Move, act, speak!
by Jerry Thekes

In this article, I will present the teaching of three grammar games. By grammar game, I mean an entertaining activity involving learners in order for them to comfortably acquire the grammar point. I will try to argue for the importance of teaching grammar through fun as well. By grammar game, I mean an entertaining activity involving learners in order for them to comfortably acquire the grammar point. I believe that grammar teaching has a crucial part in the TEFL classroom; however grammar needs to be taught in a way that entertains the learners.

It is vital that the teacher should have the learners move and supply them with plenty of visual stimulus is an effective vehicle to entertain and distress them as they are acquiring certain grammatical skills. Wright and Haleem (1991) emphasize the need that students move in the classroom by stating that the physical manipulation of the lessons can contribute enormously to an understanding of sentence construction. In both the 'Luggage' and the 'Intercity' game learners are physically manipulated. Teaching grammar in TEFL lessons is important but not in spite of trying to be communicative but exactly because of it. I agree with Alexander (1994), who says that "in our eagerness to get our students to communicate, we frequently try to sweep grammar under the carpet… Grammar is being taught again not despite but because of the communicative revolution." This statement is reinforced by Tarone and Yule (1996) who explanatorily say that "developing this grammatical competence, it should be remembered, is in many respects the major goal of large numbers of students who take courses in a second or foreign language. Moreover, it has never really been seriously suggested that any language learner can become proficient in a language without developing a certain level of grammatical competence.

Widdowson (1988) also finds the teaching of grammar inevitable in the TEFL classroom by saying that "grammar is not a constraining imposition but a liberating force; it frees us from the dependency on context and the limitations of a purely lexical categorization of reality." Bruton goes on to point at the how grammar knowledge is acquired in the acquisition process. He says "grammar has to be encountered in context…there is little point in decontextualized grammar….furthermore, the context should be real to the users, so that the grammatical meaning takes on a genuine significance" (Bruton 2009, 384) In the Luggage game below, it will be evident that grammar is absolutely contextualized.

As it will be seen, pictures play a vital role in the described grammar games. A number of TEFL professionals have called for the use of pictures as a powerful source in the elicitation process. By elicitation, I mean that the teacher prompts and motivates the learners to create meaningful acts of speech. Mumford (2008, 40) for example affirms that "all teachers have access to pictures, however, and these can be a quick and easy way to bring other places and other people into the class. With imagination, pictures can be an extremely flexible resource." This statement rhymes well with Ur (1991) who posits that: "it is very much easier to concentrate on thinking about something if you can see that something, or at least see some depicted or symbolic representation of it. Learners…who are asked to discuss or listen to something without any visual focus often find their attention wandering." With lively grammar games, I am trying to avoid students' attention wandering. The grammar games in the article involve a lot of visuals and realia. Mumford's and Ur's arguments are reinforced by Wright, Betteridge and Buckby (2009) who posit that games with pictures involve the learners. They also find visualization important when grammar is presented and taught to TEFL learners. Making language teaching and the teaching of grammar game-like is of crucial importance so as to keep students interested and to create a relaxed atmosphere. Franciosi (2010, 1) also argues for the need of making TEFL classrooms more game-like. Hadfield says that "affective activities aim to create a positive and supportive group atmosphere in a non-explicit way" (Hadfield 1992). As it will be seen, the below-described grammar games are aimed at creating a positive and supportive atmosphere. The notion of making the lesson game-like is also asserted by Rinvolucri (1995): "Games are often associated with fun. Games can lower anxiety, thus making the acquisition of input more likely. They are highly motivating, relevant, interesting and comprehensible." Games not only engage students' interest in the TEFL classroom but they also keep them involved. Richards (1987) also contemns the explicit way of grammar teaching as he declares that "focus on grammar in itself is not a valid approach to the development of language proficiency…grammatical skills are thus seen as a component of language proficiency rather than as an end in itself."

In the grammar games described in the article, the term grammar MacNugget is used. This denomination comes from Thornbury (2010), who maintains that "an enthusiasm for compartmentalization, inherited from grammars of classical languages, has given rise to the elaborate architecture of the so-called tense system – including such grammar McNuggets as the future-in-the-past, and the past perfect continuous, not to mention the conditionals, first, second and third – features of the language that have little or no linguistic, let alone psychological, reality." Before the description of games, I will indicate the grammar McNugget that the teacher is supposed to teach with that particular game.
When grammar games facilitating learners' acquisition is at issue, neither Krashen (1982) nor Prabhu (1987) should be left out of consideration who assert –with slight distinction - that language is naturally acquired and explicit rule providing is to be avoided.
In order to motivate students to learn grammar, teachers need to fend off the tension the learners tend to have. If it is proved to them that the acquisition of grammar structures is an enjoyable pastime, they will be more willing to proceed in their TEFL studies. Maffione (2008, 22) also finds students' motivation crucial and she points out to the fact that involving the students and keeping them alert is the right path towards teaching them something new.


