Secrets of Teaching Grammar to Young Students
Teaching grammar can be challenging, and it becomes especially tricky if we teach younger students, who learn differently than older students or adults. Whereas the latter group focuses primarily on learning vocabulary and grammar rules first, before applying those rules and expressing themselves in the new language, children need to be surrounded by the language and be able to sort it out.
Comprehending abstract concepts and grammar rules is not the way young students connect with language and construct meaning. Young learners need to have opportunities to have engaging content, to be able to find patterns and make connections. Can grammar rules be taught that way? Certainly.
Making Grammar Instruction Interesting
Young learners of English need engaging instructional activities - that becomes especially true when we enter the grammar teaching ‘territory.’ Grammar teaching is dependent on rules and memorization, and that can make students lose their interest and motivation very quickly, considering that learners between 5-12 years of age have a short attention span.
Because children highly enjoy being physically active and learning by doing and interacting with peers, the best way to teach grammar rules is through games. The games selected should be simple, without requiring the students to memorize a list of rules, and they need to include a lot of praise and encouragement from the teacher. Most importantly, a game needs to be chosen with the primary purpose of revising a new grammar rule, and not for the sole reason of making the lesson more attractive or preventing the students from getting too bored.
Having a clear linguistic outcome for each game should therefore be the teacher’s primary focus. Implemented that way, games can become the center of classroom and grammar instruction and not mere warm-up activity.
Introducing Games into 3 Stages of Grammar Instruction
Games can be used in any of these three stages of grammar teaching:
- Before presenting a new grammar structure, to assess students’ prior knowledge;
- After a grammar presentation to find out how much information students have grasped;
- Used for revision of grammar rules introduced to students.
Through the use of games, young students get to practice grammatical rules in a communicative, low-anxiety, and fun way. Students start to acquire the language and its rules subconsciously while they focus on the game activity. It is simply less effective to teach the grammar rules in a more explicit, traditional way when teaching young learners.
Research Proven Results: Games and Grammar
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of ‘gamified’ learning in improving grammar skills.
- Turkish study investigated the benefits of using online language games in improving the English grammar skills of 30 Malaysian students, using such games as Socrative, Powerpoint Challenge Game, and Kahoot!, for three weeks. Results showed improved learning; most participants received improved grades, and the study proved that online language games positively impacted grammar skills (Hashim et al., July 2019).
- An Australian research study (Hang, 2017) had 27 teachers from 3 campuses of the Australian Centre for Education participate, and the results showed that teachers’ primary purpose of using games in English teaching classrooms of young children is to keep them focused and engaged. The teachers in the study agreed that games are effective tools for teaching English to young children.
- Research investigation into using games in teaching English to 100 young Libyan students (Aldabbus, 2008) revealed that students who used language games were more successful than their counterparts in traditional classes and that teachers in the study developed positive perceptions concerning the use of language games.
Fun Simple Games to Teach Grammar Skills
Before choosing a grammar-based game for your lesson, it is important to remind yourself once again about the game: what purpose will this game serve, and what specific skills and grammar points will be practiced? It might be a strategy game or a communicative grammar game. Below are some ideas of activities that could be used in the classroom to build and review grammar skills:
- Shoot for Points: Simple activity that can be used to review things like past simple or irregular verbs. In this activity, a large container is used for your basket, and students use a ball and shoot for points. The catch is: students will be asked a question in Past Simple and will have to remember the past correctly in order to earn the chance to shoot. Students get 10 points for scoring, or 5 points even if they miss the basket for answering the question correctly.
- Simon Says: This childhood game is ideal for young students, and it can be used for teaching imperatives. The teacher takes on the role of Simon by saying ‘Simon says’ followed by an imperative, i.e., jump in the air, turn around twice. If the students respond to the command when the teacher omits the phrase ‘Simon Says,’ they leave the game.
- Throw a Question: This useful listening game allows for practicing and reviewing sentence structures. In the game, the students make a circle, and the teacher throws a ball to a student. If he/she catches the ball, the teacher asks a question, i.e., “Can you ride on a skateboard?”. If a correct answer is given, that student throws a ball to another student and asks a similar question.
- Grammar Board Game: ESL students will have a fun time practicing grammar skills using board games, and teachers can prepare such games for any grammatical concept (or games can be found/downloaded on the internet). Some of the grammar points that could be used in a board game are: simple past, reported speech, or frequency adverbs. ESL Games World website has a huge selection of printable games, PPT games, and templates for teachers to use.
Summing up, it is evident that incorporating games into English language instruction is beneficial not only for the students but also for the teachers and their perceptions of how the English language should be taught effectively.
Games are very effective in teaching abstract concepts such as grammar rules because they enhance the young student’s skills to comprehend abstract information. Games also help teachers create contexts in which the English language becomes meaningful. Grammar rules cannot be taught in isolation, and games are able to bring real-world context into language teaching while motivating young students.
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