The role of exercises in efl grammar practice

To master a foreign language grammar student must be engaged in activities which are characteristic of the language. The main factors which contribute successful speech activity and form grammatical skills are exercises. They form, develop and improve language skills and abilities. Also good exercises will help greatly to reinforce students’ initial desire to learn the language and to sustain their enthusiasm throughout the course. Generally speaking, students need to practice their grammar a lot, but it is only up to the teacher how they will do it. A good teacher should remember that students would do the tasks with pleasure not only as a necessity.

According to G. Rogova exercises may be subdivided into the following characteristics:

  • according to the activity they require on the part of the learners (drill and speech);
  • according to the place they are performed (class and home exercises);
  • according to their form (oral and written) [2].

Exercises may be also subdivided according to basic language skill:

  • exercises for developing pronunciation;
  • exercises for assimilating vocabulary;
  • exercises for developing speaking;
  • exercises for developing reading;
  • grammar exercises [2].

Exercises for developing pronunciation should help students to acquire correct pronunciation. Special exercises should be provided for the purpose, among them those designed for developing students’ skills in discriminating sounds, stress or melody. It is necessary that records and tape-recordings should be applied to such kind of exercises.

Exercises for assimilating vocabulary should help students to acquire habits and skills in using the words when speaking and writing, and recognizing them during listening and reading. Most of vocabulary exercises should be communicative by nature:

  • they should provide natural conversationquestions, statements, exclamatory sentences exc.;
  • they should be logically connected with students’ activity;
  • they should reflect students’ environment;
  • they should stimulate students to use active vocabulary [2].

Exercises for developing speaking at all stages should prepare students to carry on a conversation within the material assimilated. This is possible provided students are taught to use the words and the sentence patterns they learn in various combinations depending on the situation offered, on the necessity to express their own thoughts. Exercises designed for developing speaking should prepare students:

  • to use a foreign language at the lessons for classroom needs;
  • to talk about the subjects within students’ interests and about the object surrounding them;
  • to discuss what they have read and heard [2].

Exercises for developing reading should help students to acquire all the skills necessary to read and understand a text.

Grammar exercises should develop students’ habits and skills in using the grammar items to be learned in speaking, reading and writing. The teaching of grammar may largely be carried on through sentence patterns, phrase patterns in word as a pattern, and the ample use of these patterns in various oral and written exercises. Therefore grammar must be subdivided into small fragments, each taught in response to an immediate need. That is why, grammar exercises must be suggested in connection with situations, and remind us of the real usage of grammar forms and structures.

One of the grammar exercises are drills. Drill exercises are based on composing sentences or phrases according to a certain model. Drills are preferably used in whole classes when teachers want to practice some grammatical items. Drills are quick and efficient and allow teachers to correct any mistakes straight away.It can help students commit grammar patterns to memory and provide them with practice in pronouncing new patterns, helping them to become comfortable articulating the target language forms.

Drills fall into three categories:

  • mechanical;
  • meaningful
  • communicative [2].

Mechanical drills require minimal comprehension of content on the part of students and serve only to reinforce patterns. In a “backward build up” drill, for instance, the teacher leads and students usually respond as a whole group.

In contrast, meaningful drills require students to understand the language in order to respond correctly, but the activity is tightly controlled because only one answer is possible.

Communicative drills encourage students to connect form, meaning, and use because multiple correct responses are possible. In communicative drills, students respond to a prompt using the grammar point under consideration, but providing their own content. For example, to practice questions and answers in the past tense in English, teacher and students can ask and answer questions about activities the previous evening.

According to G.V. Rogova drill exercises are more completed as they require reproduction on the part of the students. In learning a foreign language, drill exercises are indispensable. The learners cannot assimilate the material if they only hear and see it. They must reproduce it both in outer and inner speech. The more often they say it the better they assimilate the material. Drill exercises are also subdivided into 4 groups:

  • Repetitive drill;
  • Substitution;
  • Completion;
  • Answering the teachers’ questions [2]. In the repetitive drill students pronounce the sentence pattern after the teacher, in imitation of the teacher, both individually and in unison.

For example:

Teacher: They are dancing in the park. Class: They are dancing in the park.

In such exercises attention is drawn to the correct pronunciation of the sentence pattern as a sense unit, as a statement (sound, melody and stress).

In the substitution drill students substitute the words or phrases in a sentence pattern.

For example:

The children are walking in the street. The children are walking in the park. The children are walking in the garden.

