Communicative grammar activities

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The following are ideas for communicative activities for teaching and practicing grammar, especially with younger learners. These activities can be used in conjunction with other exercises, stories, and class activities. For some of these, the teacher needs to show the children what to do. [1]

Target grammar concept Activities
Simple past verbs After hearing or reading an age-appropriate story (e.g., Goldilocks and the Three Bears), one child is given picture cards, each with a verb and a corresponding picture; the other as parts of the story with the verb blanked out to read aloud, and the child with the picture cards supplies the appropriate word/picture card. They can also do a board game with the base forms of the verbs on each square of the board, and as they go around the board, they form a complete sentence with the verb in the past tense, or better yet, try to recall a sentence from the story with the verb.
AUXILIARY would Students play a board game with pictures of food or drink items in each square. As each child's playing piece lands on a square, the child asks a question about the item (e.g., "Would you like a hamburger?) and another child replies (e.g., "Yes, I would like a hamburger. I'm hungry"). After this, students do a restaurant role-play activity as customers and waiters/waitresses.
Numbers, wh-words, and descriptive adjectives Role play: Ordering food in a restaurant, where customers and waiters have to use quantity expressions and wh-expressions to make orders ("How much do you want? - I'll have a large salad, a small soup, and a little bit of hot sauce.").
Quantifiers and numerical quantifiers, e.g., some, many, 6 kilos) Problem solving activity: You are on a ship that is sinking. You need to swim to a nearby island. You have a waterproof bag, but you can only carry 20 kg of supplies in it. Talk to each other and decide which items and how much of each item you want to take. Items include, e.g., axes, cans of food, bottle water, short-wave radio, rope, laptop computer, tablet, cell phones, etc. Students need to use wh-questions, numerical modifiers and quantifiers.
Unaccusative verbs (state and change of state verbs, e.g., break, open, close, fall, appear, disappear, freeze, melt, exist)[2] A combination of instructional and practice activities can be used, e.g.:
  1. The teacher may first show picture flash cards depicting such verbs, like a broken window, and eliciting the correct form. The teacher might provide a story or dialogue with example sentences (maybe an artificially constructed dialogue), and then ask comprehension questions, e.g., "What happened to the ice cream cone?" Then students are given picture flashcards, or better yet, model objects for a more kinesthetic or TPR (total physical response) activity. These can include real or plastic dishes, ice cream cones, toy baseball and plastic window (like form a Lego set), etc., and they create their own story or dialogues with the objects.
  2. Discussing music videos with state / state change verbs and other similar verbs in the lyrics (exists, appear, disappear, die, live, increase, consist of). Students can discuss the situations, role play and act out the videos, or create their own song lyrics. They can create their own question - answer activities, e.g., "Do you think aliens exist?"
  3. Introducing unaccusatives. Before the above activities, students can choose correct forms from a worksheet, and then the teacher discusses the answers with the whole class. For example, in a reading passage about climate change, students verb forms, e.g., "Melting of the glaciers occurs / is occurred ... The ice melts / is melted."
Active, passive, and unaccusative verbs (including verbs that can have both intransitive unaccusative and transitive meanings, like change, increase, decrease) Advanced: Students can take news stories and rewrite them from different perspectives and changing verb forms, e.g, changing actives to passives, actives / passives to intransitives / unaccusatives.
Comparative and superlative adjectives Comparison and before/after activities. Students can be given pictures of public figures, movie posters, etc. and they make sentences or stories comparing them. They can also do so with before/after pictures. E.g.: "X looks chubbier / skinnier after making that movie. X looks uglier than Y. X looks younger than Y." They can also compare movies or TV shows based on pictures, e.g., "Movie X was funnier than movie Y. Movie Z was X's best / funniest / most boring movie."
Phrasal verbs A combination of instructional and practice activities can be used, e.g.:
  1. Role-plays, e.g., home situations, office situations (requires pre-teaching the vocabulary)
  2. Discussing phrasal verbs in popular songs, and writing your own songs with phrasal verbs
  3. Translate formal instructions on product labels to informal phrasal verbs, composing a more natural set of instructions with complete sentences. E.g.:
    • remove cap → take off the cap ...
    • twist bottom → turn the bottom around
    • insert cartridge into printer → put the cartridge in/into the printer

See also

  1. Many of these are ideas from my students in my linguistic grammar courses at the Hanyang TESOL program, so my thanks to them for these ideas.
  2. These are verbs that are difficult for East Asian learners, as they tend to incorrectly passivize such verbs, saying, e.g., "*he was died, *the car was disappeared, *he is existed").