Imagine a conversation where you’re discussing your weekend plans with a friend or why a recent project belly-flopped with a colleague. Now, picture how much more informative that conversation becomes when you introduce words like always, often, or rarely. These words, known as frequency adverbs, are pivotal in facilitating effective communication in English. They help us express how often we do things, adding depth and clarity to our conversations.
Have your adult ESL students ever said something where a simple change in the placement of a frequency adverb could have avoided confusion or made their point clearer? That’s why adult ESL students need to become proficient with frequency adverbs.
If you’ve looked up “how to teach frequency adverbs to adult ESL students” or something like that, you are probably either new to teaching or uncomfortable with grammar. (I’m that way with math, so I get you!) Settle in because this article is your comprehensive guide to teaching frequency adverbs effectively to adult ESL learners.
Let’s get started!
Unpacking Frequency Adverbs: the Fundamentals
Frequency adverbs enhance the flow of English conversation. They are adverbs that provide information about the regularity or repetition of actions or events. Frequency adverbs enrich sentences by telling us how often something happens. These small but mighty words can turn a simple statement into a nuanced, informative one. Understanding the core concept of frequency adverbs is pivotal in guiding your students toward more expressive and accurate communication.
Just what ARE Common Frequency Adverbs?
Before we get started, let’s get on the same page with what makes up some of the most common frequency adverbs in English. Use these with your low-beginner students.
If your students are at a higher beginner level, you’ll want to add these (in bold):
- almost always
- hardly ever
- almost never
If your students are closer to or already in the intermediate level, you’ll want to make sure they are familiar with these (in bold) as well. Adding these to their vocabulary will help students be more precise with what they want to communicate.
- almost always
- hardly ever
- scarcely ever
- almost never
- never / not ever
4 Strategies for Teaching Frequency Adverbs
All right, now that we’ve got the lists out of the way, let’s talk about some teaching strategies. Adult ESL learners often have varying levels of familiarity with these adverbs, so you’ll want to tailor your approach to the students you have. Here are some tips to help your students perfect the basic concept:
Start with context.
Begin by providing simple, real-life scenarios where students can use frequency adverbs naturally. This context-based approach makes learning more relatable. Not sure what I mean? Try saying this to your students:
“Let’s think about your daily routines. In the morning, do you usually have a cup of coffee or tea? Maybe you usually take a quick shower before heading to work. And in the evenings, perhaps you usually check your social media accounts or spend time with your family. By using usually in these sentences, you’re describing actions that happen most of the time in your daily life.”
This context-based approach introduces the frequency adverb usually and makes the learning experience relatable to students’ everyday experiences. It allows them to grasp the concept naturally and use it immediately in their conversations.
Grab attention with visual aids.
Visual aids like charts or graphics can help students understand the frequency scale from always to never. This visual representation makes the concept more easily understood. This can be as simple as writing a list on the board or as complex as designing a colorful poster that includes example sentences about your students that you hang on the classroom wall.
Practice with dialogues.
Create dialogues that involve the use of frequency adverbs to engage students. These dialogues can mimic everyday conversations while still making learning interactive and practical. Not sure what I mean? Something like this, but use the names of students in your class along with activities that match their interests:
You: Let’s look at a conversation between two friends, Sari and Mateo. They’re talking about their exercise routines. Pay attention to how they use frequency adverbs to describe their habits.
Sari: Mateo, I like your gym bag! How often do you go to the gym?
Mateo: Well, I usually go to the gym after work, about three times a week. I try to go on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Sari: That’s great! I’m not a fan of gyms, but I sometimes go for a jog in the park on weekends.
Mateo: Jogging is a good way to stay active, Sari. I prefer to exercise inside though.
Sari: I love the fresh air. Unfortunately, I rarely have time during the weekdays, so I rely on weekends to stay fit.
Mateo: Fresh air is great, but what about rainy days or when the heat is extreme? Do you ever go to the gym to jog on the track?
Sari: Honestly, I never go to the gym. Sometimes I even jog in the rain. I really prefer the outdoors.
You: In this dialogue, you can see how Sari and Mateo use frequency adverbs to describe how often they exercise. Mateo usually goes to the gym, Sari sometimes goes for a jog, rarely has time during the weekdays, and never goes to the gym. Now, work with a partner to change the dialogue to make it about yourselves.
Engaging students in dialogues like this helps them understand how frequency adverbs are used in real-life conversations, making learning interactive, practical, and relevant to their daily lives.
Prompt students to create sentences using frequency adverbs, sharing their experiences and routines. This promotes active engagement and personalization. Here are some prompts you can use with your students:
- Tell us what you always or never do in your daily routine. For example: I always start my day with a cup of coffee. I never forget to check my email in the morning.
