English grammar exercises for ESL students
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №11 - 2019
Author: Kamzina Zhannur , Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Teaching grammar in a
way that enables students to use grammatical structures correctly in their
active use has always been one of the intricate tasks for most teachers. There
have always been many arguments about the best way of teaching grammar. Different
methods and strategies have permanently waxed and waned in popularity. Richards
and Schmidt defined grammar as a description of the structure of a language and
the way in which linguistic units such as words and phrases are combined to
produce sentences in a language . It usually takes into account the meanings
and functions these sentences have in the overall system of the language.
Nunan distinguished two
types of grammar, namely prescriptive grammar, which refers to rules concerned
with right and wrong, and descriptive grammar which deals with the ways people
actually use language .
According to Richards
and Schmidt, in the past teaching language in general and teaching grammar were
synonymous. A number of methodologies have emerged with regard to teaching
grammar, one of which was the audiolingual method replete with usually
monotonous and mechanical drills .
Two recent trends have
emerged: focus on form and consciousness raising. Spada defined form focused
instruction as "any pedagogical effort which is used to draw the learners'
attention to language form either implicitly or explicitly".
Consciousness-raising according to Larsen Freeman does not require students to
produce target structures. Instead, students are made aware of the target
grammatical item through discovery-oriented tasks .
Brown postulated that
whether you choose to explain grammatical rules or not depends on your context
of teaching. If you are teaching in an EFL context in which students share the
same native language elaborating on grammatical minutiae will not be an
activity in vain. On the other hand, in an ESL setting explaining grammatical
rules might overwhelm students and will not prove an efficacious strategy. The
first technique employed in the present study was dialogue practiced through
role-plays. Literally, according to Brown, "Role play minimally involves
(a) giving a role to one or the other members of a group and (b) assigning an
objective or purpose that participants must accomplish." Brown suggested
role play can be conducted with a single person, in pairs or in groups, with
each person being assigned a role to accomplish an objective .
Also as Larsen-Freeman
pointed out, role-plays give students the chance of interacting and practicing
communication acts in different contexts and because of this they are of
primary importance in language teaching . The second technique experimented
in this study is unfocused task. Historically, task-based learning seems to
have initiated and to have gained popularity since 1996 by the publication of
Willis work: a framework for task-based learning. According to Skehan tasks are
a series of activities which concentrate on meaning as a primary focus. He then
contrasted between task-based learning and PPP, "a PPP approach looks on
the learning process as learning a series of discrete items and then bringing
these items together in communication to provide future practice and
consolidation. A task-based approach sees the learning process as one of
learning through doing-it's by primarily engaging in meaning that the learners'
system is encouraged to develop." Elsewhere Prabhu recognized that
acquisition of grammatical input isn't an immediate, one step procedure and
claimed that language acquisition is a process which is subconscious through
"the operation of some internal system of abstract rules and
principals". When the primary focus of the learner is on meaning, task completion,
not language .
Finally, Ellis offered a
definition for tasks consisting of four main principals:
1) The primary focus
should be on meaning (learners should be concerned with processing semantic and
pragmatic meaning of utterances);
2) There should be some
kind of gap (i.e., the need to express your idea about an issue or infer
meaning from a given context);
3) Learners have to make
use of their own linguistic and non-linguistic resources to do an activity;
4) There are crystal
clear outcomes which are the main focus of the activity other than the use of
the language. (The language is a means of achieving your goals which in this
case refer to achieving learning outcomes not as an end in its own right).
