Teaching Grammar to ESL Students

Instructor: Jocelyn Cherry

Jocelyn has taught Special Education for over two decades and has three post secondary degrees all in the field of Education.

Teaching grammar ESL Students is vastly different from teaching grammar to English speaking students. This lesson will provide tips for effective grammar instruction that will meet the needs for both.

Making Grammar Fun

Teaching grammar has been known to be a dry and boring subject. Let's face it, grammar is difficult to differentiate, it is cut and dry, and usually resources are lacking which leads to a lot of pre-planning. The best approach is to make grammar exciting by incorporating games, fun activities, and stories. By doing so, all students will have opportunities to pick up on proper grammar usage while having fun. In addition, the students learn how to use grammatically correct English in a safe, secure setting amongst peers. Best practices for the ESL (English as a Second Language) student is to immerse the student into the curricula as much as possible, not seclude. Here are some strategies to try for successful implementation.

Assess the Students' Prior Knowledge

Ask yourself a few questions and determine your plan of attack. There is not a 'one size fits all' plan for teaching grammar to the ESL student. It depends on your class, their needs, and the expectations you are tasked with. Does your class have one ESL student? What are the objectives of this class? What are the language skills of your students? Can they read or write English? Do they know any grammatical terms? Once you have answered pertinent questions sufficiently, then you can determine your next steps. Each class is going to have different students, goals, and grammar needs. Use your professional judgment to determine these needs and how to meet them.

Teach Grammar in Context

Start a lesson by using sentence starters and have the students finish:

'If I don't eat my breakfast, I…',

'If Paul didn't complete his homework, he…'

At first the students may need assistance with responses, but will soon catch on. When the class understands what is going on, take this time to point out the grammar structure and usage (Conditional Sentences), returning to the exercise for further examples. When ESL students see grammar in context first, they are more receptive to recall the information as their brains work a little bit to interpret the meaning before you formally explain it. That's how we naturally learn a language: by being exposed to it and picking up on the meaning. It's more engaging and it develops an understanding that's grounded in context.

Less is More

Fight the temptation to create long, tedious grammar lessons. It may be tempting to teach a grammar topic, then have a plethora of independent practice exercises. For the ESL student, less is more. Keep the lessons short and concrete. The less the teacher can talk about grammar and the more the teacher can use grammar throughout the day, makes such a tremendous difference.

Teach Grammar Throughout the Day in Other Subject Areas

Grammar is a topic that is used throughout the day. Even the simplest subjects contain grammar rules. If you do not have to teach grammar as a stand-alone subject; don't, or only do so sparingly. Constantly introduce grammar points and topics in other subjects exposing the students to the mechanics of language. After reading a story, challenge the students to identify grammar points or sentence structures that were used throughout the story. Mad Libs is a great way to reinforce nouns, verbs, verb tense, plurals, adverbs, etc in a fun, whole group way.

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