Learning a second language almost certainly includes having an ongoing relationship with unfamiliar grammar. Every ESL student needs practice with elements of grammar, and sometimes teachers want a quick activity to fill that need. Most classes find they have five minutes to fill here and there, so grammar review is a useful and beneficial topic to fit into those five minutes. Your reason for quick grammar drills may be because the class needs practice or it may just be because you have a few unscheduled minutes of class time. Whatever the reason, these quick grammar exercises only take a few minutes and can be used at any time for practice with your ESL students.
Energize Your Grammar Lessons with These Quick Little Drills
To review a specific grammatical structure or principal that you have been studying in class, ask each person in your class to write one multiple-choice question. You can specify what you want the question to test, or you can let your students choose from several topics you have already studied. Ask each person to turn in his or her question and then present one or two of them to your class. If you have more questions than you can go through in the time you have, keep the remaining questions to use the next time you have a few minutes you would like to fill. If you want to make the exercise a little more challenging, have each student specify on his paper which choice is the correct answer and why. Having your students explain the rule behind the question will help to solidify it in their minds.
Though most teachers of writing want their students to avoid the passive voice, the structure is one that ESL students must study and understand. A simple review of the passive voice, and a challenge for your students, is to take a short passage (two sentences up to a paragraph) and rewrite it changing active verbs to passive ones. If you have already taught your class how to write the passive voice, this activity will serve as useful practice for the grammatical structure. If you have time, ask your students to notice how much information is lost when sentences are written in the passive voice.
Homophones are a topic that is always worth reviewing with your class. Students of all ages consistently confuse sets of homophones such as to/two/too and there/their/they’re as well as many others. When you have a few minutes of free class time, write a set of homophones on the board and ask each person to write a sentence using each one, making its meaning clear. You may want to review which meaning goes with each word before your students write their sentences, or test to see how much they already know by saving definitions until after they have turned in their sentences. This can be a great opportunity to address any consistent errors you find in your class’ writing.
As a review for verb tenses, give your students a paragraph from a reading book, a magazine or another resource. For paragraphs written in the past tense, ask your students to work in pairs or groups of three or four to rewrite the paragraph in the present tense, as if the events are happening at the present moment. You could also ask your student to rewrite the paragraph using future tenses. This will serve as a good review for verb tenses and also give your students some time to practice their speaking as they work in their small groups.
Mini Mad Libs
You can review parts of speech with your students by completing Mad Libs as a class. You can find this type of interactive activity online on many web sites, but there are also printable versions available. You will ask your students to give you words with a specific part of speech, and you will fit them into a paragraph resulting in a silly story. Though some of the humor may be lost on your students, they will still benefit from volunteering words that fulfill specific parts of speech.
A cloze paragraph is an easy way to see just how much grammar your students understand, but it does take some advance preparation. In this type of exercise, you should prepare a few sentences up to an entire paragraph for your students to work with. For the passage, replace every fifth, seventh or tenth word with a blank line that your students will fill in. The more advanced your students are, the more frequently you can include a blank. They must then fill in words that are grammatical and make sense contextually. Since a cloze exercise does not test one particular skill but rather general grammatical knowledge, you should plan to use this exercise for review. Simply prepare a few cloze paragraphs and have them copied and ready to pull out of your desk drawer when you have a few free moments to fill during your next class!
When you have time to prepare an activity in advance, giving your students a text in which they must place all punctuation and/or capital letters is another useful means of grammar review. Like the cloze exercise, this type of activity tests a general level of knowledge rather than drilling a specific skill. Having some paragraphs ready to hand out at a moment’s notice will make good use of a few free minutes in class provided you take some time to get the paragraph ready ahead of time.
A few free minutes at the end of class can turn out to be a precious opportunity to review or practice some grammar with your students.
When you have these tools ready in your back pocket (or just in your desk drawer), you will always be ready to make use of your class time. Not only that, these activities may give you a new understanding of just how much English grammar your students really understand!
Which one of the quick drills above is your favorite? Please let us know in the comments!