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You know how high school and university students groan when they hear the word grammar?  It’s such a hard subject to teach, isn’t it? Especially if students are learning a second language.


Do you teach younger kids? Have you ever taught absolute beginner adults ESL?
If the answer to either of those is yes, you know how tricky it can be to teach a grammar lesson. It’s such a difficult task, isn’t it, even in a first language? Well, younger kids learning English as a second language are even harder to teach grammar concepts than high school students, I’d say.

I usually teach a lot of teenagers and adults, but this semester I have a few kids who light up my day with their energy!  The other day, I realized that sometimes teaching them is similar to teaching a class of absolute beginners, which I’ve done a few times here in Spain. Classes of absolute beginners were always the toughest.

You know, absolute beginner adults who start with colours and numbers?  How can you make that fun and exciting, when they’re overwhelmed at the idea of learning an “important” new language as an adult?  (I put important in quotes because I think all languages are important, but learning English at least here in Spain seems to be popular!)

Today’s post is about exactly that!

Read on:


5 Grammar Games for Kids

3 Ways To Make Grammar Fun + Songs

While it’s true that games are not only for children, it’s also true that kids love games! They also have a very short attention span, so quick 15-minute activities are my favourite. At the moment I’m teaching a couple of 7-year-olds, an 8-year-old, and I’m about to start teaching a 10-year-old. So, you can imagine that my tutoring bag is full of games!

1.   Memory

Memory is one of my favourite games to teach grammar. Wait! Isn’t that a vocabulary game? you say. Well, I use it more for grammar than anything else.

Here’s how:

  • Have students review a specific verb  (like “to be” or “to do” or “to have”) for all the conjugations.  Then, have them say “I have…” or “I am…” when they pick up the memory cards. Of course, “I am” works best if they are animal memory cards.
  • Once they’ve got the first person down, they can try “She has”, “He has”, “We have”  etc.  Soon, they’ll be speaking in full sentences instead of repeating rote verbs or vocabulary words.
  • Use blank memory cards you can fill out yourself to engage kids. They LOVE to draw with markers and decide which animals or objects will go on the cards.


2.  I-Spy

Now, this one is a classic game. You know it, right?  I spy with my little eye, something that is …[insert colour here].  Even though it’s a simple guessing game, it’s a lot of fun.

It has 2 advantages:

First, kids love to get up and look around the room. Movement is key to keeping their attention. Sounds contradictory, I know – but every time I let kids move around during the lesson, they have so much more fun and focus better.

Second, you can review colours, the verb  “to see” or “to spy” [easily changeable to other verbs] and new vocabulary items all in one go. After a few rounds, switch to the past tense for more advanced learners, recapping what happened in the game. (E.g. She saw a stuffed animal and he saw a pencil case).


3.  Hanging Fruit  (Or Hangman)

I love playing “Spelling Hangman” with kids.   It’s a great way to review vocabulary, but you can also use it to start stories. Once students have guessed the correct word, have them make a one or two sentence story about the word.

Actually, a teacher commented on my post on 5 vocabulary games with a great idea:

Perhaps we shouldn’t be hanging people, but using fruit instead. (So, use the shape of a banana, an apple, or another object instead of a hanging man). That adds yet another “element” to the story that you can have more advanced kids develop once they’ve correctly guessed the vocabulary word. They can incorporate the hanging item into the story too, practising present, past, or future tense (whichever you’ve recently taught them).


4.  Charades

Now, this is a classic!  Have students act out objects or animals they have recently learned, and have the other children guess. In a tutoring context, the teacher could guess.

You could practice:

  • Pronouns  –   He’s a bear,  she’s an elephant, it’s a dog etc.
  • Verb Conjugations –  I’ve got, she’s got a bear, an elephant, a dog, etc.   (assuming they’re acting out pictures on game cards)
  • Possessive – That’s  Sarah’s bear, Matthew’s elephant, Julio’s dog, etc.


5.  Speaking Board Games


Now, isn’t that a speaking game? you ask.  Well, while that’s true, I have made quite a few speaking board games specifically directed at a particular tense. Students practice that particular tense throughout the whole game.  Repetition works so well, and since they’re speaking about real-life situations, it makes it easy to remember!


You have access to my free printables library, right?  You can grab two speaking board games there absolutely free – one general one that’s great for your first class, and another that’s perfect for past tense grammar.


Free Printables Library


If you’re looking for more grammar activity tips, you can always check out my post on 3 Awesome Adjective Lessons or my post on How To Teach Grammar with Songs.


Adapting Grammar Games for Absolute Beginner Adults

You know what?:

ALL of these games could work just as well for adults. Now, the only I haven’t used in an absolute beginner class is “I-Spy”. While they’re reluctant at first, once you have a good rapport with the adults that you’re teaching, they start to relax and enjoy the games.  Once, I even had a whole class of forty-something executives in a Spanish paper company office laughing during memory!

So, don’t be afraid to use “people” memory cards to teach adjectives, descriptive vocabulary, or verb tenses with adults, too.

Board games are the best for adults, as they see themselves constructing full sentences and feel like they are progressing. You all know how much I believe that motivation affects language learning!



Books To Help Teach Kids English Grammar

Of course, the three books mentioned below are simply examples – but they really are three I use most when working with kids.

1.   Oxford Discover Series
 One of my favourite series of books for ESL kids is Oxford Discover.

I will caution that the whole teacher package with CDs, etc. can get quite expensive. However, it’s pretty easy to find videos on Youtube that relate to the themes. (For example, a kids ice-cream making video for Unit 3).

2.  Graded Readers
 Never underestimate the power of graded readers.

I’ve used these with kids and adults with great success.  They have the chance to read a classic without worrying about a level that’s too complex for them

3.  Where The Wild Things Are 

Of course, this one is a classic written by Maurice Sendak –  Where The Wild Things Are.

If you haven’t read it, it’s an imaginative story about a little boy named Max whose bedroom “comes to life” one night and turns into a forest adventure with monsters.  Kids LOVE the pictures, though I will caution that the sentences are a bit difficult for beginners. You may have to read it to them!



Books To Help Absolute Beginners Teach English Grammar


10 Amazing ESL Textbooks

1.  English File Series (A1)

If you’ve read my post on the English File series, you’ll know how much I love it  In fact, I use almost every level in my current tutoring jobs.  Other than some of the videos and images, most of the content is unique and original. Their speaking sections are also great!


2.  Perfect Phrases for Meetings (Business English)

Teaching adults Business English? Perfect Phrases is one of my series for ESL in general, but they have a specific one for business meetings! How great is that?  I also use the TOEFL ones a lot, especially for transition words and connectors for speaking and writing.


3. Practice Makes Perfect

So, this one is a bit of a classic worksheet book, but it is quite helpful.  For students who like worksheets for homework (lots of adults are used to that), the Practice Makes Perfect can be a good book for homework. It’s true that it’s a little routine, but practice is always a good idea!

What grammar games do you use in class or in tutoring sessions? Which of these ideas or books are you going to try first? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! (I read and respond to every comment 🙂


Happy Teaching!




P.S.  Photography fans, the photo for today’s post is one I took at in the old city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia in October this year.

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