- Tell us a specific activity you usually do during the week. It could be a hobby, a chore, or a social activity. For instance, I usually meet up with friends for dinner on Saturdays.
- Tell the class about something you often do to relax. It might be a habit like reading, listening to music, or watching a movie. Share an example like I often unwind by reading a good book in the evening.
- Tell us about why you sometimes change your routine. Maybe you sometimes go to a different coffee shop or take a different route to work. Explain why you do this occasionally.
- Tell us about when you rarely make a particular choice. It could be something like I rarely eat fast food. Explain your reasons for this infrequent choice.
- Tell us what you hardly ever do but consider doing more often. For instance, I hardly ever go hiking, but I’d like to do it more because it’s such a refreshing experience.
- Tell us about what you almost never do but have made an exception. For example, I almost never stay up late, but I did last night because of a special event.
- Tell us about a personal preference or habit you rarely or never talk about. This could be something unique about you that others might find interesting. For instance, I rarely tell people that I collect vintage postcards.
By guiding your students through these foundational aspects, you’re setting the stage for confident communication using frequency adverbs.
Grammar Time! 6 Frequency Adverbs Rules & Exceptions
If you intuitively know how and when to use frequency adverbs but need help explaining that to your adult ESL students, keep reading!
Grammar rules in practice
Frequency adverbs are necessary elements of English grammar, and understanding how to use them correctly aids in effective communication. Frequency adverbs seem super simple at first glance, but like any aspect of language, there are specific rules to consider that native speakers rarely, if ever, even think about. (That’s why our students can often stump us with a seemingly straightforward question.)
So, let’s dig into some grammar tips that will help you help your adult ESL students use them effectively and correctly.
Frequency adverb positioning with verbs
Frequency adverbs typically appear before the main verb in a sentence. For example, “I always check my social media in the morning.”
Frequency adverb positioning with auxiliary verbs
When a sentence includes auxiliary verbs like am, is, or have, the frequency adverb usually comes after the first auxiliary verb. For instance, “She is always punctual” or “They have never been reliable.”
Frequency adverb positioning with negative sentences
When using a negative sentence, the frequency adverb appears after not. Check it out: He doesn’t usually speak so quietly. We don’t always mean what we say. Also, not is generally only used with always and usually. The exception is when we want to deny something that was said which included a frequency adverb.
- A: “You are sometimes late with your portion of the rent.”
- B: “No, I am not sometimes late with the rent! I am rarely late!”
Frequency adverb positioning in questions
In questions, the frequency adverb precedes the main verb. For example, “Do you usually work from home?” It’s the same with information questions: “Which season has always had the least predictable weather?”
Frequency adverbs positioning with used to and have to:
Frequency adverbs come before used to and have to in order to avoid splitting the infinitives. She never used to have money worries. We always have to check the expiration dates on products sold in that store.
Frequency adverbs in progressive tenses
Many grammar books, perhaps even the one your students are using, will state that frequency adverbs can only be used in simple tense sentences. If you haven’t already, this is a great time to teach students that grammar quite often has exceptions. The frequency adverb always can be used with progressive tenses to express annoyance or frustration. “My neighbors are always stomping around while I’m trying to sleep!”
2 Engaging Activities for Teaching Frequency Adverbs
While worksheets provide structured practice and assessment for frequency adverbs, activities can offer a more engaging learning experience. Activities encourage practical application, creativity, and real-world context, making language learning more interactive and memorable. Both worksheets and activities complement each other, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of frequency adverbs. Here are two activities your adult ESL students may enjoy:
Frequency Adverb Story Chains:
Begin by providing students with a simple story starter with a frequency adverb. For example, you might say, “Once upon a time, there was someone named Huong who always woke up early in the morning.” Then, each student takes turns adding to the story by incorporating a different frequency adverb into their contribution.
For instance, the next student might continue with, “Huong usually started the day by going for a run.” The story continues to evolve as each student adds new elements, characters, and events while incorporating different frequency adverbs to describe how often things happen in the story.
This collaborative storytelling exercise encourages students to indulge in creativity while practicing using frequency adverbs in context. It encourages active participation and keeps the class engaged as they collectively build a unique story.
Frequency Adverb Surveys:
With this activity, students can take on the roles of both researchers and presenters. (If time is short, just do the research part.) Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:
- Survey Creation: First, students work in pairs or small groups to create surveys that include questions using frequency adverbs. For example, they might ask questions like, “How often do you read books?” or “How frequently do you go shopping?”
