10 Activities to Improve Your English Grammar [Self-Study Guide #5]

Published on
November 15, 2022
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Updated on
November 15, 2022
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10
min read
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Written by
Emile Dodds

For many learners, grammar is the hardest aspect of English. Others enjoy learning grammar as a way to better analyse English sentences. Whatever your feelings on grammar, you know it’s important. That’s why we’ve put together this guide with ten great ideas for grammar activities that you can do on your own!

10 Activities to Improve Your English Grammar [Self-Study Guide #5]
Table of contents

Note: This is the fifth of a series of guides covering self-study activities. You may also be interested in other other guides on listening, reading, speaking, writing, vocabulary and pronunciation.

You may hear some people saying that grammar is not important. They claim that English is all about communication and it doesn’t matter if you make grammar mistakes. Furthermore, they say, you’ll naturally pick it up as you practise, like a form of osmosis!

Others say that you must concentrate on grammar, or you’ll never speak correctly. Grammar, they say, is at the heart of English.

So, who’s right?

I think both sides are partially correct. Old textbooks for learning English simply contained lists of grammar rules and practice questions. Obviously, that’s no way to learn!

On the other hand, for anyone who needs to write in English, it really helps a lot if you are confident in your grammar. It’s one thing to make a grammar mistake when you speak and nobody notices, but your boss won’t want a report full of English mistakes!

Hence, good grammar IS a part of good communication.

How to approach grammar practice

Here are some things I think it’s important to know about grammar practice.

  1. Grammar is harder if your first language is quite different from English. For example, Chinese has no verb tenses, so Chinese learners may find this part of grammar difficult.
  2. English grammar is not easy. Be prepared to put in some serious work in order to improve.
  3. Grammar can be fun! When you learn grammar, you are learning to analyse a language. It can be an enjoyable process.
  4. Where possible, try to link grammar practice to other skills. For example, when you learn the present perfect tense, think about how you can use it in conversation (Have you ever been to Bali? Have you ever ridden a horse?).
  5. Try to learn grammar in context. You will notice that most of the ten activities here suggest using an audio or reading text to add context.

Using this guide

This is the sixth of a series of guides covering self-study activities. You may also be interested in our other guides on writing, reading, listening and speaking.

With each activity, you'll find our recommended resources, the time the activity takes, and the effort level. 

For the recommended time, we've split it into short, medium and long. How long you want to take depends on you, but you should be able to do the shorter activities in under 15 minutes, the medium ones in around 30 minutes, and the longer ones in up to 1 hour.

Easy activities

Activity 1 - Quiz time

Let’s try a quiz. It’s an old-school method, but why not take advantage of the plenty of websites out there with free quizzes for English learners?

Here is a site that has 365 quizzes with accompanying notes; that’s one for each day of the year!

Do you know which CEFR level you are? If not, you can test yourself with a simple online test, such as this one. Or you could estimate your level in an instant with this self-assessment grid.

Once you know your CEFR level, you can use this tool to find out which grammar topics are best for you to practise.

Here are some more websites that offer free quizzes:

English Quizzes: Grammar Exercises & Worksheets
English Grammar Reference and Exercises
Cambridge Dictionary Quizzes (free sign-up required)
English Grammar Exercises and Quizzes
Online Grammar Quizzes - Interactive Exercises

If you need notes to help you with any of these quizzes, I suggest Grammarly.

Skills: Grammar
Tools: Websites recommended above
Time: Short
Effort Level: Easy

Activity 2 - Listening for phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are always tricky to learn - there are just so many of them! And many of them have multiple meanings. For example, Google lists six meanings for take off.

It’s always useful to practise these tricky verbs. Here is how to do it using a podcast:

  1. Listen to a podcast that comes with a transcript, such as English Learning for Curious Minds
  2. Write down every phrasal verb that you hear.
  3. Read through the transcript to check if you missed any.
  4. Rewrite each sentence containing a phrasal verb, replacing the phrasal verb with a synonym.
  5. You can use Ludwig to check your answers.

