English grammar is quite a beast and knowing all the ins and outs of every grammar point is not something that is expected of you as an EFL teacher. However, it’s important to come to class prepared so that you can clearly express to your learners how the lesson’s target language works and how to use it. Let’s remember though, just because we may speak English doesn’t mean we actually know how the language works. While a grammar point may seem straightforward before you bring it to class, your students will quickly remind you of all of the exceptions and confusing aspects surrounding it. Grammar lessons can be a little tricky if you don’t prepare well, especially when it’s your first time teaching a particular grammar point but by following the steps below, grammar lessons will be a breeze and you’ll be ready for all the questions your students can throw at you.
Step 1: Research the grammar point
If you’re working with lesson materials (like The TEFL Lab’s!), you’ll see that the grammar point is clearly explained and laid out for you to present to your students. Most times though, materials don’t always get into the nitty gritty of the target language or come with a complete list of exceptions or common errors and questions students may have. It’s important to do further research so that you can find additional rules (or exceptions to the rules) so you’ll be prepared for the inevitable “What about….?” questions from students. Visit reputable grammar websites or consult grammar reference texts for clarification and further information about your target grammar for the lesson. Remember, you don’t need to be a grammar whiz, you just need to have the lesson’s grammar point covered.
Step 2: Make it make sense
Now that you’ve done some research, it’s important that the grammar point makes sense to you. Before you head off to class, you’ve got to be able to understand the grammar point in your own words, and make your own example sentences, without having to rely on the notes from the lesson materials. Something that helps really bring grammar to life is a clear context. Think about how and when you’re likely to use the target grammar. For the present simple verb tense for example, we’d likely be talking about introductions, habits or interests. For the past simple verb tense, we’re usually talking about a past vacation, what we did last week at work, or describing an event from last weekend. For prepositions of place, we’re likely talking about where we are located when we’re planning to meet up with someone or maybe we are describing where items are in our home or office. Think of common situations where we naturally use this verb tense and develop a context that’s useful and fun! Then, try making your own timeline/diagram, examples, and list of rules for the target grammar in your notes to see how confident you feel about it. How do you feel? Are you ready to take it to class?
Step 3: How is it similar to/different from other verb tenses
Something that really helps learners wrap their heads around a new grammar point is the ability to relate it to other ones they’ve previously learned. If you’re teaching the past progressive verb tense for example, think of how it differs from the past simple or how it’s similar to the present progressive. Students will likely also try to find how the English grammar point is similar to the grammar in their L1. If you speak your students’ L1, do this thinking ahead of time and bring that knowledge to class in case your students need it.
Step 4: Anticipate problems and confusion
Grammar classes can become messy when we haven’t done the work of preparing for the moments our learners may get caught up or confused with the target grammar. The best place to start with anticipating problems is from your own understanding of the grammar point. Ask yourself “What’s tricky or confusing about this grammar?”. And then think about how you personally reconciled that confusion. Take it a step further by looking up common mistakes students (especially students who share the same L1 as your students) make with this grammar point. Jot them down and prepare some quick solutions to these errors. After you’ve presented the grammar, highlight how we DON’T use this grammar point or ways people commonly make mistakes. If you’re teaching the present simple verb tense for example, know that students can forget the final ‘s’ on the verbs for he/she/it subjects. When teaching the verb tense, highlight the instances where we add an ‘s’ and really emphasize this. It’s even helpful to say here what is incorrect. Do this by saying “Not, he walk to work, He walkS to work”. By bringing common errors right out into the open, students will likely avoid making this mistake or at least they’ll remember it and be able to self-correct.
You’re not expected to know absolutely everything. You’re a teacher which also means you’re human and if you’ve followed the steps above and still get a learner question that throws you off, tell your student that you’re not sure. Write down your student’s question and after class, find the answer and get back to them. If it’s an important part of the target grammar that you overlooked when preparing, bring it to your next class so that you can share the information with everyone. There’s no harm in saying “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” in class as long as it’s not in response to a question about the use or structure of the target grammar.