Unit 3: Grammar Games for Fun


This unit contains some activities that show that learning grammar in class can be fun. If the focus in the grammar class is not on routine discussion of grammatical rules and categories, and the students are engaged instead in real-world fun tasks, they will begin to realise how their grammar skills can develop in interesting ways. This will motivate them to participate actively in class, which in turn promotes language development. This unit focuses on three grammar games. You can find more in any of the good practical activity books developed by ELT specialists and published by Cambridge University Press, Routledge, Oxford University Press and others.

Unit outcomes


By the end of this unit, your students should have enjoyed the experience of playing grammar games. They should be able to:

  • practise several grammatical structures through fun-filled activities,

  • realise that grammar can be developed without memorising lists of rules, and

  • use grammatical English words and sentences while performing language activities for grammar practice.



Grammar games:

Language activities that engage students in learning the meaningful use of grammatical categories and structures.


This stands for Teacher Education for Sub-Saharan Africa, an association of about a dozen African countries providing online professional development materials for English, Science, Mathematics, etc.

Teacher support information

To become fluent and confident users of English in both academic and non-academic situations, students need to use English for communicative purposes in the classroom. Grammatical appropriateness is one of the prerequisites of language proficiency, and an effective way to develop students’ grammatical competence is by presenting them with challenges (quizzes, questionnaires, tasks with time limits, etc.) in the classroom. We should therefore remember that the idea is to have the students interact as much as possible, so that they can enjoy using language spontaneously.

Case study

Case study

Mr Azubuike teaches English to 15-year-olds at Capital Secondary School in Accra. The students come from many language backgrounds, some of which use grammatical classes very differently from English. For example, one language makes no distinction in the use of pronouns for male and female, singular and plural, animate or inanimate, human and non-human. That is, the same single pronoun (equivalent to he or she in English) is used for all of the above, and some of the languages merely use additional words to clarify the intended targets. Mr Azubuike’s students naturally had problems making all the fine distinctions that English and some other languages make in their pronouns. He decided to share his students’ problems with Mrs Udoh who had taught similar students in the past five years. She came across the materials provided online for teachers by Teacher Education for Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) and the British Council English Language Teaching group. She found very useful hints on how best to present English pronouns to ESL students. Both sources suggested using stick sketches, demonstrations before the class using boys and girls, objects and games to illustrate the distinctions that English pronouns make. She has been using these practical techniques successfully in her classes for some time. Mr Azubuike, could not access the materials online, so he decided to visit Mrs Udoh’s next three classes to observe how she actually taught pronouns. He was pleased to see her using a variety of techniques, grammar games and real-life activities in a very lively class. He is now much more confident about teaching English pronouns.

Points to ponder

  1. In what ways can students be made aware of the differences in grammar between their first language and English?

  2. How important is it to speak and write grammatically? Do students learn through games and fun?


Activity 1: Playing with phrasal verbs


Activity 1

This activity should help students practise the use of phrasal verbs. It is a pairing game. Students are divided into two groups called Verbs and Prepositions, and then have to find partners to form phrasal verbs. The game ends with the partners making sentences with the phrasal verbs.

To prepare for the activity, on page-sized placards, write down, in large letters, the verbs and prepositions from the lists below:

Verbs: go, get, bring, give, look, turn, pick, put, let, take, fill, break, clear, speak, show, try, cut, keep, cross

Prepositions: in, out, up, down, on, off, back, around, away, along, through, about, for, after

Announce to the students that they will play a game called Phrasal Partners. The objective of the game is to team the verbs with the appropriate prepositions to form phrasal verbs, and then to use them in sentences.

First, the students should divide themselves into the two groups — Verbs and Prepositions. Then a member of each group quickly collects the words representing their group (Verbs or Prepositions).

Next, each Verb has to find a matching Preposition. The pair then run to the board and write their pair name there (e.g., look for, go through, bring up). If two Verbs want the same partner (e.g., off for put off/show off), the pair that can think of a grammatical sentence with that Preposition first gets to keep the partner.

Each group then has to make and say aloud a sentence to illustrate their partnership (e.g., My grandfather looked after me when my parents went on a holiday/My friends did not turn up for my birthday party because they had exams). (See Resource 1 for phrasal verbs from the list used in sentences in a passage.)

If time permits, the groups can now swap round and play again. The Verb and Preposition with the most sentences win the game.

Activity 2: Who’s won the lottery?: The question quiz


Activity 2

In this activity students have an opportunity to practise using polarity-type questions to seek information, using several tense forms. This is a guessing game in which students have to guess the name of one of their classmates who has “won a lottery.” The game involves students asking polarity questions (i.e., questions that get the response Yes/No) to discover information about the lottery winner. The challenge is to find the answer by only asking the Yes/No questions. The activity will help students practise interrogative structures in a real-life context.

First, announce to the class that one of them has just won a lottery. They will have to guess the name of the person by asking questions about him or her.

Divide the class into groups of five or six. Tell one member of each group (you can call him or her the Group Leader) the name of the classmate who is supposed to have won a lottery. The rules of the game are:

  • Only the Group Leader knows the name of the “winner.”

  • Each group member has to ask the Group Leader a question to find out who the person is, and the Group Leader can only answer by saying Yes or No.

  • The questions should be about the person’s appearance.

  • The questions should be in the format Does he…/Is she (e.g., Does she have curly hair?/Is he tall?).

  • Each group member takes a turn to ask one question and try to guess the name. If they guess wrongly, the next group member asks another question, and so on until the group has guessed the correct name.

