Topic: Starters

Short 5-minute mini-lesson plans.

Adjectives and meaning

What are other ways of expressing the meanings conveyed by adjectives? In this starter activity, students are asked to replace the adjectives in the given examples with some other means of expressing the general meaning of the sentence.

The Activity page appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right of this page. It can be displayed on a projector or smart board. The slide in the Activity page presents four example sentences with adjectives. Ask the students to do the following:

Adjectives and meaning: Activity

  1. Kyle was sad.
  2. Derrick was so much smaller than Stanley.
  3. He wasn’t entirely sure.
  4. When she saw what was inside the envelope, Lucy was delighted.

Adverbs in use


Three short extracts are given in Slide 1 in the Activity page in the right hand menu. Take each extract in turn and follow these steps:

Adverbs in use: Activity

  1. Anna walked slowly through the streets, looking vacantly around her. People went past busily with their shopping bags. She kept thinking miserably about Mark’s words to her.
  2. Entering the cave cautiously, Jack saw the dragon sitting fiercely beside its treasure. Steam came loudly from its nostrils, animal bones lay thickly on the floor and the whole cave smelled strongly of scorched flesh. Jack looked at the scene fearfully.
  3. The child cried loudly, holding his teddy-bear tightly. His mother spoke to him impatiently.

Clause types

The four clause types are a central part of English grammar. An understanding of declarative, imperative, interrogative and exclamative clause types can help students recognise how writers use these structures to create meaning in different ways, and can help them develop a better repertoire of structures in their own writing.

Clause types and discourse functions

In this activity we will look at text examples drawn from our corpus and think about the clause types used within the extracts (for example, declarative, imperative, interrogative or exclamative clauses).

Click on the interactive whiteboard icon (top right) and work through the following slides with students. Read each extract and analyse it by answering the accompanying questions. After each extract, there are some suggestions and pointers.

Clause types: Activity

You’re visiting a friend’s house. You’re in a cold room and the window is open. What can you say to each of the following to get the window shut?

  1. your friend
  2. your friend’s grandmother
  3. your friend’s annoying little brother

You’re carrying several boxes of CDs and books. Then you drop one, spilling its contents all over the floor. You need help and there are people around who could be of assistance. What do you say to each of the following?

Compound word creation

In this activity, students work with an interactive smart board display to build compound words.

The Activity pages for this starter can be found in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. Each Activity page contains slides that can be displayed using a projector or smart board. 

Compound word creation: Activity 2

For each word, see how many compounds you can think of which include the word.

Expanding headlines

Newspaper headlines are often not full sentences, but they are nevertheless quite easy to make sense of. In this starter, students will use their implicit knowledge of grammar to expand newspaper headlines into complete sentences, and then explicitly analyse what they've done. The Activity slide show appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. In the Activity slide show, five example headlines are presented. Students should do the following:

Expanding headlines: Activity

  1. Lorry driver cut free after crash
  2. Pakistani PM guilty of contempt
  3. Calls to block £14bn EU bill
  4. Time called on noisy church bells
  5. Australian billionaire to build Titanic II
  6. Chef throws his heart into helping feed needy
  7. Cops halt doughnut shop robbery


Neoclassical compounds

In this activity, students analyse neoclassical compounds, which are compounds where often the word elements were taken from the classical languages (ancient Greek and Latin) and were combined in new ways in English (the element neo- comes from the Greek for ‘new’). Neoclassical compounds involve combining forms. They are meaningful elements drawn from Greek and Latin, which can combine with other elements to form words.

Activity 1

Noun phrase competition

Noun phrases can be of any length, from one word to very many words. This activity is a team competition where students' goal is to score as many points as they can by creating longer and longer noun phrases. As they do this, they will implicitly rely on their knowledge of grammar, and they will begin to see a range of different ways to expand noun phrases.

Nouning verbs

This is a simple starter activity that will help your students see how some words can function as both nouns and verbs. The activity is designed to be carried out in pairs around the class. One student be the noun and the other will be the verb. Each will need the same word list (which you can download and print below) or you can just use the word list on the screen.

Passives in use

The slides in the Activity page in the right hand menu contain examples of passives from real writing. Have students do the following:

Passives in use: Activity

Extract A (from a student exam paper on emotion)

Furthermore there is evidence that supports these bodily changes as being essential to an emotional state. This evidence involved testing patients with spine severances. The patients were interviewed and tested in a laboratory and results consistently showed that the higher the spine severance the less patients reported being able to ‘feel’ an emotion.

Phrase types: Snap

This is a simple game based on the idea of ‘Snap!’ in which you have to match up phrases with other phrases of the same type. The game can be played in class with cards. To print off your own sheet of snap cards to play in class, click on the downloadable handout below. Then print and cut out the cards. Pairs of students turn over one card at a time, and if they each put down a phrase of the same type, they call 'Snap'. The first to call 'Snap' wins the pile of cards. Play continues until one player holds all the cards.

Pitching a product

In this resource, students will be studying two extracts of very different sales pitches from the BBC show The Apprentice. Contestants on The Apprentice had to design an app for a smartphone and then pitch it to an audience at a technology fair. The pitches are printed in the handout that can be downloaded and printed at the bottom of this page.

To help students analyse the extracts, ask them the following questions, which are also included in the handout:

Can you see any features of spontaneous talk being used in either extract?

Politeness and directness

This task is about using verbs and modal verbs in different ways. We all know that people can be direct or indirect in the ways they phrase things. We often use imperative forms to give instructions, but sometimes these might be seen as too direct and blunt. We sometimes soften them with modal verbs, among other tools.

Politeness and directness: Activity

Try to make the following expressions less direct. Compose alternative sentences for each one.

  1. Shut the window.
  2. Tell me your name.
  3. Stop talking.

What changes did you make to render the expressions less direct? 

Now, make the following expressions more direct. Compose an alternative sentence for each example.

Prepositions in instructional writing

Prepositions are particularly important when trying to communicate instructions about time and place.

The Activity page appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. The Activity page contains one slide: an example of instructional writing from our corpus. You can see that quite precise instructions are given as part of a recipe. It is reprinted below with the prepositions highlighted.


Prepositions in instructional writing: Activity


Cut the meat into even-sized cubes, leaving any fat, but removing all gristle.

Process for 10 seconds, scrape the sides. Make sure the meat is thoroughly evenly cut, then turn the meat into a separate bowl.

Add the onion and egg yolk to the bowl and process until the food is pureed, add salt and pepper to the meat.

Regional vocabulary

In the work you’ve done so far on ways to identify word classes, you have seen that many words can be identified by form, function and distribution.

In this activity, we’ll look at how you might use these ideas to identify some words which appear in regional varieties of English. You’ll see examples of regional dialect terms in the context which they were used, and your task will be to work out what grammatical role the word is performing.


Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-15 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Cookies