If I could change the past

If you could change one thing about the past, what would it be?  Here is a conversation activity and video for intermediate English language learners to practice past modals like should have and would have.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves and answers the question “What was a bad decision you made?” Answers can be funny, like “it was a bad decision to eat twelve tacos yesterday.” Or “it was a bad decision to wear striped pants with a plaid shirt.”

2. Vocabulary generator.  Introduce (or review) ‘should have’ and ‘shouldn’t have.’ Have the class expand on the statements made in the warm up, like “I should have eaten a salad instead,” or “you shouldn’t have gotten dressed in the dark.”

3. Video. Watch this Bruno Mars video and talk about what it means.

What happened to Bruno’s ex-girlfriend?
What didn’t happen?
What does Bruno want to happen in the future?
Is this possible?

Advice

Advice (Photo credit: laughlin)

4.The advice game. Give each person three or four small pieces of paper and have them or her finish this sentence: I need some advice because…  If there are four to six participants, you may want to add some situations of your own: I took my mother’s car without permission and crashed it,or I forgot my best friend’s birthday.  When everyone has written down three or four situations, take all the slips of paper and mix them up. Then have the students sit in pairs in a circle or horse-shoe shape with the papers in the middle. The students take turns being the advice giver. The person who needs advice takes a slip of paper and reads the situation, then asks the advice giver for help. They should add as many details and ad-lib the situation as much as they want. The advice-giver should try to give as many suggestions as possible. After 2 or 3 minutes, switch roles and topics. Keep going until all the situations have been discussed by all groups.

5. Global feedback. With the class, talk about the best advice they heard and the worst advice they heard.

To expand this conversation with higher-level learners, try it in conjunction with The job counselor conversation game.

Conversation objectives: discuss hypothetical situations, ask for help, give advice, build vocabulary through conversation, practice past modals.
Ideal group size: At least six players.
Ideal group level: Intermediate English with learners that have been introduced to past modals.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Elevator pitch

Elevator jpg

Crowded elevator: perfect place to ask for money. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What will you do with five million dollars? Try this conversation activity for English language learners to practice the future tense with the words “will” and “going to,” and to make a persuasive argument.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves and answers the question “Here’s five dollars- what will you buy?” The participants say what they would do with the money (or a small equivalent amount in your country’s currency).  “My name is Justin and I want to buy a sandwich.” “My name is Lisette and I want to buy a magazine.”

2. Vocabulary generator.  Tell the group: “We have a problem! Your English teacher is broke! What can I do to make the most amount of money in a short amount of time?” In pairs, have the students come up with four or five ideas on your own, and then make a big list as a large group. Discuss the ideas. Which plans were the most popular? Which plans would make the most money? Are any of the plans illegal? Are any of the plans impossible? As you discuss, make sure to review the terms make money, profit how to talk about the future using “will” and “going to,” and, if necessary, how to give advice using the word “should.”

Elevator Pitch Exercise

Be persuasive when you make your elevator pitch. (Photo credit: espaitec)

3. Mystery investor. Tell the class “I have good news. Your English teacher is still broke, but the school has a mystery investor who wants to give five million dollars to start a business.” Explain the concept of an elevator pitch: a brief explanation of your potential product or service that is persuasive and can be given in the time it takes for an elevator to get from the first floor to the tenth floor. In different small groups, have the students make a plan, answering the following questions:
What is your product or service?
Where will your business be located?
How many employees will you need?
What technology will you need?
What kind of office, building, or factory will you need?
How will your product make money?
How much profit will you make?
Why should the investor pick you?

After about fifteen minutes, bring the groups together to make their pitches to the class.

4. And the money goes to… Listen to all the pitches. Encourage everyone to ask questions about each group’s plan. Then, as a class, decide which plan everyone liked the best. At the end, don’t forget to give your opinion as a teacher about which group the mystery investor will probably fund.

5. Global feedback. With the class, imagine that all the projects are funded. What will each business look like in five years?

Conversation objectives: talk about the future, make a persuasive argument, build vocabulary through conversation
Ideal group size: At least six players.
Ideal group level: In its simplest form, can be used with beginners who with need to practice future will and going to; can be modified for intermediate and advanced groups.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Superhero showdown

Picture of Gen Con Indy 2008 in Indianapolis, ...

Be careful who you invite to your next conversation class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who is your favorite superhero? Use this simple conversation game to practice adjectives, comparatives, and superlatives.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves and answers the question “Who is your favorite superhero?” 

