IATEFL 2015 Making up Grammar Rules or What a teacher can do to motivate students during a grammar lesson

This talk is part of the Young Learners and Teenagers SIG day… So here I am in the interests of variety: I’ve hit technology, EAP, materials writing, pronunciation, teacher drawing skills, and now it’s time for some YL! And later on, a splash of IELTS and some teacher training may be on the cards! (I say “may” – we all know how fluid and last minute these decisions are…! ) Nothing like a bit of variety to reinvigorate the teacher soul! 🙂

This talk was inspired by a talk given by Ken Wilson last year, apparently. Entitled Motivating the unmotivated. Ken focused on 10 points out of which today we will focus on 5. But first, we need to think about why, for this topic.

Why teach grammar?

  • He doesn’t want his students to sound like Borat.
  • He wants students to produce good, reliable, accurate language.
  • He wants his students to be consistent.
  • Students ask for it. (He recommended students a grammar book as an option, and ALL of them bought it)
  • For the general public, a self-respecting language school cannot not teach grammar.


  • Let students use their imagination; find out what they know and what they are good at. Ask them about school subjects. What is their favourite subject? In Georgios’s case, most of his students liked maths, history, literature, biology, and foreign language was way at the bottom. Ask about their interests. Many areas will be identified.
  • Make them curious. Since the enjoy maths so much, Georgios wanted to show them that there was logic in grammar. He shows us a greek word which has 3 words in the English equivalent. You were running: Who, when, what, continuously. Greek students often make the mistake “you running” – if they produce that he can point out that we need to know when.
  • Challenge them. Elicit. You only get your allowance from your parents if you work for it, then you develop more respect for it. Mental effort in learning language makes it more memorable. Elicitation develops problem-solving abilities and stimulates critical thinking, and all of these lead to greater learner autonomy and self-reliance. Encourages students to personalise grammar rules.
  • Anticipate errors and USE them!


  • Examples must generate the target structure, be relevant and appropriate.
  • Devolve responsibility: make a student an “expert” in something e.g. the past simple ‘did’ auxiliary; the expressions that go with the past simple e.g. “last night”. This creates a memory palace – each students has his or her area of expertise. Students remembered who said what. But students MUST participate voluntarily. It’s a game, they don’t want to be left out; it seems like an easy, fun thing to do; their sense of Philotimo kicks in (it’s the right thing to do). Gives a confidence boost, a way to engage weaker students, it’s stress free environment as a game, it encourages an environment of support.
  • Use Double Jeopardy: you can’t kill your husband twice = no double negative, no I didn’t went etc.
  • VIP rule: What’s most important goes first. Active voice – the subject, passive voice – the object etc.
  • Mr Grumpy: Mr Wilson is always yelling at Denis when he plays near his house. Associate pictures with structures.

Possible problems: Not for beginners or very young students; can be time-consuming; can lead to an unhealthy obsession with accuracy at the expense of communicative competence.

And don’t forget, you need meaning with grammar, like Tzatziki needs bread…






One thought on “IATEFL 2015 Making up Grammar Rules or What a teacher can do to motivate students during a grammar lesson

  1. Pingback: IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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