20 ideas for teaching MFL grammar

Author: Vanessa Salter
Published: 05/09/2020


New specs: grammar in focus

With the new GCSE and A-level specifications, MFL teachers will once again be reflecting on the importance of grammatical accuracy vs. communication. It’s not a question of what to teach, it’s more about how best to teach it.

Each specification has a full grammar list which details exactly what students need to know, but how to make sure that they apply all those rules whenever they use the language? Can they do so when speaking spontaneously? When writing on an ‘unseen’ topic? When translating into English or into the target language? How about long-term, outside the classroom?

Making grammar meaningful

Grammar is the backbone of any language and an integral part of all language learning. It’s about finding patterns in language and using key structures in meaningful situations. It’s about learning how to manipulate a phrase - creating a simple sentence and then a more complex one to say what you want to say.

Right from the start, incorporating basic grammar in context gives learners the opportunity to understand how to use the language for their own needs. It doesn’t have to be dull - it can be part of an engaging, memorable learning experience.       

Finding patterns

Recent research has shown that long-term memory and recall improve when learners are involved in deducing grammatical rules instead of just being told. Even if they are wrong initially, they remember more from the process. So it’s worth encouraging students to ‘find the pattern’ for themselves instead of teaching them the structures first.

It’s all about providing them with fun and structured learning opportunities to work out the grammar for themselves. When they can explain it to each other - and to you - then you know they’ve really got it!

Here are five examples from this resource:

  1. Learn by discovery. Give students several sentences containing the same grammatical feature.  Ask them to work in groups to ‘find the pattern’ and explain the rule. Even if they are wrong initially, they will remember more.

  2. Million pound drop. Based on the TV quiz show, teams can distribute their stake of tokens or toy money to place bets on which sentences are grammatically correct, out of a number of options.  Choosing an incorrect answer means losing their stake!

  3. Scavenger hunt. A series of verbs, structures or sentences are hidden in the classroom.  In teams, students work on each hidden ‘clue’ as instructed (i.e. translating, conjugating, adding agreements etc.) and take their answer to the teacher.  If correct, the team is rewarded with a letter.  By solving all the tasks, teams will collect all the letters and be able to form a word in order to win.

  4. Human sentences. Jumble up the words from a TL sentence by writing each one on A4 paper.  Give each word to one student at the front of the class and ask them to re-order the sentence by moving into the correct place, with the help of the class.  This is particularly effective for word order in German or complex sentences in French and Spanish.

  5. Listen out! Students can be asked to show their recognition and understanding of a particular grammar feature when listening.  Play some listening material (from the textbook or authentic material such as a song) and ask students to stand up each time they hear an example of the grammar.

Download all 20 ideas for teaching grammar

Vanessa Salter

Vanessa Salter is an MFL teacher, consultant and trainer.