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Bringing Grammar to Life

Word grammar spelt in scrabble lettersBriony Beaven is an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher. She is a NILE Associate Teacher Trainer and teaches Classroom Language to trainee teachers at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. Today, she joins us to discuss bringing grammar to life in the EFL classroom ahead of her upcoming webinar, Bringing Grammar to Life.

The big problem with teaching grammar

The big problem with grammar, familiar to all English teachers, is that many ways of teaching grammar produce learners who KNOW ABOUT grammar; for example, they can tell you the rules for using the present perfect. But they often don’t KNOW HOW because when they speak or write these supposedly ‘known’ rules do not seem to be operating. In other words, the learners fail to make use of the rule they know so well in the language they actually produce. What can we do about this?

Approaches to grammar teaching

Three main ways of introducing new grammar are the deductive, the inductive and the guided discovery approaches. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and in the webinar we will consider how these might play out in your context.

In deductive grammar teaching the teacher explains or gives the rules for the target language items and then provides practice for the learners. In inductive grammar teaching the teacher provides some examples of the target language in a realistic context and lets the learners ‘notice’ the rules. The third approach, guided discovery, is a modified version of inductive teaching. In this approach the teacher provides some examples of the target language in context and supports the learners in ‘noticing’ the rules.


Support, scaffolding, mediation

To say that you are going to ‘support’ the learners is easy. To provide genuinely useful support needs a bit more thought. In the webinar we will consider the relationship of ‘support’ to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the related concepts of ‘scaffolding’ and ‘mediation’.

In guided discovery grammar teaching we can support, for example, by ensuring that learners meet the new grammar item in a lively, engaging and lifelike context. We can also support them by questioning and monitoring while learners try to ‘notice’ the target rules. What kinds of questions are helpful to ensure learners internalise and can use grammar rules? Good concept questions and focused questions about timelines can work a kind of magic. Finally, in our efforts to support our learners, we need to take care that the rules are summarised by the teacher so that learners know if their suppositions were right or not. That is, we offer feedback, another key component of ‘support’.


Use of the learners’ first language

For a long time we neglected a wonderful resource in the teaching of grammar in a foreign language, namely the learners’ mother tongue.


In their L1 learners have learnt to think, to communicate, to speak and use their voice. They have acquired an intuitive understanding of grammar, become aware of some finer points of language and have acquired the skills of reading and writing. These days a number of experts suggest that if a class is monolingual we can beneficially make use of their first language. What do you think about this?


Learners can produce new grammar items only after plenty of practice. This practice needs to be engaging and lively, but also challenging and likely to lead to long-term learning. ‘Three times practice’ (Scrivener 2014) is one way to do this.

Well, all in all it seems we need to do more than ‘cover material’ if most of our learners are to ‘know how’ to use the grammar we teach them, not just ‘know about’ it. No one approach will succeed with all of the learners all of the time because different learners understand in different ways. We will need to make use of different approaches and techniques both for introducing new grammar and for practising it effectively.

Join me for my webinar where I will suggest some engaging ways to help students learn ‘how’ to use grammar to communicate successfully.



Butzkamm, W. 2003. We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

Scrivener, J. 2014. Demand-high teaching. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 3(2), 47-58.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J. and Ross, G. 1976. The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving. Journal of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 17, 89–100.


7 ways to bring Creative Writing into the #EFL classroom

shutterstock_336098690Creative writing can add value to your classroom by taking students out of the ordinary structure of grammar books and allowing them more freedom to practice what they have learned in a creative way. It can also be very entertaining for the teacher, as they get to exercise their creative muscles with some fun and entertaining classroom ideas.

Here are 7 ways to bring creative writing to your classroom from teachers all over the world:

1. Bag of Props 

Stefan Chiarantano – Stefan has taught English in Taiwan, Japan and China for several years and in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.

