Three things

Levels: pre-intermediate to proficiency.
Ages: older teens and adults.
Type: ice-breaker; developing conversation.
Skills: speaking; listening; reading; writing.
Language focus: reviewing emergent grammar; practising question formation in English; extending vocabulary in a personalised way.

Photo of 3 wooden blocks

Note: this idea comes from the excellent Teaching Unplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury, which I’ve just noticed appears to have gone out of print. Bring it back! It’s ace! I’ve played with the idea a bit, adding a little more detail, and moving the language focus stage to the middle of the lesson, so learners can practice new words and expressions, and try out any new grammar structures.

Materials: some blank paper; 3 objects you have to hand which say something about your personality or lifestyle (a picture of your family on your mobile phone, a board pen, a packet of cigarettes…)

Preparation: none, apart perhaps from ensuring you have 3 objects you can talk about.


  • Ask your students to search through their bags or pockets to find three things which say something about them (their personalities, their lifestyles, and so on). If you like, you can demonstrate what you mean by showing 3 objects of your own, saying why you’ve chosen them.
  • In groups of 4, ask them to show each other these objects and briefly explain why they chose them.
  • In pairs, learners use the objects as stimuli to write questions to ask the other pair in their group. Agree a time limit with your students for this writing stage (e.g., 5 minutes).
  • The pairs swap questions, and check for grammar and vocab errors. They also put a cross next to any questions they don’t want to answer, or tick the questions they like the most.
  • They swap back and discuss any language changes. Be available to answer their language questions, and be alert for any common errors to focus on in a follow-up lesson.
  • They say any questions they don’t want to talk about.
  • They ask each other the questions, using them as a springboard to conversation. Monitor learners’ language production, taking care to note both what your students said and alternative formulations. Make sure you have at least one sentence from each learner talking about their objects.
  • As the groups near the end of their conversations, board some of your notes as a gapfill. Early finishers can discuss what words could go in the gaps while they wait for the others to finish talking.
  • Point out that all the boarded sentences come from things said in the class. Invite learners to discuss in their groups who might have said what, then elicit their ideas.
  • Elicit the missing words, touching on grammar points and drilling pronunciation (focussing on sentence stress, elision, …) as appropriate. Encourage your learners to note down any expressions they want to remember.
  • Ask each group to make questions to ask people in other groups, based on the boarded sentences.
  • Help your learners form new groups, and to take their questions with them. Tell them to ask and answer each others’ questions, this time trying to incorporate some of the boarded language into their work.

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