Word and sentence building

1. Write a phrase on the board. The students then have to take it in turns to add extra words to make it into a longer and longer sentence. The trick is that it must always remain a coherent sentence. No words can be removed although they can be moved around to change the order. This activity provides enjoyable practice in word order and sentence construction.

the old man
I saw the old man.
I saw the old man yesterday.
I was in town when I saw the old man yesterday.
I was working in town when I saw the old man yesterday.
I was working in town when I saw the deaf old man yesterday.
I was working in town when I saw the deaf old man in the shop yesterday.
I was working in the town where my sister lives when I saw the deaf old man in the shop yesterday.
… and so on.

2. Write a long sentence on the board and the students have to remove words and phrases while ensuring that it always remains as a sentence. This activity also provides enjoyable practice in sentence construction.

The sad and lonely young Egyptian student who lived above my flat was always playing these long and beautiful Arabic songs on the wonderful wooden mandolin which he kept wrapped up in a sheepskin bag and hidden underneath the hard metal bed that he slept on.

3. Intermediate level students and above enjoy this activity as it can be fun as well as quite challenging. The aim of the activity is to help students to see that sentences can be made up of separate sections and that in order to understand them they need to be ‘unpicked’ so that the separate parts can be clearly seen. This is best done as a class at first but later it can be done in pairs.

The lecture, which I meant to make on Thursday, and was itself a postponement because of my illness earlier in the week, an illness that has plagued me on and off for 20 years and never seems to be totally understood with by the doctors, whatever they do or say, was delayed until the following Tuesday because, as we have so often seen in the past, the management of the university, once its strongest feature, but now arguably its weakest, failed to notice that the lecture theatre had been double booked.

The students need to start by trying to pinpoint the central part of the sentence and then to pick out additional information bit by bit.

4. Many words in English are compound words and this game builds up the students’ vocabulary knowledge in an interesting way. Provide them with words that can all make compound words or expressions by adding one additional word. Their task is to try to find the missing word that enables all of the words in the list to make new words (hyphenated or not) or regular collocations. The students who pinpoint the missing word should then be asked to define each of the new words.

Example 1: odd; park; base; net; foot. Answer: ball.
Example 2: tiger; clip; news; waste. Answer: paper.
Example 3: paper; brick; Great; climbing. Answer: wall.
Example 4: dream; centre; light; one; off. Answer: day
Example 5: in the water; wrong; weight; centre; cert. Answer: dead

5. Give the students one core word and they need to make as many new words or expressions (compound, hyphenated or collocations) as they can from the first word. It’s probably best with students from Intermediate level and above.

Example 1: custom
customs; customer; customary; customs house; custom-made; custom-built
Example 2: dead
deadly; deadweight; deadbeat; deadening; dead heat; dead-end; dead loss

6. Students often find difficulty with synonyms. This game enables them to share the synonyms that they know as well as the chance to learn how to distinguish between them. Divide the class into groups of four. Give each group the same word and ask them to think of as many words as they can that have the same or a very similar meaning. Ask the groups to tell you the words they have thought of. List them on the board. Encourage students to give you examples which make the meaning of the new words clear, or explain the meaning with your own examples. Distinguish subtle differences of meaning as clearly as possible.

Example 1: cold
freezing; chilly; bitter; icy; frosty; arctic; snowy; wintry; frozen
Example 2: thin
skinny; slim; slender, bony; lean; lanky; emaciated; size zero; anorexic; underweight

7. Examples of metaphor and idiom can make real problems for learners because they can be so difficult to decipher. In most cases the native speakers do not even realise that they are using a metaphor or idiom and so while they may think they are using simple English they may in fact be using quite complex language.

Many people are confused about the difference between metaphor and idiom and so it might be useful to distinguish between the two. Cambridge defines idiom as:
…a group of words whose meaning considered as a unit is different from the meanings of each word considered separately.
Example: to kick the bucket, meaning to die.

It defines metaphor as:
…an expression that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to possess similar characteristics. Example: This is a thorny issue so it will take time to sort it out.

Divide the students into pairs or small groups and give them short passages (text, dialogue or whatever) and ask them to spot the examples of metaphor and idiom and then to try to re-write them in order to replace the metaphor and idiom with less colloquial expressions.

A: What did you think of that reception last night?
B: It was fine once it got going but it took ages to break the ice and the atmosphere was very chilly at first.
A: Yes, I know what you mean. I wanted to tackle Jones about that matter of the contract but it took a lifetime to get him switched on. In the end it was time wasted because he couldn’t throw any light on the problems.
B: I’m not surprised. He’s in a dead end job and the high fliers he started with are long gone. He’s quite bitter. You won’t get any change out of him.
A: You’re right. Time wasted. Still, I did manage to have a chat to Jim.
B: Jim?
A: Yes, you’ve met him. He was the one who blew the whistle on that dubious deal last year. In the end they pulled the plug on it.
B: Oh yes, Jim. I remember. He really had the inside track on that deal.

8. Ordinary, everyday objects can be used very effectively in class to provide plenty of practice. One very good activity is to bring a collection of objects into the classroom. Either give one each to the students or ask them to select one. Their task is then to think of any arguments that they can (however wild and bizarre!) to persuade other people to buy them. For example, a teacher could bring into class a stapler, a small glass bowl, a corkscrew, a hardback book, a mobile phone and so on. The students would then have to think about how to sell this to the other students. Having decided, they have to talk to the others and try to persuade them to buy the product.

Example: This corkscrew is made of silver. It was designed by Alphonso Le Guiado in 1745. This one was made in 1769. It was made for Lord Marlborough. It will be sold by auction next month unless someone buys it today. The price at auction could fetch £65,000. However, the owner is willing to sell it for £50,000 today. In other words, it’s a bargain! This offer is only on the table today.

9. One game that students often enjoy is ‘knocking’ words backwards and forward to each other rather like table tennis. For example, the teacher could give the students a theme such as trees and ask them to keep on producing words alternately until one or the other runs out. The other player must then produce one more word or the result is a draw. If a word is repeated, the other student wins. The player who keeps going the longest wins a point. They can then be given another theme. Possible themes might include London, football, gardens, universities, clothes, children and so on.

Example: the theme is cars A pair of students might produce these words alternatively until one runs out. Student A: wheel, engine, driver, road, petrol, Honda, Renault, Schumacher etc Student B: windscreen, windscreen wiper, boot, bumper, lamp, light, Fiat, Hamilton etc.

10. This is a guessing game; a student thinks of a verb and the other students (in the group or in the class) have to guess what verb this student is thinking of. The verb is replaced by a nonsense word such as gringle. The students then ask questions, like this:

Is it fun to gringle?
Are you gringling now?
Can you gringle something else?
Do you gringle at night or during the day?
Can you gringle with someone else?
If I saw you gringling, would I laugh or cry?