Posts Tagged ‘word games’


Omitting -s in Present Simple sentences (*My dad work at a factory) is one of those pesky mistakes that cause us English teachers lots of grief. The rule is extremely simple and it’s one of the first rules the learners learn when they start out studying English. Yet when it comes to speaking, the learners keep forgetting about it. All of us have heard it in the staff room: an exasperated teacher complaining that the students just won’t pay attention and get that simple grammar point right!

Unfortunately studies show that third person -s is acquired a lot later than it’s taught – not until at least intermediate level (Ellis, 2009, page 44). One reason that I’ve seen in the literature is that a lot of grammar gets acquired from reading and listening, and the third person -s, as a morphological feature that agrees with the subject and doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence, is a feature that is very easy for the adult brain, which is honed to processes information efficiently, not to notice in the input.

Here’s a simple game I created for my pre-intermediate teenage students to give them a chance to pay closer attention to this feature. In this game third person -s makes all the difference – the players choose who gains or loses points, based on the form of the verb.


Slip: The players can say:
??? get 5 points if *** can say five nouns that begin with ‘s’ in 30 seconds Pete and Tanya get 5 points if they can say five nouns…
I get 5 points if I can…
??? loses 5 points if *** can’t say 5 verbs that begin with ‘i’ in 30 seconds Mike loses 5 points if he can’t say 5 verbs…
Everyone loses 5 points if we can’t say…

We played the game from time to time right before working on reading texts that featured lots of examples of the third person -s – my hope being that attention to the feature would linger and they’d start noticing it in the texts.

Level: pre-intermediate

Time: 15 mins


  • something to serve as points (I use colour paper cut into 1cm squares);
  • a stop watch for each group of 4 students (my students used the ones on their mobile phones)
  • an editable Worksheet (cut-up slips for each group of 4 students; the rules sheet for each student); if you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare:


Ellis, R. et al. (2009) Implicit and Explicit Knowledge in Second Language Learning, Testing and Teaching. Multilingual Matters

Update. Thanks for visiting my blog! I was very happy to learn that this post was shortlisted for Teaching English – British Council blog award. If you decide to vote for it, let them know by ‘liking’ the post on their Facebook page:


Last Friday we met together with a group of colleagues at EPAM Systems to share some of the ice-breakers, warmers and games that we use. Here are some of the warmers that we came up with. We teach in company, so many of the activities have a Business English flavour, but the great thing about these warmers is that they can be easily adapted to any topic, no matter whether you teach Business or General English.

Start with a picture

  • Display a picture and get the students to guess the topic
  • Do the same but reveal the picture gradually using
  • Find a clipart shape connected to the topic (Google topic + clipart). Here’s a sample for ‘Presenting’:
    Once the students have looked at the picture and guessed the topic, elicit a few associations they have with the topic (this could be words, events from their personal lives). Ideally, share your own non-obvious association and get the students to ask you a bit about it (mine is ‘Germans’, because my first ever important presentation was at a Russian-German student conference). After that, distribute A4 copies of the clipart shape for each student and allow 2-3 minutes for the students to free-write their associations inside the shape. After that, allow another 3-4 minutes for the students to share their associations in small groups to compare, ask about surprising ones, and chat about them. 
  • A great warmer suggested by my colleague Olga Lifshits was to google comic strips on the topic of the lesson, distribute them and get the students to guess the topic.
  • If you teach a monolingual group, yet another idea for comic strips is to look for their translation into your students’ L1 and get the students to translate the comic strip back into English, comparing with the original.
  • Yet another alternative is to display a few memes to get the students to discuss the topic – see this post for a summary of a talk by Anastasiya Fetisova on using memes in ELT.
    YYRQKTip: have some discussion prompts based on the images ready!
  • In this activity by Katherine Bilsborough, the teacher displays a picture and provides ten answers about it. The students write their questions in pairs. Again, this activity can be easily adapted to any topic.  Here’s a business-related example, e.g. for work-life balance:The_Hoya_office1. A report.
    2. By Monday at the latest.
    3. With her colleague Kate.
    4. Because she’s tired.
    5. Not really.
    6. Yes.
    7. Saturday
    8. Since 8 a.m.

