Game your sentence skill

“Think in English,” we say to our lower level multi-lingual writers. However, to really support them in avoiding translation errors, we need to give them lots of practice.

The following prewriting refresher is structured as a game in which teams compete to create target sentence types. The first team to create a correct model gets three points, and the model goes on the screen for other teams to learn from. The second team with a correct model gets two points, and the third, one point. The gradual addition of correct models, albeit for fewer points, helps ensure that everyone works out the form through discussion, observation and experimentation. 


Create topic cards for your assignment. These can be a simple set of nouns that are germane to the assignment. For practicing the assignment in Trio 3 on a product that changed the world, we chose familiar household items in order to lighten the cognitive demand. Note that both singular and plural forms are provided to raise awareness of noun rules:

  • The ladder/ladders
  • The flashlight/flashlights
  • The refrigerator/refrigerators
  • The shopping cart/shopping carts
  • The traffic light/traffic lights

Next, make a list of sentence “puzzles” or “challenges” for each round. The following list is appropriate for high beginning/low intermediate writers.

  • A simple sentence with two verbs.
  • A simple sentence that has a gerund as a subject.
  • A compound sentence with an infinitive.
  • A complex sentence with there is/there are.
  • A sentence with ; however,

Finally, you might want to decide on your role ahead of time. Do you want to monitor and give help or simply tell them right or wrong as you go around the room?


  1. Model: Choose a new topic and going through the process. Here’s an example:

Topic: Sunglasses

Write a simple sentence with there is/there are.

Example: There are many different kinds of sunglasses.

Write a complex sentence with an infinitive.

Example: People like to wear sunglasses in the summer.

Write a sentence with a gerund after a preposition.

I need sunglasses for driving.

  1. Create teams: Count off students into groups of three. Give each team a topic card. Tell them the first team to write a correct sentence with the topic and the structure gets 3 points, the second gets 2 points, and the third gets 1 point.
  1. Play a round: Show the first sentence puzzle, and let them work out an example around their topic. When the first team has a correct example, write it on the board or screen and award points. Let others see it. Then do the same with the second correct examples until there are three examples.

(Optional) discuss the structure as necessary.

4. Repeat with the second sentence puzzle. Continue until you run out of time. Add up the points and declare a winner.

The activity has a competitive element that energizes teams while they review the different ways that we construct meaning in sentences. When it goes well, the activity can give them English to think in.

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