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Exercise for the grammar of function

Last night I taught the funniest exercise to my Language Education Center class. It focused on the grammar used for describing the function of things, but also involved an alien invasion and students lying through their teeth to one another, as well as the chance to leave the classroom in pairs… all of which are good for livening up a class.

But I think it’s really of little interest to those who don’t teach ESL so I’m putting the bulk of this post into an extended entry. If you’re really interested, there’s a link just below this sentence that’ll allow you to read the rest of the post.

After making sure my class had a handle on not only the grammar involved, but also on making transformations between one form of grammar and another, I explained the situation of the game as follows:

Aliens have come to earth. They are reporting back to the mother ship. They want to know the function of everything. When their reports all match, then they will have one complete report and then they will destroy the Earth. Now, they know the name of everything, like tables, chairs, and garbage cans. What they don’t seem to know is the function of everything.

So they’ve come to ask English students to explain this. Now, your job is to lie about the function of everything, so that their reports don’t match and they can’t destroy the earth. (At this point in the explanation, students were howling with laughter.) For example, “What’s this?” I asked the class, pointing towards a chair. “It’s a chair.”

“Good,” I said, and then, “What’s it for?” After a short pause, one fellow ventured, “It’s for sitting on.” He didn’t quite get the exercise. Yes, I told him, but now you need to lie. I tried again, and one student said, “It’s for talking to other aliens!” another student said. Quickly, I asked her partner to transform that to the infinitive form, and she did: “It’s used to talk to other aliens.”

Then I handed out the papers. In this exercise, students were sent out of the classroom. A model conversation would be as follows, with Student 1 playing the alien and Student 2 the human being.

Student 1: What’s this?
Student 2: It’s a Coke machine.
Student 1: What’s it for?
Student 2: It’s used to keep babies warm at night.
Student 1: It’s used for keeping babies warm at night?
Student 2: Yes.
Student 1 writes the infinitive form on the chart.
Partners move on to the next item.
Partners switch jobs after a minimum of ten minutes.

A downloadable copy of my very simple chart, with a grammar reminder at the bottom, can be found here.

I highly recommend this exercise. My students had a surprising amount of fun doing it, wandering around the building. And I should add that students really do need to leave the classroom to get the full benefit of this exercise.

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