Vol. 4. No. 3 R-20 May 2000
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Grammar Contexts: A Resource Guide for Interactive Practice
Mary Ziemer (1999)
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xiii + 231
ISBN 0-472-08539-5 (paper)
US $24.95


Mary Ziemer has provided a very useful resource guide for teachers looking for supplementary activities for teaching English grammar at the intermediate or high intermediate levels of language proficiency. She states that her purpose is to provide activities that will "connect isolated grammar textbook exercises to situations and topics that occur in real life" (p. 1). Ziemer provides activities and lesson plans dealing with a range of English grammar points that ESL/EFL teachers could use to supplement current grammar instruction or to contextualize grammar points.

The "flavor" of the book reminded me in some ways of New Ways in Teaching Grammar, edited by Martha C. Pennington (TESOL, 1995). The supplementary exercises are short activities that could be added to almost any grammar lesson plan to contextualize the teaching of a grammar point. An advantage of Grammar Contexts is that in addition to the supplementary exercises, Ziemer provides extended lesson plans for the grammar points. The extended lesson plans provide the presentation, practice, and application stages of a lesson plan. An ESL/EFL teacher receives ideas for exercises to add to an existing lesson plan or textbook as well as ideas for complete lesson plans to contextualize the teaching of English grammar.


The book consists of an introduction and user's guide and eight chapters. The chapters cover the following grammar points: the present tense, the past tense, the future tense, the present perfect, modal auxiliary verbs, gerunds and infinitives, conditionals: using if to express unreal past situations, and using wish and connecting words.

The user's guide provides background on the purpose of the resource book, chapter organization, background on the supplementary activities and the extended lesson plans, as well as information on resource materials, bibliography, and web resources. The Web of Life section of the user's guide indicates that you can share your experiences and ideas with the author by going to the University of Michigan Press ESL web site (http://www.press.umich.edu/titles/08539.html). When I went to the web site I found a promotional description of the book but did not find how one would be able to communicate with Ziemer to share experiences and ideas. [-1-]

Each chapter begins with an overview of the supplementary and extended lesson plans on the grammar points. We receive information on the structure, an activity title, what language skills are used for the activity (listening, speaking, reading, and/or writing), as well as recommendations on how to group the students for the activity (individual, pair, small group, or class). The overview also lists any materials that have been provided in the appendix of the chapter.

Let me provide an overview of chapter 6, "Gerunds and Infinitives." In this chapter Ziemer provides six supplementary activities and two extended lesson plans. Supplementary activity 6.1 focuses on gerunds and infinitives in a riddle activity that strengthens listening, speaking, and writing skills in both individual and small group activities. A riddle is presented and then the learners engage in a discussion about the riddle by using gerunds or infinitives. Learners then use their own sentences to discuss when gerunds and/or infinitives are used.

Supplementary activity 6.6 is entitled St. Francis of Assisi, and focuses on the use of infinitives with listening, speaking, and writing skills for individual, pair, and class work. The teacher provides background information about St. Francis of Assisi and a list of infinitives on the chalkboard: to console, to love, to understand. The teacher then asks the students to compare the infinitives to a parallel list: to be consoled, to be loved, to be understood. The second list has been changed into the passive form. Then the teacher introduces the students to a portion of the St. Francis of Assisi prayer: "Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul." In pairs the students discuss the meaning of the prayer and the use of the passive and infinitive forms of the verbs. The students can then generate additional infinitive and passive forms.

Extended lesson 6.7 is divided into a presentation segment (suggested time limit, 10 minutes), a practice segment (suggested time limit, 10 minutes), and an application segment (suggested time limit, 20 minutes). The lesson uses the context of professions to teach infinitives of purpose. The presentation stage of the lesson plan suggests that listening and speaking be the skills of focus in a whole class grouping. The teacher reads sentences containing infinitives about a profession using the first-person point of view. The students try to guess the profession. The material suggests that the teacher may want to customize the professions so that they are culturally relevant to the students in the class being taught. An explanation that in order to can be used in place of the infinitives is an option presented to the teachers with the caution that it sounds formal. The practice stage of the lesson plan begins by getting the students to generate a list of professions. Students then choose a profession from the list and write three sentences using an infinitive phrase. Students then share their sentences in small groups. Teachers are encouraged to review the students' written sentences prior to having them share in groups. If necessary, example sentences can be provided to the students in written form so that they have a model to follow. The application stage of the lesson plan recommends helping the students use infinitives in making conclusions about what individuals do in each of the professions that have been discussed. A model of the activity may be necessary before getting students to do it on their own. The application completes the lesson plan cycle. [-2-]

An appendix in each chapter provides reproducible materials that teachers can use for teaching the grammar points. For extended lesson 6.7 the appendix includes five multiple-choice statements about professions that could be used during the lesson. Six of the 64 reproducible material sets are copyrighted. To avoid copyright issues, Ziemer recommends that the copyrighted material be handwritten on the chalkboard and erased after class or that one overhead transparency be prepared for class use and then destroyed.

The bibliography provides lists of grammar reference material, grammar practice activity books, vocabulary materials, and Internet resources. This is helpful for any teacher looking for additional material to gain increased understanding of the role of grammar in language teaching.

Summary and Evaluation

The great advantage of Grammar Contexts is that the activities provide contextualization of grammar points. The activities could be added to any textbook material being used by any ESL/EFL teacher anywhere in the world. These activities help to add some excitement to textbook work.

One thing that I especially like about the resource book are the suggestions made throughout the book to adjust the content so that it is appropriate for the students being taught. Ziemer clearly proposes that the needs of the students be taken into account when preparing activities for grammar practice.

The grammar activities have a very clear communicative focus. Upon reviewing the ideas that Ziemer presents I was able to think of even more ideas that could be used to practice a particular grammar point. This highlights the synergistic nature of the material. The ideas presented in this material helped lead me to more ideas that could be developed and expanded upon.

Because this is a resource guide, I believe that ESL/EFL teachers should have this material to help them think through additional activities and lesson plans that could be used to reinforce grammar instruction already taking place.


Pennington, M. C. (Ed.). (1995). New ways in teaching grammar. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Neil J. Anderson
Brigham Young University

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