Teaching grammar with games in the ELL classroom

child shopping to learn some, a, an, and any
13 Mar Shelley Vernon No Comments

Studies have shown that children achieve higher test scores when they are allowed to play outside before the taking of an exam. The concept of play may also be applied to learning grammar through the playing of specific games tailored to meet the corresponding lesson. Today I have chosen the following three grammatical lessons. These are three concrete examples to demonstrate how you can teach grammar with games to ELLs (English language learners).


1) Prepositions.

2) Countability.

3) Asking Questions.


1. Prepositions

(Source: ESL Games: 176 English Language Games for Children. Available in instant PDF download, Kindle, and paperback.)

Most students are in the second grade of elementary school when they begin to learn prepositions. They have gained specific vocabulary through living and observing for the past 8 years.

Show the class prepositions using notebooks pens pencils desks chairs. Have the children mimic you, as you hold up a pencil and a notebook. Put the pencil inside the notebook. Put the pencil on your elbow. Next, pick up a pencil. Place the pencil under the notebook. Place the pencil and pen on the chair. Finally, for fun place the pen between the bottom of your nose and upper lip and leave it there for 5 seconds!

Eventually, stop showing the children. Now, they have to do it from having learned rather than copying. When necessary show them again and continue until the majority of the class remembers at least five of the prepositions.


  • Do not wait for the slowest student before moving on, you could lose the interest of the whole class if the pace is too slow. Start with three prepositions. Once the majority of students have those, feed in one more, and then another, up to a maximum of six. Don't be too ambitious, it's better to thoroughly drill 6 prepositions that the class really learn, rather than 12 and no one remembers any of them in the next lesson.

  • When teaching prepositions, use real objects rather than flashcards. It's more relevant and real. Have fun with cardboard boxes, as shown below.

teaching prepositions with cardboard boxes


Next, to conclude call out one child's name. Ask him to stand in front of you. Then call another child's name and ask him to stand behind you. Continue until all the children are in a line, or however, you choose to arrange them. Then you can ask them to return to their seats. Take a break. Etc.


2. Countability.

The usage of a-some-any is often confusing for children learning English as a foreign language.  Particularly, those whose native tongue has no article and or has opposing concepts of countability. Shopping has a unifying effect between different languages. Whether it's using the following "game" or actually shopping with someone where both parties only speak a little of the other language. The game Shop-A-Holics (from my book) is a good opportunity to drill these small but essential words.



Ask the children to bring to class pictures and packages of items they have bought in a store, for example, sweets, bananas, and milk cartons. They can label them at home with English words, or bring the items to class, and the teacher will help to label them. Revise the usage of a and some by saying, "This is an apple. This is some milk." Bring in some real money or make fake money. Ask the children to say, "I would like some bananas" then let them create their stores using desks as stalls and arranging their products on it. Let one-third of the class be the store owners, and the rest will be the shoppers.



Ask the students to go from store to store and purchase as many products as they like and to spend as much as they like. Shoppers must use the phrases correctly. After some time passes the teacher calls out an item, for example, "We found poison in the cheese." The shoppers must hand in the cheese purchased to the teacher, and the storeowners withdraw it from their shop. The teacher writes the product on the board for everyone to see so that the merchandise is no longer for sale. Play the game quickly and set a time limit. After 10 or 15 minutes stop the game and all the children who managed to acquire at least eight items are the winners. Repeat the game, having the children swap roles, the person who calls out the products, the shop owner and the shopper. The game was played very intensely by my class and got a very high rating by all the children.

boy with shopping cart illustrating teaching countability

3. Asking questions.


Asking questions is a crucial point when teaching English grammar. Students have a hard time with the usage of "do,"  word order, and interrogative pronouns.


Grandpa and Grandma's footsteps.

A fun game to drill questions is grandpa and grandma's footsteps. Have a child come to the front of the class and be the grandma, with her back to the class. All other students ask in unison, "Do you like pears?" They then start moving towards the front of the classroom. Whenever she likes, the grandma answers the question, "Yes I do." or "No I don't." She then turns around suddenly, and the students freeze in their footsteps. If the grandma sees a child moving that child has to answer the question earning one point if correct. The game is one of the most cherished in the ESL classroom, it creates excitement and tension because the children are eager to avoid being caught and when caught they can look at last and gain a point by answering the question correctly. Moreover, they like the movement and the quick pace of the game.


Since children are easily excitable and you don't want your classroom to be excessively noisy, here's a tip to play this game in an orderly way. Simply make a rule that any child being noisy, other than saying the target language, has to return to the start immediately. This will allow the game to be played quietly.


All these games are in my book of grammar games ESL Games: 176 English Language Games for Children. Available in instant PDF downloadKindle, and paperback.)

You too can teach grammar to your ELLs! Just ask me in the comments box if you need any help.

Comments welcome. I reply to everyone.

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games


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