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Don’t Know? Have a Go!

Steve Hampshire, Fukuyama City University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Question and answer, speaking, listening, hazarding a guess
  • Learner English level: Upper-beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high second year and above  
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-30 minutes depending on class size  
  • Materials: One set of A/B worksheets (Appendices) per pair, a whiteboard and pen. Students need a pencil and something to rest the worksheet on to keep it private.                                             

Q: Who is Steve Hampshire? A: I’m not sure, but maybe he’s a teacher. The ability to hazard a guess or speculate an answer to a question is a very useful language skill. While allowing the speaker wider access to replies and the chance to answer a question correctly, it also provides a linguistic shield to save you blushes if you get the answer wrong. This is useful for those students whose fear of making an error often leads to an over-reliance on ‘I don’t know’ or just an uncomfortable silence. ‘Don’t know? Have a go!’ is a question-and-answer activity providing practice in the use of speculative language while retaining an element of challenge. Its quiz–like format encourages the need for clear speaking and careful listening as students take it in turn to ask each other a set of questions and “hazard a guess” as to one of three possible answers. The question is who will win? Maybe your students.


Step 1: Make copies of the A/B worksheets (Appendices).

Step 2: On the board write the speculation language to be practiced (Appendices). 

Step 3: Prepare a question to read out that students are unlikely to know the answer to and write three possible answers on the board. For example: What is a hiccup? Is it a) a tall teacup? b) a yellow flower? or c) a noise people make? 


Step 1: Practice the target language using the example question.

Step 2: Put the students in A/B pairs and tell them they are going to ask each other some more “you may not know the answer to” questions.

Step 3: Give out the worksheets.

Step 4: Explain the task as follows: 

a) Either the A or B student in each pair can start. The starter (Student 1) reads their set of questions and three possible answers to their partner who listens and marks their answers in the boxes provided.

b) Repeat the above for Student 2.

c) Student 1 reads a second time, questions only. Student 2 responds using a speculation expression plus their selected answer. Student 1 says whether the answer is correct or not.

d) Repeat for Student 2. The winner is the student who gets the most correct answers. 

Step 5: Now give the students time to read their worksheets. At this point you can deal with any pronunciation issues found with vocabulary items such as Ottawa, Los Angeles, Joanne, or cheetah.

Step 6: Conduct the task with students sitting face to face.


Print out large copies of the speculation language for reference in future classes. 

You may also wish to tell your students a bit more about Boxing Day or other information mentioned in the text.


I introduce this language early on in all the courses I teach, university included. In my experience, students, when in doubt, not only quickly pick up the habit of responding speculatively, but they also seem more confident about having a go and are less dependent on “I don’t know.” It works for me. Try it and see!


The appendices are available below.

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