It is easy for ESL students to become inundated with grammar lessons.
After all, isn’t structure the greatest foundation of language? But the best teachers and the most engaged students don’t let every English class center around grammar. And great teachers know the tricks of sneaking grammar “lessons” into classroom activities without their students even knowing they are doing it. Here are some secrets from the pros on how to slip grammar lessons into everyday activities without anyone knowing.
Small Tricks to Teach Grammar Unobtrusively
As a teacher, you are regularly modeling correct grammatical structures for your students, but when they speak they are not always following your example. Some teachers fall into the habit of stopping their students when they misspeak and having them repeat the sentence correctly. And while that may be the best approach at times, those times are rare. Teachers who know this sneaky grammar secret, though, don’t make overt correction a regular habit. Because of the way the brain processes language, simply restating what your student said but with correct grammar may be enough to correct your students’ usage. So if a student says, “I goed to the store,” the sneaky teacher will simply respond, “Oh, you went to the store. When did you go?” In so doing, the student has a correct model of the past tense verb without having his speaking interrupted or discouraged. Then his conscious as well as his subconscious will work together to correct and solidify the grammatical concept in his mind.
Anyone Can Model
You are your students’ best example of correct English usage. And when you use a particular structure frequently in your own speech, your students, whether they realize it or not, will internalize the structure you are modeling. So before you teach the next great grammar topic to your students, make a point of modeling it in your own speech as often as possible. That way when you move on to instruction, your students will already have some familiarity with it and an understanding of how to use it in their speaking.
Make an Example
When I think back to high school science class, I remember a huge diagram of the periodic table. Natural elements aren’t likely to come in handy in an ESL class, but sneaky teachers can still take a page from my chemistry teacher. Don’t leave your walls blank. The four canvases surrounding you and your students, otherwise known as walls, can be a constant teaching tool. Use posters, other displays, or create your own masterpieces to teach correct grammar use. Even great teachers lose the attention of their students at times, but as long as your walls are covered with lessons, that time will not be wasted for your students. Plus, seeing the same lessons every day in class will cement them into your students’ minds. And if you feel the need, cover them up during testing periods, though that may not be necessary.
Rising to the Level
In natural speech, whether in a first or second language, a speaker’s language use adjusts to approach that of a conversation partner. This means that ESL students who speak with native speakers will, unknowingly, use better grammar and overall skills than those speaking with a nonnative speaker. Bringing these native speakers into your classroom, then, can be a great instructional tool without seeming so. Native speakers are often willing to be conversation partners to ESL students, and your students will love their time with native speakers. If you don’t have native speakers at your disposal, though, don’t write off this strategy yet. When you pair your students for speaking activities and role plays, try pairing a low performing student with one excelling at her language learning. Without intention by either speaker, the struggling student will modify his speech to be more like the star student. Be careful, though, not to overuse this strategy or your advanced students will find their language slipping to become more like their partner’s.
Giving your students an opportunity to read authentic English materials without requiring follow up activities or assessment is another way to sneak grammar instruction into their language learning diets. When students read, they see English grammar used correctly. With enough exposure to language in this form, and when it is paired with ESL instruction, your students will find themselves absorbing the grammar they see on the page. The key here is to avoid putting pressure on your students when it comes to this type of reading. Being patient is essential, and eventually your students will begin to pick up what someone else has put on the page.
ESL teachers are a valuable resource for their students. They hold the knowledge of the target language and the answers to their students’ questions. The best teachers do even more. When they use these sneaky secrets for getting grammar into their students’ diets, they are able to teach without even seeming to. And their students are the ones who benefit.
Which of these strategies do you find most useful in your classroom?
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