By Cristina Cabal

14 March 2018 - 15:07

Person walking on concrete in a black coat carrying a red bag
'Does she walk to work?' Photo ©

Anete Lūsiņa used under licence and adapted from the original. (image link no longer available)

Cristina Cabal, winner of the British Council's TeachingEnglish blog award, has collected her favourite games for practising the tense that isn't always as simple as its name.

One of the first things people learn when they study English is the present simple form of verbs.

I/you/they/we walk to work.
She/he/it  walks to work.
I/you/they/we don't walk to work.
She/he/it  doesn't walk to work.
Do I/you/they/we walk to work?
Does she/he/it  walk to work?

However, learners often forget to add the -s ending to the third person singular:

  • Eva walk to work every day

or produce grammatically incorrect questions either by forgetting the auxiliary verb:

  • Eva walks to work every day?

or by neglecting to drop the -s ending after adding the auxiliary verb in the question:

  • Does Eva walks to work every day?

Learning grammar is not enough when learners must use the language in real life. Practising and developing communicative skills should go with learning grammar.

These are some of my favourite activities to practise asking questions using the present simple. Colleagues have shared some in workshops. Others, I have created myself.

Game 1: Infinitive cards

Materials: a deck of playing cards.

In a deck of 52 playing cards there are 13 ranks (hearts, queens, numbers...) and four suits (hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds). The ace is the highest in most card games. The suits are diamonds, clubs, hearts, and spades. In this game, the jack will be 11, the queen 12 and the king 13.

How to play

Ask learners to sit in four groups.

On the board, write 13 verbs in the infinitive form and number them from one to 13. For example:

  • 1 – write
  • 2 – buy
  • 3 – study

Give a suit (hearts, spades, clubs or diamonds) to each group. Ask them to shuffle and deal all the cards face down.

Each learner now has cards with numbers, and each number corresponds with a verb on the board. They must think of a question containing this verb to ask the other learners in their group, but they must wait for the game to begin before they ask their question.

The game begins with the learner who has the ace. The learner places the card in the centre and asks their question to all the learners in the group.

The question must be an open question:

  • Where do you study?

Closed questions, which can be answered with yes or no, are not allowed in this game.

  • Do you study here?

Allow three or four minutes for asking and answering open questions. Circulate in the classroom and offer help.

The learner who has the card with the number two takes the next turn.

Game 2: Guess my picture

Before the class: Take the course book and find two different pictures. They should be on different pages.

How to play

Ask learners to work in pairs. Ask Learner A to look at one of the pictures in the course book you have previously chosen without showing it to Learner B.

Learner B can ask up to 15 yes/no questions using the present simple to get as much information as possible about the picture. 

  • Is there a man in the picture?
  • Does the man look happy?

Learner B can try to guess Learner A’s picture in their own course book at any point during the exercise, but they can only have five wrong guesses.

When Learner B has found the picture or guessed incorrectly five times, it is Learner A’s turn to guess Learner B’s picture.

Game 3: Score a goal

Materials: Two different pieces of coloured chalk or pens for your two teams.

How to play 

On the board, draw a football pitch with a centre line and two football goals.

A player must make three moves to score a goal.

From the centre line and towards the football goals write the numbers one, two and three. Put the number one nearest to the centre line and number three nearest to the football goal. Do it on both sides of the pitch.

Also on the board, write all the wh-question words (skip 'whom') and a yes/no option:

Who does she...?
When  does he...?
Where do they...?
Which does it...?
What do we...?
How do you...?

Divide the class into two football teams. Ask the teams to choose a name for their team. Then, ask them to choose a captain to come to the front of the class.

The aim is to score as many goals as possible. To do this, the learners must make three moves without making a mistake.

The teacher writes a verb on the board. For example:

  • to work

The teacher asks the captain for Team B to choose a wh-word or the yes/no option from the board. For example:

Where does she...?

To make the first move, the captain for Team A asks a question using the verb the teacher has written on the board (to work) and the wh- word (where) Captain B has chosen. For example:

  • Where does she work?
  • Where do you work?

Repeat the procedure two more times. If there are no mistakes, Team A scores a goal and it is Team B’s turn.

If the team makes a mistake, they lose a turn and must go back to the centre line.

The teams choose new captains to score the next goal.

Remember to write the team names on the board and keep track of the goals they score.

Game 4: Who is who?

Aim: Guess the hidden identity attached to your back by asking yes/no questions using the present simple tense.

Materials: Sticky notes or scraps of paper with an adhesive.

How to play

Ask learners to each pick a famous person and write the person's name on a sticky note. Ask learners to keep their chosen celebrity hidden.

Ask learners to stand up and attach their sticky note to another learner's back.

When you say 'start', learners mingle and walk around the class for ten or 15 seconds.

After ten or 15 seconds of walking, they will choose the person nearest to them and ask only yes/no questions to try to determine who they are.

  • Do I live in Europe?
  • Do I work in a hospital?

Learners can keep asking questions until they guess incorrectly three times. Then it is the other learner's turn to guess their identity.

Game 5: Throw the dice

Aim:  Develop communicative skills by asking and answering questions on different topics. This exercise is especially useful to revise different topics for a speaking exam.

Materials: One dice or an online dice.

Before the class

Provide each group with three or four sticky notes.

Write the topics you want to revise on clean sheets of paper. You’ll need as many as topics you want to revise. Put them on the walls of the class. 

  • work
  • sports
  • education
  • free time activities

How to play

Assign a wh- word to each number on the dice and write it on the board for all the learners to see.

  • 1 – why
  • 2 – where
  • 3 – when
  • 4 – what
  • 5 – how
  • 6 – who

Ask learners to work in pairs or in groups of three.

Throw the dice.

When the number appears, point to the board where the numbers and their corresponding wh-words are displayed.

Ask the groups to choose a topic and write a question about their chosen topic beginning with the wh- word that corresponds to that number. For example,

  • Group 1 on sports: Why do people practise extreme sports?
  • Group 2 on education: Why is it helpful to learn a second language?

Encourage learners to write open questions to generate conversation.

Once they have written their question on the sticky note, ask them to stand up and place the note next to the topic the question refers to.

Throw the dice again and repeat. This time, groups must choose a different topic. They can do this after throwing the dice.

Once you have at least three or four questions per topic, ask learners to stand up in their groups, next to a topic.

Ask them to talk about the questions in groups.

Allow about five minutes per poster. Then ask them to move clockwise to the next topic.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

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