According to Ellis unfocused
tasks provide the learners with the opportunity to use language in general as a
means for communication. Focused tasks on the other hand, are designed to
provide communication opportunities for the learners while the primary focus is
on a linguistic structure, but still in focused tasks the linguistic structure
is hidden. In other words, learners aren't told explicitly what the feature is,
thus, there are still discrepancies between the focused task and 'situational
grammar exercise' because in the latter students are told explicitly what
features they are going to be focused on, while in the former, they are not
informed about the linguistic feature they are going to work on. The third
technique is game. Games have always been used in education to give students
According to Malone
there are three main ways through which players are motivated: fantasy,
challenge, and curiosity . Many researchers and educators have rendered
definitions for games. For example, Crookall, Oxford, & Saunders presented
a definition of the games that distinguished them from the other types of the
activities such as simulation. They posited that the difference between
simulation and games lies in the fact that simulation is a representation of
the real world system; they contain rules and strategies that allow the
simulation to evolve. By contrast, according to Crookall, Oxford, and Saunders
games do not present any real world system. They are 'real' by their very own
nature. As has been postulated in literature, games possess certain types of
characteristics which make them efficient. Several studies have been conducted
on the three techniques employed in the study. One of them, by Fotos and
Ellis's, explored on using tasks for teaching grammar . This study
specifically explored the use of a communicative, grammar-based task in the
college EFL classroom. They questioned whether the task being experimented
successfully contributed to processing linguistic knowledge of a grammatical
point and whether it promoted the kind of interaction expected. The grammatical
point used in the study was the placement of the indirect object. The teacher's
task was to write two different sentences on the board and ask students which
type of placement they thought was correct. There are generally three types of
placements. For instance, we can have indirect objects either after the verb or
as a prepositional unit at the end of the sentence (I gave her a pen; I gave a
pen to her). A grammatically judgment test was administered to students as a means
of language proficiency the students were required to listen to some sentences
and mark them as correct or incorrect. After the treatment students were given
a test to measure their long-term learning. The results revealed that EFL
learners were able to boost their grammatical knowledge by completing the
grammar task. Second, although the grammar task produced a large number of
interactional turns, the nature of the exchange was mostly mechanical. That is
the answers were enough for accomplishing the tasks only. Like ready? Yes / Alright? /Han / one more
In another study which was undertaken by Redington and Charter (1992), a
guessing game was used to teach students grammar. These researchers believed
that in a guessing game, students reconstruct a sequence by surmising each
successive element from a set of several but finite alternatives. The game was
a simple game of memory; students were presented with some words that consisted
of M, R, S, V, and X. they then were asked to choose the most appropriate
string for following the sentence in a correct grammatical way. The results
confirmed the fact the students exposed to the strings displayed knowledge of
letter transitions allowed by grammar. (Students were expected to make
transitions in letters as far as the grammar allowed them). In another study
undertaken by McQuade, he taught junior and senior students who appeared mainly
to be college-bound. The focus was on teaching parts of speech and basic
sentence structures to students. The major focus was on "agreement",
reference, parallel construction, tense, case, and subordination" and the
task of finding errors in sentences. Although the parents and students were
deeply satisfied with the program, when students were assessed on mechanics of
writing, the results weren't satisfactory. All in all, this method for teaching
grammar had no considerable effect on students' writing ability.
The present study was
carried out to assess effectiveness of three instructional techniques namely,
unfocused tasks, games, and dialogues practiced through role-play. In
comparison to the other studies carried out in the past, this study has some
new dimensions. First, unlike the other studies which have concentrated on
efficaciousness of only one instructional method, this study assessed
effectiveness of three methods. Second, this study is focused on two
grammatical patterns which share some similarities since; they both refer to
the hypothetical situations. (Conditional type 2 and wish structure). Third,
there was no use of explicit intentional instruction of grammar in any of the
groups. As all of us know, for many decades it was a rampant belief that
grammar should be taught using deductive methods in which students' attention
was deliberately drawn to the grammatical structure of the day. Sometimes
students dealt with boring kinds of exercises and drills.
One of the grammar
exercises are drills. Drill exercises are based on composing sentences or
phrases according to a certain model. Drills are preferably used in whole
classes when teachers want to practice some grammatical items. Drills are quick
and efficient and allow teachers to correct any mistakes straight away. It can
help students commit grammar patterns to memory and provide them with practice
in pronouncing new patterns, helping them to become comfortable articulating
the target language forms.
