Grammar Recycling Activities
“Grammar? Ahh, boring!” Isn’t this the reaction we see each time we start to introduce a new grammar point in class? Do we wonder why people don’t like it or why it is hard to fix fossilised mistakes? Well, it is boring, that’s why ? How to make this more fun? How to make sure learners welcome grammar related activities? — just make them more fun!
As it is with vocabulary, recycling grammar, tenses, structures, is another important aspect of language acquisition. Failing to do it results in non-cohesive speech which projects a quite incompetent image on the part of the speaker.
Recycling grammar can be fun as well. A lot of activities can be adapted in a way, so as to serve our needs of revising this or that language point. Below, I will be sharing with you some activities that I have been using throughout my teaching career and which have always proven to be very engaging, fun, and effective.
Making questions — any grammar topic
‘Using the students’ to shorten our preparation time and make the result more effective is a well-practiced strategy. Instead of spending hours to think of some questions containing the target grammar structure we want to revise, we can ask the students to do it. First of all, it will help them to create the questions themselves, hence, remember the structure better.
This can be done with all tenses:
- Past simple — asking the students to make questions that will start with question words “when, why, how, what, where”. E.g. “Where did you spend your last holiday?”
- Present perfect vs. past simple — asking the students to create questions starting with “Have you ever?”. E.g. “Have you ever been to another country? What did you like about it?”
- Past continuous — asking the students to make questions about events being in progress in the past. E.g. “What were you doing yesterday at 7 pm?”
- Conditionals — Asking the students to finish the question starting with “What will/would you do if.”
To make this task more fun, I use the following technique — students need to flip a coin, if it is heads they need to answer to the question they have created themselves, if it is tails — they can ask the question to someone else in the group. This is a very simple trick but it spices up the game to a great extent.
We should bear in mind, however, that if we want this activity to succeed, we should first demonstrate how to do it by giving an example and acting it out with a stronger student. Also, we should monitor them closely and put them on the right track once we see they are confused or have used a wrong structure. If we ignore structural mistakes like that, they will become fossilised and very hard to fix later.
Board games — any grammar topic
This one is my personal favourite which spices up a discussion, has both controlled and free practice slots.
Board games are like the old favourite monopoly game, where players are using dice and move on the board. Here, they will apply the same rules but will have to answer a question using the correct tense form when they land on a square. Below is an example of a board game on using present perfect and past simple. The internet is full of resources like this, plus there are several blank templates to create your own board games.
Roleplays — making questions
Dialogues, real-life situations are great tools to help students assimilate the target structures.
Let’s say we want to practice the question forms in the present/past/future tenses. A sample context can be as follows. Divide the students into pairs. Tell them to imagine that they are in a restaurant/hotel/shop where they need to ask the waiter/the receptionist/the shop assistant 3 questions about the food/service/products and complain about 3 things.
Time the students for 5 minutes to act out the dialogues, and then swap roles. Meantime, monitoring and taking notes on language misuse should be done thoroughly. As soon as the students are done, 1 or 2 pairs can act out their dialogues open class.
A sample dialogue can look like this:
A: What do you have for starters?
B: We have a Greek salad.
A: Can I order 1 salad and fries?
A: What will you suggest for dessert?
B: How about an apple pie?
A: Sounds great!
A: Excuse me, I have asked for an apple pie, but this is a carrot cake.
B: I am so sorry, I will take it back to the kitchen.
A: Can I get the bill, please?
B: Here you are.
A: Is there a mistake here? I haven’t ordered water but it is in the bill.
B: It’s not my day today. Sorry, I will change it right away.
Grammar auction — any grammar topic
This is a very nice activity if you want your students to pay attention very closely and have fun grammar revision at the same time. Before the class prepare a list of sentences that will contain a mistake.
- I have never be abroad.
- Have you ever forgot someone’s birthday?
- They hasn’t done their homework.
Tell the students that you are going to read some sentences that contain a mistake. They will need to find the mistake and for each correct answer, they will get a point. Distribute green flashcards to the students to use when they think they know the answer. This will ensure you do not get confused about who answered the first. Read the sentences out loud, let the students identify the mistakes and give points for each correct answer. The student with the most points wins.
To avoid confusion, you can also use online voting tools where students can post their answers and the system will calculate who the first was.
>True/False — any grammar topic
As we know, students like talking about real-life situations and it also helps them to learn the target material easier. This activity is very practical when recycling simple past vs. present perfect forms.
Ask the students to write down some true and some false sentences about themselves using the target structures. Demonstrate the first one.
- I have never been drunk.
- I went to Dubai last winter.
- I met Brad Pitt on my last vacation.
The students should ask each other questions to understand which sentence is true and which one is false.
- What was Brad Pitt wearing? Where did you see him? What was he doing?
Give the students a chance to ask 5-7 questions to each other to find the true/false sentences. If the sentences are true, encourage the students to give more information about it.
This is a nice communicative practice and challenges the students to find the lies.
Class story — any grammar topic
Having students write some stories can sometimes be quite challenging, as they often complain about the lack of creativity, what to write about and writing in general. Here is a fun way to trick them into composing a story.
Split the students into pairs. The right-handed person sitting on the right is the writer, as it will be easier for the other pair to see what is being written. Distribute some random words to the pairs (dark, November, easily, suddenly, wonderful, mouse, difficult, etc.). You can even ask the students to list any words in English and put them on the board. Give them a title, like “It was a dark morning in the end of November…”. The students will need to create a story using past tenses (past simple, past perfect, past continuous) and come up with a story using the boarded words as well.
