Comparisons with Top Trumps

I used to love playing Top Trumps when I was a kid and at one point I had a pretty large collection which I rashly swapped for an Adam and the Ants album.  After rebuying my favourite pack on eBay it dawned on me that they could actually be pretty handy for teaching comparisons in class.

For those unfamiliar with Top Trumps, they are a set of themed cards, for example Cars, Dogs, Footballers, etc. Each card has a picture from the set along with a few statistics. So, for example with a Car themed set, the statistics might include Top Speed, Engine Capacity and Horse Power.

The cards are dealt out and a player is selected to start. The player in control of the round chooses one of the attributes from his top card and reads it out, the other players compare their own cards and the one with the highest value gets the cards and adds them to their deck. The winner takes control for the next round.

Take for example, these two superhero cards:


If I held Robin, I might think that Intelligence 6 was a decent attribute, however when I came to compare with the other player who was holding The Joker, he has Intelligence 7 and so I would lose the round and my card and my opponent would get to choose the attribute in the next round.

When playing in an ESL classroom, I would make sure that for each round, after the chosen attribute and value has been stated, the players put the cards face up on the desk to be openly compared. Before the round can be won, the player has to state why they have won.

This will produce sentences like:

  • The Joker wins because he is more intelligent than Robin
  • Robin is stronger/faster than the Joker
  • The Joker has better fighting skills than Robin

You might want to limit the game to ten or fifteen minutes before it gets too repetitive, with the winner being the player who holds the most cards when the time is up. If the students are interested in the cards then this can turn into a surprisingly fun and stimulating activity.

Further activities

You could use these cards to practise superlatives too. Simply give pairs sets of three cards and ask them to report the ranking of the cards. For example,

  • The Joker is more intelligent than Robin but Batman is the most intelligent
  • Robin has better fighting skills than The Joker but Wonder Woman has the best skills

You(or your students) could always make and print your own set on an appropriate theme.

You can buy the Superhero Top Trumps from here. But there are plenty other of packs available.



Present Simple Interviews

This is a fantastic activity for giving students practise in asking and answering questions in the third person singular.

present simple interview

Make sure students are in pairs, if there are an odd number of students, it’s best if the teacher makes up the odd pair at this stage.

Give each pair a set of interview sheets (Note: each sheets contain the same questions, but the sequence is different, in order to keep the activity from becoming too robotic).

The first step is to elicit what the question word in the first column should be for each row and have them orally construct each question. Ideally students will produce the full questions spontaneously during the interviews, so discourage them from writing the full questions down (of course weaker students might feel the need to do so).

First Student A asks their questions and notes down keywords from Student B’s answer in the third column. When this is done get students to swap roles in their pairs. A slow or chatty pair of students can really hold this activity up, so it’s a good idea to set a clear time limit for the completion of this stage of the activity.

When all the students have their interview sheets completed. Ask all the Student As to stand up and rotate one place to the right, so that they are now working with a different Student B. Now students will ask and answer questions about their partner’s previous interview partner using the third person form of the present simple. If there was an add number of students, the odd student can now join a three and relate their answers about the teacher. Remember to reiterate that this is a speaking activity so there is no need for them to write down anything.

When everyone is finished, repeat the process. Have all the As stand up and rotate, and again ask and answer questions about their original partners. The repetition is really helpful in cementing the form and the change of partner, keeps the activity interesting.

Word mazes

Word stress

Being aware of word stress is crucial for helping non-native English speakers to improve their pronunciation and comprehensibility. These word stress mazes get student grappling with stressed syllables.

Silent letters

Use this maze to help make students more aware of combinations of letters which often contain an unpronounced letter.


Mixed up business idioms

storm in a tea cupThese idiom worksheets allow your learners to see a number of idioms in context. First they should use prior knowledge and educated guess work to complete the idioms. Then see if the class can work out the meanings of the idioms from the sentence context. Learners are then invited to think of similar idioms in their own language.

Four in a row

four in a rowSimilar to the game Connect Four, in this game students have to join four boxes vertically, horizontally or diagonally. This game is based on an activity from the excellent Inside Out – Upper Intermediate Student’s Book.

