How to Teach Grammar Activities to ESL Students

Updated July 20, 2017

Teaching grammar to ESL students is rather tricky because the rules of English grammar are not predictable and systematic. In today's ESL classrooms, more teachers are aiming towards the communicative approach. Before students can be expected to show off grammar proficiency, teachers need to rethink grammar lesson plans. Here is a suggested step-by-step procedure for teaching grammar in today's ESL classroom.

Decide on the approach you intend to use for teaching a new grammatical structure. The approach you choose will also largely determine the activities you will use. Deductive methods involve writing out grammatical concepts and rules and explaining them. Inductive methods encourage students to come up with the rule on their own after seeing sentences with the targeted grammatical structure. Learning grammatical structures inductively also facilitates the stage of producing language.

Spend a lot of time exposing students to the structure. ESL students need time to recognise new structure. If your students want the rule, then present them with a handout or a chart that organises the information on what they need to know regarding both negative and positive forms, sample uses, example sentences and question format (if applicable). Students then can refer to this "study sheet" as often as needed.

Provide an extensive amount of practice ranging of simple recognition type activities. ESL students need practice learning the new forms and structures. Multiple choice type questions allow students to simply recognise the forms without having to conjugate any verbs or produce sentences using the new grammatical concepts.

After engaging students in practice, encourage the students to notice grammatical patterns. Recognising grammatical patterns is an important stage of practicing grammatical concepts. For this area of practice, present the new grammatical form on a flashcard and ask them 'Yes' and 'No' questions. Songs also allow students to hear the new structures in a creative way.

The final step of practice is to provide enough guided practice so that students feel comfortable producing and semi-producing the structures on their own. On a level of speaking, semi-production type activities include completing a dialogue ( teacher writes the question and the ESL student writes the answer) using some verbs in the new tense. Complete production is writing complete sentences or questions (as in an interview) using some of the verbs the teacher provides.


If at all possible, take advantage of the students' mother tongue in order to explain difficult concepts.

Focus on teaching just one type of grammatical concept or structure. More than one is overwhelming.

Keep an open mind regarding the grammar approach you ultimately decide to use. The most successful grammar lessons are the most eclectic.

Keep the framework as communicative as possible using authentic contexts which appeal to the students. For example, use concepts such as ordering lunch or buying a new pair of shoes.

Things You'll Need

  • Whiteboard
  • Pencil
  • Pen
  • Markers
  • Pictures from magazines or newspapers
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