An Ode To Nothing


This short blog post is an ode to a practical and useful book I have used in the last 10+ years of teaching grammar.  For anyone who’s interested and has the money, it contains 70 grammar, language activities which are aimed at developing language use (please see note at the bottom of this post though…).  It is a very low tech book.  That’s one of the reasons I love it.  It’s broken down into sections called “Activities using no resources” and “Activities using pens and paper only”.  I was as appreciative of these categories in a basement in Soho as I was in foreign parts.

Why should you care?

One of the interesting challenges of recent inspection / observation criteria is this idea of “just going with it”.  Whilst I don’t want to get into the debate surrounding the semantics of what this means or whether it should exist, I realise it does.  As an English teacher, and facing another academic year teaching only our lowest ability students, I recognise that sometimes “just going with it” won’t always be about jumping off the brightest spark and launching into the stratosphere.  Sometimes it will mean stopping everything because we need to revise adverbs, synonyms, idioms (the list goes on).  For me, the challenge of this kind of “going with it” is my lack of instant preparedness.  Jumping off an idea is easier.  Being instantly prepared to teach a grammar feature is a bit harder.

I used Lessons from Nothing before I went into teaching secondary English.  However, it wasn’t long before I found myself adapting and modifying my tried and tested favourites to match what was needed in my classroom.

Below are 3 of my favourite “instant grammar” activities.   There is nothing mind blowing here.  But that isn’t what I want when I am trying to “go with it” in the midst of everything else.

Adverb game (no resources needed)

Most of us will have played this game in some form, but perhaps not this one.   I brainstorm a bunch of actions (please blow your nose) and a bunch of adverbs (violently) in advance.  Each student takes a turn at the front of the class and they are instructed to dramatise one of the actions in the manner of one of the adverbs.

Please blow your nose – romantically.

Please stroke the cat – curiously.

The rest of the class guess the action first and the modifier (adverb) next, thus underlining that adverbs modify verbs.  Yes, I know they also modify adjectives and other adverbs – but not in this game.

Change it (no resources needed)

This is a re-drafting activity which helps students internalise grammatical constructions through verbal redrafting.  I use this activity more (I’m not sure why) when teaching non-fiction writing.

I begin with a sentence “The newspaper said the situation was unable.”

We discuss whether we have been given any useful or specific information.  The answer, of course, is “no”.

Students are then asked to change any word within the sentence (I try not to say “to make it better”), any change that is grammatically correct.

Examples of the changes include:

“The newspaper said the mountain was unstable.”

“The scientist said the mountain was unstable”.

It can also be used  to teach embedded clauses and relative clauses.


Useful for teaching synonyms where the definitions do vary by degree.

Get students to brainstorms all the synonyms for the word “small”.

Draw a staircase on the board.


Then agree together where each ones goes in relation to the others.

microscopic – tiny – little – small

Do you agree?  No, why not?  Which one would you change?

The Ode’s End

I would be interested to know if you have any instant grammar exercise that you use regularly, the more low tech the better.  I also don’t expect everyone to rush out and buy this book (if you are considering please see below).

I’ve also got a few more examples to add, which I will photograph and upload next term.

If you are considering buying this book, please be aware many of the activities are stalwarts of every English department.  For example consequence, hangman, tableaux, anagrams, crosswords etc.


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