Of course, you don’t have to use a podcast. A news article or a book would work just as well. But we like audiovisual learning, as you get the listening/pronunciation part “for free”, which isn’t the case when just reading.

Skills: Grammar, listening, phrasal verbs
Tools: Podcast or book
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Easy

Medium-effort activities

Activity 3 - Create a cloze: verb tenses

Verb tenses are hard, and there are twelve of them, depending on how you count them. You’ll never feel that you’ve mastered English until you get to grips with them. Here’s a fun way to do that using a cloze activity that you make yourself.

  1. Find a news article OR a short story in English. It’s good to choose one with short sentences. You could choose an article from Reader’s Digest, for example.
  2. Copy and paste the article or story into Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or a similar text editor.
  3. Go through the article and remove all the main verbs, replacing them with blanks.
  4. Set the article aside; then later go back and try to fill in the blanks with the correct verb tense. How many can you get correct?

Tips: Before replacing the verbs, study them and consider why that tense is used in that particular case. Leave a day between steps 3 and 4, so you don’t end up simply memorising the answers.

Skills: Grammar, reading, verb tenses
Tools: Various websites
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Activity 4 - Emphatically so

Here is an activity that you can do with a podcast.

A great way to improve your English is through the use of emphatic adjectives. These are adjectives that are stronger than normal adjectives, such as fantastic, humungous or sublime.

Generally, they carry the meaning “very”. So, the word “sublime” means “very good”.

Since they are stronger versions of adjectives that you already know (at intermediate level), they are easy to use. For example, you can use them to make a story more interesting.

As a grammar activity, we can “hunt” emphatic adjectives using a podcast:

  1. Listen to a podcast that comes with a transcript, such as English Learning for Curious Minds
  2. Write down every emphatic adjective that you hear.
  3. Read through the transcript to check if you missed any.
  4. Write new sentences using each one.
  5. Use a grammar checker to check your sentences.

As a bonus activity, you’ll notice that we don’t use the word “very” with emphatic adjectives. We don’t say “very fantastic”. However, we can strengthen them further with adverbs such as “absolutely” (absolutely fantastic). What other adverbs can you hear used in this way?

Skills: Grammar, listening, descriptive language
Tools: Podcasts
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Activity 5 - Create a cloze: prepositions

Prepositions are tricky little words that show relationships between things. Examples are of, in, off, out, into and above.

They drive my students crazy! How can you remember which ones to use? Here’s a fun way to practise using a cloze activity that you make yourself.

  1. Find a news article OR a short story in English. It’s good to choose one with short sentences. You could choose an article from Reader’s Digest, for example.
  2. Copy and paste the article or story into Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or a similar text editor.
  3. Go through the article and remove all the prepositions, replacing them with blanks.
  4. Set the article aside, then later go back and try to fill in the blanks with the correct preposition. How many can you get correct?

Tips:

  • Often, words with similar meanings partner with the same prepositions, e.g scared of, frightened of, terrified of.
  • Leave a day between steps 3 and 4, so you don’t end up memorising the answers.
  • Occasionally, more than one preposition can be correct. Use a grammar checker to check your answers.

Skills: Grammar, reading, prepositions
Tools: Various websites
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Activity 6 - Create a quiz: plurals

One cat, two cats. In my experience, plurals are one of the first things English learners are taught at school, but one of the last things they master.

The topic is made even harder when you learn about uncountable nouns - nouns with NO plural forms. And then you learn that uncountable nouns DO have a plural form under certain circumstances. Yes, English grammar is weird.

As part of your English learning routine, it’s worth spending some time on your plurals. Getting these correct will really make your English sound more natural.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose an article that is not too difficult for you to understand. For example, Voice of America has simplified news articles.
  2. Copy and paste your chosen article into Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or another text editor.
  3. Go through the article and change all of the plural words to singular. Remember to change are to is and so on where necessary.
  4. Set the article aside, then later go back and try to change the words back to plural again. Use the original article to check your work.

Tips:

  • Leave a day between steps 3 and 4, so you don’t end up memorising the answers.
  • You can add listening to the mix if you try this article with a podcast that has a transcript. It’s a great way to practise multiple skills at one time.

