Grammar is a keystone in ESL programs everywhere.
Learning the rules of language can be exciting and energizing and…well, boring. Grammar teachers around the world struggle to make this technical side of language interesting to their students. The good news is it’s possible. With a few simple strategies you can banish boring grammar classes and ensure your students are just as excited about grammar as any other aspect of language learning.
Just because you are having fun and including a little competition in the classroom does not mean your students are not learning. There are countless games you can use in the ESL class to review vocabulary and grammar and encourage conversation. If you need ideas, check out these articles also on Busy Teacher: 6 Absolutely Essential Games for Vocabulary Review, 6 Super ESL Games for Grammar Review, and Games that Work Without Fail in the ESL Classroom or make up your own and share them with us.
Get your students moving.
Getting your ESL students up and moving around the classroom will serve multiple purposes. Not only will physical activity keep your students more awake and focus their attention on the lesson at hand, it will also help them remember and retain the language they are learning. Making physical associations with language concepts is the key to Total Physical Response, a well know and well respected ESL teaching method. Though having students move around the classroom may seem chaotic at times, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to actions in class.
Make class communicative.
Communicative classes focus on communication and langue use by students rather than theory and repetitive practice. Make a habit of encouraging your students to use the language that they know to get their meaning across, even when the grammar isn’t perfect. In grammar class, include speaking activities and give your students a chance to put their language use to practical applications whenever possible.
Using group activities, role plays, discussions and other such activities will both keep your students interested in classroom activities and keep them accountable to one another for class participation and task accomplishments. Students sometimes will disappoint their teacher and feel little regret. Disappointing classmates and friends, on the other hand, may be less desirable to them. Take advantage of this by assigning and rewarding group tasks when possible.
Partner up, with other classes that is.
If you are lucky enough to have native speakers at your disposal, try partnering up with another class in your school for conversation sessions. Conversation sessions in grammar class? Yes! Your students can practice the grammar they are learning, and they can use their conversation partner as a resource for any questions they might have about native speakers.
Spend your entire class period lecturing your students.
Even students with the best attention spans have a difficult time listening to a 20 minute lecture in a second language. In addition, postmodern culture has conditioned students of all ages to expect quick changes from one activity to another. On a good day, you can expect your elementary and secondary students to have an attention span equal to one minute per year of age. That means a classroom full of ten year olds, at best, can hope for ten minutes of attention on a given activity. Keep things interesting for you and your students and plan for quick changes in activities, partners and, when possible, topics throughout your grammar class.
Keep their noses in the book.
Grammar books often have many great exercises to help your students practice and then master grammar skills, but the classroom may not be the best place for using those activities. When possible, assign written activities for homework and use classroom time for more interactive, communicative activities. Your students will still get their practice in, but they will be saving the less energetic assignments for homework.
Be afraid to drift from your lesson plans.
Lesson plans are essential in the lives of a teacher, but good teachers know that there are times to veer from even the best of plans. When your students ask questions that lead into practical applications of grammar, use the opportunity to teach those concepts. Granted, every day cannot be an adventure to an unplanned grammar concept, but there are times when teachable moments are more important than what is written in the lesson planner.
Fail to offer variety.
Especially when your syllabus follows the chapters of a book, you may find you offer the same activities for your students day after day, chapter after chapter. Make a point of doing different types of activities with every few grammatical concepts you teach, and if you really want to engage your students, try to meet every learning style every day. When your students are using discussion, research, presentations and other means to learn and practice grammar, they will stay more interested in what you and their fellow students have to say.
Get stuck in a rut.
After teaching the same class semester after semester, it is easy to overly rely on prior lesson plans. Even when last year’s lesson plans are the starting point, the best teachers are always learning, trying new activities, and tailoring their class periods to the personalities and needs of their students. So even if you have successfully taught this particular grammar class before, be looking for new and interesting ways to teach and practice the concepts you are introducing to your students and then implement them in class.
Some say that grammar, though the most important aspect of language learning, is also the most boring. That does not have to be true in your grammar classroom. When you make a point of being creative and flexible in your classroom, your students will be engaged in class and will become more successful learners of the English language.
What do you do to keep grammar class interesting and exciting?
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