To make learning English fun for my students I would bring in a bag of props that I could incorporate into my lessons. My bag of tricks included CDs of children’s songs, chants and pop music. I would use a chant with Total Physical Response (TPR) to begin a class with young learners or a pop song with adolescent junior high school students as a means to teach idioms, vocabulary or grammar. My bag also included puppets, which allowed me to teach target language such as greetings by acting out a dialogue skit with the puppets. I varied my voice for the puppets and soon discovered that it had introduced another native speaker in the classroom.. . It included stuffed animals, which I used to teach prepositions of place. There were coloured plastic balls to teach colours but which I also used in playful activities. . As silly as it sounds, I would be lost without my bag of tricks. It has infused creativity into the way I teach but more importantly it has made learning English an enjoyable experience for my students. 

2. A Sense of Adventure

Ezekiel Yerimoh Ezekiel is a Certified Supply Chain Officer and the CEO of Tonell & Cole. He is also the National Coordinator of Quizzing Nigeria (a member of the International Quizzing Association – IQA) and the President of Knowledgefield International. 

Creative writing can bring a spirit of adventure into the classroom. Thinking about an unusual, exciting and dangerous experience or event is not only a great way to widen the horizons of students but also to give them great exposure to new vocabulary. Moreover, students’ talents, gifts, skills, environment, background and personality will play a major role in its ability to function effectively in creative writing. Basically, students should be well trained to undertake the task of creative writing.

A good example of an unusual event is for one to imagine the sunlight when it is supposed to be dark or a wild animal that speaks like a human being. Students can become more engaged if they use their personality traits and experiences to come up with their own unusual events and then perform free writing based on the event, letting their stories becomes more and more unusual.

3. Debates and Quotes

Tatyana Fedosova  – Tatyana has a PhD in English Philology, and is Professor of English at the Department of German Philology of Gorno-Altaisk State University, Altai, Siberia, Russia.

My favorite written task for intermediate-level students is to write an expert viewpoint on a challenging real-life situation or problem for a column in a magazine, for example, how to behave in a new school. I like to provide students with a quotation of a famous person on some hot topic and have them write a short argumentative passage on it. I also have my students debate a proposed amendment to the constitution by writing a speech for the TV debates or write the presidential pledge for the elections. I find it useful to ask students to make up an ending to a story, to complete the beginning of a sentence, or to write a report about an exotic place that they visited or a cultural/sporting event that took place in their region. These tasks help to reinforce key concepts under study, develop critical-thinking, cognitive, and creative skills and have practical applications as well. 

4. Mad-Libs

Peter Winthrop – Peter has been teaching kindergarten and primary school students in Shanghai, China since 2009. In addition to teaching he also assists in teacher training and mentoring.

Bringing creative writing into the classroom can be difficult, most textbooks do not focus on that part of learning another language. I like to start with Mad-libs, funny word substitutions. This allows students to have fun with the language and slips in a lesson on the importance of word choice. My big tip is to celebrate originality and learning language learned outside the classroom as much as using correct grammar. We want to show students they can use the language they have learned and can make their own sentences. They don’t just have to rely on the sentence patterns they drill in class.

I always base the Madlibs on whatever the lessons content is, so even while being silly we are practicing and using the lessons language. An example would be:

“Tim is going to the ___ because he wants to eat ___ .”  

Student One will pick the location, say library, then Student Two pick the object, say books. That gives us the sentence:

 “Tim is going to the library because he wants to eat books .”

The grammar is correct, the vocabulary is in its correct place but the meaning is silly, so everyone gets a laugh.

5. Shared Writing

Amira Shouma – Amira is a certified ESL teacher in Quebec and Ontario. She is also currently an MA graduate student in Applied Linguistics at Concordia University.

