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Grammar 9-Square (grammar puzzle)

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Grammar 9-Square
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Everyone, let me explain the seating arrangement in our classroom to our new student, Ace. 

Hey, Ace, stop petting the classroom’s pet tarantula—yes, he is cute, isn’t he? Now come here and listen up.

Alright then, here’s the seating arrangement, Ace:  I sit here, and Doris sits there, and the twins Kit and Kat sit there, and Danny sits there. So starting today you, Ace, will sit right over there. 

Now, is everyone sitting comfortably? 


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English is crazy. 

Why don’t we all just sit? I mean if I sit, and you sit, and they sit, then why is it that he sits and she sits? 

Do you know why? It’s because … English is crazy. 

(I told you that before! Weren’t you listening?) 

As simple as this change of verb form for the third person singular (he, she, it) might seem, it is one of the hardest pieces of grammar for non-native speakers to acquire because it has no semantic value. It doesn’t change the meaning of anything—not one little bit. It’s just a rule. 

No, let me amend that: It’s just a stupid rule. 

When I become King of the World, I’m going to change that rule. We will all just sit. Then English will be easier for everyone to learn. 

But until I do become King, that’s how English works. 

You know, if only … If only there were some way for our students to learn and practice this stupid grammar rule in a way that was kind of fun. If only we could give them something that would introduce this linguistic bit of bizarreness in a way that was challenging, but not daunting. Something that would get their minds focused on something more engaging than grammar, yet require them to notice and apply the grammar pattern. If only there were something that … 

Hey, wait a minute!—I know! Let’s make puzzles of it! 

And let’s call these puzzles … hmmmmmm 

… Let’s call them 9-Square. 


You can design your own 9-square puzzles,
or print out and use my version from the link that I will give you later in this blog post. 


As you can see from the example above, these are super-simple jigsaw puzzles. For each one, nine squares are put together to form one larger square. (Thus the name.)

Did I say, ‘super-simple’? 

Yes, I did. 

Did I say, ‘easy’? 

No, I did not! 

Especially the first few times—until your students have developed a knack for these particular puzzles—once you give them one of these puzzles, they are not likely to need your attention again for quite a good while. 

By the way, two or three kids could work on one puzzle together, but I always use them as individual activities—one child per puzzle. 

I have made tiles for six puzzles for my classes, each puzzle using a different verb. I tried to choose verbs so as to represent spelling variations, such as adding ~es to push. I also included irregular patterns. (I’m looking at you here, be verb. Curse you, you messy thing!) 

The first time you give one of these puzzles to a student, you might want to point out that the solution must be in the shape of a larger square. Other than that, very little, if any, explanation should be needed. 

I also make a rubric card available with the puzzle, so if the child doesn’t already know the third person singular rule, they can learn it by applying what is on the rubric card to their puzzle. Also, when the student thinks they have solved their puzzle, they can check their solution against the rubric card. 



But neither knowing the rule already nor having the rubric card makes the puzzle easy. 


Once a student does complete a puzzle, and I have checked that there are no errors, I cover their solution so they can’t see it, and quiz the student by cuing them with one subject pronoun at a time: 

teacher:  I. 

student:  I push. 

teacher:  She. 

student:  She pushes. 


If they make any mistakes, I simply set them back to studying their completed puzzle. 

I also have a simple checklist so the student can see which of the six puzzles they have completed and which ones they haven’t.  



And anytime during classes, if someone is having trouble with the third-person singular s, I can grab the rubric card, wave it in the air, and say, “Remember this?” That is often all it takes for the lights to go on in their cute little pumpkin heads. 



What did you say? It’s too much trouble to make up these puzzles? It would take too much of your valuable and limited time? 

Never fear—Super Alan is here! 

As promised earlier, here are links to printable PDFs of the puzzles and companion materials (rubric card and checklists): 

PDF of Grammar 9-Square puzzles 

PDF of rubric card (answer key) 

PDF of student checklist 

You are welcome to respond to this blog entry with any questions or comments you may have about the PDFs or the game. 

And here is a link to a YouTube video showing children working on and solving the puzzles. Feel free to leave questions and comments there too!  

One more! Click here for a YouTube video showing how I make game tiles—in this case, the puzzle pieces.

Alan Miesch

Alan Miesch

After years as a ‘professional dabbler’, Alan Miesch found himself drawn into teaching English to non-native English learners. He has experience in a wide range of milieus, both in the United States and Japan, teaching young children, teens, and adults. He is now the proprietor and sole teacher at a private English classroom in Numazu, Japan.
Alan Miesch

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One Response to Grammar 9-Square (grammar puzzle)

  1. Thank you for sharing this puzzle! I have some students who are tackling third person “s”, and I think they would enjoy this, and of course it would lead to a better understanding of this grammar unit. Thank you, Super Alan!

    Akiko from Hirosaki

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