Drills fall into three
- communicative .
require minimal comprehension of content on the part of students and serve only
to reinforce patterns. In a "backward build up" drill, for instance,
the teacher leads and students usually respond as a whole group.
In contrast, meaningful
drills require students to understand the language in order to respond
correctly, but the activity is tightly controlled because only one answer is
encourage students to connect form, meaning, and use because multiple correct
responses are possible. In communicative drills, students respond to a prompt
using the grammar point under consideration, but providing their own content.
For example, to practice questions and answers in the past tense in English,
teacher and students can ask and answer questions about activities the previous
According to G.V. Rogova
drill exercises are more completed as they require reproduction on the part of
the students. In learning a foreign language, drill exercises are
indispensable. The learners cannot assimilate the material if they only hear
and see it. They must reproduce it both in outer and inner speech. The more
often they say it the better they assimilate the material. Drill exercises are
also subdivided into 4 groups:
Answering the teachers'
In the repetitive drill
students pronounce the sentence pattern after the teacher, in imitation of the
teacher, both individually and in unison.
Teacher: They are
dancing in the park.
Class: They are dancing
in the park.
In such exercises
attention is drawn to the correct pronunciation of the sentence pattern as a
sense unit, as a statement (sound, melody and stress).
In the substitution
drill students substitute the words or phrases in a sentence pattern.
The children are walking
in the street.
The children are walking
in the park.
The children are walking
in the garden.
In such exercises a
student substitutes a phrase, the rest may say unison. Then they may replace
the verb in a sentence with another verb. There is one advantage in performing
this type of exercises - students consolidate the grammar item without thinking
about it. They think of the words, phrases, but not of the form itself,
therefore, involuntary memory is at work. Substitution drills are used to fix
grammatical material and develop automaticity in using various grammatical
structures in similar situations, this type of exercise is responsible for the
formation of very flexible mastering skill all forms of the given grammatical
In the completion drill
students complete the sentences the teacher utters looking at the pictures he
Example: Teacher: Look
at the picture.
Student: Mike is getting
In this exercises
attention should be given to the use of "is".
Answering the teacher's
questions is characterized in asking questions by a teacher using active
vocabulary or the grammar phenomenon is taught. Example:
Teacher: Is Mike is
Students: Yes he is.
We have already
mentioned that grammar exercises may be done both orally and in written form.
Among oral exercises G.V. Rogova suggests recognition and creative exercises.
Recognition exercises are the easiest type of exercises for students to perform.
They observe the grammar item in structures and sentence patterns when hearing
or reading. Since students only observe the new grammar item, the situations
should be natural and communicative. Recognition exercises are indispensable,
as students retain the grammar material through auditory and visual perception.
Auditory and visual memory is at work.
Creative exercises are
the most difficult type of exercises as it requires creative work on the part
of the learners. These may be:
Making statements either
on the picture the teacher shows, or on objects. For example, the teacher hangs
up a picture and asks his pupils to say or write three or five statements in
the Present Continuous.
Asking questions with a
given grammar item. For example, pupils are invited to ask and answer questions
in the Past Indefinite.
Speaking about the
situation offered by the teacher. For example, one pupil gives commands to
perform this or that action, the other comments on the action (actions) his
Speaking on a suggested
topic. For example, a pupil tells the class what he did yesterday.
Making dialogues using
the grammar item covered orally
Dramatizing the text
read. For example students read the text in persons.
Telling the story (read,
Participating in free
conversation in which students are to use the grammar item they have learned.
Through these questions students are stimulated to use item they have learnt
All the exercises
mentioned above are designed:
to develop students'
skills in recognizing grammar forms while auding and
reading English texts.
to accumulate correct
sentence patterns in the students' memory which they can reproduce whenever
they need these patterns for speaking or writing;
to help the students to
produce sentences of their own using grammar items necessary for speaking about
a situation or a topic offered, or writing an essay on the text heard or an
annotation on the text read.
