ESL Relative Clauses: Activities & Exercises

Instructor: Vanessa Botts
Practice using relative clauses can help students become better writers and communicators. In this lesson, we will discuss a few activities for ESL students of varying ages and linguistic levels to learn and practice this important skill.

The Importance of Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are non-essential parts of a sentence. If they are removed, the sentence will still function grammatically. However, this does not mean relative clauses are not important.

These clauses function like adjectives by giving more information about a noun. They are important because they add meaning to a sentence, add variety to sentence patterns and can help convey messages efficiently and accurately.

Types of Relative Clauses

There are two types of relative clauses: defining and non-defining.

  • A defining (or identifying) clause tells us which specific person or thing we are talking about in a larger group of people or things. It is not separated from the rest of the sentence by commas or parentheses.
  • A non-defining (or non-essential) clause gives us more information about the person or thing we are talking about. If it is removed from a sentence, we lose some detail, but the overall meaning of the sentence remains the same. Non-defining relative clauses are always set off from the rest of the sentence with commas or parentheses.

Relative Clause Activities

Below are several easy-to-implement activities for your classroom. With these activities, your ESL students will practice using and creating both defining and non-defining relative clauses, which will help them improve their written and oral communication skills.

Complete the Sentence

Your students will have a lot of fun practicing relative clauses by completing each others' sentences. Have each of your students write down a simple sentence, such as My friend is nice. But have them leave enough space between the subject and the predicate so that a defining clause can be inserted.

  • For example: My friend _____ is nice.

When they are finished, collect their sentences and re-distribute them so each student gets a sentence written by someone else. This is when the fun begins! Your students will now add a relative clause to the sentence, and once they are done, you can have them read the sentences aloud for the entire class to hear.

  • The sample sentence may look something like this: My friend, who is ten feet tall, is nice.

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