In such exercises a student substitutes a phrase, the rest may say unison. Then they may replace the verb in a sentence with another verb. There is one advantage in performing this type of exercises – students consolidate the grammar item without thinking about it. They think of the words, phrases, but not of the form itself, therefore, involuntary memory is at work. Substitution drills are used to fix grammatical material and develop automaticity in using various grammatical structures in similar situations, this type of exercise is responsible for the formation of very flexible mastering skill all forms of the given grammatical phenomenon.

In the completion drill students complete the sentences the teacher utters looking at the pictures he shows.

Example: Teacher: Look at the picture. Mike is…..

Student: Mike is getting up.

In this exercises attention should be given to the use of “is”.

Answering the teacher's questions is characterized in asking questions by a teacher using active vocabulary or the grammar phenomenon is taught. Example:

Teacher: Is Mike is getting up? Students: Yes he is.

J. Harmer suggests that drills are not very creative practice techniques, because they are often done with the whole class, students are given sentence with a new grammatical item and they are asked for right repetition. It is practiced as long as it is necessary for students to be able to say this structure in a proper way. The aim of drill is to give students rapid practice in using a structural item. Advantage is that the teacher can correct any mistakes, can encourage pupils to concentrate on difficulties [3].

He also describes another three different types of oral practice, which are interaction activities, involving the personality and games. Interaction activities are the ways of language practicing which are more meaningful and more enjoyable. Students often work together in pairs or in groups. They exchange information in the purposeful and interesting way. They are given some materials (text, picture, map) and asked for some tasks when they use the grammatical item that is introduced. Disadvantage should be that the teacher has no control over all students. He, she can’t be sure that all students understood the grammar.[3]

As for involving the personality, it is the way when students do the exercise and at the same time talk about themselves. They are asked to discuss things that involve their personality and to use this subject matter as a focus for grammar practice. Chain drill is one way of making a practice drill. It is closely drill but in more funny and enjoyable way. It is more interesting than usual, because students are asked for speaking about themselves.

Games are surely the most interesting and the most favourite way how to practice grammar. Games are very useful for grammar work. Students are given a new grammatical item through the game [3].

One of the most motivating games are role-playing exercises. According to Oxford English Dictionary, a role play is “the changing of one's behavior to fulfill a social role, the term is used more loosely in three senses that a role play is:

  • to refer to the playing of roles generally such as in a theater, or educational setting;
  • to refer to a wide range of games including computer role playing games, and more;
  • to refer specifically to role playing games [6].

According to the meaning in the dictionary a role play can be used for playing a role in educational setting, such as in classroom. The students in class can practice a role with a specific atmosphere. It can help them to practice their ability in their communication. It is a kind of activities or practices than can be created according to atmospheres intended.

Jeremy Harmer advocates the use of role-play for the following reasons: It's fun and motivating .Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way. The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world. Thus, it offers a wider range of language opportunities [3].

Pamela Kris explains that role plays, whether structured or less structured, are important in the communicative approach because they give learners an opportunity to practice communicating in different social contexts and in different social roles [4].

Among oral exercises G.V. Rogova suggests recognition and creative exercises. Recognition exercises are the easiest type of exercises for students to perform. They observe the grammar item in structures and sentence patterns when hearing or reading. Since students only observe the new grammar item, the situations should be natural and communicative. Recognition exercises are indispensable, as students retain the grammar material through auditory and visual perception. Auditory and visual memory is at work [2].

Creative exercises are the most difficult

The following is an example of a transformation question:

Call me immediately he arrives Call me type of exercises as it requires creative work he arrives (soon) on the part of the learners. These may be:

  • Making statements either on the picture the teacher shows, or on objects. For example, the teacher hangs up a picture and asks his pupils to say or write three or five statements in the Present Continuous.
  • Asking questions with a given grammar item. For example, pupils are invited to ask and answer questions in the Past Indefinite.
  • Speaking about the situation offered by the teacher. For example, one pupil gives commands to perform this or that action, the other comments on the action (actions) his classmate performs.
  • Speaking on a suggested topic. For example, a pupil tells the class what he did yesterday.
  • Making dialogues using the grammar item covered orally
  • Dramatizing the text read. For example students read the text in persons.
  • Telling the story (read, heard).
  • Translating into English.
  • Participating in free conversation in which students are to use the grammar item they have learned. Through these questions students are stimulated to use item they have learnt [2].

All the exercises mentioned above are designed:

  • to develop students’ skills in recognizing grammar forms while auding and reading English texts.
  • to accumulate correct sentence patterns in the students’ memory which they can reproduce whenever they need these patterns for speaking or writing;
  • to help the students to produce sentences of their own using grammar items necessary for speaking about a situation or a topic offered, or writing an essay on the text heard or an annotation on the text read.

