staying in line

I have used this idea quite a few times with A1-A2 classes to practice telling time but it can be tweaked to practice other functional areas.

Tell your students to stand up. They will be forming a line going from end to end of the classroom. The front will be “soon” and the back will be “late”. Then write on the board and ask:

  • what time did you go to bed last night?

Your students will have to ask this question to each other and arrange themselves in line according to how soon or late they went to bed.

Erase the question from the board and write your next question:

  • what time did you get up this morning?

The students will have to form a new line according to this new criterion.

Other possible questions are:

  • what time did you have breakfast, lunch,dinner?
  • what time were you born?
  • what time did you leave home this morning?
  • what time did your father/mother/sister/partner leave home this morning?

It’s possible that at this stage students are not familiar with the past simple yet but they don’t really need to use it for their answers. They may simply tell the time preceded by the preposition “at”. And the questions they need will be on the board. You can model pronunciation with them first and help them out when they are engaged in the activity. At any rate, getting familiar with “what did you…?” is not by any means more cognitively challenging than using “what do you…?” competently, which is typically introduced in the early stages.

This idea works fine with telling dates as well. Brainstorm with your students some historical figures and write them on the board as students elicit them. Then assign each student a historical figure and have them ask the question “when were you born?” to each other. If they are allowed to use mobile phones in the classroom, they can look this up. Otherwise, they can make an educated guess towards the birth dates. In fact, this works well with many passive voice question structures: “When was the light bulb invented?” “When was the law of gravity discovered?” “When was Lord of the Rings filmed?” “When was Guernica painted?” .


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