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Anyone who has studied or worked with me will know that my relationship with grammar is… complicated! I’m aware that a lot of my students consider grammar a priority and expect to study it as part of a language course, but I’m also aware that explicit grammar teaching (think: ‘fill in the gaps’ or ’complete the sentence’) has been shown not to have a big effect on learners’ ability to use these grammatical structures accurately. This task is my compromise!

Woman Studying

The Basics:

  1. Choose a text which you have read a couple of times and which you understand. It doesn’t have to be very long - maximum one page but it could be much shorter.

  2. Read through the text again, this time focussing on the grammatical structures that you see. Choose a particular structure, for example the present continuous (am/are/is + verb-ing), and highlight all the examples you can find in the text.

  3. Now look at those examples and try to identify why the writer has chosen that structure. If you changed it to, say, present simple, would the meaning change? Would it still be ‘correct’?

  4. Repeat for any other aspect of grammar: pronouns, adjectives and adverbs, conditional structures, relative clauses, etc. 

Don’t worry if you don’t know why a particular structure has been chosen. The why isn’t hugely important for this task. What is important is the question itself. By asking why is this written like this (or pronounced like this or spelled like this, etc.), you’re developing a curiosity about language which will allow you to start noticing linguistic patterns more quickly and enable you to make links between the grammar ‘rules’ you know and the texts that you read and listen to.


  1. Start with the text. Instead of looking for a particular structure, reverse the task, and try identifying all the structures the text uses that you recognise. As before, ask yourself why the writer has chosen that structure.

  2. Record useful examples. If you see a phrase or structure which you think you’d be able to use in your everyday life (perhaps it’s the ‘correct’ version of a sentence you say a lot!), write it down on a vocabulary card and add it to your collection of ‘phrases to learn’.

  3. Create a game for yourself. If you’ve decided to focus on pronouns (he, it, themselves, someone, etc.), why not delete all the pronouns from the text and, a couple of days later, come back to the text and see if you can complete it?


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