Among written exercises sentence transformation exercises are also very helpful. It is an exercise where learners are given one sentence and need to complete a second sentence so that it means the same. The second sentence usually has a prompt.

Answer: Call me as soon as he arrives In the classroom sentence transformation exercises involve learners in consciously manipulating language patterns, and can raise their awareness of structureThey are a common test item, where they are used to test discrete items of language, usually structural. Sentence transformation exercises help you expand your usage skills through testing various ways of stating the same idea. The ability to rewrite sentences so that they have the same meaning as the original is often required for many English ESL exams such as Cambridge's First Certificate, CAE and Proficiency. This skill can also help you prepare for the TOEFL examination (Test of English as a Foreign Language). It is also an important skill which can help you improve your understanding of similar English expressions and vocabulary.

Transformational exercises provide an opportunity to develop students’ skills of combination, substitution, shortening or widening a set of grammatical structures in speech. This training method is actually merges with the method of using the assimilated grammatical material in speech. In practicing these exercises, teacher should keep in mind two interrelated objectives first of all, to provide memorizing the grammatical material is taught and secondly, to provide development of relevant skills and at the same time open to students a clear speech outlook of using these skills. In this relation even the smallest grammatical exercise should be constructed so that students can immediately feel the benefits of the effort, not only in the knowledge of linguistic theory but in practical use of a foreign language.

Another written type of grammar exercises are multiple-choice exercises, where the aim of students to choose the answer that they think is right from several possible answers that are listed on the question paper. The role of multiple choice exercises in the formation of knowledge and skills is very high. They form students’ ability to differentiate similar but not identical grammar phenomena and make them think motivating by choice of the right variant, intensify the work of students and attract interests not only to teaching material but also to the process of cognitive activity in solving grammar issues. The use of multiple-choice tasks can be effective only in those cases when students are ready for this work, it means that all selected variants should be reviewed and the students need to know the differences.

One of the wide spread written exercises are gap-filling exercises. In language teaching gap filling is an exercise in which students have to replace missing or a suitable words. In the classroom gap-fill exercises are often used to practice specific language point such as items of grammar.

Translation exercises are also widespread type of exercises. Translation may be done from a foreign language into the mother tongue or vice versa. It is important to make students become conscious of the similarities and differences between the mother tongue and a foreign language, since with this knowledge they will be able to acquire the FL in an easier way. The roles of translation exercises in the foreign language classroom are many: first, it helps students to see the link between language usage and use; secondly, it encourages students to see the similarities and differences between L1 and L2, thirdly, through a comparison of the target language and the students’ native language, most language learning difficulties are revealed.

Analyzing all possible types of grammar exercises and having considered that grammar exercises may be done both orally and in written form we defined the following oral grammar exercises: role plays, creative and recognition exercises. Written grammar exercises are: sentence transformations, gapfilling and multiple-choice exercises. Drills and translation exercises may be done both orally and in written form.

Having considered, the fact that in different times, approaches and theories have been proposed by different linguists, various attempt have been to made to conceptualize the nature of methods, we have come to the conclusion, that, all methods and techniques are useful in teaching grammar, and teachers should vary different approaches and find the right approach to each particular situation and use the best and most effective ones understanding the purpose and aim of each method. Great attention is given to exercises as the main grammar teaching materials which contribute successful speaking, form and improve grammatical skills and abilities. The following types of grammar are considered: role plays, creative and recognition exercises, sentence transformations, gap-filling and multiplechoice exercises, drills and translation exercises. Since grammar practice is often done through writing, we defined the most useful written exercises that we will use in our research: drill exercises, gap-filling exercises, sentence transformations, multiple choice exercises and translation exercises.


  1. Brown, H. Douglas. Teaching by Principles: an Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy/ H. Douglas Brown – 2nd ed, 2001 by Eddison Wesley Longman, Inc.-480p.
  2. Рогова Г.В. Методика обучения английскому языку (на английском языке): Учеб. Пособие для студентов пед. ин-тов по спец. Иностр. Яз. – 2 –е изд., перераб. и доп. – М.: «Просвещение», 1983. – 351 с.
  3. Jeremy Harmner. How to Teach English, Edinburg: Pearson Education Limited, 2001
  4. Kris, Pamela. A Role Play Activity with Distance Learners in an English Language Classroom, National University of Malaysia.
  5. Hornby, AS. Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary of Current English, Oxford: Uxford University Press, 1974.
Year: 2015
City: Almaty
Category: Philology