English grammar is a tough subject to teach. If you grew up speaking English, most likely you can carry on a conversation or write an email without having to worry about using the appropriate articles or conjugating verbs correctly. You simply know what sounds right. This sometimes makes it even more difficult to teach English grammar to ESL (English as a Second Language) students. ESL Troubleshooting: Selected Topics in English Skills, a course offered by Udemy, provides an introduction to conversation skills and trouble areas in the English classroom. There are many common problems with which English language learners struggle. Focusing on these common difficulties will help increase your students’ confidence when it comes to speaking and writing.
Through diligent practice and usage, students will become accustomed to patterns and correct grammatical structures in English. Some common difficulties for English learners are: word order, irregular verbs, prepositions, countable nouns, and articles. In this article, I have included some samples of the types of exercises that would help with these problem areas.
Word Order Exercises
When learning English, word order is often a struggle. Using the wrong word order could alter the meaning of your message, or simply cause confusion for the person to whom you are speaking or writing.
The basic pattern for English statements is: subject-verb-object(s)-place-time.
Of course, sentences usually do not contain all of these parts, but this is the typical order in which they would occur. Have students frequently listen to English conversation so they pick up on these patterns. Reading to students and encouraging them to create their own sentences and paragraphs will help them to become accustomed to word order in sentence structure. Below is a sample exercise that could be used in the classroom to practice word order.
Place a checkmark next to the sentence with the correct word order.
Then, write a sentence of your own using proper word order.
__X__ I play soccer after school.
_____ Soccer I play after school.
Write a sentence describing what you do after school.
_____ My friend with his homework I helped.
__X__ I helped my friend with his homework.
Write a sentence about who you help.
__X__ What is your favorite movie to watch?
_____ Your favorite movie to watch is what?
Write a question you would ask a friend.
Irregular Verb Exercises
English language learners usually have several problems when it comes to English verbs. In particular, irregular verbs are a struggle because they do not follow a rule or pattern. English learners simply have to memorize the various forms. Again, practice and frequent usage is the best way to learn them. Below is an exercise that asks students to write the correct verb form using simple past tense. If students have been working on memorizing these irregular verb forms, they could complete exercises such as this one without extra assistance. If students are new to learning irregular verbs, they could use a chart that shows conjugation to navigate their way through the exercise and gain more practice.
Write the correct form of the irregular verb in simple past tense.
- The teacher ___________ (to teach) the students chemistry. Answer: taught
- He ___________ (to run) all the way home. Answer: ran
- Gina ___________ (to go) to the doctor because she was sick. Answer: went
- I ___________ (to write) a note to my boyfriend. Answer: wrote
- The bus driver ___________ (to drive) slowly because the road was icy. Answer: drove
Prepositions are a common problem because different languages use different prepositions to express the same idea. A preposition in a student’s first language could also have various translations depending on the situation. Like many aspects of the English language, there are no rules to follow when determining which preposition to use. Learning common English phrases and memorizing them through usage will help students correctly use prepositional phrases. Below is a sample exercise where students are prompted to choose the correct preposition. Before completing the exercise, have students identify and study prepositions in a story or paragraph to become accustomed to seeing an entire prepositional phrase in context.
Read each sentence. Write the correct preposition on the line.
Your choices are: around, for, over, on, at, in, to
- Kyle bought a present ___________ his wife. Answer: for
- Will you meet me ___________ the mall after school? Answer: at
- The runner jumped ___________ the hurdle. Answer: over
- Her birthday is ___________ the winter. Answer: in
- He got in trouble for talking ___________ his cell phone. Answer: on
After completing the fill in the blank exercises, encourage students to write sentences of their own utilizing prepositions. Repetition is key. If you are a teacher who wants to learn more about teaching English as a Second Language, check out this course which includes a certification in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Countable/Non-Countable Noun Exercises
When it comes to nouns, some are considered countable and others are non-countable in the English language. If something is countable, it can have a plural form. If a noun is non-countable it does not have a plural form. The singular word is used all the time. Some non-countable categories of nouns are ideas, emotions, fields of study, liquids. In many language words like housework are countable, and in English housework is non-countable. This can be extremely confusing for an English language learner. Below is an exercise to practice identifying if nouns are countable or non-countable by adding an s or abstaining because the singular form is correct.
Read each sentence. Add an s to the end of the bolded word if necessary.
- I have no homework ____ to do tonight. Answer: no s
- There are many car____ in the parking lot. Answer: s
- She needed to buy new clothing ___ because nothing fit her. Answer: no s
- The two women ____ sat quietly in the waiting room. Answer: no s
- Why are you over two hour____ late? Answer: s
Continue practicing countable and non-countable nouns by having students sort or categorize words on a regular basis. Students will gain confidence as they begin to easily recognize the correct forms of these nouns.
In English, there are three articles: a, an, and the. In addition, sometimes no article is necessary. English language learners need to think about what articles to use when forming sentences. Some languages like Japanese do not have articles making this a difficult concept for some students to grasp. To study basic concepts of the English language, review this course.
Below are some exercises to practice choosing the correct article.
Read each sentence and choose, the, a, an or no article for each.
- English is ___________ difficult language to learn. Answer: a
- Do you like ___________ science? Answer: no article
- You need to pick ___________ topic. Answer: a
- She ate ___________ orange for lunch. Answer: an
- Cally was excited for ___________ Valentine’s Day. Answer: no article
Grammar rules and patterns need to be understood, explained, and practiced. It is important to give students opportunities to speak/read correctly and listen to the spoken language without necessarily focusing on rules. Also, too often in the English language there are no rules or patterns to follow. It is important to ensure that your students not only understand how English grammar works, but to be able to use it – with confidence – through speaking and writing. Whether you are a teaching in the United States or a foreign country, these are areas that you will want to practice and continually reinforce with your students.
If you are interested in teaching English abroad, check out this course from Udemy for more information on teaching English language learners.