How to Teach Parts of Speech: Lesson Tips & Activities for ESL TeachersBy Coleen Monroe
March 22, 2021
Bridge grad Coleen Monroe previously taught English in South Korea and Chile. She has since gone on to earn her Master’s in Linguistics from University College London and is currently teaching English in China. As a seasoned teacher, we asked Coleen to again share her expertise — this time on how to teach parts of speech. A version of this post also appeared on her personal blog, Reverse Retrograde, about travel, TEFL, and more.
Okay, so you’ve realized that grammar is a thing and that your new job as a TEFL/TESOL teacher requires you to know something about how to teach it. Good start! But you won’t get far unless you’re able to guide students to label the parts of the sentences that you use in daily speech, and especially in writing. The parts of speech are a foundation for all the other skills you need as a teacher in the ESL classroom, so let’s get started with how to teach parts of speech.
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Why teach parts of speech?
In order to teach parts of speech to ESL learners, you first need to know why this grammar topic is essential. The tips below will help you to be able to show your students why it’s important to learn parts of speech in the ESL classroom.
What are the types of parts of speech?
Before learning how to teach parts of speech to ESL students, let’s have a refresher on what the parts of speech are.
I made it a goal to teach my students the parts of speech in every lesson. For the past few months, at some point in the lesson, I write “Parts of Speech” on the board. Underneath, I write the following:
That’s basically all you need to know about the parts of speech as well. You don’t need to know about how they “work” in theory to effectively teach this topic. You can use these simplified definitions to teach parts of speech to most levels of students.
If necessary, you can add more complicated parts of speech:
These descriptions are designed for low- to intermediate-level learners and will help you to teach parts of speech in a fun and clear way. This is not an exhaustive guide, but it should help you to be able to write your objectives for a parts of speech lesson.
How do you teach parts of speech?
Teaching parts of speech lessons to your ESL students doesn’t have to be boring. You can make it as interesting or as intricate as you need. The following activities for teaching parts of speech involve little to no prep. You can use them in your lessons frequently, as repetition builds familiarity!
1. Classroom treasure hunt
Elicit the parts of speech by giving examples for each.
Teacher: What’s a noun? (Pointing to a trash can): Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to a chair): Oh, look! A noun! (Pointing to self): Oh, look! A noun!
Students will then be able to give more examples.
Use this as a basis for a new game. Students should be in small groups or pairs. Set a timer and have them write down as many of a certain part of speech as they can see in the classroom. Then, switch to a different part of speech and have them attempt to write more words. If you like, you can make it so that it’s harder each round or you can eliminate those who don’t write a certain number of words in a round.
2. Grammar by numbers
Use a coloring sheet with a “Paint by Numbers” scheme based on words and their part of speech. This is a good lesson plan for parts of speech for young learners. This works really well for getting students to work together and makes a nice project to show parents, too! Just be aware that some English words can play many roles in a sentence.
A dream: noun form
To dream: verb form
Dream job: adjective form
This is a good opportunity to remind your students that English grammar is not a precise science and that the “rules” they learn in school may or may not actually hold up in real life. The ambiguity may cause their heads to temporarily explode, but I promise it’s better for them in the long run. (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE ISN’T A RIGHT ANSWER???” Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”)
3. Sorting race
Before class, create a table in Word, PowerPoint, or something similar. It should be a grid that has different categories for parts of speech and words that exemplify these categories. Print out the table, cut it up, and put the papers into a box or bag.
Pass out the box(es) and set a timer or play some music. The objective of this activity is for students to sort the pieces of paper correctly into the different categories.
4. Swat words like flies
This activity requires a text in English. You can use a class textbook or article or you can prepare a text of your own to bring to class. Each person or team in the classroom needs to have a copy of the text.
There are two ways to play this game, but both involve hitting the text very hard with one’s hand. The idea is that the word they find on the page should be treated like a fly or a mosquito that they’re trying to kill. This makes it a “beat the buzzer” style game.
5. Guided discovery with vocabulary
Whenever you encounter a new set of vocabulary words in your lesson, use it as an opportunity to reinforce and teach parts of speech. Keep blank pages around the room with the labels for each part of speech you want the students to know, and ask them which parts of speech they think the new words are.
Allow time for the students to be able to explore their new vocabulary together, in pairs or individually. You can set a timer if you want to keep them on task. Students should look at the new vocabulary and attempt to sort them into the parts of speech categories. Then, add the words to the correct lists.
Additional, last-minute activities for teaching parts of speech
Here are some other examples of how you can incorporate parts of speech into any lesson, even when they aren’t the focus or main topic:
There you have it — how to teach parts of speech in a fun way! Keeping things lively with these activities will help your ESL students to enjoy the lesson while learning this necessary grammar topic.