Using Timelines and Visuals to Deliver Complex Grammar

By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.

Teaching Grammar Graphic

The more advanced and complex grammar gets the more simple the explanation has to be. Delivering complicated structures can be taxing for both the students and the teacher, so the best rule is to keep it straightforward and develop a highly visual style.

Use your whiteboard

Classrooms have a whiteboard for a reason. You may also have an overhead projector or PowerPoint, and these are great tools for refining grammar delivery, but the core structures are never better explained than by the teacher’s hand on the whiteboard, with the students asking questions and copying down your visuals. It’s so much easier for them to take in after class and when referring back when they are easy to understand in a clear visual way. Your board work should be ready when the students arrive. Give them a few minutes to take it in and let them ask questions, helping them work it out logically. If there are no questions, elicit answers for questions you have prepared- this always creates discussion. Then get your students to come up to the board one by one and give their own examples, using their own vocabulary if possible, but feeding it to them if necessary.


Timelines are of course perfect for teaching tenses, and as tenses are interlinked and follow a pattern, an overview of all the tenses (or targeted ones for lower levels) is always useful in getting across the big picture. Process charts are great for both comparatives and superlatives and quantifiers, and a table with offshoot examples is effective for adverbs of frequency. Spider diagrams are great for conditionals (particularly mixed conditionals), and enable you to show the different levels of certainty and the thinking process behind each example. Show, elicit and then get the students to make their own versions, preferably in pairs, using questions and answers while you closely monitor.

So the key to delivering complex grammar is to present it in a clear and logical visual style- humans are visual beings. Show, don’t tell.

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