Glossary of ESL terms





 Lanternfish |  Crosswords |   Word Searches   |   Flash Cards   |  Verbs   |  Songs   |  Creative Writing   |   Work Sheets  |  Phonics

   |ABCs   Potion Book   |  Spell Book  |  ESL for Adults  |  Ask Thomas |  Lesson Plans  |   Holiday Worksheets  |  Jobs  








Ask Thomas is a periodic column by veteren ESL teacher, Thomas Lavelle. Thomas Lavelle received his Masters in TESL from Birmingham and has taught ESL in many countries, but currently teaches at a university in the United States.




The Lesson Plan Archive

For more lesson plans visit the archive.


The Ask Thomas Archive

More questions and answers in the ATarchive.


Job Boards and Forums

Join the Discussion Forums

and look for a job.








Teaching Relative Clauses -by Thomas Lavelle

The question I am taking up this week is: " How can I teach relative clauses???/font>


Here's my typical lesson plan for relative clauses. As with most grammar-related  concepts, I like to hit it with speaking, listening, reading, focusing, editing/proofreading and the final product, writing. The entire lesson can last for a week for lower level classes. Today, I will focus on a speaking lesson and call it Relative Clauses, part one:Speaking. The next time I will continue with the rest of the lesson.

Speaking/Introduction to the concept of relative clauses using 'that' and 'which??/font>.

 1.Put this chart on the board or create a worksheet. (based on an activity by Mark Helgeson and colleagues at Longman)







2.Discuss and ask students to make a similar large chart using 3-5 nouns from their culture that foreigners might not know about.

After the chart is finished like the one above:

3. Ask students to  add the verb 'is' after each noun in the first column.

4. Ask students to add the phrase, 'a kind of' after the word 'is'.

5. Ask students to add a comma after the word under the second box

6. Ask students if they know a word that can connect the words under the third box to the words under the second box. Then ask them to put that 'that' or 'which' see usage note at the bottom of this page).


If you have a class with students from the same country, ask each student to substitute the Noun under the first box with the word, 'this' i.e., This is a kind of American music that uses rhyme words, not melodies, to make a song. The other students listen and try to guess what that noun is. Guessing should be easy if the speaker's relative clause was sufficiently detailed. Have each student take turns to get maximum repetition. If students are from different countries, have them write things that are unique to their culture and tell the others.

Variation: If students are shy to speak in front of the whole class, line them up in two rows, standing facing each other. Have them choose one of their relative clause sentences and say it to the person across from them. Keep the line moving so that students are constantly meeting new partners and practicing and repeating their sentences with the relative clauses.


Repeat the chart and the above activity with 'where' and  'when':   


If you have time, you can add relative clauses with 'who' for students to practice.

Some notes about the usage of 'that' and 'which' (students will surely ask you this question)

 When a relative is used to define something like I did in the above examples, both which and that can be used. But if the relative clause just gives extra information about the noun, only which should be used. i.e., in the middle of a sentence. Lemongrass, which is used frequently in Thai cooking, is not easy to find in America .It would not be good to say, Lemongrass, that  is used in Thai cooking, is not easy to find in America. See also the glossary.


Ellis, R. and Gaies, S., (1999) , Grammar through Listening, Longman China Ltd.