Teaching Grammar Chunks to Younger Learners

In general children under ten years old cannot learn grammar through a focus on rules. We can see this through observation and we know this through our reading of Piaget et al. The logical thinking, reasoning and generalization needed to be able to work from grammar rules is something that only really starts developing from the age of eight or nine onwards.

So children can’t learn grammar? Of course, they can. They learn the grammar of their first (home, mother) language incredibly successfully. They do so through a great deal of exposure to it from everyone around them: hearing songs and stories, listening to caregivers and siblings, having access to media like TV and radio. They spend a great deal of every day of their early lives just listening and trying to make sense of what they hear. Then they use it when they need to communicate.

What we as teachers of children learning English as a second, additional or foreign language must ensure for them to be able to make sense of this new language is to:
      Provide plenty of exposure to English, by using it as much as possible ourselves in the class room, telling stories, singing songs and just chatting to the learners in English
·         Ensure that the language input they get is supported by plenty of meaningful clues to meaning like body language, gestures, facial expressions, visuals
·         Allow children to play with the sound and rhythm of language
·         Encourage children to communicate with whatever English they have
·         Give positive feedback and praise them so they keep trying and having fun
·         Give children tasks that help them notice the patterns of language they have been exposed to like the two tasks below which should be copied and cut up. Make them nice and big so that children can work in small groups at their tables or on the floor. And be careful to cut them in such a way that it's not possible to match them just by putting two pieces together and see where they have been cut!!!

A.    Match the questions to the answers:

         What time is it?
It’s half past two.
    What’s her name?
It’s Jenny.
    What colour are Caroline’s eyes?
They are brown.
       Whose book is this?
It’s John’s.
     How many desks are there in the classroom?
There are twenty.
    Where is my school bag?
It’s in the kitchen.
    How old is Mr Jones.
He’s forty-one.
    Why is Tommy happy?
Because it’s his birthday today.
    Who is he?
He’s our English teacher.
    When are we going to visit granny?
On Sunday.

B.    Match the two halves of the sentence:
is a woman.
They are
grey elephants.
It is
a cat.
is eight.
He is
It is a
She is
a tall girl.
She is a
are big boys.
He is a
funny boy.


TOP Books for EFL Teachers of Children and Teens

I was asked recently to produce a list of books that should be on the shelf of a staff room for teachers of YLs and Teens. This is what I have produced so far. It is by no means a definitive list and I hope to add to it regularly. If you have any suggestions please let me know. 

Some great methodology books:
Pinter, Anna Maria, 2006, Teaching Young Language Learners, Oxford University Press
Moon, Jayne, 2000, Children Learning English, Macmillan
Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne & Frith, Uta, 2005, The Learning Brain, Blackwell
Holt, John, 1967, How Children Learn, Penguin
Fontana, David, 1981, Psychology for Teachers, BPS Books
Wood, David, 1988, How Children Think and Learn, Blackwell
Fisher, Robert, 1990, Teaching Children to Think, Nelson Thornes
Jenson, Frances E, 2015, The Teenage Brain, Thorsons
Edie Garvie, 1990, Story as Vehicle, Multilingual Matters
Kieran Egan, 1989, Teaching as Storytelling, University of Chicago Press
Brewster, Ellis & Girard, 1992, The Primary English Teacher’s Guide, Penguin
Ellis & Brewster, 1991, The Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers, Penguin

Teens/ Young Adults:
Cambridge University Press Teen Copy Collection has three titles:
Film, TV & Music by Olha Madylus
Teen World by Joanna Budden
Pairwork & Groupwork by Meredith Levy & Nicholas Murgatroyd

Pronunciation Games, CUP Mark Hancock
A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, Crown House Publishing, Michael Berman
Games for Vocabulary Practice, CUP, O’Dell & Head
Games for Grammar Practice, CUP, Zaorob & Chin
700 Classroom Activities, Macmillan, D Seymour
Challenge to Think, OUP, Frank, Rinvolucri & Berer
Language Activities for Teenagers, CUP, Seth Lindstromberg ed.
Using Folktales, CUP, Eric K Taylor
Writing Simple Poems, CUP, Holmes & Moulton
Once Upon a Time, CUP, Morgan & Rinvolucri
Dictation, CUP, Davis & Rinvolucri
Stories, CUP, Ruth Wajnryb
Teaching Grammar Creatively, CUP, Gerngross, Puchta & Thornbury
Global Issues, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Sampedro & Hillyard
Drama, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Charlyn Wessels
Drama & Improvisation, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Ken Wilson
Storybuilding, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Jane Spiro
Creative Poetry Writing, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Jane Spiro
Teenagers, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Gordon Lewis
Images, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Jamie Keddie
Exam Classes, OUP Resource Books for Teachers, Peter May

Cambridge University Press Primary Box Series:
Primary Curriculum Box
Primary Grammar Box
Primary Vocabulary Box
Primary Pronunciation Box
Primary Reading Box
Primary Communication Box
Primary Music Box

