How I Teach English Grammar in Conversation Class

The Truth: Grammar issues will inevitably arise in English conversation class.

And if the teacher cares about the student, then these grammar issues should be addressed. For a purely conversational class, some students might let the teacher get away with saying "Sorry, I'm not a grammar expert." But the bottom line is that communication problems are often rooted in grammar. These problems need to be fixed so the student can progress.

Grammar questions can be a source of anxiety for teachers, however, regardless of whether you're TESOL certified or just someone with a good command of the language.

This is how I deal with grammar questions in English class:

1) By Having Adequate Knowledge

As a teacher, you should have sufficient knowledge of English grammar. This means, at a minimum, being able to identify and explain:

  • nouns
  • adjectives
  • adverbs
  • verb tenses
  • prepositions
  • articles
  • 1st, 2nd & 3rd conditionals

These items may have been covered (to an extent) in your teacher training. If you are a self-taught teacher, then familiarize yourself with these terms by taking a look at this English grammar reference sheet I created. Identification of the basic elements of the English language is the first step; the second is explanation. A teacher is expected to know the difference between a comparative and a superlative. However, it takes experience (and study) to be able to confidently explain the usage of more complicated structures such as the 3rd conditional. If you don't have this knowledge, then proceed to the next step.

2) By Letting the Experts Teach It

Good English Grammar Textbook

A comprehensive grammar book can be a godsend for a teacher. This English Grammar in Use (Cambridge) book has been my grammar bible since I began teaching in Europe. The copy I'm holding on the left is "intermediate level", but I also use it with my upper-intermediate (B2) and advanced (C1) students.

It contains 145 units on verb tenses, conditionals, reported speech, auxiliary verbs, articles, relative clauses, prepositions, phrasal verbs, et cetera. Grammar-wise, the book has basically everything a student needs to master for B1, B2 and even C1 CEFR levels.

A good grammar book such as this can explain English grammar rules better than I can because it was written by experts. When I recognize a student of mine has a problem with a particular grammar area (e.g. even/even though), I copy that particular unit for him. He goes home, reads the explanations, and completes the accompanying exercises as homework. The next time I see him, generally the problem is solved. This approach saves me a lot of energy and my students a lot of class time.

(The 4th Edition (2012) of English Grammar in Use is available on Amazon US, UK, Canada.)

3) By Doing Research

Not everything can be found in the index of an English grammar book.

If my student has an English usage question about something like the difference between according to and in accordance with (and I can't explain it confidently), then I tell him I'll look into it and get back to him. A Google Search usually leads me to the answer (I often find the answers on forums such as By doing research this way, I learn what I was not previously able to explain and thereby become a better teacher.


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And that is how I handle grammar-related issues in English conversation class. I hope you found this useful.

Best of luck in your classes!

- Matthew Barton /

Related: How to Teach Conversational English Class

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10 comments on “How I Teach English Grammar in Conversation Class

  1. Wilson Thilakaratna (Posted on 11-20-2012 at 08:31) Reply

    One English teacher says that the sentence “Joan cant speak English.”Harry too can’t speak English” instead he says the correct form is “Harry can’t speak English either.
    Please explain this usage.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 11-22-2012 at 21:53) Reply

      The teacher is right. You don’t use ‘too’ in negative sentences. Instead, use either.
      A: I love pizza
      B: I love pizza too! <-- the verb is not negative (love) A: I don't have a brother. B: I don't have a brother either. <-- the verb is negative (don't)

  2. milad (Posted on 2-21-2013 at 17:44) Reply

    would you mind telling me the difference between intelligent and intellectual?

    1. mb (Posted on 2-21-2013 at 18:32) Reply

      intelligent means clever or smart. This adjective describes people.
      intellectual means ‘relating to the intellect.’ The intellect is a person’s reasoning ability, or brainpower.
      So, intellectual development means developing someone’s brain so he/she can reason and think better.
      That’s typically the difference.

  3. Shelly (Posted on 7-15-2014 at 00:03) Reply

    Brilliant advice! I'm a newly qualified CELTA teacher with not much teaching experience and I'm still teaching myself grammar. I'm a native speaker with a great command of the English language, but it's the explaning and defining part that stumps me! As previously mentioned, I'm teaching myself grammar so that I can be a better teacher for my students and your article has helped ease my mind about a few things.  So thank you!


  4. parwez (Posted on 12-3-2015 at 20:27) Reply

    nice but can you more explan for me

  5. Reeve j. Moreau (Posted on 1-3-2017 at 01:37) Reply


  6. Reeve j. Moreau (Posted on 1-3-2017 at 01:45) Reply

    What about tongue twisters for practicing linguistics ? Such as “rubber baby buggy bumpers ” five times fast it is almost guaranteed to get you a good laugh and is good way to break the ice in an awkward situation .
    “If Peyer Piper picked a peck of pickle peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?” Limericks can also be fun to work with does anyone have any favorite limericks to share?

  7. Reeve j. Moreau (Posted on 1-3-2017 at 02:04) Reply

    Here are a few other ideas that may inspire conversation . Have your students compose a poem or short story about a favorite childhood experience and have them recite it to fellow class mates and get them to respond by sharing their feeling or some of their own personal experiences. Also you can have students create a hyperthetical real life situation and make a play or skit out of it and see where things go from there! Each student takes on the persona of all the players in the scit and let the students improvise and make up their own dialog. Teachers can also participate if things are not moving and Get some sparks flying

    There is nothing like a good controversial statement to inspire a good argument or debate about a current event I’ve life occurrence everyone has an opinion and will lukely express it if stirred to . The teacher can be the moderator and peacemaker if need be.

    Please share some other fun and creative methods of inspiring students to converse .

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