Easy Steps to Teach English Grammar: A Guide for Tutors

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As English tutors, we often find ourselves facing a unique challenge – explaining the intricacies of English grammar to our students. Unlike learners of other languages, English learners may struggle not because the language is particularly complex, but because native speakers tend to use grammatical structures intuitively, without necessarily being able to articulate the rules governing them. This makes the task of teaching English grammar both fascinating and, at times, challenging.

In today’s blog, we’re going to make your tutoring journey a bit smoother by sharing six five steps to teach English grammar efficiently.

To illustrate these steps, we’ll use the third conditional structure as an example, allowing you to see how each step can be applied in practice.

Step 1: Introduce a Relevant Context

One of the first things you should do when teaching English grammar is to introduce a context that is directly relevant to the topic at hand. This step is crucial because it sets the stage for your students’ understanding of the grammar point.

In the case of teaching the third conditional, an ideal context would involve discussing regrets: What would have happened if we had done things differently? How would our lives be different?

By providing a meaningful context, you make the grammar point more relatable and engaging for your students.

Moreover, this will ensure the class is not about grammar, but rather about the ideas and feelings expressed through grammar.

Step 2: Introduce the Form without Focusing on the Grammar Yet

Before delving into the nitty-gritty of grammar rules and conjugations, it’s crucial to first introduce the form in a real-life context. This approach allows students to get initial exposure to the structure and grasp its meaning intuitively, without the pressure of memorizing complex grammatical rules.

In our example of teaching the third conditional, you can begin by sharing a journal entry or a short passage written by someone who reflects on their regrets. The text might read something like this:

“Last summer, I didn’t take that job offer in New York. If I had accepted it, I would have had the opportunity to advance my career significantly. Instead, I stayed in my comfort zone, and now I regret that decision.”

After sharing the text, engage your students with questions to ensure they’ve grasped the main points. You could ask:

  • What is the author regretting in this passage?
  • What decisions did they make in the past?
  • What could have happened if they had made a different choice?

By discussing these questions, you’re helping students connect the form (third conditional) with its meaning (expressing regrets and unreal past situations) in a meaningful way. This lays a solid foundation for deeper exploration in the following steps.

Remember, in any current and effective set of steps to teach English grammar, understanding meaning should come before memorizing rules.

Step 3: Isolate the Form and Focus on the Structure

Now that your students have had the chance to understand the third conditional form in a real-life context, it’s time to isolate the form and delve deeper into its structure.

In this step, you’ll guide your students through the specific sentence constructions used to express regrets and unreal past situations.

Start by isolating the relevant sentences from the text.

For example:

  1. If I had taken that job offer, I would have advanced my career.
  2. If I had followed my true vocation, I would have been much happier.

Then elicit the rules for the third conditional:

  • Begin with the conditional “if” clause: “if” + past perfect verb (had + past participle).
  • Follow with the result clause, indicating the imagined outcome: “would have” + past participle verb.

By eliciting the rules of a grammatical item instead of simply telling them, you’re helping students become active learners.

Teacher next to the white board.

Step 4: Use a Timeline to Illustrate How the Form Is Used

Timelines offer a visual representation of when events occur, making it easier for learners to understand the sequencing of actions and their relation to each other.

Create a Simple Timeline:

Draw a horizontal line on the board or use a whiteboard app if you’re teaching online. Label the left end as “Past” and the right end as “Present/Future.” Now, let’s use an example to demonstrate how this works:

Imagine a scenario where a student is lamenting she didn’t pass a test because she didn’t study enough:

If Mary had studied harder, she would have passed the test”.

Step 1: On the timeline, place a dot on the line representing, for example, “Weekend before the exam”.

Step 2: Draw an arrow to the right to indicate that Mary didn’t study enough.

Step 3: Place another dot on the line that is closer to the right and write: “Day of the exam.

Step 4: Draw an arrow from this dot and write: “Mary failed the test”.

By doing this, you’ll be helping your students visualize the relationship between past actions and their consequences.

So, if you’re wondering how to teach English grammar step by step, this is a great technique to use.

Step 5: Set Practice Tasks

Now that your students have a solid grasp of the third conditional form and its usage, it’s time to provide them with practice tasks that reinforce their understanding and help them become more comfortable using this grammar structure. But how are you going to go about this? Will you ask them to write their own journal right away?

When designing practice activities, it’s wise to start with very controlled exercises and gradually progress to less controlled tasks. This incremental approach ensures that learners build confidence and competence in using the third conditional.

Here are three types of practice tasks you can assign, from very controlled exercises to open-ended tasks.

  1. Complete the Gaps:
  • Provide sentences with gaps where students need to insert the missing words. This exercise allows them to focus on applying the correct form within a controlled context. For example:
    • “If she _______ (study) harder, she _______ (pass) the exam.”
  1. Finish These Sentences:
  • Give students sentence starters and ask them to complete the sentences with their own ideas. This exercise encourages them to create original clauses using the third conditional.

For instance:

  • “If I had won the lottery, I…”
  • “If they had known about the surprise party, they…”
  1. Write About Your Regrets:
  • This more open-ended task invites students to reflect on their own experiences and write about their regrets using the third conditional. Encourage them to share personal stories, dreams, or hypothetical scenarios.

For example:

  • “Write about a decision you regret in your life. What would have happened if you had made a different choice?”
  • “Imagine a scenario where you could travel anywhere in the world but didn’t take it. Describe that situation and what you would have done differently.”

Starting with controlled exercises and gradually moving to less controlled tasks ensures that students practice and internalize the third conditional structure while also fostering creativity and personal engagement. For this reason, it’s the most crucial thing to remember from these steps to teach English grammar.

Now that you know how to teach English grammar step by step, why not give it a try? Identify the weakest areas in your students’ grammar, use the five-step technique to isolate and practice it, and watch your students make progress quickly!

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