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Teaching Grammar

So, do you dread trying to explain a grammar concept? (Whether you’re teaching native speakers or ESL students, this can be a challenge). Do you hate the way some rules seem so difficult to explain?

I hear you! This is a common struggle English and ESL teachers face – making grammar fun.

Here’s how I can help:

So, way back when I was doing my Graduate Certificate in TESL at McGill   we learned a lot about teaching English. In our practicum, we had a chance to test out all of our ideas, and I’ve been working to improve my techniques ever since. (I can barely believe that was 7 years ago!)

In fact, this is The Grammar Book we had to make our way through.  (You can grab your copy on Amazon here).

It was SO huge that each student was asked to dedicate their project to one chapter. So, I got adjectives and learned a lot that I’d like to share with you today. In fact, I love this book because it actually explains how and why each grammar rule works, including rules you may not have known existed!

Teaching Adjective Form & Use

So, like any grammatical concept, it’s important to give students a little bit of a basis before you get started. Well, I’m sure you know students get a bit bored in grammar class, right? Don’t worry! I have games and activities coming up that they’ll love.

There are three concepts we used at McGill  to help students learn:  noticing, structuring, and processing.  In fact, they should be done in exactly that order. In this way, students are presented with a new form without being bombarded with information. Then, they can start to understand the structure, and use it.  Of course, all you need to do is ensure that you add fun, engaging activities to the mix and you’re golden. Genius!



Adjectives: What Should I Teach?

Well, that’s great, you say, but what should I teach?  Of course, you know that an adjective modifies a noun, but there must be more to it than that! What do students really need to know (especially ESL students) so they can feel more confident speaking well?

Here are the 3 key points to teach:


1. Adjective Placement

So, do adjectives go before the noun or after the noun?  That depends!  Students will often ask “How do I know if an adjective goes before the noun or after the noun in English?

Well, try this tip:


  •  An attributed adjective that describes a characteristic, and “leaves a mark on something” (The Grammar Book) goes before the noun, like a “dented” wall or a “broken chair”.


  •  Instead, an adjective that describes a situation (sometimes in the passive voice), and uses words like “seem” or “considered” comes after the noun.   For example, “They considered Stuart to be mad”.

2. ING vs. ED vs. EN

Of course, the “ing” and “ed” are quite confusing for ESL learners, especially those whose native language don’t have different adjective endings.  Keep it simple:


  •  “ing” is for situations.                                 Suzy was bored,
  •   “ed” is for emotions and people             The lecture was boring. 
  •  Usually, I give my students the example of Suzy is boring and ask them to explain the difference!


“En” adjectives are similar to the point above, and can go after the noun if they describe a situation  and in the passive voice: “A window was broken”. Having students make a list of adjectives they know can help them see the different forms.


3. Salience

Another way to understand adjectives is to understand that they can be either inherent characteristics or salient/ temporary.


  • An inherent characteristic may also go before the noun, like “a stolen car”.
  • salient characteristic may go before the noun, like “I was interested in the novel”, but can also be in a progressive construction like  “You are being disruptive in class”. Some sources, such as this excellent explanation from University College London call these “dynamic” adjectives. In fact, they diffrentiate between dynamic adjectives used with a progressive construction (being + adjective) and static adjectives. Check out their article for more information.

Now, of course there are a lot of places on the web you can grab some English teaching ideas, like English Club or Perfect English Grammar, but I wanted to provide you with three activities right here to get you started.  (Oh, and check out my Recommendations page if you’re looking for other great bloggers and ESL sites).

Here are the three awesome activities:


Adjectives Activity 1: Noticing

La La Land ESL

First, you need to have students find adjectives in a piece of writing, like a newspaper article, a short story, or even their favourite song lyrics!  Song lyrics work wonders for lesson plans, like my plan on If I Were A Boy  or  La La Land.  Try them out!

Have students highlight all the adjectives they can find, and work in pairs to see if they’ve missed any on their own. For advanced students, have them highlight the different types of adjectives, and identify the noun they modify.  Using different colour highlighters is a great way to do keep it fun and organized!




Adjectives Activity 2: Structuring

Next, students need to understand the structure that you taught them in the part above. You know, the part about inherence and salience, ing/ed/en and when to use each.  To do this, have students create their own sentences using the different types of adjectives. Have them make words (adjectives) that end in “ing”, “ed” and “en” and use them in sentences.

My favourite way is to use poetry magnets, like these ones:

You can get them fairly cheaply on Amazon,  and they have so many types! You could easily mix and match a few boxes for an awesome class. Of course, you can use them for other grammar and vocabulary classes, too!



Adjectives Activity 3: Processing

Finally, students should come up with their own story to use adjectives.  Actually, what I love to do (especially with younger students) is have my class draw a photo.  Then, their partner has to describe it using as many adjectives as possible.  Next, a few students can share their partner’s work with the class. You’ll be surprised how much fun they’ll have!


What if my students don’t like to draw?:

Free Speaking Board Game -Adjectives

Well, what other kinds of games could you use for this step?  How about my speaking board game, available for you for free in the  free printables library?   For example, you can ask students to explain what they did on the weekend, their favourite hobbies, or  another topic that is relevant to them (such as career choices for business students), or use the board game for even more ideas.

Also, if you missed it, check out my popular post on How To Get Your Students to Speak Up In English Class.

Want a lesson plan template with instructions for using these three concepts already set up for you? So you can plan grammar lessons without stress?

Guess what?:

I’ll have them all for you in the August printables, coming out in just a couple days.  You have access to my free printables libraryright? If not, be sure to click the button below to get access!


Free Printables Library

What’s your favourite way to teach grammar? If you have any tips and tricks, I’d love for you to comment below and share them with The Teaching Cove community. I read and respond to every comment!

Happy Teaching!




P.S. Photo fans, the photo for today’s post is one I took in Montreal, Quebec in 2011 (where I took my Graduate Certificate in TEFL Program!)

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