By Mike Astbury

30 December 2015 - 13:55

Grammar games can 'make the target language memorable, and promote collaboration and communicative learning.'
Grammar games can 'make the target language memorable, and promote collaboration and communicative learning.' Photo ©

Mat Wright

Looking for some new grammar games for the classroom? Mike Astbury, latest winner of the British Council's TeachingEnglish blog award for his post on pronunciation, shares three of his favourite activities.

Games and fun activities are a regular feature of my lessons. I use them with both younger learners and adults, because they motivate students, make the target language memorable, and promote collaboration and communicative learning.

The following activities practise the structure ‘to be able to’, and were designed for a pre-intermediate class of mixed ability. However, they can be adapted to practise other structures of lesser or greater complexity, depending on the level of the class.

1. Group quiz using personalised sentences

This activity is designed for the practice and production stages of a lesson. In other words, you will already have presented the target language to students.

The aim here is to make the grammar structure memorable by providing a personalised context. Start with an example on the board; (you can adapt the following, so that it’s true for you):

(Something I’m able to do well)

__________________________ football quite well.

Elicit from students the full sentence, ‘I’m able to play football quite well’, and then ask for some more suggestions of things they think you’re able to do. Write their ideas on the board, while responding to the suggestions. For example:

Student (S): ‘drums!’

Teacher (T): ‘No, I've never been able to play the drums.’ (Add ‘play the drums’ to the board)

S: ‘Can you speak Spanish?’

T: ‘No, but I’d love to be able to speak Spanish.’ (Add ‘speak Spanish’ to the board)

Continue in this way until you have a selection of verb-noun collocations on the board. Students can refer to these and use them for inspiration in the next stage.

Now, divide students into groups of four or five and hand each student a set of five quiz cards (PDF 89.7 KB – these cards include a variety of tenses that build on previous learning, such as the present perfect and past simple. You can adapt these cards to suit the level of your class).

Students work on their own to complete the cards one by one. Each answer must be written as a sentence. For example, on the first card, a student might write, ‘I’d like to be able to speak German’; on the second card, ‘I've never been able to cook well’, and so on.

While students write their sentences, monitor and assist with any difficulties as necessary. Encourage early finishers to check each other’s answers or help others in their group.

Once everyone’s finished, get students to discuss their answers with others in the group before writing their names on their cards. Next, ask students in each group to gather all the cards into a single pile and shuffle them.

You’re now ready to begin the quiz, using the students’ sentences as the questions. To demonstrate, take a card from one group and read the sentence to the class. ‘Who wrote “I’ll be able to go to the moon in the future?”’ Ask students from the other groups to guess who wrote the sentence, and allow for a little discussion within groups before they submit an answer. If you play the game like this, with the whole class, you can act as quiz master, asking questions and keeping score on the board. I have found this option works well with smaller classes.

Alternatively, students can play the game themselves within each group. In that case, I would pass each pile of cards clockwise so that each group has a new set of cards. Students then take turns picking up a card and reading it to the group. Whichever student in the group guesses correctly keeps the card. The winner is the student with the most cards at the end.

As a final stage, get students to mingle as a class. They take their original five sentences and explain their answers to each other in pairs. I encourage students to ask follow-up questions. Monitor students and note down mistakes or problems in the use of the target language. You can use these as part of an error correction activity in the following lesson (see next activity).

2. Team error correction

This game is a quick and easy way to turn error correction into something fun and competitive. Write the sentences on the board (such as the ones below) and explain that each sentence has at least one mistake. Ask students to discuss suitable corrections in pairs.

1. I've never be able to swim in the sea.
2. I'll to be able to play football tonight, if the weather's good.
3. I'd love to being able to speak English perfectly.
4. My friends was able to see my car when I drove past.
5. I'm able to playing the piano really well.
6. If we finish early, we'll be able go to shopping after work.
7. John's to be able to cook like a chef. His food is so much tasty.
8. My brother's able to make great photos in holiday.
9. She able to sing beautifully. All the people thinks she'll be a pop star.

Now, divide the class into three teams, so that they’re no longer with their previous partners, and ask them to discuss the corrections further, thinking about how confident they are about their answer. Next, give each of the three groups different-colour board pens. Each group picks someone to write, who then has to quickly come to the board and make a single correction to one of the sentences. Once they make a correction, they have to go back to their group and pass the pen to someone new.

There’s a pause in between each round of corrections, so we can keep the corrections that are right and remove the ones that are wrong, eliciting reasons from the class. Each round is a race to the board, so students are rewarded for quickly coming to an agreement and working together. The pen is constantly swapping within the group to stop one student from taking over (or from not taking part at all).

Once the game is finished you can add up the points by counting the corrections in each colour.

'Once the game is finished you can add up the points by counting the corrections in each colour.'

3. Team gap fill for revising

The third activity is a short game made for revision. If you have access to a projector or interactive white board, you can use sentences from this gap fill presentation (PPT 53.2 KB). Alternatively, you could simply write them on the blackboard. For example:

Divide the class into two teams and give each team a board marker. Put a question on the board, and two spaces for each team's answer. For example:

I’d like __________________ French fluently before my holiday next year.
Team A: _______________________      Team B: ______________________

Now get students to discuss ideas in their groups, only giving a short amount of time to decide on an answer. Next, ask them to nominate one of their team to write the answer on the board. Make sure each team member writes at the same time, to avoid copying each other.

Once both groups have written an answer, discuss them as a class. If the teams have different answers, discuss whose answer is correct, to encourage self-correction and reflection. Swap the role of writer around with each new sentence and give two points for a perfect sentence and one point if they’re close. Continue with the activity in this way, writing one question on the board at a time.

Visit Mike's blog, Teaching Games, for more great ideas.

Find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger, and visit our TeachingEnglish website for lesson plans and activities.

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