A few basic ideas to do something fun with sets of words.


Main picHere are some activities I’ve used to practise the use of ‘a’ and ‘an’. However, they can be used with any group of words divided into two (or more) sets. Examples would include minimal pairs and collocations (see below) or groups of nouns (like fruit and vegetables). These activities are designed to be a fun and memorable way to revise simple concepts.

Sorting into groups

This first game is pretty obvious but I thought I’d cover the basics and make a few additions along the way. Prepare a worksheet like the one below with your two sets of words. The table is cut up to make cards and the top part is going to be used as a guide when your students sort the cards.

word list picDivide your class into pairs or groups of three and give each of them a shuffled set of cards and a guide. Students have to sort the cards into two sets and when you monitor, the guide will help you quickly see where your students are making mistakes.

This activity was made for an upper intermediate class. It was made to show that it is a vowel sound, not a vowel itself, which determines if you use ‘a’ or ‘an.’

Side note: The two bottom cards ‘hotel’ and ‘herbal remedy’ allow for further discussion in a more advanced class. Hotel uses ‘a’ but in spoken English some accents would commonly say “an ‘otel” (same with house). Although we don’t want our students to start replicating this ‘error’ it’s interesting to look at pronunciation in colloquial English. For herb, British English pronounces the ‘h’ while it is silent in American English; so both ‘a herb’ and ‘an herb’ are correct.

The worksheet can be downloaded here.

To make the sorting activity more of a game you can have students race each other, making sure that they all start at the same time. Alternatively you could have them race the clock, so that they stop after two minutes. Then they can stand up, move around the room and check each others’ answers. Before you give them the key, ask them to stand next to the set of answers they think is correct (this gives them a chance to discuss and self-correct).

Gap fill

Students are very familiar with ‘gap fill’ style exercises, so making some of their own to challenge each other can be both fun and cathartic. Start by giving them an example on the board:

My home town doesn’t have __ university, but you can study at the library for __ hour or two.

In pairs, students work on writing three to five sentences leaving gaps as shown in the example. The writing should be legible so that other students can read it (this is good practice in itself for some students). If you want to give your students more of a challenge, tie the writing task to an element of grammar; for example, instead of sentences they have to write a short story using the narrative tenses.

The gap fill exercises can then be used in a few different ways:

  • Students put their names on the top of the sheet and number each of the gaps. Then the exercises are passed clockwise to their neighbours and students have two minutes to write down the answers on a separate piece of paper (making sure they record whose gap fill they’re answering). This continues until the gap fill sheets have made their way back to their creators. You can then do feedback, as each pair reads their sentences with the correct answers and students mark their own answer sheet.
  • Students mingle in pairs, taking it in turns to read their sentences to another pair of students. For any gaps they say ‘beep’ and the other group have to guess the answer.
  • The exercises are pinned on the wall and students circulate in pairs discussing their guesses. After a few minutes ask students to start filling in the answers (but not their own). They continue to circulate, checking the answers in every exercise, and when they agree they ‘tick’ the answer but if they disagree they mark it with a cross. You can then collect the sentences together and you have a clear picture of problem words to focus on during feedback.
Quick games

The following games don’t require any further preparation and can be used for revision:

  • Actions: students stand up and arrange themselves so they have some room to move their arms. You allocate an action to each word set; hands up in the air if you would use ‘a’ and hands down by your side if you would use ‘an’. You read out the words, leaving only a couple of seconds between each one. Students have to quickly decide whether to raise or lower their arms. Students will see when they make mistakes by watching each other. (As an alternative to actions, you can have separate areas of the class for each set of words and students have to quickly move from one part of the room to another).
  • Odd one out: you write three of the words on the board and students have to pick the odd one out and say which set it belongs to. Students can then play this game in pairs, while you monitor to catch any mistakes.

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