Number one for English language teachers

Minimal resources: DIY grammar

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Lindsay Clandfield and Adrian Tennant give us more great tips and ideas for creating do-it-yourself grammar lessons.

Often teachers have little material to use other than the coursebook, however good that might be. Here are some activities for jazzing up coursebooks, making them more interesting or simply providing variety.

What are the differences?
  • Choose a short text (or part of a text) from the coursebook but decide on 8 changes that you will make to it (e.g. simply underline or highlight some words in the text).
  • Dictate ‘your’ version of the text to the students. Then, ask them to compare what you dictated to the original in the coursebook.

Punctuate that!
  • Choose a short text (or part) from the coursebook.
  • Write it up on the board but leave out the punctuation and don’t put in capital letters. Students then copy out the text putting the punctuation and capital letters in.
  • Finally, ask them to check their version with the original in the coursebook.
  • This activity can also be used as a team race. Write the same text up on the board – one on the left and one on the right side.
  • Split the class into two teams and get them to race each other.

And the middle is …?

  • Ask the students to fold a piece of paper into a thin strip (approximately 2 to 3cms wide – or the width of a ruler).
  • Tell them to turn to page X where they will find a reading text. They should use their piece of paper to cover the middle part of the text in a vertical line.
  • Students will now be able to see the start and finish of each line, using the words they can see as clues they should try to guess what the covered words are.
  • Do this activity in pairs getting them to discuss their ideas.
  • Note: A teacher on a recent in-service course I was running in Belgrade told me about this technique. Thanks Hvala.

Listen out!

Version 1
Tell students they will listen to a recording about X (tell them the topic or situation).
They should write 5 words down that they think they will hear.
Play the recording. Every time they hear one of their words they should cross it out. If they cross out all their words they should shout out ‘Bingo’.

Version 2
Give students a list of 15 words that appear in the recording + 5 that don’t. Tell them to choose 5 words from the list. Play the recording. Every time they hear one of their words they should cross it out. If they cross out all their words they should shout out ‘Bingo’.


Without the cassette

Many coursebooks have tape scripts at the back of the Student’s Book. For dialogues and listening activities, put students into small groups. Get a student or students to read out the text to the rest of the group, who complete the listening exercise. You can do this instead of the cassette listening. Play the cassette at the end for everyone to check one last time. If you don’t have the cassette, read the tapescript yourself.

Without the cassette 2
  • Periodically 'revisit' listening activities from the coursebook. Here are some variations on a 'second time around' listening text.
  • Read the script but leave 'gaps' – students have to write down what word they think goes in the gap .
  • Read the script yourself, but include several mistakes, which the students must spot and write down .
  • Read the text in a whisper, very loudly, in a different accent (or have students do the same for pronunciation practice).
  • Tell students to read the text/dialogue aloud in pairs/groups but give them a different context, e.g. imagine the two characters are angry with each other, are in love, imagine this is happening in a library/hospital/battle field…

Grammar experts

Many modern coursebooks have a grammar reference section at the back of the student’s book.

  • As a revision activity ask the students to work in groups of three or four.
  • Assign each group a grammar point from the language reference section.
  • Tell them that they have 10 minutes to become 'experts' on this grammar.
  • They should prepare a mini presentation of this grammar point and a couple of examples to test it.
  • Give the groups 10 to 15 minutes to prepare their presentations.
  • Then reform into new groups, with each of the different grammar points represented. They peer-teach their grammar points.

The book quiz
  • The book quiz is often a great way of starting a course, but can be used as a way of reminding students of what they have already studied.
  • Write out 10 questions about the book (e.g. How many units are there? What’s the topic of unit 5? On what page can you find a list of irregular verbs? In which unit do you write postcards? etc).
  • Read out the questions and students try and be the quickest to find the answer.

What do you think of the coursebook?

When you reach the end of the course, or book (teachers usually finish the course before they finish the book) have a session in class to evaluate the book. Ask them to work in small groups and discuss the following questions:

  • What did you think of our coursebook?
  • What unit did you find most useful/interesting?
  • What unit did you find least useful/interesting?
  • Is there anything you would recommend doing differently with this coursebook?
  • Do you think we should continue with this coursebook?
  • What would you like to see in a coursebook?

Conduct a whole class feedback session on their discussions. Make notes of what learner’s liked/didn’t like in the book and remember this for future classes with this book!


Write to the authors

As a follow-up to the previous activity, you could write a class letter to the authors of the coursebook. You could include questions, positive comments or criticisms about the material. Write to the author care of the publisher (the address is usually on the inside front or back cover of the book). Coursebook writers very rarely receive letters from the end-users, there’s a good chance that they will even write back! 

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