I found the article “Activities for Writing Instruction” by Sharon M. Abbey a good resource for teachers in their writing classes. The author offered various activities to activate students’ sense of writing, including shared writing. With shared writing, the teacher teaches students writing by writing with them. The process of writing starts with brainstorming ideas in a shared writing session. For example, at the beginning of the session, a teacher can establish the purpose of the shared writing session with his/her students. Then, he/she brainstorms ideas with the group. Next, the teacher selects one of the ideas and invites students to develop it. At the time of composition, the teacher and students start writing together. Finally, the teacher and his/her students revise their text together. Shared writing helps students gain their confidence, build their motivation, and also enrich their ideas. 

6. Alternate Endings

Anna Klis is an experienced English teacher and has worked for several renowned language schools. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Wroclaw and a bachelor’s degree in Film Production from the University of Wales, Great Britain.

Students (at least intermediate level) are asked in advanced by a teacher to watch a famous/popular film (or choose a  chapter from a well-known book) and choose one important and meaningful scene. At home they prepare a short description of a continuation of the scene but the way they want it to be, so that it is completely different from the original, and they work on a new version that would possibly lead to a different ending. When working on such a piece of writing students are supposed to use newly-learned grammar and/or vocabulary structures to practice them. Then during the lesson they can guess the alternate endings or compare their versions to decide which one is the best and how it fits the original story.

7. Writing with the Senses

Rachel Playfair – Rachel is a teacher-trainer and language coach working in Barcelona, Spain.

From time to time I like to use a short writing activity as a ‘Warm-Down’ end of class activity to help balance the ‘Warm-Up’ oral activities I do. One of my favourite ones is “Respond With Your Senses”: I will give students a sensory prompt (i.e. show them a picture, play them some music, put an object in a bag that they can’t see and let them feel it, let them smell something like peppermint extract), then students do free-writing about the prompt for about 3-5 minutes, depending on their level. I can also use the prompts to preview or review classroom topics. For further creative and/or collaborative writing activities, I will then put students together into small groups to combine and develop their paragraphs, which we can then share together or put up on the classroom wall. This activity can be adapted to a wide range of levels and ages as long as you make sure they have had previous vocabulary input. 


How can I boost classroom participation?

answering-questions-in-classZarina Subhan is a teacher trainer who has been working in the field of EFL for 25 years. She has taught in both private and government institutions in many different countries and has worked with policy makers, educators, community leaders and civil servants In a variety of contexts. Her interests are education and development of people and institutions. Today she previews her September 28th and 29th webinar, “Boost Classroom Participation” in a short video blog explaining what you can expect when you attend this free session.

All learners need a classroom atmosphere in which they can feel able to experiment with, notice and understand aspects of the English language without fear of making mistakes in front of their peers. This webinar will give you practical ideas for how to create this kind of environment in your language learning classroom.

In this free-to-attend webinar, you can expect to…

  • Reflect on recognise ways in which we might accidentally demotivate students
  • Learn how to reduce student anxiety
  • Gain strategies which help students participant more actively

If you’d like to attend the webinar or receive a recording of one of the sessions, simply register at the link below.

Register for the webinar

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7 ways Creative Writing can help your EFL students

shutterstock_176605295Having graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Jonathan returned to his native Malta to get a TEFL Certificate before going to Korea for 4 years to travel and teach English. He has now returned to Toronto where he started CreatEng Cafe – a creative writing website for English learners. Each year they host a Creative Writing Competition where students from all over the world participate for a chance to win prizes and get published.

Learning phrases and studying grammar will help students understand the foundation of English, but they can only truly become fluent once they are able to construct their own sentences freely and independently, and what better way to do that then by telling a story?

Here are 7 ways creative writing can help your students learn English:

  1. Puts Your Grammar Lessons Into Practice

So they get pretty good marks on their grammar test, but what about their ability to communicate their thoughts? Sometimes students spend so much time with their heads in books they do not get the opportunity to share their own stories. This can help them practice all the grammar they learned and put it together into an entertaining story.

