- Keywords: Warm-up activity, adjectives, sentence writing, groupwork
- Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: Junior High School – University
- Preparation time: 0 minutes
- Activity time: 20-30 minutes
- Materials: paper and pens (or can be done online)
In David Crystal’s “A Little Book of Language” (2010), the reader is challenged to make a 26-word sentence “in which every word starts with a letter of the alphabet—in the right order!” (p. 197). This is a challenge even for a native speaker, but can be easily adapted as a warm-up activity for English language students, which can be done individually or in groups, in a classroom or online. The aim is for students to make short sentences in which each word starts with a different letter, but in correct alphabetical order. The challenge for the students is to make sure that each sentence has correct subject-verb agreement.
Step 1: Write the following sentences on the board and ask the students if they can see what is unusual about them:
Angry birds chase dogs eagerly.
Excited frogs get hungry in June.
The students should be able to identify that the first letter of each word is in alphabetical order.
Step 2: Ask the students to label the different parts of speech of the sentences. For example, the first one would be: Angry (adjective) birds (noun / subject) chase (verb) dogs (noun / object) eagerly (adverb).
Step 3: Write the alphabet on the board and elicit a few more examples of different parts of speech for different letters of the alphabet.
Step 4: Explain to the students that they will have to make some sentences, but the first letter of each word in the sentence must start with a different letter of the alphabet, in the correct “abc” order, for example, Aunts buy cheese, or Birds chase dizzy elephants. Explain that new sentences can start with any letter they wish. The aim is to write as many grammatically correct sentences as possible.
Step 5: Put the students in groups and set a time limit (10-15 minutes).
Step 6: When the time is up, get the students to share their sentences. Write them on the board / screen and give them feedback on their work, such as amending any subject-verb agreements.
Option 1: For lower-level groups or younger students, at Step 3 get the students to write down as many verbs as they can on a piece of paper. They can then share their lists with their group at the start of Step 5. Having a list of verbs will make it easier to write simple sentences.
Option 2: Use a point system. Set a minimum number of words per sentence (3 for lower levels, 4 or 5 for more advanced learners). Give points for each completed sentence with a bonus for the longest complete sentence.
Option 3: For more advanced learners, this task can be amended to practice adjectival order without asking students to make proper sentences (for example, Awesome, black, Chinese dragons or Five green heads). Advanced learners could even try multiple adjectives with correct subject-verb agreement (Angry, barking Chinese dogs eat fried, green hotdogs.)
This is a simple, fun exercise which can be done as easily online on platforms such as Zoom (using breakout rooms for groups and the whiteboard function to display the sentences) as in a classroom. This activity links spelling, vocabulary and basic grammar rules and encourages teamwork. In addition, the resulting sentences are often very entertaining!
Crystal, D. (2010). A little book of language. Yale University Press.