Category Archives: ESL Grammar

Approaching Grammar with Generation 1.5 Students and Other Ear-Learners

Gen 1.5

Generation 1.5

In our college, there was a category of ESL students who stymied the instructors.  They were fluent speakers but continually struggled with basic the grammar on writing tasks.  Any ESL program that has immigrant students will probably have these types of students described as “ear-learners” or Generation 1.5.

Gen 1.5 students are sort of between first generation and second generation immigrant.  They immigrated with their family when they were elementary or high school age.

A growing number of these students indicate a goal of obtaining a college degree.  However, unfortunately, many of them struggle to make the transition from studying basic English skills in ESL courses to taking academic ESL and mainstream academic courses.

Among those who do apply to colleges, a considerable number do not meet the minimum standards for writing and are thus not accepted.

I, along with two colleagues, were able to get a grant a few years ago to study these students and to develop an approach to helping them learn grammar for writing by taking into consideration their special learning styles.

In this posting, I’ll describe these students and their learning styles.  I’ll also explain the type of materials and include examples that we used with them.  And finally, I’ll summarize the very positive results that we got from the study.

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How to lead ESL Students to Discover their Grammar Mistakes on Writing Assignments


One-on-one conferencing

All over the world and on almost every campus, there is a need for well-qualified teachers/tutors who understand grammar terms and who can “lead” ESL students to discover and correct their own mistakes, and by so doing, become better at self-editing.  Unfortunately, many teachers/tutors merely tell students what their mistakes are and how to correct them.  This approach has been proven to be ineffective at making students aware of their mistakes and at helping them become independent. The purpose of this posting is to give a brief introduction to an innovative and at the same time straight-forward techniques which teachers/tutors can use when conferencing individually with students about their writing assignments.

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Inductive Grammar: Why are there commas in these sentences? Here are some clues. What’s the rule?


Grammar can be fun, like a puzzle.

During a teacher-training course that I was teaching for American college students who wanted to teach ESL, we were discussing where to put commas.  Several of the students said that they decide according to their breath.  As they are re-reading something that they had written, if they stop to take a breath, that’s where they put a comma.

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Engaging grammar group activities (even for hesitant students)


Engaging group work

Group work in a grammar class can be a powerful learning tool if it is carefully structured.  The format for the activities that I’ll present here has been effectively used with students from lower level to advanced. And the structure of these activities makes it easy for even the most passive students to be active; in fact, many times, the normally quiet students seem to shine while doing these.  Another positive aspect of these is that they are non-threatening for students to engage in.

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Grammar class: Confusion about when to use “where” vs “which” (exercise handout)



A tutor recently told me about her student who was confused by “where” and “which.”  She was wondering how I would approach this student’s question.   He had two sentences:

Shanghai is a city which has a population of eight million people.
Shanghai is a city where eight million people live.

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