Guess what I did last summer

Oliver Rose, Ritsumeikan University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Four skills, paragraph, wh- questions, self-introduction
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 45-90 minutes
  • Materials: Paragraph with blanked-out words written by teacher (see Appendix for example)

This is a four-skills activity I have used many times in the first class of a speaking and writing course. Having students write a paragraph about their holiday is a common activity in many beginning-of-semester classes. Though not very original, it is a personalized topic that is doable for practically all levels of student, and helps the teacher get to know their students’ personalities and level of writing ability. This My Share activity leads into the writing of students’ own holiday paragraphs by presenting a model paragraph in a unique way, introducing the teacher’s background and leading students through stages of critical reading, question formation, and discussion.

Prepare a short paragraph about interesting activities from your last holiday, which contains about eight suitable key words to blank out for the students to guess. They can be any kind of content word, but it is important to choose these words carefully both in terms of meaning and grammar so that they aren’t too easy or too hard to guess. To make it interesting as both a guessing game and topic of discussion, the blanks should have several logically possible answers that could be inferred from the context of the paragraph. In addition, as the students will both ask and answer wh- questions about the missing words, the blanked-out target word must not be in a grammatical or syntactic form that is too complex for students to form a wh- question about. Be sure to check the suitability of blanked-out words in terms of both guessability and question formation to ensure a good level of challenge and interest.

Step 1: Hand out copies of the paragraph. Have students read it and guess answers to go in the blanks by themselves at this stage. They then write wh- questions about each of the blanks to ask their partners and discuss possible answers.  (20+ minutes)
Step 2: Show the correct wh- question forms on the board or overhead for students to check. Next, in pairs or small groups, students ask each other the given wh- questions and compare the ideas that they have chosen for the blanks and their reasons for their choices. Each group must work as a team to decide on the best answer for each blank, discussing why it is the most likely answer. If the text has provided some good context clues it allows students to justify their guesses in this discussion. (15+ minutes)
Step 3: Tell the students the actual answers about blanks relating to events from your holiday, preferably with extra details and photos to add interest.  You can award points to the groups that guess blanked-out words correctly if the class enjoys that kind of competition.
Note: There are various ways in which this answer-revealing stage can be extended into more of a quiz game if desired. For example, you can ask different groups their guesses before telling the answers. Alternatively, students can ask you yes-no questions (rather than the previous wh-questions) about their own guesses, until someone guesses correctly. For example, instead of asking you Where did you go skiing? they will ask Did you go skiing in Niigata? (10+ minutes)
Step 4: After hearing your completed holiday story, students can start the process of writing their own holiday paragraph based on your model, brainstorming and comparing ideas, etc. They can complete this for homework and get teacher and peer feedback in the following class. (20+ minutes)

This activity has always flowed well because it provides a range of different skills practice—reading, grammar, speaking, and writing—combined in one activity. Rather than having separate activities to practice these different skills, each with separate contexts and instructions, each stage of this activity naturally leads into the next without much explanation needed.

The appendix is available from the online version of this article at <>.