This post will outline a number of ways to practice key word transformations from the Cambridge exams while revising grammar rules, vocabulary and register. All of the ideas in this post were designed with PET, FCE and CAE classes in mind.

Team Transformations

Divide the class into two or three teams. Either by writing on the board or by using a projector, put a transformation on the board and give each team two or three minutes to discuss the problem. Give each team a board pen and ask them to write their answers on the board, ensuring they go at the same time so there’s no copying. Once each team has finished they take a step back and compare their answers.

board pic 2.png

Teams get two points for getting it right first time and one point if they realise their mistake after they’re given a hint or two.

This allows several steps for students to consider their answer and self correct. Hints can include showing how many words they need, giving the first letter of the first word or highlighting where their mistake is. In this example I could ask the red team if ‘he has stopped’ is past, present or future. If they have further problems it might indicate we need a quick revision of past modals.

When you set up this activity (and most of the activities in this post) it could be a mixed set of transformations, like the exam, or you could focus on a particular type of grammar as revision. I would set up the activity with eight questions and after going through them as a class, give each student a handout with the same questions for them to do on their own. This repetition is important and any transformations I cover in this activity, or during exam practice, will feed into future activities.

This activity is based on something I’ve written about in the past here (part 3), and is a useful tool for encouraging students to work together for a common goal.


Register Transformations (formal/informal)

As a follow up to a lesson on informal and formal letter/email writing I made a set of cards with transformations on both sides, formal to informal on one side and informal to formal on the other. Each card is made so that the answer on one side is the answer to the other. Below is an example:

Example card.png

You can download the cards by clicking here.

Put students into groups of 3 or 4 and give each group a set of cards. Students draw a card and discuss the question before checking the other side for the answer. As students go through the deck they put the finished cards in a new stack with the first side they saw face down. Once they’ve finished, they go back through the finished cards, this time completing the transformations from the other side.

instruction01.pngThere are other ways you could use these cards:

  • Students work in pairs and place the cards in a line. The first player picks a card and guesses the answer. They flip the card and if he/she’s right then they pick another card. They keep going until they get one wrong, then it’s the next players turn. As they flip and re-flip the cards they will become familiar with the language structures.
  • Students take a card each and test each other as a class mingle.
  • Print out the card sheets, one for each pair of students. Cut each card sheet into 4 small handouts and divide them between each pair so that each student has six informal to formal transformations and six formal to informal. They work on the questions on their own and then check their answers in pairs (as they each have the other’s answers).

This post by Alex Case (click here) goes into more detail about teaching transformations in general and he describes a version of Reversi (aka Othello) where students ‘climb a ladder’ as they flip the cards. I really liked his idea and made the formal to informal cards after reading his post.


Gallery Walk

The gallery walk is a fairly common practice in TEFL and works well with transformations. It gives students time to consider each question in their own time and also gets students out of their seats, which can feel like a nice break during an otherwise intensive exam course.

Post twelve transformations around the room with the answers hidden. Students walk around in pairs and discuss the questions before checking their answers.



It’s extremely simple but has a number of advantages. As you are monitoring from the middle of the class you can help students when necessary, hear incorrect guesses and see which questions are causing the most difficulty as students spend more time on some than others.



I found a great idea on Larissa’s Language Studio where she combines transformations with Mikado. She includes instructions on her site and when I made a set for a PET class the students enjoyed it and found it very useful.

Follow this link to her site for instructions on how to make your own and how to play the game with your class.




Rawdon Wyatt’s book, First Certificate Games and Activities, has some excellent games for practising transformations and I found it very useful on my most recent Cambridge First course. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print and difficult to get hold of (£70+ second hand on Amazon at the time of writing).

Thanks for reading!

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