February 16

Ask the Experts

This is a fabulous game which I picked up at a conference years ago, but rarely play as I always worried that it would only be good for higher-level learners.  However, if you limit the questions, it could be a really useful game to play with younger learners and lower-level adults as well as it really enourages them to focus on sentence structure.  Here’s how I set the game up with my B2.2 group the other day:

I gave each learner a piece of paper and asked them to write a topic on it – I said the topic could be very general or very specific.  After collecting in the papers and shuffling them, I gave each person a topic and asked them to imagine one question they would ask if they met an expert in that topic.

Next, I explained how the activity works – we are the panel of experts and are going to answer these questions; however, each person can only say one word at a time.  We did a quick concept-check with the question, “What’s your favourite colour?” to check they had understood how to play.

The first question was on the topic of films and we had to recommend a good soundtrack composer and the second one was about the dangers of mobile phones.  It was a fun activity as we moved away from the original topic – on the subject of mobile phones we somehow ended up talking about people who cook chicken in microwaves with no protection.  I admitted to the class that I wasn’t sure how the game is originally played – whether you just keep speaking until you get to the end of a logical sentence or if there is a time- or word-limit.  Thinking about it now, it could be good to work in two teams and for the other team to judge the experts on the content of their answer; they could also transcribe the sentence to check it was grammatically sound as I error-corrected on-the-spot during our game.

February 14

A Bad Day – Third Conditional

I was doing third conditional with my FCE group this week and it lends itself very well to terrible things which have happened, so I adapted this activity from Lucia Walliams on one stop english and included a bit of FCE-style use of English practice.  You can download the text here – it contains Lucia’s original true or false statements, after which I asked learners what problems Emma had had, such as forgot to set the alarm and a truck splashed her.  They then worked in pairs to create third conditional sentences about her day, e.g. If she hadn’t forgotten to set her alarm, she would have woken up on time, as Lucia suggests in the original plan.

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.

October 28

Spanish speakers

I’m having a bit of a tidy-up and came across the little book of useful notes I made to help me revise for my Diploma exam.  There were a few pages dedicated to problems which Spanish speakers can have:


  • consonant clusters – they tend to add a vowel sound or elide a consonant sound
  • they have a narrower pitch range
  • the schwa doesn’t exist
  • there are a limited number of vowel sounds
  • Latin-root cognates may have a different pronunciation e.g. study / estudiar – also often linked to the limited number of vowel sounds


  • lack of subject pronouns in verb phrases
  • grammatical gender
  • adjectives follow the noun and also show gender and number
  • freer word order
  • no auxiliary do used in questions or negation
  • similarity of form vs. similarity of function
  • The definite article is often used with a general meaning


  • false friends e.g. sensible / sensitive
  • plural of the male form
  • more likely to use Latin-root words where we might use phrasal verbs

There is a fabulous section in the book Learner English (Michael Swan and Bernard Smith) which has further information on speakers of Spanish and a wide variety of other languages.

July 3

Hooray! I know the grammar, now I must impart my wisdom…

Although we have just started a teacher training course here at Active, this is actually a post which I was thinking about a while ago following a conversation with a friend.

I’ve been working as a tutor at Active for a few years now and it’s interesting to see how trainees from different nationalities cope with the different aspects of the course.  Often (though certainly not always), non-native speakers feel much more confident with teaching grammatical aims than their native-speaker peers.  In the conversation with my friend, she mentioned how she felt that some native speaker teachers have a tendency to overwhelm learners during their explanations, perhaps by getting bogged down with metalanguage or feeling that as they now feel confident with the ins and outs of the structure, they must pass all that knowledge on to their learners.

Any thoughts?