Skills: Grammar, reading, plurals
Tools: Various websites
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Activity 7 - Create a quiz: articles

Articles in English are the words ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’. They may be one of the first things that you are taught at school, but one of the last things you master.

The rules for using articles are very complex. Rather than memorise rules, it’s better and easier to master them through repeated practice with a relevant activity. That’s what we will look at here.

  1. Choose an article that you can understand without too much difficulty. For example, The British Council has an online magazine with some interesting features.
  2. Copy and paste your chosen article into Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or another text editor.
  3. Go through the article and remove all of the articles.
  4. Set the article aside, then later go back and try to add the articles back in again. Use the original article to check your work.

Tips:

  • Leave a day between steps 3 and 4, so you don’t end up memorising the answers.
  • Part of the challenge is NOT to add articles where there shouldn’t be one! Read here about when NOT to use articles.

Skills: Grammar, reading, articles
Tools: Various websites
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Activity 8 - Linking words

Linking words, or connectors, are words that link sentence parts together. Without a good command of linking words, your English may sound too simplistic, especially when you write.

(Note the use of the linking words without and especially when in the previous sentence.)

It’s clear that it’s worth spending some time improving this grammar topic. But how?

Here is a great way to practise linking words by yourself:

  1. Listen to a podcast that comes with a transcript, such as English Learning for Curious Minds. It’s good to choose a short podcast, or a short section of a podcast, around 3-5 minutes.
  2. As you listen, write down any linking words that you hear.
  3. Write out a comprehensive summary of the podcast (not too short). Try to use all of the linking words that you wrote down.
  4. Use the podcast transcript to check that your summary is correct.
  5. Use a grammar checker to check that your linking word sentences are correct.

Tips:

  • If the activity is challenging, try listening twice before writing the summary.

Skills: Grammar, listening, reading, linking words
Tools: Podcasts
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Medium

Hard or challenging activities

Activity 9 - Looking to the future

A great way to get into the mechanics of English is to tinker around with verb tenses. You can do this by changing the verbs in a text.

In this activity, your challenge is to take a text describing something that happened in the past and change it so that it describes a future event.

To do this, you will need an understanding of past tenses: past simple, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous as well as future forms: will and going to, future perfect, future continuous, future perfect continuous. That’s a lot of tenses!

You’ll also need a set of texts. I recommend history.com, which features articles about what happened on this day in history. There’s a new article every day!

As a twist, you can take an article describing something that’s going to happen in the future (such as an election) and change it to the past tense. You’ll be practising the same set of verb tenses, but in reverse.

Skills: Grammar, reading, verb tenses
Tools: This Day in History - What Happened Today
Time: Medium
Effort Level: Hard

Activity 10 - If I were…

Conditional sentences in English grammar are sentences containing the word IF (or other conditional words) and describing a condition.

An example is: If I had more courage, I would stand up to the bully.

This seems like it should be an easy grammar topic, but in fact it is quite complex. We have zero conditional sentences, first conditional sentences, second conditional sentences, third conditional sentences and more!

It takes some practice to get them right, so here is an activity to help you.

  1. Choose an interesting story from the news, about a person. For example, it could be a story about the Prime Minister (if it’s the UK Prime Minister, check the news to see who the most recent one is!).
  2. Read the story (or listen to it) to make sure you understand, and to pick up vocabulary.
  3. Imagine that you were the person in the story. What would you have done? Write out your answer using conditional sentences. For example, if I were the Prime Minister, I wouldn’t have resigned. Instead, I would…
  4. Use a grammar checker to check your work.

By the way, in the example above, “if I were” is correct. You can learn more about this quirk of English here.

Skills: Grammar, Reading, Conditional Sentences
Tools: Various websites
Time: Long
Effort Level: Hard

Vary your grammar practice

These ten activities should activate your grammar practice and give you some good ideas on how to improve.

You’ll notice that many of the activities here could be adapted to new grammar topics. For example, the activity “Emphatically so” could be adapted to idiom practice.

The key is to vary your grammar activities and use authentic materials wherever you can.

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