When Your Words are Numbered

Scott Sustenance, Muroran Institute of Technology

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Grammar review, collaborative writing, creative writing, warm-up activity
  • Learner English Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: N/A
  • Activity time: 10-15 minutes
  • Materials: A whiteboard and whiteboard pens or a blackboard and chalk

Reviewing grammar patterns can be a tedious exercise for students and teachers alike. This collaborative-writing activity offers a fun and engaging way to “trick” students into reviewing grammar while using their collective imagination to create an original story. Also, as it involves minimal (zero) preparation and can be adapted to most classrooms, it is an ideal addition to any good teacher’s repertoire.



Step 1: Arrange students into small groups. 

Step 2: Ask each group to think of a number between 1 and 4 inclusive. The teacher should also choose a number, and then write all the numbers on the board, with the teacher’s number at the top.

Step 3: Repeat this process, so that each group now has 2 numbers. You might write this as a table with three columns showing, the group, number 1 and number 2 as in the example in the appendix.

Step 4: The teacher writes the start of a sentence on the board. This will change depending on what grammar is being focused on. For example, you could write, “Last weekend,” if you wanted to review writing about things in the past, or “Next weekend,” if you want to focus on the future.

Step 5: The goal of the activity is to create a short story. Each group will contribute the same number of words as the 2 numbers they originally chose. For example, if the teacher chose 3 as their first number, the sentence might become “Last weekend, I went to,” with the “I went to” being the 3 words that teacher added. 

Step 6: Each group then adds their contributions in order to create a story. In the example in the appendix, Group 1 would add one word, which might be “the”, and then Group 2 would add three words, such as “movies with my”, and so on. If the students are having trouble thinking of what to add, which often happens at the start, the teacher can give some suggestions. The teacher is also responsible for correcting any grammar issues while writing the ideas on the board. Students are free to end the current sentence and start a new sentence at any time. The last group is responsible for making sure that their last contribution forms the end of a complete sentence. This can sometimes be challenging, but, so far, has always been possible.



Two rounds with 6 groups usually takes about 10 minutes, but if you have more time available, you can ask groups to think of more than two numbers. 



In the classroom, you can use a deck of playing cards instead of asking the students to think of a number. Use the Ace, 2, 3 and 4 cards from the deck. You can also use the Joker card as a “wild” card.



This is a fun warm-up activity for reviewing, and checking understanding of, grammar patterns that have been taught in previous classes. The collaborative element seems to help break down affective filters, and giving each group a certain number of words to say serves to both restrain any dominant students and allow more tentative students to voice their opinion.



The appendix is available below.