Teaching practical vocabulary in your grammar lessons

By Stacy Hagen

Recent shifts in adult education have placed a priority on workforce and academic readiness. English language programs need to not only help learners develop English language competencies but also develop the skills they will need as they further their goals of education and better employment.

In this new educational landscape, preparing our students for college and career readiness is critical.  One thing we can do is to focus on practical vocabulary and content in our exercises.  Let me show you several examples.

Beginning students need to learn the basics of filling out forms.  In this exercise from the new edition of the Fundamentals of English Grammar, the grammar point is simple present and present progressive, but the context is completing forms.  While students are practicing the verb forms, they are also learning the language necessary for filling out forms.

Email is the number one form of communication in the workplace, but many of our students don’t use it at all.  When they get to college or start a job, it’s likely they may not know how to compose a proper message.  Here’s an exercise to introduce students to email appropriateness while practicing the verb will.  Through reading, discussion, and writing, students learn that casual language, emojis, reduced speech, to name a few, are not appropriate for academic or workplace emails.

Beginning and intermediate students need practical life-skills vocabulary; this can be easily included in sentence-level practice.  In this exercise with another/the other, the context is appliances and tools. Students practice a new grammar point while also acquiring practical vocabulary.

A traditional way to teach students how to ask for the meaning of something is by giving them an unfamiliar word.   For example, if they are at an intermediate level, we might give them the word spectacular and have them ask, “What does spectacular mean?”  Now, at some point, students will probably encounter a word like spectacular, but we could also give them content that would help them navigate their more immediate world: texting.

Helping our students become college and career ready also involves teaching them useful learning skills and strategies. Tips for how to be a better learner can be embedded into grammar lessons as illustrated by this example:

The topic of this reading is based on an interesting insight from cognitive science that shows we remember information at the beginning and the end better than information in the middle. Students tend to study in long blocks, maybe an hour, or two.  But if they study for a shorter amount of time, 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, they create a new ending and beginning.  This will help them remember information better.  

The Fundamentals of English Grammar and Understanding and Using English Grammar now have a series of blog that include study tips to help student become more successful in the academic world. Whether students are preparing for college or seeking employment, we can help them by providing practical and relevant content from the start. As these examples illustrate, this practical and relevant content can be easily embedded into any grammar lesson.


Stacy Hagen has been involved in ESL for 40 years as a teacher, administrator, teacher-trainer, and materials writer.  She has taught intensive, immigrant, refugee, high school, and MATESL students. She is the co-author of the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series, including the most recent Fifth Edition of Fundamentals of English Grammar.

Learn more about the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series here.

My Favorite Teaching Tip

Stacy Hagen_NEWStacy Hagen

The best teaching tip I ever got came from a TESOL presentation long ago. A very perceptive teacher-trainer, whose name I no longer have, suggested that every time we ask a question — no matter the question — we silently count to 10 before moving on. Ten seconds sounded like a long time to me, but when I got back to class, I decided to give it a try. It didn’t take long to see the wisdom in his advice. Continue reading

Roll Your Way to Grammar Fun

CVR_FEG9326_SB_CVR.indd

Would your students enjoy working on editing skills via a board game? Are you interested in an activity that takes just minutes to prepare? Here’s a lively and collaborative activity that works with any of the Check your knowledge exercises found in all three levels of the Azar-Hagen Grammar series.

Materials: A game board (attached) and dice.

1. Choose any Check your knowledge exercise from the text you are working in. These exercises are usually toward the end of the chapter.

2. Students work in groups of three or four. You need a game board and one die for each group.

3. To prepare the board, randomly write the number for the sentences (not the sentence) in the blank squares. If there are 12 sentences, you will have 12 marked squares. Skip the example sentences. (You can mark one board and then make photocopies, or make each board different for every group.)

4. Each student needs his/her own token: a coin, a paper clip, etc.

5. The first student rolls the die and moves accordingly.

6. When students land on a sentence number, they have to give the correction for the corresponding sentence in the book. The other students in the group can decide if it is correct or not. If they are unsure, they can check with the teacher.

7. If the answer is incorrect, the student goes back 2 spaces. (When this happens, the student skips any instructions on the square two spaces back.)

8. Play continues until one student reaches You Win! (You can decide if they need to roll the exact number or not to get to the final space.)

9. As a follow-up, the teacher can review the more difficult or challenging sentences.

A wealth of activities to supplement the texts can be found at: AzarGrammar.com/Classroom Materials

Board game template_Final

Celebrate Grammar Day with Stacy Hagen

Stacy_HagenStacy Hagen

Join us on March 4th at 3:00 pm (EST) to celebrate Grammar Day with Stacy Hagen. She will discuss the critical role of listening in the grammar classroom. Click here to register.

Of the four language skills taught in the classroom, listening has received the least attention, yet its role is vital. She will talk about recent research in listening, discuss the importance of teaching decoding skills, and show why listening belongs at all levels of a grammar curriculum.

Stacy Hagen is co-author of the Azar-Hagen Grammar series. She is an experienced ESL teacher and administrator, and the creator of EnglishwithStacy, a YouTube channel on spoken English.

Click here to learn more about this exciting professional development webinar.

Do you want to see a sample of the new fourth edition of Basic English Grammar? If so, click here.