Combining Grammar and Critical Thinking in a Fun Activity

John Pryce, Kyoto University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Critical thinking activity, group work, prepositions, phrasal verbs
  • Learner English Level: Low-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior High School - University
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 60 minutes
  • Materials: A newspaper

Introducing Critical Thinking Skills (CTS) into the Japanese EFL classroom can be challenging but also deeply rewarding as students acquire new skills and perspectives. This activity introduces an active and fun method by combining grammatical items with group problem solving that gets the students working together and out of their seats. The potential for multiple effective solutions provides both teachers and students the opportunity to think creatively (out of the box).


Step 1: Take a broadsheet newspaper and give each group of students a single sheet.


Step 1: Ask the students to brainstorm prepositions of place and share their vocabulary on the main board (10 mins).

Step 2: Repeat Step 1 asking the students to add verbs to their prepositions to create phrasal verbs; for example, ‘step + on’, ‘move + over’, ‘pass + back’, etc.  (10 mins).

Step 3: Split the students into equal groups (6-8 students) and give each group a sheet of newspaper. Explain to the students that they must use the piece of paper, in any way they can, to cross from one end of the classroom to the other without touching the floor with any body part. The only rules are that if they touch the floor or use Japanese they must return to the beginning. Students must use the prepositions and phrasal verbs to give each other verbal instructions (ensure relevant examples are introduced in the brainstorm stage). Finally, all students must cross the classroom never touching the floor and the fastest group wins. Hint: The main challenge will be how to return the newspaper to the students at the beginning end of the classroom to get everyone across without touching the floor. Ensure the newspaper sheet is either small enough or the group sizes large enough for them to not simply tear the newspaper into foot sized pieces and then slide across the floor in a skating action (5 mins).

Step 4: Ask the students to discuss how they might achieve this (critical thinking activity – 10 mins).

Step 5: Use a stop watch to time the task (5-15 mins).

Step 6: Finally, after the task, ask students for homework to create a group exercise to challenge the other groups and allow a little time for their group to brainstorm some ideas. They can share and try their exercises in the next class (10 mins).


The activity above shows that grammatical items can be combined easily with CTS in a fun and stimulating way for students. Additionally, it could be used to begin bridging the gap between implicit and explicit teaching approaches where teachers are seeking to move towards introducing a stronger version of CTS in their classrooms. To further consolidate the learning objectives, the teacher could ask students to reflect upon where they use these skills in other classes or even beyond educational contexts to everyday life.