What Did Sensei Do?

Drew Larson, Scientific Education Group

Quick guide

  • Keywords:Past tense, Sentence building
  • Learner English level:Beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity:Junior high school
  • Preparation time:5 minutes
  • Activity time:20 to 30 minutes
  • Materials:Items to serve as objects

This activity asks students to accomplish communicative tasks of conveying specific information and building sentences in the past tense quickly and accurately. The game can be played with students working in teams of two or more. The activity works best with groups of students who enjoy competition and want to have fun while exercising thinking and speaking skills.


Step 1:Prepare a number of sentences (10-20) that feature the target past tense verbs. Sentences that require objects or prepositional phrases will be the most effective, so be sure to have all of the necessary items or “places” available.

Step 2:  Divide students into teams. There should be at least two students on a team, but four works best. Odd numbers are also acceptable, although transitions may be less smooth.

Step 3:Explain the game procedure to the students in advance.


Step 1:  Each team will be split in half (A and B). Group A leaves the room while B remain behind to witness what the teacher does.

Step 2:The teacher performs an action that the group B needs to tell their partner about (Note: Silly, self-deprecating actions are often appreciated and enhance the “fun” factor).

Step 3:The teacher invites the group B back into the room, who then approach the B half of their team and ask, “What did the teacher do?”

Step 4:B’s convey the necessary information to the A’s so that the A’s can express what occurred.

Teachers can choose whether L1 is permitted during the sharing phase, but the final answer should be in past tense L2. Answers can be provided either by “buzzing in” first and saying what happened to get the point, or by giving students a time period within which they can write the answer down, allowing multiple teams to score points. Optionally, teachers can ask a first person, “What did I do?” question, thus prompting a reply necessitating a second person subject.

Step 5:Review the action at the end of each round to help confirm that all the students grasp what occurred and can understand how to express it.

Step 6:Repeat with a new action, this time sending group B out of the room. Alternate accordingly for 10-20 times, or as time or motivation permits.


This activity can accommodate most class sizes, but moving the children in and out of the room can be problematic with larger groups, particularly if some of the students are especially competitive and want to run to their groups (a simple rule of no talking until everyone is with their groups can prevent this, but may take some of the fun away). Even beginner level students tend to enjoy the movement and task-based, communicative nature of the exercise. It can be leveled easily based on the complexity and details of the action performed. When using irregular verbs, it may be best to allow a cheat-sheet, perhaps drawing attention to when it should be consulted. Sometimes students will come up with unintended but still correct answers, obviously they can be awarded with points (or half-points), and/or encouraged to find another way to express it, perhaps allowing another team to also score points for a different correct answer. Overall, this is an active and competitive game that will let students work together to achieve communicative competence.