Contextual Grammar Teaching – Activities for Making Grammar Meaningful to Your Students

How do we develop a learning environment where the grammar is learned through exploration without burnout? Keep reading for example activities of thematic contextual grammar activities that develops the four language skills simultaneously. Let’s see how can we apply contextual grammar teaching!

What is contextual grammar teaching?

The eternal debate of teaching grammar implicitly or explicitly will probably never cease. This debate created the need for further research, and now almost all researchers agree that grammar should not be taught explicitly. (Goode, 2000; Sams, 2003;). The rationale for teaching grammar in such a way is the early language acquisition – children learn their native language through an authentic context, and they can speak it perfectly without anyone explaining what is present simple or past simple. So how can we use this to contextualize grammar instruction? We can start by forgetting frontal teaching and drilling, and use authentic language in books, films, newspapers, and even songs. 

Why should we avoid explicit grammar teaching?

Traditional grammar instruction requires the memorization of grammar rules and terminology, along with drills and labeling of sentence parts in various textbooks. Even older dated research has proven that this method has little or no effect on improving student’s writing and language skills in general. (Meyer, 1986; Seliger, 1979).

How can we contextualize grammar?

Exploration instead of explanation is a great starting point for all teachers who are struggling to develop a contextually based approach to grammar. Your lesson planning process may experience ups and downs, but ultimately, the positive results will outnumber the negative ones.

  • Teach thematically – Your student wants to travel and practice travel English so there is no time for grammar? In this case, you can easily introduce modal verbs by practicing ordering in a restaurant and discussing the menu with the waiter.
  • Contextualize – Use authentic films, books, articles, and songs. By doing that, we are presenting grammar as a part of language and communication, not just as a tedious thing that has to be learned for the test.
  • Incorporate all skills – By incorporating all language skills, the new grammar is used immediately, and by recycling the same grammar form through all the four language skills, the student will seamlessly acquire the grammar form.

Here are three contextual ways of introducing a new grammar form:

Using music and songs 

The ideas from a song, the rhythm, and for younger children, even movement can easily captivate the attention of your student. By doing this, students can discover the grammar by themselves, and the grammar becomes a conversation topic. Remembering past perfect is much easier by connecting it with a song. 

You can use MyEnglishPages while you learn how to develop a contextual grammar lesson based on a song. You can start your lesson by speaking while using karaoke and discussing the topic of the song. Then you can switch to listening by sharing a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet for a specific grammar form, which will ultimately lead to grammar discovery and writing, or rewriting sentences.

Short stories or books 

For this occasion, you can select a short passage of a book or a short story. If students provide you with their favorite reading material, that’s even better. Start by reading and discussing the content. You can then search for a specific grammar form and discuss how is it used in that sentence. You can finish the reading by paraphrasing or reporting the sentence. This kind of grammar discovery is deepens the understanding of the mother tongue and foreign language as well. 

To practice writing and speaking you can focus on a specific grammar form – for example, write an essay and put the short story into the past tense, or do an oral exercise where you will change the adverbs in the text to see how the meaning of the sentence changes. There is no end to what you can do with a text – It all depends on your syllabus and student’s learning gaps.

Activities with films or video clips 

Films and video clips are great tools for students who do not enjoy reading. The instruction can start by watching a short segment of the film, and then providing a transcript. After that, you can highlight the grammar structures and watch it again to hear how are they used in authentic communication. Speaking activities can include a role-play with a specific grammar structure. Writing activities can include creating a storybook, blog post or even a vlog.

Contextualized grammar teaching develops analytical skills in our students, which helps them comprehend and incorporate the language rules. By learning grammar contextually and by using the grammar-discovery approach with our students, we ultimately create autonomous, 21st-century learners.

  1. Teaching Grammar – The ARTT of Grammar Teaching seminar presentation by Tim Taylor, 2014
  2. Goode, D. (2000). Creating a context for developmental English. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 27(3), 270-277.
  3. Sams, L. (2003). How to teach grammar, analytic thinking, and writing: A method that works. English Journal, 92(3), 57-65.
  4. Meyer, C.F. (1986). Improving instruction in grammar. Journal of Teaching Writing, 5(1), 17- 21.
  5. Seliger, H. W. (1979). On the nature and function of language rules in language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 13, 359-369
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This article is originally published on the British Council Teaching English.

How do you apply contextual grammar teaching in your classroom? Is it hard for you to contextualize your grammar? Let me know in the comments, or via the contact page!

About Alice Glass

Alice is a 27 years old preschool teacher (Pre-K) with a B.Ed. She is currently enrolled in her Master studies, with a double major, one of them being English teaching methodology. She is also an online ESL teacher and blog writer for British Council. Last but not least, she is a mother of a very energetic toddler.


  1. The concept sounds great, but it seems as too much effort is needed.
    Is there any way to simply contextualize grammar, without having to plan so much prior to the lesson?

    1. I agree with you – it can take up a lot of time when you are just starting out.
      The best thing to do is to first make a diagnostic test – that way you will know what are the learning gaps of your students.
      When you know this, you can easily go back to the results, use any article and after reading and discussion turn to grammar exploration.

      This approach doesn’t require literally any planning. 🙂

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