I wasn’t always a grammar goddess (she says modestly). The first time I had to teach a grammar class, I nearly puked (the night before, the morning of, and during the class). I’m still not sure how I made it through it. Native speakers are notorious for knowing when something is grammatically incorrect, but having absolutely no clue how to explain it, and I was afraid of the questions my students would ask. I also firmly believed that a lot of grammar was unnecessary.
I Didn’t Think People Really Used Tag Questions!
The first time I had to teach tag questions, I admittedly dismissed them as something not worthy of spending time on. (I wish I had known about some of these fun activities back then…I’ll share them with you in a moment.)
I honestly didn’t think tag questions were that common, but I try to keep an open mind about things, so I spent a few days listening for tag questions in people’s conversations. (Yes, lots of eavesdropping in public places!) Not only did I hear them quite often, I discovered that I use them a lot!
I also learned that students enjoy using them! There is just something about using a tag question correctly that makes them feel like they are more fluent, more like a native speaker. Instead of waiting for the section on tag questions, I started to teach them along with the verb tenses. For example, when we began working with the progressive/continuous tenses, I began deliberately using tag questions in that tense and encouraging them to as well. What a change that made in many of my students!
Using Tag Questions is Like an Ice Breaker for Adult ESL Students
Students reluctant to speak or who preferred to speak with me rather than their classmates were suddenly talking to each other more. They loved the activities that got them up and moving around (and sometimes shouting!) Yes, I promise I’m getting to those activities! The first glimmerings of my inner grammar goddess were beginning to show themselves as I delved deeper into rules I had always followed but never really knew. I used to use grammar like someone who drives the same commute for years, automatically without noticing when I was changing lanes or taking a turn. Suddenly (that’s a lie, it took work) I was casually dropping easy-to-understand explanations that my students just ate up.
You have something for the ones who want to write, don’t you?
However, I always have some students who want more traditional types of written exercises to practice more. I like to try to meet my students in their comfort zone as well as nudge them into taking risks, so I made a grammar guide with worksheets. Eventually I got tired of constantly making tag question sets for this activity I’m about to tell you about and made an “official” grammar activity. More recently, a former student asked me why I never gave them task cards for tag questions, so I just made a couple of sets, one for the simple tenses and one for the progressive tenses.
But you clicked a link to get here for two ideas you can take and use now, right? Well, here they are!
You Were Listening, Weren’t You?
- Have students create a list of 10-20 information questions that they will ask a partner, preferably one they don’t know well.
- Instruct them to leave a blank line beneath each question.
- Students then take turns to ask and answer the questions with their partner, WITHOUT taking notes.
- Once they have finished, they split apart and write a tag question beneath each information question to check how well they remember their partner’s answers.
- They get one point for each bit of information they remember correctly as well as for each tag question they write/use correctly. Whoever gets the most points is the winner!
Remember I said that I turned an activity into an “official” activity? This is how you do it:
Tag; You’re It!
- Create as many tag questions as you can. (Or just buy my tag question grammar activity.)
- Cut them to separate the statements and the question tags.
- Put all statements on a table at one end of the classroom. Put all the question tags on a table at the other end of the room.
- Divide the class into two teams.
- One person from each team takes a statement and runs to other table to look for its match. As soon as they find it, they must show it to you to confirm it is correct. If it is, keep the slips of paper, have them run back to “tag” the next person in their team’s line, and don’t forget to keep score on the board. If it isn’t correct, send them back to the table to try again.
- Repeat until finished.