2. Vocabulary generator.  As a group, make a list of superpowers. They can include powers belonging to existing superheroes and powers that the students would like to have. Some examples are flight, invisibility, x-ray vision, time traveling, teletransportation, mind-reading, ability to manipulate the weather, ability to breathe fire or ice, ability to regenerate lost body-parts, photographic memory, superelasticity, etc.

3. What do you prefer? In pairs, have the students ask each other about their favorite superpowers. “Which is better, flight or invisibility?” “Which is better, x-ray vision or mind-reading?” Have them justify their answers. More advanced students can try this conversation using “would you rather” instead of “what is better” or “what do you prefer.”

4. Creating the ideal superhero. In groups of two or three, students design their own superhero. They should think of answers to the following questions:

What is the superhero’s name?
Where is s/he from?
What special powers does s/he have? (Pick only two from the list.)
What special powers is s/he vulnerable to? (Pick two from the list.)
Does s/he prefer to work on a team or alone?
What is his or her uniform? (Groups should draw a picture if they want to.)
What special technology or vehicle does he or she use?

After about ten minutes, tell the groups to finish up.

5. Superhero superbattle. Have each group introduce their superhero by name and place of origin only, and show their pictures. Then, the first superhero challenges another superhero in the group. At that point, both superheroes reveal their superpowers and their weaknesses.
Group 1: Our superhero is The Weatherman. He has the ability to control the weather and to breathe fire and ice, but he is vulnerable to mind-reading.
Group 2: Our superhero is Doctor SariBrum. She has x-ray vision and mind control, so she can control the Weatherman. She is vulnerable to superheroes with invisibility, because she can only use her mind control on what she can see.
If one superhero has the power to defeat the other, he or she may do so, or invite the other superhero to be his or her sidekick. If neither superhero has the power to defeat the other, they can go separate ways or decide to work together as a team. Then they challenge other superheroes to battle, until everyone has either been defeated or joined a team, and the teams have fought each other.

6. Global feedback. After the battle is over, discuss who won and why. Were any superpowers very popular? Were there any superpowers that nobody picked for their heroes?

Conversation objectives: make comparisons, describe people and situations, discuss abilities with can and can’t, build vocabulary through conversation, practice comparatives, superlatives, and adjectives.
Ideal group size: At least eight players.
Ideal group level: Intermediate English.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Would you rather?

Sunkist oranges, bananas, pears, apples, and a...

Apples or oranges? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cats or dogs? Chocolate or vanilla? Books or video games? Life is full of choices. Practice using the word “would” to express preferences with this popular conversation game.

1. Warm up. Each person introduces him- or herself and finishes the sentence “My favorite _____ is _____.”  “My name is Teresa and my favorite food is watermelon.” “My name is Juan and my favorite color is blue.” “My name is Ana and my favorite sport is soccer.”

2. Introduce “would”.  Ask everyone a question based on what they said in the warm up. “Teresa said her favorite food is watermelon. Juan, would you rather eat watermelon or strawberries?” If students are unfamiliar with “would,” explain that “would you rather” is similar to “do you prefer” when talking about the future.

3. Would you rather…? Write these questions on the board and have each person pick their answers. Then, put everyone in small groups and have them discuss what they picked and why.

Southern sky, country vs. city

Would you rather live in the country or the city? (Photo credit: jpstanley)

-Where would you rather be on your day off?

  1. Playing a sport or taking a walk outside with a friend
  2. Sleeping in the sun
  3. At the mall with money to spend

-What would you least like to do?

  1. Listen to the news on the radio
  2. Listen to a live musical concert
  3. Listen to a lecture on politics

-Where would you rather live?

  1. In the mountains
  2. At the beach
  3. In a big city
  4. On a farm

4. What did he say? Students report to the group what their partners said. As a group, make a list of people who agreed with each other from different groups (ie people from different groups who picked the same answer(s).)

5. Survey time. As a group, make a list of situations with two options each, both of which are not particularly desirable. Would you rather always arrive 30 minutes late or two hours early? Would you rather wear only one color every day for the rest of your life or never have a raincoat or umbrella when you need one? Would you rather have spots like a cheetah or scales like a fish? Would you rather get in trouble for something you didn’t do if all your friends know you’re innocent, or not get in trouble for something you did do if all your friends know you’re guilty?
“Would you rather” is a popular game. You can find more “would you rather” questions here and here. Both websites allow you to vote and see how many other voters agreed with you.  When you have a lot of options, each student picks two or three questions they would like to ask everyone. Each student surveys everyone in the class, and writes the results on the board.

