Grammar exercises are a fundamental ingredient of many language lessons, but can become a bit of a drag for both us and our learners if we’re not careful. However, grammar need not necessarily become a dry and tedious affair. If we can make grammar exercises as learner-focused and interactive as possible, we can keep them interesting, enjoyable and, most importantly, effective. Here are is selection of four classic, low-preparation activities that work particularly well with beginner classes.
1. A classic tic-tac-toe game
The format is simple and therefore easily recognizable to every learner… a surefire winner!
- On your whiteboard or blackboard draw a tic-tac-toe grid. In the spaces where you would normally put a cross or a zero, write language you wish to practice. For example, you may write, “going to,” “sleeps,” “behind, ” “makes,” “does,” and “can.”
- Split the class into two teams. Ask one team to pick any word from the tic-tac-toe grid and to tell you a sentence of five words or more containing that word. For instance, “He is going to go to the bank later.”
- Set a time limit of approximately fifteen seconds for each turn. If the team manages to form a grammatically correct sentence, erase the word and replace it with a cross or a zero. If the sentence is not grammatically correct, leave the word in the grid.
- It’s now the other team’s turn to select a word and attempt to form a grammatically correct sentence. Continue until one team has a line of three zeros or crosses.
2. Verb Tennis
A simple activity that you can decide to do on the spot, as it requires little to no preparation. All you need to know are the basic rules of tennis!
- Divide the class into two teams and give each team some time to think of approximately ten verbs.
- One team starts, or serves, by saying a verb, the other team must return this service by saying the past tense of this verb and the first team must now say the past participle of the same verb. Then prompt the other team to start, or serve.
- Keep score as you would in a tennis match, so if one team gets a past tense or past participle incorrect then the score becomes 15-love to the other team, then 30-love and so on.
3. The Never Ending Sentence
Again, an activity that you can use whenever you have a few minutes of class time to spare, or when you need to spice things up with a bit of action.
- Divide the class into groups of three or four and write the words “I like” on the blackboard or whiteboard.
- Ask one group to add one word to this sentence that will continue it in a grammatically correct way, for example, “to,” and write this on the board. Ask the next group to add another word to this sentence that will again continue it in a grammatically correct way, for example, “go.”
- Continue like this, with each group adding a word to the sentence. When one group cannot think of a word in approximately ten seconds or adds a grammatically incorrect word then they are out and the exercise continues without them.
- Continue until only one group remains.
4. Present Continuous Charades
Another activity that comes from a universally known format that you can use whenever time allows or boredom necessitates. Only a little preparation is required for this one.
- Split the class into groups of three or four and supply each group with your pre-prepared slips of paper, faced down, on which you have written prompts. For instance, you might write, “walking upstairs,” “singing a song,” “drinking hot coffee,” or “making an omelet.”
- Each member of the group takes it in turn to choose a slip of paper and act out the prompt. The other group members attempt to guess correctly what the first learner is miming and produce a grammatically correct structure in the present continuous: for example, “You are walking upstairs.”
- Learners may keep score if they wish, or just play for fun. Walk around the class as the learners work and give help where necessary.
Although I’ve suggested these activities are great for beginner learners, we might use them with any class. Nevertheless, with lower levels we should keep language as simple as possible when explaining an exercise and make use of stronger learners to help demonstrate.