I often hear: “Why can’t I use grammar correctly during my speaking and writing? I’ve been doing my exercises in a grammar book forever.” or “How can I finally learn using grammar correctly?
The problem with doing grammar exercises is that they are out of context. So, doing them is a good exercise if you want to learn the form (endings, auxiliaries, word order). And that is important, too. But in order to be able to use grammar correctly in speaking and in writing, you need to practise by USING IT in speaking and writing.
So, how to practise effectively?
1. Associate grammatical forms with their functions, so that you know when you need a particular grammar structure. For example:
Use Present Simple to
agree and disagree,
compare and contrast,
Use Present Continuous to
Use Present Perfect to
describe situations which started in the past, but still continue (e.g. tasks which haven’t been finished);
describe present results (effects) of past actions.
Use Past Simple to talk about past events which:
happened in a specific time in the past;
happened in the past and cannot be changed;
Use must and have to describe obligation.
Use should to give advice.
Use need to to describe necessity.
Use may/might to describe possibility.
Use passive voice to make your statements
Use indirect questions in writing to formally
ask for information;
ask for advice,
apply for something.
Use first conditional to talk about consequences and effects.
Use second conditional to give advice.
Use third conditional to talk about regrets.
2. Practise grammar while you read, listen and watch.
Focus on analysing a chosen part of the text or recording.
STEP 1 – identify the grammatical structure e. g. a tense, passive or active form, conditional, time clause, inversion
STEP 2 – connect it with the theory you know or learn more if you need to – analyse why this form is used in this context and what meaning it has
STEP 3 – use this grammatical form to make an example regarding your personal situation
3. Practise using grammar for different functions:
Read a text or listen to a recording and then:
Use Present Simple to make a general statement about its content and/or sum it up
use Past Tense to describe all past events mentioned in the piece, using the dates and places and /or create a timeline of the events from the piece (what happened one by one?)
use Present Perfect to describe any past events with present results from the piece or to describe your personal experience in this field
use passive voice to describe a process, e.g. The parcel was sent. Then, it was delivered. Finally, it was opened and the complaint was made because the content had been destroyed during transportation.
use passive structures to suggest solutions to the problem presented in the piece, e.g. It is suggested that the best course of action would be to… / It is recommended that …. should be done.
use passive structures to express formal opinions: It is believed that… / It is said that…
use the first conditional to talk about cause and effect or the consequences of things described in the piece. e.g. If nothing is done to stop the problem, it may soon be too late to act.
use the second conditional to give advice about a problem from the piece, If I were the minister, I would make it happen.
use the third conditional to speculate about the past, that is, say what might have gone differently in the past. e.g If the initial decision had been different, this would not have happened.
use inversion to make a strong statement summing up the piece, e.g. Never should such a situation be allowed to take place again.
use modals of deduction (can, could, might) to speculate about the piece, e.g. It could mean that… / It might have been … who did it.
use need to/have to/should to give advice or suggest solutions, e.g. The issue needs to be addressed immediately.
ask questions in different tenses about the text
You can do all the above exercises in speaking (by recording yourself) and/or in writing.
4. Practise writing paragraphs about the issues described in the piece of text or recording, in which you:
sum it up,
evaluate the issue,
present the problem and suggest a solution,
compare and contract two issues from the piece,
speculate about how the issue might change in the future,
hypothesise about different courses of action and their consequences in the face of the problem described,
predict the future changes in this area.
I. Each paragraph should begin with a topics sentence which introduces the topic of the paragraph.
II. It is followed by so called body sentences which develop the topic, by providing, for example:
III. The paragraph should end with a final sentence which concludes the paragraph by:
offering a solution/recommendation
offering a warning and/or
leading on to the next paragraph
5. Record a spoken statement in which you:
present and explain the point of view presented in the piece
agree or disagree with the point of view presented in the piece
present your opinion on the issue in question
agree with the point of view presented in the piece and justify
disagree with the point of view presented in the piece, then present the opposite point of view
predict the future changes in this area
say what should be done to solve the problem in question.
Don’t do all that at once. Focus on one exercise (point) at a time. That is, read the text and write a short summary; watch a video and give advice on how you’d solve the problem.
A worksheet may help you follow these steps one-by-one.