6. Global feedback. Talk about the results as a class. Did anything surprise you? What did everyone agree on? What did people disagree on?

Conversation objectives: discuss hypothetical situations, build vocabulary through conversation, practice conditionals with would
Ideal group size: At least six players.
Ideal group level: Low-intermediate English
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Questions and answers

Question

Ask questions to get to know each other. (Photo credit: sk8geek)

Ask me another. Use this English-language conversation activity to practice simple present, questions, and answers.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves. Each person tells the group his or her favorite word in English.

2. Vocabulary generator.  Work together to make a list of things you can say to continue the conversation (“Really?” “Why do you say that?”) or show that you are paying attention without interrupting (“Interesting.” “Right.”) Remember to include the question words who, what, where when, why, how.

3. Tell me about yourself.  Put students in groups of two or three and have them ask each other two or three basic questions to get acquainted. Meanwhile, write the following on the board:

  1. What is a food you can’t eat?
  2. What is something you want to change in your life?
  3. How do you usually spend your weekend?
  4. What is your nickname? Why?
  5. Name three things you can do very well.
  6. Name something you want to learn.
  7. Who is your favorite person in your family?
  8. Where is a place you want to visit someday?

The students should take turns asking each other questions from the list and then asking as many follow-up questions as possible.

4. Global feedback. Tell the group something you learned about your partner.

Conversation objectives: build vocabulary through conversation, practice simple present
Ideal group size: four people or more.
Ideal group level: can be used at any level from beginner English with a knowledge of can and can’t.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

My job and I

Kids playing dress-up at a children's fai

If I weren’t a kid, I’d like to be a wild animal. (Photo credit: Lyn Lomasi)

What’s your dream job? Here is a short conversation activity for English language learners that can be modified for students and working adults. Use this English-language conversation activity to practice simple past, future, and present unreal conditionals.

1. Warm up. Everyone introduces themselves and answers the question “What is your dream job?” If the participants are students, they can talk about what they are studying and what they want to do later in life. If the participants are working adults, they can talk about the job they have now or the one they want to have in ten years.

2. Vocabulary generator.  As students are introducing themselves, make a list of the jobs they say on the board or in a notebook.

3. Who is it? Give each person a piece of paper and have him or her finish this sentence: The best day at my job was when I…  If the participants are students, they can either write The best day at school was when I… or The best day at my job will be when I…  They can ask you, privately, for vocabulary but they cannot show their answers to each other.  Then you write all of their answers on the board and have the class guess, together, who said what.

4. Dream job. Write on the board: If I weren’t a …, I’d like to be a ….  In groups, the students finish the sentence and tell each other why they said what they did.  However, they can’t talk about the same “dream job” that they mentioned in the warm-up!

After about five minutes, have each person report what their partner said.

Sarah: If George weren’t a lawyer, he would like to be a musician in a rock band. He plays the guitar in his band now and he would like to be professional.
Teacher: Sarah, do you think that would be a good job for George?
Sarah: No, because George likes to have a busy schedule. He wouldn’t like to be a professional musician because maybe he wouldn’t work every day.
Teacher: George, what about Sarah?
George: Sarah is studying to be an accountant. But if she weren’t an accountant, she would like to be a kindergarten teacher.
Teacher: Do you think that would be a good job for Sarah?
George: Yes, because Sarah likes children, and she is very patient.

5. Global feedback. With the class, talk about examples of people who radically changed their career? Why? Was it successful? Easy? Difficult?

What about people who should radically change their career? What job should they have instead?

To expand this conversation with lower-level learners, try it in conjunction with the What am I? conversation game.

To expand this conversation with higher-level learners, try it in conjunction with The job counselor conversation game.

Conversation objectives: discuss hypothetical situations, discuss job responsibilities, build vocabulary through conversation, practice unreal conditionals with would be and like to be.
Ideal group size: At least six players.
Ideal group level: Low-intermediate English with learners that have been introduced to unreal conditionals.
This post is part of our March Conversation Marathon. We publish a new conversation activity every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of March. To see the complete list of Marathon activities, click here.
For more general conversation topics, click here.  For more conversation games, click here.

Ten ways to practice ‘to be’

People love to talk about themselves.  Use these quick activities to practice the forms of the verb ‘to be.’  You can use these in Spanish and other languages, too.

