Teaching grammar may seem fairly straightforward, but then you get questions like, “What’s the difference between present perfect and past simple?” or “How can I choose between 2nd conditional and 3rd conditional?”
When you teach similar grammar structures separately, they have nice, clean rules, and everyone’s happy, but when things start to get confusing, what do you do? These activities for teaching similar grammar structures might help.
Whether you’re working on verb tenses, types of conjunctions, conditionals, or the grammatical changes that take place in a sentence simply by replacing “hope” with “wish,” you have to walk through a basic series of activities. Each activity builds on the previous one, guiding your students through forms, analysis and choice to a true understanding and ability to produce correct English.
The first step in teaching similar grammar structures is to show the differences in how they are formed.
You can use charts to show the correct word order for asking yes/no and “wh-” questions in each tense. These simply serve to show students the correct order of the words when forming these tenses. Using the charts for reference, students can then practice writing the forms themselves in controlled exercises:
Now that students are comfortable writing the two similar grammar structures, it’s time to study the differences in usage.
A side-by-side comparison chart for Past Simple and Past Continuous is a good way to get started. Then, we need some practice activities. Tip: Check out the printable comparison chart below that has been prepared by YourDictionary.
Give examples of the grammar structures in question used correctly, and ask specific questions to highlight the differences. If you’re studying Past Simple vs. Past Continuous, you might give this sentence: “At 8:00 last night, I was folding laundry.” You would then ask:
If the action was in progress at a specific moment that is stated in the sentence, you should use Past Continuous. If the action happened in the past, but a specific moment is not stated, or the action did not take more than a moment to complete, you should use Past Simple.
Another activity to try is fill-in-the-blank sentences with specific questions to walk students through the process of choosing the correct grammar structure. Using the same sentence from the previous activity, you would give this sentence: “At 8:00 last night, I ________________ (fold) laundry.” You would then ask:
These questions will help the students determine which tense to use.
When students have a handle on the thought process behind choosing the correct grammatical structure, they are ready to make their own choices. We still need to keep the exercises controlled, however, and limited to the similar structures in question. Don’t go throwing in something from the past, and definitely don’t confuse them by adding in curve balls you haven’t taught yet.
Here are some ideas for activities:
When students have gotten pretty good at choosing the correct grammar structure for sentences and paragraphs, it’s time to see how good they really are. Start with numbered sentences with structure underlined. Students must decide whether the structure used is correct or incorrect.
Then move on to paragraphs with both structures used, some correctly, some incorrectly. Students must find a specified number of mistakes in the usage of the structures being practiced.
Editing practice will serve the students well later on when they must edit their own work.
Now your students are ready to start producing their own sentences with the two grammar structures they’ve learned. To get them started, you can ask them to:
There are a lot of similar grammar structures in English that cause confusion for ESL students. When you’re introducing new ones, try to stick to a comparison of only two at a time. You could easily teach the differences between Present Simple, Present Perfect, Past Simple and Past Continuous; but, that could get very confusing very quickly.
A good place to start is comparing Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous, then Present Perfect and Past Simple, then Past Simple and Past Continuous. When students have a firmer grasp on each one, then you can mix and match.
In addition to the study form above for Past Simple vs. Past Continuous, YourDictionary has prepared two other study forms for you to print and use with your ESL learners
These study forms are designed to support your various activities when teaching similar grammar structures. They provide helpful information in a chart format.