Start with a sound

  • Have you ever led into the topic of a lesson with a sound? Here’s an idea: google ‘free sound effects’ and choose a sound related to the topic (e.g. the sounds of nature for ‘travel’). Play the sound for a minute and get the students to imagine where they are / jot down their associations / or guide them by ask them questions, e.g. ‘where is this? who do you imagine there? would you like to be in that place?’, etc – then get them to share in pairs.
    This is a sound file I found for travel: Maybe I haven’t been on holiday a bit too long, but I really enjoyed listening to that audio and it really jogged my imagination.

Start with a prop

  • For ‘plans’ take out a few things you’ve got in your bag / share a ‘todo list’ written in shorthand and get the students to guess what you’re planning to do.

Play a guessing game

This warmer is my personal favourite.

  • On slips of paper write some words connected to the topic. Get the s/s to explain their words (either working in pairs or in a mingling activity). Elicit the topic.
    For instance, for ‘Decision making’, you could use disagree / discussion / problem / options / argument.

Start with a word cloud

Google an article connected with your topic. Copy the text and insert it into a word cloud maker. Display the text, for the learners to guess the topic and then to race to find as many words as possible connected to the topic in 60 seconds.



  • This is an activity from Five minute activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright. Tell the group the topic and get them to brainstorm five or six phrases connected to the topic. After them get them to choose the odd one out and justify why it doesn’t fit. Erase it from the board and repeat until there is only one word.
  • Write cards with concepts/events connected with the topic (e.g., for ‘Business travel’, you could have  things to pack / things that might go wrong / benefits of business travel over teleconferencing /  places / etc). S/s work in pairs: each turn one student draws a slip with the topic and rolls a dice to find out how many expressions connected with the topic they have to come up with. If you don’t have dice, get the students to roll online dice using their mobile phones.
  • Get the group to brainstorm input/contexts to be used later in the lesson for language work.
    Example 1: A pre-intermediate group studying ‘will’ for spontaneous reactions in the context of travel. At the beginning of the lesson I got them to brainstorm places where they can find themselves while on a business trip.
    Business travel
    Halfway through the lesson the students used the spidergram to play a game: one student in each pair (‘the boss’) picked a location from the list, imagined they were having a problem there and complained about it to the second student (‘an assistant’); the second student replied with ‘Don’t worry, I’ll + solution’.
    Example 2: An upper-intermediate group studying conjunctions (provided, unless, etc).  For a warmer, they brainstormed hopes and worries that a recent graduate starting out in their company might have (e.g. ‘I hope I’ll receive support from more experienced colleagues’ or ‘I hope to earn a lot of money fast.’) At some point in the lesson the students returned to the list, responding to the worries using conditional sentences (e.g. ‘Yeah, your colleagues will help you a lot, provided you bring them cookies!‘ or ‘That’s unlikely to happen unless you climb the career ladder very quickly.’)

Start with a quote 

This one is a classic: google an interesting quote related to the topic of the lesson and get the students to discuss it. Some tweaks could be to:

  • Get the students to complete the quote individually or in pairs (e.g. for Teamwork,  When you form a team, why do you try to form a team? Because _______ ; Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to ________________). Board the students’ suggestions and get them to discuss them in pairs/groups.
  • Find more than one quote, get the students to match beginnings with endings, then discuss which quotes they agree with / choose one quote they disagree with and try and persuade someone else that it’s wrong / randomly assign a quote to agree/disagree with to each pair and get them to brainstorm arguments and life examples in favour/against.
    “ I love teamwork. It is about bringing out the ambitions of your team.”
    “If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. I love the idea of everyone rallying together to help me win.”
    “Leadership is not about your ambition. If they disagree all the time, both are useless.”

    As for the source of quotes, I personally quite like


  • Another colleague suggested getting the students to write down 2-3 positive things going on in their life (or 2-3 positive things in their life connected to the topic) and 2-3 negative things. Get them to share in pairs / exchange tips. Works especially well as a lead-in to Problem solving.
  • If the topic is connected so some kind of event, e.g. ‘presenting’ or ‘job interviews’, ask the students to fill the gap in the sentence ‘[Presenting] could be  ____________’ (e.g. time-consuming / important for your career / stressful / a waste of time / a really nice experience / rewarding / …). After that, get the students to share in small groups which of the kinds of experiences with [presenting] listed on the board they’ve had,- encourage them to ask follow-up questions, go into detail and chat! Alternatively, play a guessing game: a student might describe an experience without saying which type of experience he/she is talking about.