English: Picture of a lot of beanbags

Use beanbags or another soft projectile for Verb Ball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Verb Ball.  Everybody stands in a circle and tosses around a beanbag, a beach ball, or some other object.  This is a good activity for right after you have learned all the forms of a verb– and it doesn’t even have to be ‘to be.’  The first person starts with ‘I’ and passes the ball.  The person who catches the ball says ‘am,’ and then throws the ball to another person while saying ‘you.’  The recipient replies with ‘are,’ and then throws the ball to somebody else while saying ‘he’ or ‘she.’  Keep going through all the pronouns and their conjugations.

2. Matching race. Split the group into teams. Give each team a set of cards with the forms of the verb and put a big card with each of the pronouns on it up on the wall. This is a relay race: only one person on each team can go up to the board at the time with one card. Teammates take turns running up to put their cards under the correct pronouns. The team that gets all their cards up on the wall in the correct places first is the winner.

For a more advanced class, give them almost complete sentences on the cards.  For example, the card says “…am a student,” and the team has to put it on the wall under the pronoun I.  There are different variations you can play, like putting cards in boxes.  We like having students tape the cards to the wall or board, because there can be a rule that only one student from each team can have the tape in his or her hand at a time.  That way, they have to run back to the rest of the team and hand off the tape to the next person, and it prevents overeager competitors from all running at once.

3. Interviews. Make up a list of questions that the students should know how to answer using ‘to be.’ For example:

English: classroom

Have students sit in pairs and interview each other. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who am I?
Who are you?
Who is he?
Who is she?
Who are we?
Who are you and he?
Who are you and she?
Who are they?
Who is the teacher?
Who are the students?
Who is the principal?
Who is your mother / father?
Who is the president?

Interview the students, and, when they get good at answering, have them interview each other. The questions can be changed to use students’ names, too, like this:
Who are Alana and Robert?
They are students.
Who is Mrs. Harrison?
She is the teacher.
You can make it into a game and give teams points for correct answers, or play jeopardy.

4. Tic Tac Toe: Question the Answers. Set up a tic-tac-toe board and fill it with simple statements using the verb ‘to be.’ Divide the students into an X team and an O team. In order to gain a point, the team must ask and answer a question correctly. For example, Victor and Jack are on the same team and want to take the square labeled, “Yes he is.”
Victor: Is Martin a student?
Jack: Yes he is.

5. Movie Quotes.  Find clips of famous movie scenes and show them to the class.  You could give them a list of the quotes and have them fill in the different forms of the verb as they listen.  Here are some movies with famous lines that include am, is, and are:

You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.

–Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront

Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

–Ali MacGraw as Jennifer in Love Story

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!

—Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

There’s no crying in baseball.

—Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

I’m the king of the world!

—Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson in Titanic

6. Celebrity identity game.  Click here for a full description of this fun conversation activity.

Can you guess who wrote this autobiography?

7. Mini autobiography. When the students know some basic adjectives, have them write mini-autobiographies describing themselves physically, personality-wise, and talking about where they are from.  Have each student draw a picture as well.  Post the autobiographies around the room and have the class guess whose is whose.

8. Grammar circle.  Stand in a circle and have each person introduce himself. Then go around the circle again: this time the first person introduces herself, and the second person introduces himself and the student who went before.  Each student has to introduce him- or herself and all of the previous students.  The person who started has to remember everyone’s name.

Julie: I am Julie.
Paco: I am Paco, and she is Julie.
Ruth: I am Ruth, and he is Paco, and she is Julie.
David: I am David, and she is Ruth, and he is Paco, and she is Julie.

9. I am; who is?  Write I am ___. Who is ___? on the board for everyone to see.  Then start the game by filling in the blanks with your name and another student’s name.  The student who is called must answer with his or her name and another student’s name. Continue until all students have been called.  Time the group to see whether they can improve their record.

Mrs. Harrison: I am Mrs. Harrison. Who is Victor?
Victor: I am Victor. Who is Alana?
Alana: I am Alana. Who is Ruth?
Ruth: I am Ruth. Who is Martin?

10. “To be” Jeopardy!  Create a simple Jeopardy! game using descriptions that students have written of themselves previously.  A sample question could be: He is a student. He is tall and blonde. He is from Chicago.  The answer, of course, is in the form of a question: Who is Jack?  Harder questions would use multiple people: They are girls. They are friends. One is blonde and one is brunette. They are serious students.  Answer: Who are Alana and Julie?  Don’t forget to use I, you, and we.

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