In any language, a person must give and follow directions whether it is in a cab, when explaining a process, or giving instructions.
The following activities will give your ESL students an opportunity to practice using the imperative form in English.
F – Following and Giving Directions
What is the Imperative?
In English, the imperative form is the command form of a sentence. The imperative is most often used when giving directions or giving instructions. “Do your homework. Study for the test. Pay attention in class.” All these are imperative sentences. Forming the imperative is very simple. Verb conjugations follow the normal pattern, but the subject of the sentence (you) is dropped. “You do your homework” becomes “do your homework.” For negative sentences, do not is added to before the verb. “Do not sleep in class. Do not hit your brother.” Often, sentences in the imperative can seem very forceful and often rude, so point out to your students that the use of “please” will soften the feeling of an imperative sentence. “Please pass out the papers” will sound more courteous than “Pass out the papers.” If the intention is a forceful sentence, your students may want to use an exclamation point rather than a period at the end of the sentence.
Rules to Live By
If your classroom has rules, start your lesson on the imperative by reviewing those classroom rules. Make sure each of them is written in the imperative. “Raise your hand before you speak. Be courteous to other students.” Point out to your students that these rules have an implied subject (you) but that it is omitted in the sentence. These rules are wishes for behavior in the classroom. Encourage your students to think creatively about wishes or rules they would like to see people follow. They can be rules for school or rules for life. They may want to have rules such as “Be kind to someone every day. Smile when you pass people in the street.” Whatever they are, have your students make a list of five rules they want people to follow in life. Then encourage your students’ creativity by letting each student create a poster with his or her life rules. If you assign this as homework, students can purchase their own poster board, but if you want to spend time in class creating the posters simply use butcher paper or bulletin board paper. Once your students have finished their posters, display them around your classroom or in the hallway. Perhaps the life rules will encourage your students to behave kindly to one another.
A Little Help Please
If you are looking for a fun way to practice the imperative with your students, take them outside for a little excitement with this directional game. Before starting the game, spend a little time reviewing directional words with your students. Make sure they understand right, left, turn, go straight, turn around and any other directional words you can think of. Then divide your students into pairs, and take them outside to an open play area. Have one person in each pair put on a blindfold. This person will be the mover. The other person in the pair will be the direction giver. Once each pair has one person blindfolded, place an object at the other end of the playing area. The direction giver must then shout directions to the mover who will proceed to the object and retrieve it. All of the pairs give directions at the same time, so the mover must focus on his partner’s voice. The first mover who reaches the object wins that round. Then have the pairs switch roles and place the object in another area. Award points to the team who reaches the object first in each round. Play as many rounds as you like and award a prize to the winning team.
The Hostess with the Mostess
English speakers also use the imperative when politely offering something to a guest. “Have a slice of pie. Have a cup of tea.” A little role playing is a fun way to practice this form of imperative. Put your students into groups of four to act out a dinner party. Two of the students will be the hosts and the other two will be the guests. In front of the class if possible, have the students act out a polite dinner party where the hosts offer different options to their guests. They can offer drinks, food and desserts. The guests can accept or politely decline. Then reverse roles and have the guests be the hosts. Encourage your students to use their imaginations and use the imperative as much as possible. Depending on the creativity (and attitude) of your students, this activity can be quite entertaining, and the rest of the class will take inspiration from the previous groups making their own demonstrations even more entertaining.
For imperatives that are universally true, have your students begin their imperative statements with always and never. “Never put your finger in an electrical socket. Always bring your passport when you travel to another country.” To practice this structure with your students, cultural norms are the perfect context. As a class, start a discussion about the culture shock they felt when they first arrived in their host country. What did people do that your students did not expect? What did people not do when your students expected them? After each of your students has been able to share from her experiences, have each person make a list of universally true imperatives for someone visiting their home countries and then explain why those imperatives are true. In the U.S., these imperatives might include “Never ask a woman her age. Never tell someone she looks fat.” These statements are offensive. They may write “Never give white flowers to your host. White flowers represent death.” Or “Always bring a gift when you go to a business meeting. It is considered polite.” After all your students have written their lists, encourage discussion among your class. Ask all of your students if the statements would be true of their home cultures or what the appropriate behavior in their home countries would be. In so doing, you will raise the cultural awareness among your students and hopefully avoid cultural conflicts in the future.
The imperative is a simple structure to formulate in English, and your students will have fun giving directions and suggestions to their classmates.
Try these activities the next time you want to stress with your students how to follow directions.