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Tips for Teaching ESL Grammar

written by: Louanne Piccolo • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 12/29/2013

Teaching ESL grammar lessons can be tricky because grammar doesn't always follow standard rules, is different to the student's native language and requires that a teacher fully understands it to teach it. Consider some of these suggestions and tips to make it an easy and interesting lesson to teach.

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    Defining Grammar

    Grammar is the way we put words together to make correct sentences and convey meaning in any language.English Rules 

    Grammar doesn't deal only with sentences but also with smaller units from phrases down to individual words. This is easy to understand when considering the correct use of "he ran a race" versus the incorrect use of "he runned a race." Grammar can also include the changing of spelling and pronunciation in different situations.

    Grammatical structures deal with specific instances in a language, such as tenses or gender. These structures provide in-depth information and lend nuances and time value to a language. In English, the grammatical concept of gender doesn't exist as opposed to Italian, German and French, which have specific rules concerning grammar and gender.

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    Avoiding Confusion

    Grammar affects meaning, so incorrect grammar can lead to confusion. Despite this, a lot of ESL teachers argue that accuracy of form is more important than grammatical accuracy because it is difficult to teach. Unfortunately, a phrase that has been misunderstood can have a potentially disastrous or humorous effect on a situation, so ESL students need to learn grammar to put words together meaningfully. In the end, knowledge of a language is virtually useless if students can't convey meaning.

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    Presenting and Explaining Grammar

    Generally, if a student's native language has a rigid grammatical structure, he or she will expect a teacher to explain the English equivalents of his language. To do this, a teacher needs to understand, himself, what is involved in the structures being taught; must give clear examples and explanations; and must find a balance between accuracy and simplicity in examples. A teacher who knows how to present a structure's form and meaning in a simple, accurate and helpful way is guaranteed to get the message across.

    Bright Hub Education has published many articles with tips for teaching specific parts of speech:

    Teaching Possessive Proper Nouns

    Forms and Functions of Noun Clauses

    The Difference Between Subject Complement and Direct Object

    The English Verb System For ESL Students

    The Difference Between Adjectives and Determiners

    As you browse through these recommended selections, you will find links to others that will also be useful.

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    Tips and Guidelines in Teaching ESL Grammar

    A well-prepared lesson plan is essential for teaching grammar. It should include oral and written examples as well as form, meaning and context use. Other tips for teaching ESL grammar include:

    • Students must have plenty of examples of the structure and understand when and how to use it
    • Explanations must cover the majority of instances because students are sure to encounter exceptions along the way
    • Too much detail confuses students so explanations must be simple and clear
    • Generalization is helpful even if it's not always completely accurate
    • Rhyming rules like "i before e, except after c" can be a fun and easy way to remember a rule, even if they aren't absolutely true
    • Students need to experiment by rearranging sentences and playing with them to get a feel for the language
    • Students must be given the essential rules and guidelines and shouldn't have to guess
    • Role-playing and language games can be fun and give students the opportunity to use a grammatical structure practically

    Grammar may be difficult and boring to teach. However, if a teacher understands the grammatical concepts, is capable of explaining grammar and its structures clearly and simply, follows up with appropriate games, exercises and role-playing activities, he will be creating a context for fun and interesting ESL grammar lessons.