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F – Following and Giving Directions: Using the Imperative [Teacher Tips from A to Z]

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Always True

    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.


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G – Games that Work Without Fail in the ESL Classroom [Teacher Tips from A to Z] | BusyTeacher

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    Pre-purchased Games

    In stores today, there are many games made for native speakers that are effective in the ESL classroom. One of the most popular games to use with your ESL students is Scrabble. Most people know that Scrabble is a game where the players make up words using preprinted tiles. They score points based on the letters they use and where they place the word on the board. Ultimately, the player with the highest score at the end of the game is the winner. This game is useful for ESL students because it builds their vocabularies in a fun way. If you allow your students to use an English dictionary, they will learn words as they search for plays on the board. More often, you, the native speaker, will play a word that they are not familiar with without even trying. In this case, your students will usually ask the meaning of the word which you should then explain to them.

    Catchphrase is another good game that you can buy to play with your students. The object of the game is to not get caught on your turn when the buzzer goes off. If you ever played hot potato when you were a child, this is similar. The way you pass on the display is by getting the rest of the players to say the word that the display gives you. You can pass to another word if the word is too hard of you don’t know the meaning of it, but there are no restrictions in the words you can use to get the other players to guess, so there should be some word each student can describe. For example, if your word was “farm” you might say, “a place where they grow vegetables for money.” The rest of the players can shout out answers at any time. Once one of them gets the word correct, the player taking his turn passes the display on to the next person. The newer versions of Catchphrase are electronic, so there are no pieces to change or lose. This game will also increase the vocabulary of your students as they play though they may not want to stop to ask for a definition when they are trying to pass the display to the next student.

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    No Preparation

    Several games you can play with your class require little to no preparation. Charades and Pictionary are both good for reviewing vocabulary with your class. For both games, divide your class into two teams. One person from each team will play at the same time as the other. Give each player a word, usually one from a vocabulary list you have already taught with a previous unit. In charades, each player must act out the word for his team without using any words. While he acts out the target word, his team should watch him and guess at the answer. The first team who correctly guesses the word scores a point. Pictionary is similar except that instead of acting out a word, the player must draw a picture of it on the white board. She cannot use numbers, letters or symbols in her drawing. Again both teams guess at the answer, and the team that guesses correctly scores a point. Continue until you have reviewed all your vocabulary words or until one team has reached a set amount of points to win the game.

    Twenty questions is another game that requires no preparation though it is not as lively as the previous games. In twenty questions, one player thinks of an object. The rest of the class then asks yes/no questions to try to narrow down what the object is. They may ask, “Is it an animal? Is it smaller than a breadbox? Does it live under water?” After each question, the player answers either yes or no. Based on those answers, the class must strategically develop a course of questioning. If the class can guess the object within the twenty-question limit, the class wins. If the class cannot guess the object, the player wins. You can then choose another player to select an object for the class to guess. If you want to make sure all your students get practice asking and answering questions, divide your class into pairs and have each pair play against each other. Though it is an old-fashioned game, twenty questions is very useful for reviewing question grammar and getting in speaking practice.

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    Make Your Own Games

    When you have the time or inclination, these games take some prep work but usually only the first time you use them, and you can use them any time you teach the lesson in the future. Icebreaker tumbling blocks is good for more advanced students and takes more physical skills than the other games mentioned here. Purchase a set of stacking blocks (like Jenga though any brand will do) and gather several icebreaker questions. Then take a permanent marker and write one icebreaker question on each block. You can use questions like, “Do you prefer a hug or a kiss? What is your earliest memory? Do you write with pen or pencil? What is the last song you purchased from i-tunes?” These or any other questions will work. Then as each person takes his turn, he must pull a block from the bottom of the tower (the top two rows are off limits), answer the question and then place the block on the top of the tower. Play continues around the table until someone knocks the tower down. Your students will enjoy learning more about each other and find the game itself exciting. No one will want to make the tower fall!

    A simple game that you can use with any vocabulary list is the memory game. In this game, a set of cards is arranged on a table face down and each player may turn over two cards on her turn. If the cards are a matching pair, she may keep them and then turn over two more cards. If they do not match, she must turn them back over and try to remember where each of the cards is located for her next turn. If you are using this game with beginning students, you can have one card from each pair have the vocabulary word and the other a picture of the object. For more advanced students, have the word on one card and the definition on another. You can also make matching pairs with either synonyms or antonyms depending on the skills of your students and your goals in teaching. If you provide your students with index cards, they can even make the pairs themselves. You can then compile all the cards your students have made and use them together as one set. With this game, you will need a relatively large playing area, but you can use the cards any time you teach the same material in the future. You can also change it up a little and use the same matching pairs to play Go Fish for some variety.

Playing games in the ESL classroom is always fun and a nice change of pace from the normal daily routine.

You can use any of these games to fit in with a unit you are teaching or just use them to break up the semester. Your students will enjoy themselves as they increase their vocabularies and laugh with their classmates.

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