  • Because this is only a game, and the whole class has to be involved, even the person whose name is being guessed should not know that he or she is the “winner.” Only the Group Leaders will know, and they should not share the name with their group mates beforehand.

  • The game ends when one of the groups guesses the name correctly.

A tip: When you choose your group leaders, be careful to choose students who are good observers and quick to take decisions, because when their group mates ask probing questions, they will have to quickly decide whether to answer Yes or No, and to resist the temptation to look at the person being described. Otherwise the game will soon be spoiled, and many students will not have the opportunity to practise the structures.

Activity 3: Delectable descriptions: Adjectives for fun

Activity 3

The objective of this grammar game is to describe something (an object or person) imaginatively, using interesting and unique attributive adjectives. The learning point here is collocations of adjectives with nouns, and the sequence of attributive adjectives in noun phrases.

First, have your students suggest a list of adjectives to describe qualities, and put them on the board. Then ask the students to describe each of their classmates with two adjectives from the list. For example, they could have kind, gentle Sahil/active, smart Monica/short-tempered, impatient Sally and so on. The students should then read out their descriptions to the class. You could even generate a humorous debate on whether the descriptions match the people. Make sure the students take it all in good humour — you could even allow some good-natured teasing.

Then announce that the class is going to play a game with adjectives. For the game, make up paper placards, each with a random word (written in large letters) like tomato, duster, ladder, hourglass, tree, truck, pencil, flower, vase, football (you can have three or four of the same, so that there’s one for each student). Ask the students to choose a placard and pretend to be that object. They then have to give themselves interesting names by adding attributive adjectives (that is, adjectives that come before the thing they are describing). They have to use at least three adjectives for their names. They can use alliterative adjectives to make their name more interesting (such as I am Twisty, Tangy, Tasty Tomato/My name is Perfect, Polished, Perforated Pencil and so on). Allow them to use a dictionary to choose the adjectives — the more interesting the better.

Now put the objects with the same names (all the tomatoes, pencils, etc.) in groups, and let them introduce themselves with their new names. This should generate a lot of laughter and fun. When all the students have introduced themselves, ask them to expand their introductions into a full sentence (for example, I am Twisty, Tangy, Tasty Tomato and I work in the Department of Pulps and Slush). Encourage them to be creative and funny, and to use their imagination to come up with unusual (even ridiculous) introductions like the example above. The objective of this exercise is to make students understand the collocational possibilities of adjectives with nouns (i.e., which adjectives can qualify which nouns), and also to help them practise the grammatical function of introducing oneself. (See Resource 2 for some “delectable descriptions.”)

Unit summary


This unit focused on how grammatical concepts can be practised with humour and fun in the classroom. The aim was to ensure that students do not view grammar as the memorisation of boring, repetitive rules. It also focused on specific language functions performed as part of social skills, and some grammatical categories appropriate to those functions. The activities in this unit are only sample exercises to give you ideas for similar activities for your students to enjoy doing in the class.



  • Now that you have completed this unit, what did you find most useful?

  • Are these activities appropriate for your students?

  • If you were to modify them, which parts of the unit would you change to suit your context?



  • Can you think of other grammatical areas that can be taught through games? Make an activity to teach past tense with the help of a language game like the ones described in this unit. Invite one or two colleagues to record how the class goes. Then write down your own experience of teaching students through a grammar game.


Resource 1: Phrasal verbs


Resource 1

Verb list: go, get, bring, give, look, turn, pick, put, let, take, fill, break, clear, speak, show, try, cut, keep

Prepositions list: in, out, up, down, on, off, back, around, away, along, through, about, for, after

Possible combinations:

GO: go in, go out, go up, go down, go off, go around, go away, go along, go through, go about, go for, go after

GET: get in, get out (of), get up, get down, get on, get off, get back, get around, get away, get along (with), get through, get after

LOOK: look in, look out, look up (to), look down (upon), look on, look back, look around, look away, look through, look for, look after

TAKE: take in, take out, take up, take down, take on, take off, take back, take (someone) around, take away, take for, take after

SPEAK: speak out, speak up, speak on, speak about, speak for

KEEP: keep out, keep up, keep (something) down, keep on, keep off, keep back, keep away, keep (something) for

Sample sentences in an English text:

When I reached the place, I went in through the back door. There was a sign warning people to keep off the grass, so I had to get in through a small window someone had carelessly left open. I looked around and carefully took in the surroundings before I jumped into the room. “Who’s there? Speak out!” the butler shouted, obviously realising someone was in the room. Scared to death, I slid down the window, turned down the volume of my mobile phone, tried out a few yoga postures I’d learnt from a detective friend, and crept into the shadows before someone could come upon me and give me a rude shock!

Resource 2: Delectable descriptions: Some illustrations

Resource 2

Figure 1: Twisty, Tangy, Tasty Tomato

Figure 2: Droopy, Drowsy, Dangerous Dog

Figure 3: Poor, Pensive, Powerful Pencil


Figure 4: Cute, Curious, Cautious Car

Teacher question and answer



Question: When I engage my students in group activities in the class, it generates a lot of noise, which often provokes complaints from my principal and colleagues. The principal and the district English inspector even seem to believe that I am not teaching at all! What should I do?

Answer: You need the support of the school management and your colleagues for the kind of work you are doing. One way of garnering support is to invite your colleagues and the principal to one of your classes. You will then be able to show them some of the outcomes of your students’ group activities and some individual output as evidence of your efforts. However, avoid a situation where your students’ enthusiasm and enjoyment of what they are doing in groups distract other classes. Draw up some rules of engagement for your group activities and insist that they are strictly followed.