Oxford University Press Resource Books for Teachers
Very Young Learners, Reilly & Ward
Young Learners, Sarah Phillips
Storytelling with Children, Andrew Wright
Creating Stories with Children, Andrew Wright
Projects with Young Learners, Andrew Wright
Assessing Young Learners, Ioannou-Georgiou & Pavlou
Writing with Children, Reilly & Reilly
Drama with Children, Sarah Phillips
Games for Children, Lewis & Bedson
The Internet and Young Learners, Gordon Lewis

Teaching Children how to Learn, DELTA publishing, Ellis & Ibrahim
Teaching Young Learners to Think, Helbling Languages, Puchta & Williams
Tell it Again, Penguin, Ellis & Brewster
Telling Tales in English, DELTA Publishing, Superfine & James
Get on Stage, Helbling Languages, Puchta, Gerngross & Devitt
Do and Understand, Longman, Gerngross & Puchta
Cross-Curricular Resources for YLs, OUP, Calabrese & Rampone
Jazz Chants for Children / Fairy Tale Chants etc, OUP, Carolyn Graham (Plus Jazz Chants = great for Teens)
CLIL Activities, CUP, Liz Dale
100 Great EFL Games, Crazy Chopstick Publications, Adrian Bozon
Mind Maps for Children, Thorsons, Tony Buzan

Plus of course, books we make for and with our learners!!


Visuals in language learning

The Power of Visuals


Who is this man? Where is he? What’s he feeling why?


Did you search for descriptive words? Did you think of situations occurring in the world today, like the refugee crisis in Europe? Did your feel for the man?


Images are incredible effective in language teaching:

A picture paints a thousand words


Visuals stimulate the brain directly, so there’s no need to use words to get a message across. Even in Mixed classes all students will be able to start thinking about topics that pictures inspire.


Visual literacy is something we already have. Children read what they see around them from birth, soon recognising symbols. In pre-literate societies pictures were used to tell stories and allow a quick key to who was being portrayed, so the man with all the arrows in his body was easily recognised as Saint Sebastian

and the smallest child in Western society easily recognises these



There are billions of pictures – something for everyone. Even if teachers don’t have access to clip art and all the wonderful tools of the internet, newspapers, magazines, leaflets all provide great images.


They encourage use of language in a meaningful way by encouraging students to imagine, make connections and express their own ideas, allowing for personalisation.


They arouse curiosity.


BUT as teachers we have to ensure we ask the right questions. We can begin by asking students what they see, but it’s important to tap into higher order thinking skills by asking questions that allow students to do more than name things they see.


e.g. Look at the picture.

1. What fruits and vegetables can you see?

2. Which ones do you like?

3. Which are good for you, and why?

4. What can you cook with them?

5. Which grow in your country?


We already ask students to use high order thinking when we ask them to rank (e.g. look at these 10 jobs, which are the most/least dangerous, which are the best/worst paid, which would you most/least want to have) and predict (Look at the pictures. What do you think the text/story will be about?)


We can also encourage students to use other high order thinking skills like


·         applying         

·         analysing

·         seeking information

·         recognising similarities & differences

·         transferring knowledge

·         comparing

·         sequencing

·         making decisions

·         solving problems

·         creative thinking


It’s interesting to see that the UK National Curriculum Report, 1988, lists the following attitudes as ‘important at all stages of education’:


Curiosity, Respect for evidence, Willingness to tolerate uncertainty, Critical reflection

Creativity and inventiveness, Open-mindedness, Co-operation with others

It would be great to see these attitudes constantly encouraged and developed in all classrooms around the world.


So back to food. Here are some examples of other questions we could ask the students to get them thinking. Notice that the range of answers they could give is huge. They just need to be able to explain what they say.

·         You are inviting a famous sports star to dinner. What would you serve?

·         Why are fruits and vegetables good for you?

·         Make a list of what your group has eaten today. How would you rank it in terms of healthiness (from 1 to 10)? Why?

·         Imagine you live in the year 2115. Describe a typical meal.

·         Peter has decided to only eat only fast food three times a day. What do you think will happen to his health?

The more challenging the question, the more it stimulates thought and requires more sophisticated language to answer it.


Video is the next step on from pictures

Many course books now come with videos and YouTube and other websites have a huge range of short effective videos on many topics and it is another powerful tool in the language classroom as

·         Teens are used to it

·         Visual literacy is paramount

·         Listening without seeing is very hard and unnatural

·         It’s a catalyst to other language work

·         There’s an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and learn about the world

·         As children grow their curiosity about the world increases


After watching and doing tasks based on videos in class, students can do further work (alone or in groups) in class or for homework. Homework is great for extension work as students don’t all have to be doing the same thing.

·         Students can make own videos (use smart phones)

·         Research topics they find of interest to them

·         Look at other videos online as homework

·         Read about the topics

·         Discuss themes

·         Do projects

·         Give presentations


We must remember as our learners move from being children to teenagers…

Students’ attention shifts to content areas such as philosophy, sociology, politics and psychology, at least as far as their more general questions are concerned.

Meta-cognition becomes an important focus of students’ attention.

Their language becomes more intellectual.

Kieran Egan