Among written exercises
sentence transformation exercises are also very helpful. It is an exercise
where learners are given one sentence and need to complete a second sentence so
that it means the same. The second sentence usually has a prompt.
The following is an
example of a transformation question:
Call me immediately he
arrives Call me __________ he arrives (soon)
Answer: Call me as soon
as he arrives.
In the classroom sentence
transformation exercises involve learners in consciously manipulating language
patterns, and can raise their awareness of structure. They are a common test
item, where they are used to test discrete items of language, usually structural.
Sentence transformation exercises help you expand your usage skills through testing
various ways of stating the same idea. The ability to rewrite sentences so that
they have the same meaning as the original is often required for many English
ESL exams such as Cambridge's First Certificate, CAE and Proficiency. This
skill can also help you prepare for the TOEFL examination (Test of English as a
Foreign Language). It is also an important skill which can help you improve
your understanding of similar English expressions and vocabulary.
exercises provide an opportunity to develop students' skills of combination,
substitution, shortening or widening a set of grammatical structures in speech.
This training method is actually merges with the method of using the assimilated
grammatical material in speech. In practicing these exercises, teacher should
keep in mind two interrelated objectives first of all, to provide memorizing
the grammatical material is taught and secondly, to provide development of
relevant skills and at the same time open to students a clear speech outlook of
using these skills. In this relation even the smallest grammatical exercise
should be constructed so that students can immediately feel the benefits of the
effort, not only in the knowledge of linguistic theory but in practical use of
a foreign language .
Another written type of
grammar exercises are multiple-choice exercises, where the aim of students to
choose the answer that they think is right from several possible answers that
are listed on the question paper. The role of multiple choice exercises in the
formation of knowledge and skills is very high. They form students' ability to
differentiate similar but not identical grammar phenomena and make them think
motivating by choice of the right variant, intensify the work of students and
attract interests not only to teaching material but also to the process of
cognitive activity in solving grammar issues. The use of multiple-choice tasks
can be effective only in those cases when students are ready for this work, it
means that all selected variants should be reviewed and the students need to
know the differences.
One of the wide spread
written exercises are gap-filling exercises. In language teaching gap filling
is an exercise in which students have to replace missing or a suitable words.
In the classroom gap-fill exercises are often used to practice specific language
point such as items of grammar.
are also widespread type of exercises. Translation may be done from a foreign
language into the mother tongue or vice versa. It is important to make students
become conscious of the similarities and differences between the mother tongue
and a foreign language, since with this knowledge they will be able to acquire
the FL in an easier way. The roles of translation exercises in the foreign
language classroom are many: first, it helps students to see the link between
language usage and use; secondly, it encourages students to see the
similarities and differences between L1 and L2, thirdly, through a comparison
of the target language and the students' native language, most language
learning difficulties are revealed .
Analyzing all possible
types of grammar exercises and having considered that grammar exercises may be
done both orally and in written form we defined the following oral grammar
exercises: role plays, creative and recognition exercises. Written grammar
exercises are: sentence transformations, gap-filling and multiple-choice exercises.
Drills and translation exercises may be done both orally and in written form.
During recent years
there has been focus on pumping students up by teaching them grammar using more
innovative ways. With regard to these facts, the present study was an attempt
to show usefulness of using different instructional techniques on learning
grammar. The last reason behind carrying out such a study was that we usually
hear students complaining that although they are familiar with a vast resource
of grammatical minutiae, they cannot use them appropriately in their speech;
in other words, in the process of making efforts to learn grammar in a good
manner students eventually possess what we usually refer to as passive
knowledge of rules but, when it comes to transforming this passive knowledge in
to active or procedural knowledge that they can use in communication most of
them fail to do so.
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №11 - 2019