  1. Improve Confidence

Having someone else read a story you wrote is very empowering, but even if they don’t share it, students will build confidence having the freedom to create their own story and not having to worry about being perfect.

  1. Inspiring and Motivational

Grammar books can be a little rigid, and creative writing gives students a little more time in the playground. Having been able to write a full story, no matter how long or short, will give them a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to push themselves further.

  1. Exercise their Creativity

Some words or phrases can have several different meanings, and creative writing gives students the ability to think about the words they use differently. This new perspective on words will let them be adventurous and it will lead them to more discoveries.

  1. Accessible Anywhere and Anytime

Some students will not have anyone to practice their English with outside of the classroom, but creative writing can be a great outlet for students who want to continue practicing at home or at school.

  1. Think in English

When students learn how to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings in English they will feel more in control. They will eliminate that step of translating or thinking in their head and it will become more natural for them.

  1. Become More Fluent

There is a sense of accomplishment having learned how to think in English and communicate a story confidently. Practice makes perfect and with each story they write they become more and more fluent.

Do your students have a story to tell?

They can enter the CreatEng Cafe writing competition for their chance to
win prizes and get published.

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Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom

shutterstock_287594936James Styring taught English and Spanish to students of all ages and levels. He also ran teacher-training sessions and was an oral examiner for the Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE exams. James worked for ten years in editorial roles at OUP before becoming a freelance author. He has written more than 50 ELT titles. He joins us today to preview his upcoming webinar, ‘Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom’, taking place on August 24th and 25th.

How do ‘screenagers’ learn?

Everyone born in the last 15–20 years (AKA Generation Z) has grown up in the digital age. Tablets and smartphones are not an add-on but an essential part of daily life, something Generation Z has never lived without. Generation Z expects wifi and 4G as a basic need, the same as an expectation of running water and electricity for older generations. Trying to engage a classroom of Generation Z students doesn’t always hit the mark if a vital component of their life is missing: their digital side. ‘Screenagers’ and young adults miss the devices through which their life is mediated. Success with this generation depends on appropriating the students’ digital world and deploying it in valid ways in the classroom.

As teachers, what’s of interest to us are the character traits of Generation Z. What do we know about Generation Z and their learning style? They may have less-developed social skills than older generations, as they stumble along the pavement catching Pokémon. They like communicating in bite-sized messages and they’re masters of multi-tasking. This means they respond well to classes which involve a variety of inputs and a varied pace.

How can teachers help screenagers?

The webinar looks at how teachers can vary interaction patterns and pairings, mimicking students’ everyday communicative experience of flitting between Instagram and Twitter and WhatsApp within seconds and without missing a beat. Mimicking these patterns in class can stop itchy feet and dispel boredom. One way of achieving this is bringing classes to life digitally. Most teachers know this but many feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of ‘digital’ in TEFL. The blogosphere is alive with talk of LMSs and MOOCs and big data. ‘Digital’ can quite quickly start to feel alienating and off-putting, not to mention time-consuming and expensive to implement, as you imagine your school spending thousands on tablets or on access to a digital platform.

Well, the good news is that you don’t need any of that. There are lots of classroom activities that you can do for free and often with zero preparation utilising the phones or tablets that most students already have in their schoolbags. You can achieve meaningful outcomes from students taking out their tablets or smartphones (or even older ‘feature’ phones) and using them as a natural part of the lesson. All you need is an open mind and a little imagination. The reason for doing this is not some sort of gimmick. It’s a reaction to who we’re teaching. On average, Generation Z-ers reach for their device every seven minutes during the day to check status updates, to read messages, to post comments, and so on. There are pedagogically worthwhile reasons for having students get their phones out during class for a range of activities. So rather than battling through lessons with students feeling twitchy because they’re desperate to look at their phones, free the phone instead.

To hear more, join my webinar on 24th and 25th August. I hope you’ll also feel comfortable in sharing your own experiences of digital and contributing ideas for making it work.