Category Archives: ESL Grammar

“Finally I now Understand What Nouns, Subjects and Verbs are.” (And it took only 30 minutes to learn inductively.)

Is beautiful today.

We the soccer match on TV.

(This posting includes handouts which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Ellie immigrated to the U.S. with limited English skills after she had graduated from college in her country.  As with many ear-learners, she gradually picked up English from talking, listening to the media and reading.  In other words, she had no formal training in English.

Here in the U.S., she has a good job in family counseling, but in order to be promoted, she needs to improve her writing skills, so she enrolled in an adult education class.  Unfortunately, the “direct” approach the instructors took of presenting rules and assigning exercises was not effective for her.  After months of studying, she became frustrated and embarrassed when she couldn’t even identify mistakes with subjects and verbs.

When she entered my academic ESL class, she demonstrated an advanced style of writing and vocabulary but had some breakdowns with basic grammar and struggled to fix these.  For example, she once started a paragraph with this sentence:

            People are social beings who has a need to be connected to other beings.

To help her edit her paragraph, I told her that there was a verb mistake in the first sentence.  She looked embarrassed and uncomfortable and after about 20 seconds of starring at the paper asked me to remind her of what a verb was.  In her next two sentences, she wrote:

            Individuals cannot be isolated for too long.  Through our brains, have the ability to connect with other’s emotions and develop empathy.

I pointed out that in the last sentence, she was missing a subject.  Again, with a pained look on her face she said she couldn’t remember was subjects were.

I realized that for me to be able to lead her to her mistakes and not just tell her what they were and how to change them, she needed to first be able to identify subjects and verbs.  So I gave her these three worksheets : Inductive exercises for nouns ; Inductive exercises for subjects ;  Inductive exercises for verbs . I should point out that I didn’t spend any time talking to her about subject and verbs or about how to do the worksheet.  (Feel free to download and use those exercises with your students.)

The results

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Teaching Gerunds (a discussion from LINCS)

                                  SOME COMMON PROBLEMS

                                              Run is good exercise.
                                          I finished read that book.
                               He made some money by work hard
                                Eating in restaurants are expensive.
                                      They enjoyed to do their work

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

I was invited to participate in a discussion about how to teach gerunds.  You can read the discussion at this linkLINCS discussion of gerunds

I’ll summarize here some exercises that I’ve used to help students at all levels and include a links to handouts that you can use with your students.  Also, below you’ll find brief samples of those exercises.

First handout: Inductive exercises to introduce gerunds to students.
See brief samples of these below.
Here is the link to the complete exercises. Gerunds inductive intro
For more inductive grammar exercises like these, see The Grammar Review Book

Second handout: Listening and writing exercises to help students learn when to use a gerund and when to use an infinitive.   One purpose of the listening exercise is to internalize what sounds right.
See brief samples of these below.
Here is the link to the complete exercises. Gerunds vs Infinitives listening and writing exercise
For more listening/writing exercises like these, see Write after Input

Third handout: Exercises for more advanced students who know what gerunds are.  These will help them understand how to use them as subjects of sentences and to contrast gerunds and participles.
See brief samples of these below.
Here is the link to the complete exercises. Gerunds vs Participles Exercises
For more advanced grammar exercises like these, see Writing Strategies Book 2

Brief sample exercises

Inductive exercises to introduce the concept of gerunds, especially good for ear-learners.

Exercise 1: Circle the nouns. Ignore pronouns such as he. (There are 8 nouns, including candy.)

  1. He likes candy.
  2. He likes eating.
  3. We enjoy music.
  4. We enjoy singing.

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Grammar point: “Before going to sleep, I always check under my bed for monsters.”  What is “going”?


(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

One of the most common grammar questions I’ve been asked by students or tutors whom I’ve trained or new teachers whom I’ve mentored concerns sentences like:

“While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.” [Subordinator (While) + Verb-ing (eating).]

Question: Grammatically speaking, what is “eating”?

It’s called a reduced form.  The writer is reducing an adverb clause to a phrase.
Original sentence: While we were eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.
      Reduced form: While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.

We can use these with subordinators like before, after, while and since.

This phrase can come at the beginning of a sentence as in the example above and in the title of this post or in the middle of a sentence:
     She bumped into a chair while she was looking at her smartphone.
      She bumped into a chair while looking at her smartphone.

Two points that students need to know

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LINCS Discussion about Grammar (Handout Exercises)

LINCS logo

You don’t have to be a grammar expert to help your students with the grammar in their writing.

During the week of Jan. 15-19, each day, I was interviewed online at LINCS about teaching grammar.  You can read the discussion at this link:  LINCS grammar discussion ,

The topics were:
Jan. 15: Inductive teaching
Jan. 16: Importance of grammar terminology
Jan. 17: Ear-learners
Jan. 18: Leading students to finding grammar mistakes
Jan. 19: The connection between reading and learning grammar

Each day, I mentioned handout exercises related to that days topic, and I made these available in this posting below.

To see the handouts and read more information about the topics, please read below.
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A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More

Reading while eating

Reading every chance you get.

An international student, Emily, was really struggling with the grammar in her writing assignments.  Even though she worked with a tutor, she was continuously making basic mistakes.  In the fall, the program reluctantly promoted her to my higher-level Writing course.  I found her to be the third lowest of 17 students in the class in being able to apply grammatical accuracy to written work.  Ten weeks later, she was the second best.  I was totally amazed!

At the end of the Fall term, she passed my class and then took English Comp (English 101) during the Winter term.  She got an A.

I had a chance to talk to her about her remarkable turn-around.  What she did is not beyond what other students can do.  After that opportunity that I had to talk to her, every term, I share with all my students her story.  Here is the PowerPoint that I use to do this in case you’d like to tell your students about how a peer of theirs was able to improve the grammar in her writing in a relatively short time.  True story about improving grammar in writing thru reading

I’ll summarize what she had done below.

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Is the Hokey Pokey Really What It’s All About?  No, Subordination Is. (Part 1)


Dependent and Independent Clause

My students are always quite surprised when I tell them this true story about subordination*.  Several years ago, I taught Academic ESL at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP).  I had discussions with the chair of the English Dept. about how they determine which students (American and International) are qualified to take English 101 Composition.  Not surprisingly, he said all new students write a placement essay.  But this is the surprising part: the readers/evaluators do NOT consider the idea-development, nor the paragraph organization, nor the grammar.   Instead they looked for only one aspect: whether or not the writer could use subordination (dependent and independent clauses) correctly.   Their research found that that one aspect was the most reliable predictor about which students would be successful in English Comp.

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Playing Computer Games until 2 a.m. or Lack of Awareness (Subordination Part 2)

Computer games

My students at 2 a. m.?

 (This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

“I like summer because it’s hot.”  Pretty simplistic, right?   The assignment was to write six sentences using subordinators as part of a review of them in my advanced class.  That sentence was the type that I got from some of my students.

My first impulse was to attribute this to a lack of motivation, or to staying up until 2 a.m. playing video games, or to immaturity.  I found out that I was wrong (or at least partial wrong).

A few of my “better” students would write more sophisticated sentences like, Because of the recent refugee crisis in Europe, some Europeans are starting to question their immigration policies.”   When I shared some of these advanced sentences with the “simple-style” students, they seemed quite surprised that they should have been trying to write like that.  They thought that just using a subordinator in sentence was enough to fulfill the assignment.  I realized that I hadn’t presented the challenge clearly enough.  Here is my remedy which completely turned these students around.

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