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Most ESL teachers at some point have come across a certain grammar point that they struggle to find activities to liven up the class or add some life into it.
Mine personally is the dreaded ‘Gerunds versus Infinitives’ lesson that always seems to crop up. Most of us generally loathe the topic and would rather find ourselves watching an episode of ‘Days Of Our Lives’ or, even worse, a drama series of our local country, rather than teaching that horrible topic again. The bad news is, when we think like this, it can negatively affect the vibe of class without ourselves even realising it. When we find a topic boring, we can generally pass this vibe onto students. This is something that all teachers must look out for, as when a student loses focus, it is very difficult to gain their attention. The best approach is to keep the energy levels of your class high and vibrant. There are a number of tips and tricks that can be adapted for all lessons, grammar points and topics that will keep your students focused and in the right frame of mind for learning.
How To Teach Boring Grammar Points: 7 Quick Proven Tips
Show off your best asset
No, I’m not referring to your chiselled face, voluptuous curves, and especially not your bank account. I’m talking about your personality. When you’re teaching a grammar point that you know is boring and the students will switch off over, lighten up, smile and become an ‘Edu-tainer’. As an ‘Edu-tainer’, your task is to keep them interested and attentive. Be funny, amusing and light hearted while at the same time teaching the dry-as-hell topic. You can throw in jokes, be a little bit irrelevant at times, just turn on the charm and keep them from falling asleep on the desk.
Be a little unexpected
One little gem I like to use in the classroom when teaching a boring topic, is to keep them thinking. Instead of feeding them the answers or elicit the answer out of them, I like to keep them on their toes. One such method is to give the students an answer to a question that is incorrect, and see how long it takes the students to recognise the error. Being unexpected means that they must always be thinking, and they are not going to find themselves anticipating the answers.
Tell a story
If you are explaining a grammar point, why not keep your students amused and educated with a story. This is a good way to keep their attention while explaining some of the more dull aspects of grammar. Great for children and lower-level adults, a well-known story such as The Hare and the Tortoise are the best choices. Using a short story that the students know provides the students with a picture and connect the grammar with an event in the story.
Take the tabloid approach
One nifty little way to liven up any lesson is to use the lives of celebrities to explain a grammar point. To do this, find out about a local celebrity in the country, find out who they’ve been dating, associated with, previously dated, been married to, been embroiled in some form of scandal, and create a time line while explaining the tense.
Example: Tom Cruise was married to Nicole Kidman (Past tense – Finished Action, They’re divorced
Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes after he had divorced Nicole Kidman (Past tense, finished action / Past Perfect – the first action to happen in the past).
No matter what the topic, taking a popularist approach by using celebrities in a class is always bound to entertain while adding a sense of realism to your lesson.
I am personally a big advocate of teaching English that students will find beneficial and useful in their jobs or their lives. One way I like to do this is to try to use practical examples wherever possible. It is incredibly simple and can even be improvised on the spot. An example is explaining tenses by throwing a pen. By actively going through the motions, saying the sentences and explain the points while doing it, you can keep your students attention on you while teaching them the grammar point. For topic specific tasks, another great way for students to learn vocabulary is to create a presentation. One example is a class Fashion Show to talk about clothes and accessories or a role-play to practice vocabulary and phrases related to food and dining.
Use the news
English language newspapers are fantastic for students to learn about English as they generally use simple words and provide an example of what’s happening around the world that the student’s may already know in their native language. This allows them to easily connect the times and even some of the more difficult vocabulary in the newspaper article, while the timing implications of a the events of the news article can be used to describe tense. Newspapers are a good introductory activity for any class, as they provide a real-life vocabulary source that can then progress into a discussion, before getting into the grammatical deep-end. See ‘How to Teach Current Events to ESL Students’.
Play a game
Have you ever been in class and noticed that the following exercise in the book was a typical ‘fill in the gaps’ or something that you knew would send the students far away into a dreamlike trance? Well, this is the point where you can tell the students to stop everything, put their pens down, close books and stand up. Students love competition with each other, and any activity where two teams can be created and scoring is involved is a sure-winner with any tasks. Instead of having the students complete the activity in the book, in silence and on their own, they can learn and have fun at the same time by working together as a group.
Practically any grammar point can be ‘spuced up’ with a little help of fun activities that will keep you and your students from falling asleep.
We’d love to know what works for you, so leave us a comment with your tips and tricks of turning the dullest, driest lesson into educational gold that captivates the students.