Milica Vukadin - 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 develop the four language skills simultaneously.

Milica Vukadin, B.Ed.

What is contextualized grammar instruction?

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 is grammar contextualized?

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. Here are three simple steps to develop an exploratory grammar lesson:

  • 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 proven to deepen 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

Milica Vukadin, B.Ed.

Blog: Alice in Methodologyland

Average: 5 (2 votes)

Submitted by Notting Hill Girl on Thu, 10/17/2019 - 08:36


Thank you Alice.  I enjoyed reading your blog just now.  What I found interesting was your links to research that shows the old style of grammar instruction has limited value.

Thanks for your ideas about using song.  

I'm happy you found something useful!

I am now working on incorporating audio books into contextual grammar teaching, so maybe you can try that as well after you practice with some songs. Have fun in your classroom! :)

Submitted by christinemuniz on Tue, 10/22/2019 - 09:09


I have tried to follow the link provided in the article and I keep getting a message that this website is unsafe. I also tried to access the page through Google and got exactly the same message. It's a pity as it seems very interesting.

Hello Although we check all external links on the site, we cannot guarantee that they can be accessed from everywhere. I can access the site without problems here. Perhaps you could try to access it with a different browser? Hope that helps, Cath TE Team

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