- Survey Distribution: Once the surveys are ready, students take on the role of surveyors and approach their classmates, people in other classes, or people in the community to collect responses. They record the answers and tally the results.
- Data Analysis (time permitting): After collecting enough responses (give them a number to shoot for), students analyze the data to determine the most common responses and the distribution of frequency adverbs used in the answers. They will practice using words like “usually,” “sometimes,” “rarely,” and “never” to describe the survey findings.
- Presentation (time permitting): Students then present their survey findings to the class. They use the data they collected to create charts, graphs, or visual representations and share the results using frequency adverbs. For example, they might say, “According to our survey, most people in our school usually read books in their free time.”
This activity reinforces the usage of frequency adverbs and enhances students’ research, data analysis, and presentation skills. It allows them to apply language skills in a practical context and share their findings with their peers.
Example Sentences with Frequency Adverbs
Seeing frequency adverbs in action can help students understand how to use them. If they are themed instead of random, it’s even more helpful.
Example sentences with frequency adverbs: Daily Routine Theme
- I always brush my teeth before going to bed.
- They usually go for a walk after dinner.
- My grandmother often tells stories about her youth.
- I sometimes treat myself to a piece of chocolate.
- She seldom takes naps during the day.
- She hardly ever forgets her keys at home.
- I never skip breakfast.
- She almost never oversleeps.
- We rarely have fast food for dinner.
- Do you often meet up with friends after work?
- Are you generally punctual for appointments?
- Do you always start your day with a morning walk?
- Doesn’t she usually go for a jog in the evenings?
- Aren’t you generally good at time management?
Example sentences with frequency adverbs: Difficult Co-workers Theme
- He’s always has a negative attitude.
- I sometimes find it hard to communicate with that co-worker.
- She hardly ever participates in team-building activities.
- He never contributes to the group discussions.
- I usually have to deal with a lack of cooperation from that co-worker.
- Does she usually handle challenging situations well?
- Doesn’t he sometimes miss important deadlines?
- Why do we often face disagreements within the team?
- How come she is never quick to offer help to her colleagues?
Overcoming 4 Common Difficulties with Frequency Adverbs
While learning frequency adverbs, adult ESL learners may encounter some common challenges that can impede their progress. Recognizing and addressing these issues early on helps to ensure effective language acquisition. Here are some frequent challenges along with possible solutions:
Overgeneralization (Always, always, always)
Learners might overuse certain frequency adverbs (e.g., “always” or “never”) when discussing habits or routines, leading to inaccuracies in communication. Fix this by ensuring they practice variety. Encourage the use of a diverse range of frequency adverbs to avoid overgeneralization. Provide examples and exercises that showcase the nuances between frequency adverbs like always, usually, often, sometimes, and rarely.
Positioning Errors (Always she says that!)
Incorrect placement of frequency adverbs in sentences can make it challenging to convey intended meanings. Misplacement can alter the emphasis of a sentence or create confusion. You can pretty much eliminate this issue when you make sure to emphasize correct placements. Offer clear explanations and practice exercises regarding the correct placement of frequency adverbs in sentences. Provide feedback to help learners understand the significance of word order.
Limited Vocabulary (It’s always sometimes and never periodically.)
Adult ESL students might have a restricted vocabulary when it comes to different frequency adverbs, making it difficult for them to express the nuances of frequency. The basic ones are pretty much always covered with beginners, but the range between usually and sometimes, for example, gets left out and then never addressed later. So, do that. Expand their vocabulary by introducing new frequency adverbs and talk about their meanings and appropriate usage. Encourage your adult ESL students to incorporate these adverbs into their daily conversations.
Lack of Real-Life Practice (It’s gotta (also) happen OFF the worksheet.)
Without opportunities to apply frequency adverbs in real-life situations, your students may struggle to incorporate them naturally into their speech and writing. Fix that by creating opportunities for them to apply frequency adverbs in practical situations. Role-playing, storytelling, and scenario-based exercises can make the learning experience more relatable and memorable.
You can also promote group discussions and dialogues among learners to practice using frequency adverbs. Encourage peer feedback and corrections to foster a supportive learning environment. Finally, combine the teaching of frequency adverbs with other language skills, such as reading, writing, and listening. This integrated approach helps learners see how frequency adverbs are used in various contexts.
In conclusion, teaching frequency adverbs to adult ESL learners is vital for effective communication. This guide covers the fundamentals, grammar, strategies, activities, example sentences, and common challenges, equipping you to help your students become proficient users of these frequency adverbs, enhancing their language skills and confidence. So, go forth and teach!