Choosing a school

This activity can supplement a unit in a coursebook which has a focus on school.

Chris Trickett

I've also used it many times as the culmination of activities aimed at practising the 'obligation and permission' modals: can, can't, have to, must, don't have to, mustn't. The activity is predominantly a speaking activity to be done in pairs, threes or fours, but there is a strong grammar focus which, although not essential to the final speaking activity, should be central to the lesson otherwise.


  • As an introduction, brainstorm vocabulary related to school. Put this on the board and add to it. I often play a game called backs to the board (see below) for five minutes to focus the students.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or threes to imagine the perfect school. Ask them to make a list of factors that would make a perfect school, e.g. no weekly tests. At this stage there is no need for them to write full sentences. Five minutes should be sufficient, maximum seven. Circulate and make suggestions if necessary.
  • Working as a class, collate some of the ideas and write them on the board. It is nice to have students do this. It is incumbent upon the teacher to make sure that what goes on the board will give them the opportunity to use all of the modal forms appropriately. Avoid ending up with a mere list of things that students have to do.
  • When there is enough scope, with what space remains on the board, begin a sentence using one of the target modal forms. There may be no need to elicit, students will quickly grasp the idea.
  • Finally write the other modal forms and ask students to make a sentence for each of the ideas on the board. You may end up with:
  • We don't have to do homework.
  • We mustn't smoke in the classroom.
  • We have to respect the teacher.
  • We can watch films in class.
  • It is likely that you will need to focus on the difference between don't have to and mustn't at this stage. I find appropriate concept questions focus students on the difference. We mustn't smoke in the classroom. Do you have a choice?
  • When the class has grasped the grammar and you have corrected where necessary, hand out the worksheet below to pairs, threes or fours and ask the students to identify what they think are the school rules for each school.
  • Circulate and monitor. To avoid unnecessary repetition, keep feedback brief, but bring the class back together to give them final instructions.
  • Tell the groups that they are to choose a school from the worksheet. They must consider the pros and cons of all four and have reasons for their choice. It will not be necessary to reproduce the target grammar for this activity, allow students to express themselves naturally. Having said this, they might assume that you expect them to repeat the modal forms as studied, which you should allow provided it doesn't impede their fluency in any way.
  • Allow this to run its course, depending on time available. A group of students who conveniently find the answer quickly will do so in a matter of minutes, maybe seconds. To fully benefit, they should spend in the region of ten minutes discussing and agreeing. Bring the class together and ask students where they are going and why.

Possible variation for adult students: Ask them to choose a school for their children.

Ideas for follow up

  • Students design application forms for their new school. If time allows, they could swap forms and complete them.
  • Students write to their new school to ask for information about courses.
  • Students design a fifth school and ask classmates to say if they would like to go there.
  • Students look at some existing school brochures and decide what kind of student would study there.
  • Students design flyers or adverts for their school.
  • Students write interviews for potential new students to a school.
  • Students exchange letters and items of interest with schools in other countries.
  • Students do grammar exercises to focus on the form of the relevant modal verbs.

Backs to the board

This is a simple vocabulary game with great classroom potential. I use it to focus students' attention on new lexis. After a brainstorming session leads to a board full of words, sit a student with their back to the board and circle one of the words. Other students then describe it without saying it. The student sat with their back to the board has to guess what it is. Repeat this until three or four word remain, and move on.

Language Level


Submitted by Volunteer Reader on Tue, 10/21/2008 - 20:24


I used this with my group of teenage FCE students. They particularly enjoyed...

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