Don’t Let Grammar Get You Down!

Do you know your simple present from your past continuous or your present perfect continuous from your present perfect? Does distinguishing between adjectives and adverbs make your brain ache? Do you find syntax taxing? If that’s the case then it’s going to be tricky when you are faced with lots of questions from your TEFL students! Here are a few tips to make sure you are understanding English grammar:

Its and It’s

Ah, the apostrophe. Did you know that there’s an actual Apostrophe Protection Society? Yes that’s right. You see examples of its misuse everywhere, but this is one of the most common. “It’s” is only ever a contraction of “it is” or “it has”, as in “It’s a beautiful day”. If you’re talking about possession, you should use “its”, as in “That car has lost its number plate”. The easy way to test if you’ve got it right is to repeat your sentence with “it is” or “it has” instead. If it sounds weird, use “its”.

Simple Past and Present Perfect

Huh? The what what? Like many grammatical rules, this is one that your TEFL students will get wrong because it is usually something they don’t have in their own language . The culprit this time is the present perfect, which refers to something that happened at an unspecified time in the past, like “I have visited Paris”. As soon as you start talking about a specific time, you must use the simple past, as in “I visited Paris last week”.

Their, There and They’re

You may be cooler than a polar bear, but deciding which of the three to choose might still get you flustered (Never mind your students!). Thankfully, working it out is easy. “They’re” is just a contraction of “they are”, whereas “their” is always possessive, as in “It’s their pet monkey”. Then for everything else use “there”. That’s not too difficult is it?!


If you’re teaching anywhere where a non-roman alphabet is used, such as in Arab countries, Japan, China and Korea, or you have students from those countries, they’ll probably have trouble with punctuation. Why? Because they either don’t use punctuation, or use it in a different way to English. All of those problems that native English speakers have with “it’s”, “they’re” and “you’re” will be even worse. So to be able to teach them effectively, you’ll have to understand the differences inside out.

Which Person?

English verbs can be difficult to understand and then even harder to explain, a bit like French philosophy really. The first thing that trips learners up is the difference between the third person singular (he/she/it lives) and other forms of the present tense (I/we/you/they live). Many a teacher has tried and failed to get their students to tack that elusive ‘third person s’ onto the end of verbs. This is made even more confusing when you introduce the idea of plurals. In simple terms an ‘s’ equals a plural, but ‘he lives’ is singular.


Dodge the Question

OK, we admit that it’s a slightly dubious way to go about things, but the odd “artful dodge” can save your skin in the classroom. You’ve got a couple of options. You could always do what politicians do and say “that’s a very good question” and then talk about something completely different. As shady as this practice is, the funny thing is that research by the Harvard Business School shows that your students could actually like you more if you do this successfully.

However, we reckon that if you’re asked a question you just don’t know the answer to, the best way to dodge this is to simply say “We’re not covering that in this class, but I’ll make sure we go over it in the next lesson”. Not only will it keep your integrity in tact, but it’ll give you the chance to go find out the answer and learn something new.

Consult the Internet

We love the internet and it’s true that we spend most of our time on it watching funny videos, er sorry… we mean “working”. But it does contain a loads of useful information for TEFL teachers if you know where to find things. BBC Skillwise has loads of good, simple explanations of most key grammar elements, but if you want more detail, head over to Englishpage. If you’d prefer something which is meant for TEFL teachers, then Englishclub is good place to start, and it offers lots of fun quizzes which can be adapted to the classroom.

Just be careful though, there is lots of false information on the internet, so try and find a reliable source to get your information from.

Invest In a Good Book

If you want to be able to read about the basics, then a good grammar book is the best way to go. There are loads out there, but we recommend A Concise Grammar for English Language Teachers. It’s a concise, easy-to-use textbook that lays out exactly what you need to know to be able to answer your students’ questions. Everything is explained in basic enough terms for the novice, but there is enough detail that it’s worth referring back to once you’re more experienced.

Take a Course

A refresher course is great to boost your confidence in grammar. If you’re thinking about taking a TEFL course, include some extra grammar study. If you’re already enrolled in a course, it’s easy to add on the Grammar Awareness Module. It’ll take you through everything from the basic terminology to English’s forms, functions and more. And the best part; it actually makes this usually dreary subject a little bit more exciting…

These are just a few of the grammatical problems that will bewilder even the most able TEFL learners (and even some teachers!). If you are struggling to get a grip on grammar then you should choose a TEFL course which has the Grammar Awareness Module included so you can be confident in your own knowledge before stepping into your first TEFL class!

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