How to find context for teaching grammar at higher levels

Why Should We Contextualize Grammar

Why Should We Contextualize Grammar


  • Grammar
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Many English learners recall that grammar has always been their least favorite part of the learning process. Among the reason-whys, they name repetitive tasks, countless explanations of rules, lack of engagement and realness, and uncertainty that they will be really using this information. 

However, is it possible to teach grammar in an interesting way, skipping the part with thick boring textbooks and showing some actual stuff? The answer is “yes”, especially when it comes to higher levels. 

So, today we will discuss how you can contextualize grammar and why contextualizing is way better than using explicit teaching.

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Contextual grammar teaching VS Explicit grammar teaching

According to “How to Teach Grammar” by Bas Aarts, Ian Cushing, and Dick Hudson, contextual grammar involves:

  • making connections between grammatical patterns and the meaning of texts; 
  • wider contextual aspects such as genre, audience, subject and purpose; 
  • a reader’s feelings and responses to a text; 
  • potential authorial motivations for making decisions about language choices. 

That leads us to such key concepts of the approach as:

  • being more unified in terms of integrating language and literature, not seeing them as two drastically different aspects of the language; that is why studies show that students who are taught grammar with reference to some context are also more successful in reading, writing, listening and even speaking; 
  • not being focused on “feature spotting” and naming grammatical features without further exploring their use and significance; 
  • embracing the idea of choice rather than the strict rule; a choice that is based on the appropriateness of grammar to some situations the variety of which are also discussed with students; 
  • avoiding formulaic grammar teaching.

On the contrary, even according to older studies that date back to the late 70th, memorizing terminology, recreating the rules without a clear reference to the context, and monotonous drilling of the rules — all the features that define so-called explicit grammar teaching proved themselves either to be not effective enough or useless at all. 

Ways to contextualize grammar

Nowadays, in the era of the Internet and social media, there is no easier and more fun thing to do than finding a context for your grammar lesson, especially for students of higher levels who can already understand memes, lyrics, movies, etc. 

Teach grammar using the main focus

If your students have a specific goal like communicating with a business partner or being fluent while traveling around the world, you have a chance to show them how to use some exact grammar topics in a context that is especially interesting for them. 

Such an approach fights back against a stereotype that is popular among students and based on the idea that studying grammar and practicing speaking are totally different and not connected things. 

Ask your student who has just come back from vacation to talk about their experience using narrative tenses. 

Make some football predictions using different grammar structures for the future with the student who is keen on football. The space for creativity here is just enormous.

How to teach grammar

Use music

Songs are a great source for contextualizing grammar: you may discuss the topic of the song using some grammar structures, or share a worksheet based on the song completion which will end up with self-discovering a grammar topic. Again, here everything depends on the teacher, but the idea is that music helps to build stronger and more lasting associations. 

It is hard to forget Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy”. Why don’t we make conditionals as unforgettable as the song?

Use literature

We have already talked about the use of literature in class, so there is no wonder that reading is especially good for looking at how grammar works in a real situation or how often it is used. 

Plus, it is much more interesting to discuss grammar while referring to some plot, characters, and issues at the same time. 

Films and videos

There is no richer source of context for grammar than movies. Ask your students to watch “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, and create a worksheet for Type 3 Conditional and we promise that you will have the coolest grammar lesson ever!

The truth is that being able to discuss the plot, watch some extracts, fill in the gaps with what you hear, make assumptions about the meaning of the whole structure really spice up the process of discovering new grammar, and make it less explicit, give less space to focus on how difficult the topic is and so on. 

However, to present grammar you don’t have to use the whole movie. 

Sometimes, one TikTok is enough to give the context. So, next time while scrolling your feed try to focus on how you could potentially use this content to present some grammar. We guarantee that the result will be surprising. 

Teaching grammar through critical thinking

Tips and tricks

Social media

Also, don’t underestimate Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, TikTok, or even some pieces of news from TV. These are the places where you can find a nice video or a good text that will inspire you for contextualizing your grammar lessons. 

Using such materials not only makes a lesson more engaging but also makes it more real, and more connected to everyday life activities and issues which creates a clear idea of when and how you can use certain grammar.


1. Some studies agree that there are many advantages to explicit grammar teaching

2. What is the best place for finding the context?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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