Battleship game
Grammar McNugget: phrasal verbs
Level: intermediate
Material: pictures, battleship charts

One student receives two battleship cards (the cards can be seen below): one for his own battleship; the other for radar. They are supposed to draw a battleship of three grids. Students play in pairs as they try to hit each other's battleships. They take turns saying phrasal verbs such as 'take off'; thus indicating that the player-student tries to find his opponent-student's battleship in the 'take off' grid. The winner is the one who finds the opponent's chunk of three grids first. This competitive game is played in order to engage them in the acquisition of phrasal verbs.
Once they are done, the teacher has to make sure that the learners acquire the meanings of the sixteen phrasal verbs. If the teacher finds this amount of vocabulary too much, then they can select the lexical items they want to teach. All of these phrasal verbs can be illustrated with a picture. As it is seen below as well, the verb 'take off' is illustrated. Once the presentation is done, the teacher has the students focus on the white board and hands out pictures illustrating the phrasal verbs. The same battleship chart is drawn on the white board and the teacher has the students put the pictures into the corresponding battleship grids with blue tack.

   up on in off

   up on in off

Grammar McNugget: both…and, neither…nor
Level: intermediate
Material: slips of paper, pictures, duct-tape, chair,

Before the lesson, the teacher sticks the words 'both','and'(later in the lesson 'neither', 'nor'); on two chairs. The teacher has to set up these chairs in front of the class with a minimal gap between them.
During the lesson, pictures illustrating people and objects are handed out to the students, who are supposed to find a logical connection between them. For example: Ferrari and Fiat are Italian; David Beckham and Cheryl Cole are British, etc. Every student has a picture in their hands and they are expected to find their partner. One couple will be one student having the Ferrari logo, the other one having the FIAT logo. Once they have found each other's partner, teacher has them take turn in standing in front of the class. One student stands between the two chairs with the 'both', 'and' cards stuck on them and holds up the Ferrari logo; the other stands next to the 'and' chair and holds up the FIAT logo. Thus, a fragmented visual sentence is presented to the rest of the group. One student is called to read out this sentence: 'Both Ferrari and FIAT are Italian.' All couples perform the same activity as the entire class practices this grammatical structure and the teacher always has one students read out the fragmented visual sentence.

Grammar McNugget: going to
Level: elementary
Material: pictures, duct-tape, realia

The teacher sticks pictures of different types of travelers (lonely tourist, family going on a package tour, beach girls, etc.) on the white board. Sentences are elicited from students with questions with regard to where they think these tourists are travelling. After students are engaged in the activity, they are given realia such as Agatha Christie books, tube of sunscreen, lipstick, map, etc.)
The students are instructed to go to the whiteboard with the objects and symbolically put them into the bags. They are supposed to match the items with one type of tourist. The teacher expects them to say sentences with 'going to' and give a reason for their choice; for example: 'The beach girls are going to take a tube of sunscreen because they are going to spend a lot of time under the sun.'; The business tourist is going to take a car rental brochure because he is going to rent a car.'

In the first section of this paper I have tried to find assertions, views and notions supporting the concept of the importance of teaching grammar through games. I have cited Krashen, who contemns the conscious teaching of grammar rules. I have also used Rinvolucri's view, according to whom grammar is only an umbrella term and every point has to be approached in a different way when teaching them is at issue. I have found Thronbury's notion of grammar inevitable in this article. Through the description of three grammar McNuggets I have intended to prove that teaching grammar with fun and games is crucial in the facilitating process of teaching the TEFL learners. The purpose of the'Battleship' game has been to substantiate that the power of traditional games can be exploited. The'Intercity' game has been targeted at showing that students acquire grammar easier once they are in motion. The 'Luggage' game has been aimed at showing that any type of realia can be used for the sake of transferring a message to make it comprehensible.

Bruton, Anthony 'Grammar is not only a Liberating Force, it is a Communicative Resource.' ELT Journal Volume 63/4 October/ 2009 pp. 383-386 2009
Franciosi, Stephan J. 'Making ESL/TEFL Classroom Activities More Game-Like.' The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 2, February/2010 pp.1-5 2010
Maffione, Lucia 'Keeping them Interested.' English Teaching Professional Issue 58 Sept 2008 pp. 22-23 2008
Mumford, Simon 'Picture This!' Modern English Teacher Vol 17 No 2 pp. 40-42 2008
Thornbury, Scott 'G is for Grammar MacNugget.' 2010 Cited from
Hadfield, Jill Classroom Dynamics. Oxford University Press 1992
Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon, 1982
Prabhu, N.S. Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford University Press 1987
Rinvolucri, Mario Grammar Game. Cambridge University Press 1995
Richards, Jack C. The Context of Language Teaching Camridge University Press 1987
Tarone, Elaine; Yule, George. Focus on the Language Learner Oxford University Press 1996
Ur, Penny Grammar Practice Activities A Practical Guide for Teachers Cambridge University Press 1991
Widdowson, Henry G. ' Grammar, and, nonsense, and learning' in W. Rutheford and M. Sharwood Smith (eds.) Grammar and Second Language Teaching Newbury House 1988
Wright, Andrew; Haleem, Safia. Visuals for the Language Classroom. Longman 1991
Wright, Andrew; Betteridge, David; Buckby, Michael Games for Language Learning. Cambridge University Press 2009


Jerry Istvan Thekes is Director of Studies at IFF Iskola Hungary-Romania (the largest central European private language academy) He holds an MA TESOL and has received his TEFL Certificate in Barcelona. He has been involved with TEFL for 11 years. He has just completed his 6-week teaching project in Saudi Arabia. Jerry has been invited as a presenter to TEFL conferences in Timisoara, Sarajevo, Izmir and Athens this year.

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