Get the students to talk

  • Print out discussion questions on A4 sheets and put them on the floor. Tell the learners that the sheets are ‘islands’. Put on some music: while the music is playing, the learners simply walk around, ‘swimming’, and as soon as it stops, they stop next to the nearest discussion question, and discuss it with other learners who landed on the same ‘island’.
  • Another activity suggested during the workshop was to display 2-3 questions related to the topic, pair the students up and get one person in each pair to talk about the questions and the other one listen without commenting or taking notes. After that the person who was listening says ‘So you said…‘ and summarizes / retells what the first person said.
  • One more option is to group the students in groups of 3-4 and get them to ask ‘Have you ever…‘ questions related to the topic of the lesson. The twist is that they are only allowed to answer ‘yes’ (alternatively, they might only be allowed to answer with a lie). They have to provide a justification for their answer. E.g. on the topic of meetings, the students might ask ‘Have you ever fallen asleep in a meeting?’ and the person answering the question would have to say ‘yes’ and explain why this happened.
  • Another great warmer is ‘Fortunately/Unfortunately‘. Start the class with a sentence, e.g. ‘I was on my way to a meeting with a new customer but unfortunately..’ The students in the group take turns to add one more sentence to the story, each time starting with ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’.
  • True/False. This is probably something that every teacher has used at some point: get the students to write 3 facts about themselves connected with the topic. Some of these facts should be true and some should be false. Other students in the group need to guess which ones are false by asking follow-up questions.

Start with an improvisation

Since writing this post, I’ve discovered this great workshop on integrating improvisational theatre activities in the business classroom by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus. Some great short, creative, highly adaptable warmers there – please don’t get put off by the ‘improvisational theatre’ bit – I think they’re great for students who ‘would never do theatre’.


Make it S.M.A.R.T

  • If you teach using a coursebook / printed materials, why not let the students look through the material at the beginning of a unit/module and get them to set goals for themselves for the next two or three weeks and share those goals with their group mates? You could support them by providing them with some questions e.g.:
    What do you already know about vocabulary / grammar /skills topics in this module? Do you find these topics easy or difficult? What would you like  to learn?
    What personal experiences related to these topics have you got?
    In what situations might you use the material from this unit in the future?
    What would you consider to be a good outcome by the end of this module?
    How and how much are you planning to work outside class?

Acknowledgement. A big thank you goes to my colleagues at EPAM Systems: to Anna Zernova, who suggested the ‘positive/negative’ warmer, Olga Lifshits, who shared ‘So you said’ and the idea to use comic strips, Evgenia Antonova and Anastasiya Chernetskaya who remembered variations of the ‘Truth or Lie’ game, Iryna
Piatrouskaya who demonstrated the ‘Discussion island’ warmer in her workshop, and Adam Howell for sharing ‘Fortunately/Unfortunately.’

We want more! 🙂
Have you used any other flexible warmers that could be easily adapted to a range of topics? Please share!

St. Valentine’s day is approaching so here’s a lesson plan on the topic of love and friendship. Students warm up by playing a word game (stages 4-5) that

  • encourages them to think deeper about what they read into a range of concepts related to love and friendship and
  • pushes them to recall vocabulary on these topics

The lesson ends in a discussion activity (stage 6).

Level: B1-C1
Length: 30-60 min (depending on whether you do the discussion activity)
Focus: speaking (a conversation class)
Materials: Worksheet

Stage One. Tell the students that you’re going to show them several photos and that you found all of these photos with one search on Google. Ask them to guess the search term. Board all their suggestions. (My search term was ‘St. Valentine’s day’, but anything topic-related will do.)
(Collage produced using

[Optional] If the students came up with the topic of St. Valentine’s day and it seems to be relevant, ask them, ‘What other words do you associate with this topic?’ (board all suggestions, positive ones alongside negative ones, e.g. ‘commercialized’).

