Number one for English language teachers

Minimal resources: Photocopy-free grammar practice

Scott Thornbury gives us some tips and ideas for grammar activities that don’t require any photocopying.

Sentence star

  1. Ask learners to each draw five-pointed star on a piece of paper. Tell them to can write on the tip of the first point, like on the second point, have on the third point, used to on the fourth point and going to on the fifth point. (You can vary the words according to the level of the class, the syllabus, etc. You can also write the names of grammar structures, such as present simple, present perfect, second conditional, if you prefer.).
  2. Then ask them, individually, to write a true sentence about themselves using each of the five words on their star. You should give at least one example, such as I can speak a little Portuguese.
  3. In pairs or small groups they take turns to read each other their sentences. The others in the group have to ask at least five questions about each of the sentences (e.g. Where did you learn Portuguese? How well can you speak it? Can you write it? etc).
  4. In the final stage, as a whole class students report on interesting things they have learned about their classmates. If you want to focus on any particular structure, such as can, ask the class to give you some of their sentences with can and write these on the board, so that the word can is aligned in one column. This way you can highlight the grammar of can using the learners’ own sentences.

True/false sentences

  1. Dictate about five or more sentences to the class. At least some of the sentences will contain the grammar structure you are targeting, such as the present perfect e.g. I have never been to Brazil. I haven’t been to Colombia, either. I've been to New York three times this year.
  2. Tell the class that some of these sentences are true, some false. Ask them to work in pairs to try and guess which are true and which are false.
  3. Let them tell you their guesses and ask them their reasons. If they haven’t guessed correctly, tell them the answers.
  4. Then ask them to do the same thing – working individually – and using the sentences you have dictated as a model. In other words, they write some true and false sentences about themselves, and then take turns to guess which sentences are true or false in pairs or small groups.
  5. Finally, elicit and board some of their example sentences in, say, the present perfect, and use these as a basis for a grammar focus. (A fuller description of this activity, using phrasal verbs, can be found on page 79 of my book Uncovering Grammar).

One of us/some of us

  1. Write the following sentence starters on the board
- One of us can …
- Two of us can …
- Three of us can …
- All of us can …
- None of us can …
  1. Put the learners into groups of four, and ask them to generate as many true sentences about their group as possible in, say, ten minutes, using these sentence starters.
  2. Go round the class, checking that the learners are on task, and helping with vocabulary problems.
  3. After the time limit is up, ask a spokesperson from each class to tell you some of their sentences, and use these as a basis of an open class question-and-answer stage. For example, Spokesperson: One of us can play the guitar. Teacher: Oh really, let me guess who that could be? Mario, is it you…? etc.
  4. Again, these sentences can be used as the basis for a grammar review. Of course, you can change the target structure. For example (for the present perfect):
- One of us has …
- Two of us have …
- Three of us have …
- All of us have …
- None of us have/has …

In this case, you will need to tell them that it is the present perfect you want here – not, for example, have got. (Thanks to Mario Rinvolucri for this brilliant activity).

Sentence completions

1. This is similar to the last activity, in that learners work together to complete sentences using a specific structure. Write on the board:

      - Successful students …
      - Unsuccessful students …

2. Ask learners, working in pairs or small groups, to write as many completions to these sentences as they can in a time limit. The idea is that they will have to use – at least              some of the time – the present simple. If, though, you wanted to practise used to you could use sentence starters such as:

      - In the old days, people …
      - Our grandparents …

3. When the time is up, or when the groups have generated sufficient sentences, ask them to read them out, and invite the class to discuss them. Use the sentences to focus            on aspects of the grammar structures you want to target. (Thanks to Penny Ur for this idea).

I went to market …

This is a well-known children’s memory game, but it can be adapted for grammar practice. In the traditional game, one person starts by saying I went to market and I bought a pineapple (for example). The next person has to repeat what the first person said, and then add one new item: I went to market and I bought a pineapple, and a dozen eggs … and so on, round the class. Players who can’t remember an item are 'out' and the game continues until there is one winner. As it stands, the game is good practice of vocabulary, plus two past tense verbs. But you can increase the grammar practice by slightly modifying the formula. For example (to practise past simple):

I went to London and I saw the Queen.

I went to London and I saw the Queen, and I read The Times.

I went to London and I saw the Queen, and I read The Times, and I climbed Big Ben, etc.

You can make it a rule that players are not allowed to use a verb that has already been used. Other structures you can practise like this are:

Going to
Making New Year resolutions: This year I’m going to learn drive, and I’m going to grow my hair … 
Present perfect
My poor uncle has never flown in a plane, and he’s never drunk champagne … 
Second conditional
If I were/was a millionaire, I’d … and I’d … 

In fact, any structure can be adapted to this game: use your ingenuity!

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Readers' comments (9)

  • Hi Cristina,

    Yes good point. I think both are acceptable these days. I've added 'none' as an option.

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  • Cristina
    I would say "none of us has"

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  • Good stuff! Thanks


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  • In reply to the post on 'if I were..' I think you will find that due to frequence of use both are acceptable and i believe Cambridge Exams accept both. But there again I may be wrong.

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  • This all looks very useful and I like it!

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  • Should it not be, "If I were a millionaire, I'd.... and I'd..."?

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  • very useful activities go ahead

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  • Great ideas for warm ups

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  • I've found all of the activities useful and fun. Thanks!

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