Once the students are done, post their stories on the walls and have them walk around to read each others’ stories. Also, ask them to tick the stories they like the most. The story with the most ticks wins and can be read open class.
This is a very nice activity to revise the agreement of tenses and structures in general.
The Drinking Man — 1st conditional
This is a fun activity to revise 1st conditional. It challenges the students’ creativity and can result in very funny stories. Before the class, prepare a photo of a man in the bar, drinking something.
Ask the students to come up with “If…will” sentences and create a thread of thoughts this man might be having. Below is a story one of my groups once has come up with.
- If I drink the full glass I will get drunk.
- If I get drunk, I will call my ex-girlfriend.
- If I call my ex-girlfriend, we will start to date again.
- If we start to date again, I will lose my mind.
- If I lose my mind, I will be taken to a hospital.
- If I am taken to the hospital, they will never let me out.
- If I never get out, I will die there.
- So, I will not drink the full glass.
This activity can create some good laughs 🙂
Picture it — prepositions and giving instructions
This is a very fun activity to recycle prepositions and giving instructions.
Before the class prepare pictures like the ones below:
Divide the students into teams of 3. Give the picture to one of the team members and ask him/her to navigate the other two into the same position like the people in the picture.
E.g. “Stand on your left foot, move your right foot to the side and don’t put it on the ground. Pull your hands up as if you are going to hug someone, etc.”
As soon as the instructor thinks the picture is complete he/she takes a photo of the team members performing the actions and compares it to the original. The closer the real-time photo is to the original, the more scores the team gets.
This activity is truly fun, it complements the methodology of total physical response and creates a game-like situation where students forget that they are in a learning process.
Gallery walk — Past tenses and Passive forms
This activity is known to be used for brainstorming sessions. It is also called ‘Stations’. In my experience, I have been using this to recycle past simple, past perfect, passive forms. Here is how it can be done. Post paintings on the walls like the ones below:
(Painting 1 — “The Persistance of Memory”, Vincent van Gogh, picture taken from wikipedia.com
Painting 2 — “A pair of Shoes”, Vincent van Gogh, picture taken from pinterest.com)
Divide the students into groups of 3. Appoint one of the students as a guide, and the others as visitors. Ask the groups to choose a picture and stand next to it. The visitors should ask questions to the guides in passive forms and the guides should respond using the correct tense form.
A: When was the painting painted?
B: It was painted in 1956.
A: Who was it painted by?
B: It was painted by Salvador Dali.
Time the students for 2 minutes to ask and answer questions, then move to another painting by swapping the roles of the guides.
To make this activity easier for lower levels, you can brainstorm the questions to be asked to the guides before the gallery walk, post them on the board, so that the students can use them when they run out of ideas.
Situational pictures — continuous tenses
Situational pictures is a nice way to revise continuous forms for lower-level students. I mostly use personal pictures as they trigger interest and students want to ask more questions, however, random pictures can also be fine.
Before the class prepare a number of pictures that you want to be used during the class.
Show the picture on PPT or distribute it to the students by asking them to describe what is/was happening there. Ask them to get as creative as possible.
Sample answers can be like this: The people are dancing in the street. The woman on the left is wearing a mask. People are carrying umbrellas. The woman on the right is wearing a grey jacket, etc.
To make this more organized you can provide a checklist for the students to use for each picture:
- What are the people doing?
- What are the people wearing?
- What do you think was happening before this picture was taken?
- How do you think the people are feeling?
This is another guessing activity that my students enjoy doing.
Before the class prepare photos of different people but be careful to choose photos that will not reveal the profession of those people.
Ask students to use modal verbs to guess what their profession is and give reasons why they think so. Demonstrate the first one as an example.
A: The first person might be a programmer as he looks really smart.
B: He can be a salesman, as he looks very professional and has a nice posture.
C: He must be a businessman as he is wearing a suit and looks pretty formal.
To make this more fun, I choose pictures of people whose professions I know and reveal it to the students once they are done with their guesses. It encourages the students to try to think harder, take more guesses, use more language to see who was right in the end 🙂
Past habits — used to, comparatives
Another activity I have been using to practice ‘used to’ is to talk about the past.
Divide the students into pairs and give them topic cards like “food, transport, education” etc. Ask them to use the target structure and compare them to the present situation.
- Food used to be healthier than it is now. People used to spend more time having food together than they do now.
Encourage the students to come up with as many ideas as possible to keep the conversation going.
This activity can very well be used with recycling comparative forms as well.
Any speaking activity can be transformed to help us revise the direct/indirect sentence structure.
Before the class prepare a list of direct questions that students will be asking each other:
- Can you play a musical instrument?
- What do you like doing in your free time?>
- Where did you go on your last holiday?
Distribute the questions to the students and ask them to interview a couple of people in the classroom. When doing this the students will need to take notes to remember information about their peers.
Once the students are done ask them to report back to class any information they have gathered.
- Anne said she has never been able to play a musical instrument as it was very difficult for her.
- Aram told me that he likes reading in his free time.
Thank you very much! Very interesting activities. I’ll use them in my classes next week.
Glad to hear!
Thank you.I like it very much.