December 9

Making Questions

Question formation is especially tricky for Spanish speakers given that they don’t use an auxiliary verb in their own language and subsequently don’t change the word order between statements and questions, a simple rising intonation suffices.

I do a simple activity called Guess the Question with my YLs to practise question forms and although I adapt the question each day to incorporate new language and structures we see in class, I’m still finding the activity a little limiting as learners are quick to ask the simpler questions, such as What’s your favourite…? and What time do you…? but struggle to think of more complex structures or more abstract questions.

In order to encourage them to focus on question structure, I’m going to do a similar activity to Guess the Question but as a pair activity rather than whole group and with another slight twist.  This time, one learner will have a card with a question on one side and starter-answer on the back, e.g. What time did you go to bed last night? / Last night, I went to bed at… They’ll hold up the starter-answer to their partner and read out the completed sentence, then help their partner to identify and form the question.  The reason for also including the start-answer is that they’re still in the first stages of exposure to the past tense and I want the focus of the activity to be on question formation rather than whether they can correctly conjugate the verb to answer the question.  However, after a few practices in this way, hopefully I’ll be able to take away the starter-answers.

March 5

Character Builds #3

In a previous post, I talked about how to set up a character build in the class and how they can be used to practise specific grammar points.  With my KET group, we recently looked at the present perfect with for, since, just, already, etc.

We did a character build in class and then the learners completed the following worksheet:

Character Build

It appealed to the more creative learners, both artistically and linguistically  and I allowed the learners freedom to answer the questions how they saw fit.  Our character, a lovely Swedish lady who lived in Madrid, had just stolen something from IKEA according to one learner!

March 6

Shark Attack…what happened next?

I’ve done the Shark Attack activity recently with a couple of groups and they really enjoy the task – it’s an easy, enjoyable, controlled practice activity of the past continuous.  However, I was doing a lesson today with past continuous and past simple and adapted the activity so learners would use both tenses.

The first part of the activity was the same: we brainstormed things to do at the beach and then I told them to draw the beach (I didn’t mention a shark) and then mingle to find out what their classmates were doing.  Once we had mingled and done some feedback, I told them to draw the shark and to think about what happened next.  There were some very inventive ideas:

Ana and Elena were swimming in the sea.  When the shark attacked, they died.

Or alternatively,

Álvaro and Carlos were playing football.  When the shark attacked, Álvaro jumped into the sea to save the girls and Carlos called the police.

And even…

Pepe was sitting under an umbrella.  When the shark arrived, he saw Pepe and they fell in love and moved to another country.


January 19

Repeating and reviewing the past simple

I’ve recently been teaching the past simple (both regular and irregular verbs in positive statements) to my class of nine-year-olds.  There’s been lots of gesturing behind me to show that we’re thinking about something which happened in the past and I’ve been trying to think of different ways to review, repeat and recycle the material.  This week we did quite a fun activity which allowed them to focus on both the meaning of the verbs and also the different pronunciation in the present and past – especially useful with a lot of the regular verbs and some irregulars, such as read (/red/).

To start with, I asked them to give me some of the verbs we’d been studying in their present and past forms.  Then, when we had about fifteen on the board, I asked them to give me a sentence for each, using the past form.

We did some drilling of the sentences to check pronunciation and then I put them into groups.  One student had to say a sentence and the others had to say whether it was in the past or present.  I monitored and corrected, especially the problem -ed endings!

October 30

10 Questions

Here’s a fun activity which I’ve been doing with groups of eleven-year-olds this week.  It’s a fun way to practise question forms and includes some speaking practice too.


Elicit question words from the students and write them on the board.  Then divide the class into teams and give each team a piece of paper – I found that teams of three work well, although you may prefer pairs in order to get everyone working or fours if you have a larger class.  Give them ten minutes to write ten questions – personal information questions work best, though I didn’t specify when I did the activity.


Collect in their pieces of paper and explain the next stage.  Each team has a mini-whiteboard and pen.  You write a question on the board and the team has to decide if it’s grammatically correct or not. If they think it’s correct, put a tick; if they think it’s incorrect, they have to write the corrected version.  I use, “How old is you?” as an example.  As you do each question, keep the correct version on the board, awarding points each time a team is right.


When you have a number of questions (15 or so), collect in the mini-whiteboards and set up the final stage.  This is a “speed-dating” style activity in which all the students pair up and ask each other questions for a minute.  You then shout, “Change!” and they have to find another partner.


The activity is student-produced and some of my students were quite inventive, coming up with questions like, “Are you a banana?” which made the speaking stage very amusing.