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Concourse 2

Strand 3: Making grammar interesting (or at least less boring)


Grammar does not have to be boring (but it often is)

You arrived here because you agreed partially or fully with

My students hate grammar so I find it difficult to teach it to them.

There are undoubtedly some learners who enjoy the challenge of learning grammar and unravelling the systems of a foreign language.  These learners look forward to grammar lessons with bated breath.  They are not, thankfully or unfortunately, depending on your taste, in the majority.


"Today we are going to look at the past simple passive"

Starting a lesson with words like that is not going to have everyone sitting up and begging for more.  Can you think of a slightly more involving way to introduce the focus?
Click here when you have.

The point here is that it is unwise to tell students who 'don't like grammar' that the lesson they are about to endure is focused on it.  You need to imagine ways of using the grammar to make meaning rather than learning the grammar and then using it.

Try these and click on the table when you have filled in the right-hand column on a piece of paper or in your head:


It's easy once you get practised at it.  You aren't smuggling the grammar in, by the way, you are focusing on making meaning rather than making sentences.

Mind the gap

Which is the more interesting task?

more interesting

It is sometimes actually easier to write an exercise which gets the learners to say something about themselves which is true and mildly interesting than to write a gap-fill task which is dull, unmotivating and doesn't lead to any kind of communication.

Using visuals

Human beings make meaning from pictures so using them is a good way to connect grammar and meaning.  What's more, the more impressive or touching an image is, the more memorable will be the form connected to it.  Here are some examples but if you search the web for 'fascinating pictures' or 'emotional pictures' you'll find a huge range to pick from.

Image Examples of forms to elicit / practise
anger How is he feeling?
What happened to make him so angry?
How will you apologise?
point at, shout at, be upset about, rave about, shout about, accuse, threaten etc.
lonely wh-questions
going to
has just done
speculation modal auxiliary verbs: might / may / could
fear frightened of / afraid of / terrified by
enjoy / hate / love watching etc.
can't bear / can't stand

intensifying adverbs / gradability
(utterly terrified, very scared etc.)
happened Past tenses
Present perfect
accident I was on my way to ... when ...
I was driving to ... when ...
While I was ...
Because ...
Suddenly, Unexpectedly, Stupidly he ...

Subordinating conjunctions (because, although)
Conjuncts (however, nevertheless etc.)
Reporting the facts in present perfect / past simple
Narrative tenses
Modal auxiliary verbs of speculation
Modal auxiliary verbs of obligation
home Present perfect
been vs. gone
expressing emotion

In addition to single pictures, if you can assemble a set of images and force them into a narrative, that's a useful way to present and practise tense forms.


You have, of course, an ever-changing and useful image in your classroom.  It's called a window.  Using the facts of what is happening outside the window is a way of practising:

What can you see?
I can see
a police officer.
the police officer doing?
He's writing down
the number of a car.
Where is
the car parked?
Present tenses
Relative pronoun clauses
I can see a house which is ...
There is a man who is ...

Adjective order and epithets vs. classifiers
There's a large, blue saloon car parked on the corner.
and so on.  Only your and the learners' imagination is the limiter.


Gauging progress

There's a separate guide in this section of the site to gauging and measuring progress in your development.  Go there for more ideas.

One simple way to gauge whether presenting and practising grammar in more imaginative ways is to ask your learners what they thought they were practising at the end of a lesson.  If they thought that the focus was on accidents but they were actually practising the interrupted past progressive, you can feel well satisfied.

Even if they spot the grammar, they may feel that they are using it more purposefully and it means more to them.

The other way, of course, is to note whether they look less bored by grammar.