Buying sentences: A team game involving parts of speech and sentence construction

Peter Wells, Kansai Gaidai University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Game, group work, parts of speech, sentence construction
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above. This game assumes basic knowledge of the parts of speech.
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: At least an hour, possibly longer
  • Activity time: 40 to 50 minutes
  • Materials: Slips of paper with words written on them and imitation money


In this game teams of students compete to form correct sentences with words they buy from the teacher. It’s a fun way of reinforcing understanding of parts of speech, ignorance of which often causes flawed English. It can also help to emphasize the importance of a (an) and the and other English determiners. This game assumes basic knowledge of the parts of speech.



Make slips of paper with about 20 examples of each part of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, and conjunctions) plus determiners, in large letters. It’s a good idea to laminate these. The verbs should be all the same tense, e.g., past or present simple. The determiners should include plenty of copies of a and the, plus a few of an and some, and and some pronouns and prepositions. You also need a supply of imitation money, which can be copied from the Internet.



This game may be preceded by a revision of the names and definitions of the parts of speech, perhaps on PowerPoint. The rules and purpose of the game can be introduced in the same way.



Step 1: Use a PowerPoint presentation to explain the rules and purpose of the game, or demonstrate it with one group.

Step 2: Divide the class into teams of about five students. Get them to appoint a captain.

Step 3: Give each team ten $5 bills in play money.

Step 4: Representatives of the teams come forward to a shop, which the teacher has set up with 8 stacks of words arranged according to their part of speech. Each word costs $5. The representatives buy words from the teacher by saying, “A noun, please,” or “Two articles,” etc. The students can’t see exactly what word they’re going to get until the teacher gives it to them. After an initial purchase of a few words the team members should discuss with each other what other words they need in order to make a reasonable sentence, and then spend the rest of their $50, giving them 10 words altogether. They then have to make the longest correct sentence they can with the words they have. The sentences may be silly (e.g., The red dog ate the green balloon) but not impossible (e.g., The red dog walked the green balloon). I allow teams to use a word they bought as one part of speech to function as another, e.g., after can be a conjunction or a preposition. I also allow them to exchange a duplicate word, e.g., a second an for a different determiner.

Step 5: After about 5 to 8 minutes, the teacher asks the captains to display their teams’ sentences, e.g., by writing them on the whiteboard, or by spreading them out on their desks. The teacher scores the sentences by giving a point for each word, less a point for each error, as indicated above (the sentence must be grammatically correct, and possible). Thus The red dog ate green balloon would score 5 points (six words, one error).

Step 6: This procedure is repeated for an appropriate length of time, say for about five rounds. At the end of the game the teacher adds up the points for each team and declares a winner.



If you play the game again you can give the teams more money to create longer sentences. It’s also a good idea to offer the letter S for $5 so that teams can create plurals, or 3rd person singular verbs. Try allowing teams to trade words with each other. This increases the amount of interaction in the classroom, and tends to produce better sentences. It’s fun to watch students sidling up to their opponents and offering to exchange an unwanted preposition for a nice, juicy adverb!



This game is popular with students, partly because of the hilarity caused by the bizarre sentences they often produce. Due to the competitive element, students are usually fully engaged in their task, using English to discuss the best options for maximizing their scores.