How to play

Put students into groups of three. Students A and B will play each other while the third acts as the referee. Student A chooses a box from the grid and makes a sentence using the form required by the game. For example the verb with an appropriate preposition or the correct form of the irregular verb. The referee checks the answer sheet and if A’s sentence is correct, writes an A in the box if A’s sentence is incorrect the referee writes a B in the box. Student B then plays and the procedure continues. The game ends when a student manages to connect four As or four Bs either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Make sure students play this game at least twice so that C can also take part.

This kind of game is worth repeating occasionally, try repeating it for a couple of weeks or after a suitable gap to see how much students have remembered.

Printable game grids



How to make half a crossword

half crosswordCrosswords are a great way to test or review vocabulary. However, if your learners are a little more able, half-crosswords are easier to prepare and more challenging for your learners.

Half-crosswords are tricky to create, but luckily the website offers an extremely easy way to put these together.

To use the crossword, pre-teach the vocabulary items then put learners into pairs and give each pair their half of the crossword. They take it in turns to ask for a word that fills the gap in their puzzle (don’t forget to pre-teach down and across!). Of course their partner can’t just give them the missing word they have to find a way to describe it to their partner.

Picture Taboo

dog tabooPicture taboo is a fluency focused activity which also builds vocabulary and acts as an introduction to a theme.

This activity has one important difference to regular Taboo. The student describing the object has a picture of it so they don’t necessarily need to know themselves what the English word for the object is. The other students may also not know the name of the object but hopefully will be able to recognize it from the description and can have their guesses confirmed by viewing the photo at the end of each turn.

There are some picture sets to download at the bottom of this page, or if you have internet access there is an app for your smartphone or tablet on the apps page.

How to play

For this game you will need a tablet computer or a smartphone with a large screen. You will also need a set of 10 to 20 pictures of objects based around the theme of the lesson. Preload these into a folder on the tablet so they can be swiped through.

Make sure the students are seated in a circle and explain that the tablet will be passed around the group. The student who receives the tablet must swipe to the next picture and describe the object, for example its physical appearance or its function. He or she must not say the name of the object, even if they know it. The other students in the class try to guess the object in the picture. If it’s guessed correctly, the student shows the picture to the class to confirm the guess and passes the tablet on to the next student. If they’re having trouble getting the answer you can ask the student with the tablet pertinent questions to help get relevant information out for the class.

In a mono-lingual class I would allow the students to guess the name of the object in their native language if they recognise it but don’t know the English name. The teacher then feeds in the English name for the object.

This game is a great warmer for a theme based conversation class.

Potential problems

Make sure that students shield the tablet while they are describing their picture. Encourage them to sit back from the circle to make sure their neighbours can’t take a peek. Also make sure that students don’t automatically swipe through a picture that they don’t like the look of otherwise all kinds of chaos can ensue when you run out of pictures early.


Here you can find some preselected, theme-based picture sets to use.


Mixed up idioms

storm in a tea cupThese idiom worksheets allow your learners to see a number of idioms in context. First they should use prior knowledge and educated guess work to complete the idioms. Then see if the class can work out the meanings of the idioms from the sentence context. Learners are then invited to think of similar idioms in their own language.

See also mixed up business idioms.

Phrasal Verb Match Up

phrasal verbsThis is a game to test students on their knowledge of phrasal verbs and get a feel for recognising and using them.

You can also have students use the Phrasal Verb Match Up web app on your or their smart phones. See the Apps page.

How to play

For each group of 2-4 student make two piles of paper slips. On one pile of slips write the verbs that you want to practise and on the other some prepositions which are commonly used to make up phrasal verbs.

Example verbs: come, give, go, get, hold, keep, make, put, see, set, take, turn

Example prepositions: over, on, in, through, down, up, at, off, of, out, around, about, away, for, with, back, into

Each student in the group takes it in turns to turn over a slip from each pile, so for example they might get keep off. If the student thinks that they have a valid phrasal verb then they must use it in a sentence to get a point. The other students can challenge if they are sceptical, dictionaries and the teacher can be used to solve disputes.

Play continues until there are no more slips left.