Say ‘I’m thinking of one of these pictures. I’ll tell you my associations – guess which picture I’m thinking about (this is the picture of three hands).

  • unity
  • support
  • friendship
  • vow (for a B2-C1 class)

Get the students to quiz each other in new pairs: one person chooses a picture and says their associations, the second guesses which picture is being described; listen in an board some of the students’ associations. FB: By this point there should be more than 20-30 words on the board (some possible associations: stained glass/ saint/ candies/ newborn/ aisle/ unity/ loyalty/ smooch/ swans/ merchandise). Refer the s/s to the board and ask them which words can be associated with more than one picture. 

Stage Two.

Tell the students that you’re going to play an extract from a song. Tell them that the title of this song is an emotion and that their task is to guess the title. Play one or two times without the video (black out the projector by pressing B); when the s/s understand that the title is ‘love’ either cirle it if it’s already on the board or  board it. Say: the title is spelled incorrectly now. How to spell it right? Play one more time if necessary (the singer says how he interprets each letter in the word ‘love’, so it should be spelled L.O.V.E.)

Stage Three. Board and ask the student to copy the following 4 lines (alternatively, print them out beforehand)
L ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ look at me
O ______ ______ ______ only one ______ ______
V ______ ‘very very ______’
E ______ ‘even more ______ ______ ______ ______ ______’
Ask them to try and remember what goes into the gaps; and then play the first line and ask them to predict what should be in the second line; play the rest of the extract. Say that you’re going to interpret the rest of the words on the board in the same way. At this point, add full stops in some of the words in a different colour.

Stage Four. Say that you’re going to give the students an example: that you’re thinking of a word and that you’re going to give them letters from that word in random order but that you’ll say how you interpret each letter. The students should try and guess the word before all letters have been revealed (allow 30 seconds thinking time after giving each letter & its interpretation – use a timer. If the class guesses the word (‘smile’) earlier than all letters have been revealed, encourage them to come up with associations for the remaining letters.

L is for ‘universal language
S is for the way it can start a friendship
E is for emotion and positive energy that you share // add ‘encouragement’ with advanced students
M is for mouth
I is for intrigue, inspiration and interaction

Tell the students that now they are going to challenge each other in the same way. Ask them to work in pairs or groups of 3 and choose more words from the ones listed on the board. Their objective is to find associations they both share and, if they come up with more than one association for the same letter, they should discuss which association is more interesting. Allow 10 minutes – or more if the discussion is lively.

You could play the song while they’re working.

Stage Five. Students play the guessing game – either as a whole group/ in groups consisting of two pairs from stage five / in new pairs.

Stage Six.
Project/print out questions for students to discuss. Ask each person to pick 4-5 questions. Optionally, after some of the pairs have finished, regroup the students.

    • What do you look for in friends? Do all your friends have something in common or are some of them very different from others?
    • Do you think your friends who don’t know each other would get along? Why/why not?
      Tell your partner about two friends who you think wouldn’t get along/would get along especially well.
    • What was your best friendship? Are you still friends with him or her? What is your first memory of that person? What is your happiest memory of that person?
    • What qualities do you admire in other people?
    • What behavior of others hurts you most? When you have upset someone by your actions, what do you try to do?
    • Who are the best/the most inspiring/ the most unlikely couples/friends you know?
    • What’s your attitude towards Valentine’s Day?
      Do you think it makes single people feel lonely?
      Do you think Valentine’s Day is too commercial or consumerist?
    • Do you remember giving someone a very heartfelt gift? Who did you give it to? Why did you feel so strongly about this gift?
    • Have you received any gifts that you still keep and would be very upset to lose? Who and when gave them to you?

Monitor to collect instances of topic-related language that could be corrected/upgraded; content feedback; language feedback.

(some of these questions were taken from & &

If you’re short of time, you can skip Stage 1 and prepare words for stage five yourself. Cut them up into unique slips if you want to conduct stage six as a whole-class activity, or print a list for each pair (two different lists in total) if you’d like to re-group the students.
Here are some suggested words:
Pair A:

Pair B

Pair A:

Pair B:

Links to the photos used in the collage above: