Teaching grammar: It’s as easy as A, B, C!

In this series of blog posts for primary teachers, Katherine Bilsborough, author of Imagine level 1, offers simple tips for easy ways to teach grammar, phonics, and reading.

The best way for children to learn grammar is by first seeing and hearing examples in context, then getting opportunities to practice using the structure themselves in engaging ways. When a grammar point is new, children need plenty of support until they feel confident, and the language is absorbed into their repertoire.

Sometimes, it isn’t the children who fear grammar, but the teachers. This is especially true of new teachers or teachers who might not have a proficient level of English. But don’t worry, if this is you. It is entirely normal and understandable. As a teacher, it is worth investing in a good, clear grammar guide. If you are a primary teacher, then a lower-level grammar guide should work well. The simpler the explanations, the better. If you need advice about which guide to buy, ask colleagues or more experienced teachers, or read reviews online.

When it comes to teaching grammar, here are three activities that show you how easy it can be – as easy as A, B, C.

Activity #1 (A) Replacing keywords

Write a sentence or short dialogue on the board with the key grammar point that you want to teach. Highlight or underline the structure. If you are teaching online, use a slide.

For example:

A: Can a bird fly?

B: Yes, it can.

A: Can a bird swim?

B: No, it can’t.

Read the two dialogues aloud with a volunteer learner, pointing or using a tool to draw attention to the highlighted words to encourage children to notice how the language works.

Leave the highlighted sentences or dialogues on the board or slide and add a second version with some words removed and gapped.

For example:

A: Can a ____ ____?

B: Yes, it ____.

A: Can a ____ ____?

B: No, it ____.

Ask children to help you complete the dialogues with their own ideas. Online teachers can do this by activating microphones one by one or, for larger groups, using breakout rooms and appointing a scribe to each group to make notes and feedback later. For classes needing more support, provide some example words for them to choose from in a word box. In the example above, these words would be helpful: monkey / fish / spider / swim / fly / talk / can / can’t.

Leave everything on the board or slide and ask children to write their own version of the two dialogues, working in pairs so they can share their ideas. In online classes, this can be done in breakout rooms. Finish by asking each pair to act out one of their dialogues for the rest of the class.

Activity #2 (B) Word ordering

Grammar is made up of words and very often, understanding a grammar point at the primary level, means understanding the order in which words need to appear. This is the reason why word ordering activities often feature in primary materials. Here are some ways you can make a word ordering activity engaging.

1. After teaching a new grammar structure, make a note of some example sentences. Then write each word on a separate piece of paper or card. If a sentence is short, make it longer by adding extra words. For example:

Is / there / a / man / on / the / boat / ?

Choose eight children to stand at the front of the class and give each child a card. Ask them to hold their card in front of them for the rest of the class to read. Then ask them to stand in a line, so that the sentence is in the correct order. The rest of the children in the class can help with this by asking their classmates to change positions.

You can make the activity a bit easier by writing more than one word on some cards. For example:

Is / there / a man / on / the boat?

Online Adaption: This activity can be adapted for an online context by sending each child their words using the private chat box function, then activating microphones so that the children can read out their words one by one, in order.


Ask the learners to make word puzzles for their classmates:

  • Learners write a sentence containing the target structure. Check the sentences and suggest any corrections as necessary.
  • Give each child a strip of paper to write their sentence. Each strip should be wide enough to write a sentence in the lower half and draw a pattern across the top half.
  • Children write their sentences clearly across the lower half of the strip, leaving a space between each word (for cutting).
  • Then they draw a continuous line pattern* across to the top of the strip, using their initials and any other shape or image.
  • Children cut off each word into a separate ‘word card’. They can throw away any extra paper from the strip.
  • There are a number of ways for learners to make sentences from the word cards.
  • Exchange word cards in pairs and recreate the sentence.
  • Work in groups of three or four, exchanging sentences with another group. Put all cards into the centre of the table. Then work as a group to recreate all of the sentences.

*The purpose of the pattern is to be able to easily identify which word pieces belong in the same sentence if they get mixed up.

While this exact activity is difficult to replicate exactly online, learners can make word puzzles for their classmates by working first on paper and then sharing their jumbled sentences in a number of ways: in the chatbox, in a collaborative space such as jamboard, or as a photo in a gallery.

Activity #3 (C) Error correction: Learners as teachers

For older primary learners, focusing on error correction in a fun way can help them consolidate what they have learned.

Prepare a worksheet or a slide with a list of 6 to 10 sentences, each with an error. Ideally, these are sentences containing common errors that you have observed the learners make themselves. Learners work in pairs or groups of three to play at being the teacher and identify the error in each sentence. This can be done in breakout rooms in an online context. Encourage them to discuss each sentence and share their ideas. They can also look back at their notebooks or class books for confirmation or checking. When they finish, ask each pair or group, in turn, to explain why the sentence is incorrect and to offer a corrected version.

Imagine supports the teaching of grammar in numerous ways, becoming gradually more sophisticated with each age and level. In level one, structures are presented first as a simple audio which children can read along to, noticing as they do, key color-coded words. This is followed by a fun chant where the structure is seen in context again. Then it is the children’s turn to practice saying a dialogue with text and audio support. The user-friendly unit-by-unit Grammar helper at the back of the book has handy grammar tables and consolidation activities. The workbook and online resources provide further practice.

Grammar Helper
From Imagine Level 1

Author: Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website teachingenglish.org.uk and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.

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