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Teacher to teacher

I have produced these grammar notes and testing materials for ESL students at Frankfurt International School (FIS). My day-to-day teaching is based on the theory that students learn a new language most efficiently and enjoyably when they are involved in performing various communicative tasks set in the context of a wider topic that is of interest and importance to them. For example, students might be asked to find out about one of their ancestors and talk about him or her to the rest of the class. Or, at an advanced level, they may have to research an environmental problem and prepare a written report of their findings for publishing on the Web. [More]

Explicit, planned focus on grammar in ESL lessons is based on the teacher's prediction of the students' need for a particular form in order to communicate their ideas effectively and accurately in a particular context. So, students wishing to talk about the life of an ancestor will clearly need to know how to form and use the past simple tense. Students working on a written report of a scientific nature will need to have good control of the passive forms and an understanding of when the passive is to be preferred to the active.

A second, common focus on grammar in ESL lessons is "incidental and transitory". These are two of the characteristics of FonF (focus on form) as originally defined by Long (1991) and expanded by Ellis et al. (2001). In other words, the grammar focus is unplanned and brief. A typical FonF episode arises when the student says or writes something like: My father work in a bank. The teacher can, in various ways, draw attention to the mistake and elicit or give a correction without too much interruption to the communicative intentions of the student. (See also:  Davies 2006)

 -- Grammar teaching, therefore, is always rooted in an authentic context. --

There are, however, many students who enjoy learning and testing themselves on grammar out of context. This may be what they are used to from their previous learning experiences or how they expect language should be taught and learned. Others want extra practice or the chance to formalize their knowledge of the grammar they have acquired in the course of their daily exposure to English in the school. It is for such students that these pages have been produced.

The quizzes are based on the principle that learners should be required to make a choice between two or more tenses*. So, for example, the pages in the first grammar block contain questions which require the student to choose between the present continuous and the present simple. Later blocks (will) have questions where the choice is much more open. (This approach reflects the findings of a survey (Fortune, 1992) into self-study grammar practice, in which 89% of the participants preferred exercises which involved a choice of linguistic forms.)

Many of the grammar quiz question pages contain a direct link to a brief explanation of the use of the particular tense in the question, with further examples. The grammar of the English language cannot of course be reduced to a few hard and fast rules; it is vastly more complicated than that. The simplified explanations in this on-line textbook, however, are considered appropriate for school learners in their first year or two of English. Similarly, the examples and situations in both the notes pages and the quiz pages reflect the needs and interests of ESL students at FIS.

If you have any comments on the content of the grammar quiz pages or find any mistakes, please contact me at

*In modern linguistics English is regarded as having only two tenses: present (or nonpast) and past. On these pages, however, I have followed the traditional naming conventions in use in most materials for English language learners.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional test-maker. Nevertheless, I have an understanding of the issues concerning the production of valid, reliable tests. In particular, I am aware of the limitations of the kind of tests that can be done online (multiple choice, fill the gap, etc.). The purpose of these quizzes, however, is not to arrive at some kind of diagnosis of the students' level of English, and they should not be used as such. (I have not spent a great deal of time, for example, trying to device plausible distractors in the multiple-choice quizzes). My intention is to help students learn, not to grade or test them.


Davies, M. (2006) Paralinguistic focus on form  TESOL Quarterly  40(4)
Ellis, R. et. al.  
(2001)   Pre-emptive focus on form in the ESL classroom  TESOL Quarterly  51(2)
Fortune, A.
 (1992)  Self-study grammar practice: learners' views and preferences     ELT Journal 46/2
Long, M.  (1991) Focus on form in task-based language teaching.

Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)