Relative Clauses: who which where

As Martin Parrott (2000: 406) points out in his outstanding language guide for teachers, the difficulty of relative-clauses is often “underestimated” by English-speaker teachers.

Learners can often understand texts which contain relative clauses but this is not because of a good grounding in this particular grammar point but rather by a process of deducing meaning.

In fact, there isn’t any overt focus on relative-clauses, which can appear very early on in language learning materials, until  “late intermediate or advanced levels” (Parrott 2000: 406).

So, this post and the attached materials have been designed with Pre-Intermediate learners in mind. Below you will find an outline of the grammar point as well as a PowerPoint and a Handout for use in class.

What are Relative Clauses?

In short, relative clauses allow us to give further details about something or someone we have already specified (Parrott 2000: 406). For example:

I like working with students who appreciate what I do

In this example, “who appreciate what I do” tells us more about “students.”

They can also be used to avoid repetition by binding sentences together. For example:

I tried to help a child. The child was crying its eyes out.
I tried to help a child which was crying its eyes out.

In this example, the necessity to repeat the word “child” and forming a new sentence is completely avoided through the use of a relative clause.

Relative Pronouns

Relative clauses are headed by a relative pronoun, such as who and which in the examples above. Other relative pronouns include: where, whose, and that.

Other Aspects

There are other aspects to relative pronouns which won’t be dealt with in this lesson, such as defining and non-defining as well as reduced relative clauses. This is because this lesson aims to cover the basics of relative clauses and leaves these other aspects for higher level classes.

Lesson Plan and Materials

For this lesson, you will need the worksheet, which you can download and copy as a Word file or as a PDF document. You will also need the PowerPoint which you can download and use in class or you can download and print out this version as a Lesson Planrelative clauses

The lesson follows a Task – Teach – Task format in the context of describing something to a friend. You can opt for the tasks to be completed in writing or in speaking. For the Teach stage there is one supporting slide but this might have to be expanded or removed entirely depending on how well the learners perform during the first Task.

bez nazwy I

For the first Task, I recommend you make no mention whatsoever of relative clauses – simply allow the learners to describe the objects in whatever way they choose to. The reason for this is because if they do already have some degree of control over this grammar point, then they might make use of it if they feel they can; otherwise, they will probably just find other linguistic means to describe the objects.


Parrott, M. (2000) Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5 thoughts on “Relative Clauses: who which where

  1. So true about the lack of overt focus on relative clauses. I don’t think I got them quite figured out until advanced level or so. My teachers just seemed to avoid them altogether as a lesson topic.

    Nice lesson, clear and realistic. Maybe more focus on asking each other questions about the partner’s country and not just telling? (Keeping your recent post on questions in mind and the fact that there’s always too few opportunities for students to ask questions in class) Or do you think they will be less likely to use the target language in that case?


    1. No no, I think if they start asking eachother about their countries, then they might really get into it and start using relative clauses to help explain stuff. That would be very natural. Like if I asked “what’s a balalaika?” My Russian partner might well answers “It’s something which we use to make music.” 🙂


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