us have probably responded on numerous occasions, hoping to encourage learners to do more review tasks, usually to no avail. Grammar has been considered the aim of language learning for too long. Let’s call it what it actually is: a communication tool. And tools are fun as they make our lives easier. But instead of explaining it to students, why not show them?
Make practice fun
What students dislike about learning grammar is often the amount of controlled written practice they have to do once a new structure is introduced. As much as one or two activities of this kind help students get acquainted with the structure, there is no need to dedicate too much time to them. Language is supposed to be used freely, and what students usually expect from the teacher is to have the opportunity to do so. If you help your students see that knowing how to use grammar actually makes communication a lot easier, they are much more likely to enjoy the practice. They will also become more confident and feel ready to use the structure outside the classroom.
If you want to teach grammar in a fun way, all you need to do is find the right context. As much as asking your students what they have done today is a good way to start practising Present Perfect with ‘yet’ and ‘already’, you could also tell them to guess what they think the other people in the group (or you) have already done or haven’t done yet. You could also introduce the idea of a bucket list and have students report their achievements and plans using the structure, ask them to tell you about their projects at work and explain what they have already started doing and what they haven’t had the chance to do yet, or encourage them to tell you about their holiday plans and explain what they have already done and what is still left to do as part of their preparation. Being able to get the message across in a foreign language is what makes learning grammar fun! And don’t worry if your students don’t always use the target language during practice – let them mix it freely with the structures they already know. This will only consolidate the new language and make it a part of their linguistic toolbox.
Make revision fun
Instead of asking students if they remember how a structure is formed (or giving them more gap-filling activities, for that matter), allow them to play with the language a little more. They could write revision tasks for each other, or prepare questions for their partner using the target language. This will allow for a deeper level of language processing and simply help them remember more. Just don’t forget to add variety and not reuse the tasks from the practice stage. For instance, you might ask your students to discuss what they have in common using the structure. Again, think of a context where the target language is likely to be used. Take Second Conditional, for example. Students could discuss the possible circumstances under which they would quit their jobs or adopt five puppies. To make it more interesting, you might ask them to talk for as long as they need to in order to agree on two scenarios that would make both the students in a pair decide to take these steps.
What many students really enjoy are problem-solving tasks. They are engaging, amusing, and don’t usually require much preparation by the teacher. The good news is that you can teach grammar in a fun way using them. It is important to design problem-solving tasks in a way that makes students likely to use the target language (context, again!). So if your students need revision on expressing quantity, tell them that they are throwing a dinner party for ten people and that together they need to agree on the amount of food and drink they will buy. To work with modal verbs, ask your students to imagine that they are opening a language school and that they need to decide on five rules that teachers and students must follow. Tell your more advanced students who need to practise Third and Mixed Conditionals a bit more to come up with five major events in world history and decide how they could have gone differently under certain conditions, or how our world would be different now if they hadn’t happened.
Games are appealing to all students, so don’t hesitate to use them to teach grammar in a fun way to adults, not only kids and teens. Even the most dull activity can be turned into something fun, especially if you add a competitive element to it. If you feel that your students need some drilling, and don’t just want them to mindlessly repeat sentence after sentence, do it with a twist. Give one student a sentence in the target language. Let’s say you’re practising verb patterns and a student reads the following sentence: I expect her to be on time. Their partner has to ask three questions, repeating all the parts of the statement, and the first student has to respond with anything that comes to mind. The conversation could go like this:
- Who do you expect to be on time?
- I expect my sister to be on time.
- Why do you expect her to be on time?
- I expect her to be on time because I need to talk to her.
- Where do you expect her to be on time?
- I expect her to be home on time.
Some other examples could include: They suggested buying it., She threatened to take his watch., or He tried calling her. Students might collect points for each correct question, or the person who comes up with the highest number of queries could be the winner.
If your students are a bit creative (and they usually are!), give one of them a word and ask them to explain it to other students using the target language only. A spoon can be described using Second Conditional (If I didn’t have one at home, I wouldn’t be able to eat soup.), verb patterns (I once tried eating a sandwich with it, but it didn’t work.), Mixed Conditionals (If they hadn’t been invented, we would use forks to stir tea.) or Passive structures (It is usually made of metal and it is used in restaurants.) These can be quite challenging, so before doing the task in class you might try creating such sentences yourself, but remember that students are often more imaginative than we think.
On our website, you will find numerous lesson plans to teach grammar in a fun way. You can have a look at them here. We’d also like to hear about your ideas to make grammar fun! Comment below so that we all can learn from each other 🙂