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How to Teach Parts of Speech: Lesson Tips & Activities for ESL Teachers

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.  

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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.

Want more ideas for teaching grammar? Earn a Specialized TEFL/TESOL Certificate in Teaching English Grammar!

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.

  • Parts of speech are a part of universal human grammar. In other words, they exist in every human language as categories.
  • Parts of speech are essential to being able to use other grammar in a new language.
  • Students will need to be able to identify and manipulate parts of speech in order to conjugate verbs. This is particularly important for verb agreement, which is a common problem for ESL learners.
  • In some parts of the world, grammar is considered to be the most important part of ESL. Using the activities in this article will demonstrate to parents and other teachers that you’re putting in the effort to teach grammar in your classroom.
  • Whatever your learners’ goals, they’ll need to be able to understand the basics of English. Even kindergartners can learn parts of speech in a simple way and use them to help further their English understanding.
Stefano, English teacher from Jamaica, in China

Teacher Stefano, from Jamaica, uses games to teach ESL to his students.

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:

  • Noun: a person, place, or thing
  • Verb: an action
  • Adjective: describes a noun
  • Adverb: describes a verb (-ly)

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:

  • Prepositions: on, after, in, etc. (shows where something/someone is)
  • Pronouns: she, he, they, etc. (not a name)
  • Articles: a, an, the
  • Conjunctions: or, but, and, because, so, etc. (connect ideas)

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.

Get more tips on using objectives in ESL lesson plans.

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.

  • If you’re teaching online, you can still have students hunt for parts of speech in their own homes.

Learn the most popular ESL teaching methods to use in your classroom.

online English teacher plays a game with student

Teacher Juicy Mae, from the Philippines, plays a game with her ESL student online.

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.

For example:

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!”)

  • Older learners can do a version of this without coloring. Simply create a worksheet that involves matching the parts of speech with words. Online teachers can email their worksheets to students and have them complete the activity for homework.

Read these top tips for creating materials for the EFL classroom.

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.

  • To make it more competitive, put the students into teams, for example, Team Noun or Team Verb. Give each team their own box and have them race to find all of the words that fit into their part of speech category.

Check out more team-based activities for the ESL classroom or online.

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.

  • In the first version, the teacher should say a word that appears in the text. The students can search the text for the word and when they find it, slap the book or paper. Whoever finds it first should tell the teacher what part of speech that word is.
  • In the second version, the teacher says a part of speech. For example, the teacher might say “verb.” The students have to hit the book when they find a verb in the text and then say which word they found. This is a fast-paced activity that will help you to teach parts of speech in a fun way.
  • Online teachers can send the text to the students before class via email or messaging. Rather than swatting the paper, students could raise their hand or hold something up to their webcam when they’ve found the right word.

Get ideas for last-minute EFL lesson plans.

Kindergarten Students of English Teacher in Wanli, China, Erin Coyle

Kindergarten ESL students play a game in China.

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.

  • You can use digital parts of speech lists in the virtual classroom. Keep them up to date via a classroom blog or other platform where you can upload documents or publish lists.

Learn more about teaching English with guided discovery for ESL.

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:

  • When you play Bingo, have the students shout out the part of speech every time you say a new word.
  • Instead of saying, “Rock, paper, scissor!” say “Noun, verb, adjective!” in order to get more practice speaking the words out loud.
  • Whenever you play a new song, ask students what parts of speech appear in the title.
  • Instead of saying words that you’ve written on the board, use parts of speech. For example, say, “Noun!” Ask a student to come up to the board and touch the noun.

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.

Get more ideas for teaching grammar topics to ESL students in the Bridge TEFL/TESOL Grammar Advisor Certification course.

Coleen Monroe is a Colorado native who has left a trail of new homes for herself around the world. She's set foot in 30 countries and lived on four continents in the last eleven years. Her nomad homes have been in Chilean Patagonia, France, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea, England, and Iceland. Her latest travel adventures took her to Yunnan, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Southern China, where she's currently teaching.