EMF5 Day 2 | Alexandra Chistyakova: Teaching Grammar to Kids Creatively | Talk summary

Posted: March 14, 2015 in Activities, Conferences
Tags: , ,

One of the most exciting sessions of Day 2 of the E-merging Forum 5 for me was Alexandra Chistyakova’s workshop on teaching grammar to kids. Other participants clearly loved it too and after Alexandra’s talk there was a bit of a battle for handouts. Here are the notes that I took during the talk – but also read a post on Alexandra’s blog.  

Alexandra’s teaching experience is very diverse and it taught her one simple truth: we never teach adults and children in the same way. This realization made her look for practical ideas to make lessons with YLs more effective and more fun. As a result Alexandra came up with the idea of Lesson shells.


Shells in the picture provide structure and secure the living creature or the structure. In the same way, lesson shells provide a structure for the lesson and secure the learners. Especially when we talk about teaching grammar to YLs, they need ‘securing’ because a lot of them think of grammar as hard, dull, lifeless, etc.

So, what could provide a structure and the sense of security? Alexandra suggests shaping lessons around stories 

  • to explain grammar rules;
  • to practice them

Explaining grammar through stories

One of the stories that Alexandra shared was called ‘Town of Verbs’:


Verbs were very very happy because they lived only in the present and they didn’t remember the past. Once two little verbs climbed to the attic and found a chest with memories. When they opened it, out of the chest flew the memories of town dwellers. The memories started floating around the town and the verbs got their memories back. Not everyone responded to their memories in the same way. Some just accepted them. Some lit up like candles, delighted with their memories. Some blocked them. Some underwent complete transformation. But little kids didn’t change at all, because they didn’t’ have any memories!

  • Alexandra shared more stories for explaining grammar, and she promised to write another post about them on her blog.

Practicing grammar through stories

  • Turning sorting tasks into stories:IMG_20150313_150531_1As the lesson progressed, this idea was developed and the final ‘test’ took the form of a ‘Lie detector’ (the verbs that the learner remembered ‘went home’ and when she forgot them again, they went back to prison).
  • Hungry octopuses & Jelly fish – getting the learner to feed the correct words to the correct monster.
    If her student made a mistake, Alexandra made some funny digestive noises, which was a lot of fun!
  • Quick Games. Broken Magic Wands.
    The task was to write past tenses of verbs – which would be boring for a YL. Alexandra came up with the idea of saying that crayons are magic wand that makes the learner write the verbs correctly. If she made a mistake, the magic wand had stopped working and she needed to take another one.

Tips for good grammar stories

  • Make the story close to learners’ lives. E.g. in one story Alexandra used the name of the learner’s pet – to arouse interest and to establish an emotional bond with the story.IMG_20150313_145615_1
  • Draw ideas for stories from the environment (the mood of the learner, recent event, surrounding noises, objects that can be used as material) to come up with new stories and establish the emotional bond with your learner.
  • Make the story cohesive – it should sound logical, truthful and natural.
  • If the story is a bit sophisticated, use the mother-tongue – the target is to create a picture in the learner’s mind!
  • Invite learners to help you create the story.
  • Magic is magic – don’t overuse it!


Another very inspiring session. Unfortunately I don’t teach young learners, but hope to come up with a way to sneak some of these ideas into my classroom. 

  1. Alexandra says:

    Dear Olya! Thank you so much for such a generous and detailed post! 🙂
    I’m very happy you liked my presentaion! 🙂 And I do, yes, I do promise to write the second part to my blogpost on Lesson Shells! You and other participants of EMF-5 have encouraged me! 🙂 Thank you! 🙂

    • olyasergeeva says:

      Hello Alexandra,

      My apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment!

      Thank YOU for the inspiring session and for the nudge in the direction of storytelling! That’s a great technique that I’ve been *meaning* to research and start using for ages – but unfortunately, not yet.

      So it was very useful and motivating to see your great examples of stories, not to mention the idea to shape the whole lesson around a single story. That’s definitely something to explore! Looking forward to your posts!

      • Alexandra says:

        Hello Olga! :)) Now it’s my turn to apologize for not replying to you for so long! :))) Thank you for your kind words! It’s always pleasant to know that someone likes what you are doing! :)))

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