I see teachers wasting paper and time making vocabulary handouts and just ask myself WHY? It’s easier and faster to use model sentences and vocabulary review to help them tailor the exercises to their needs.

Find some model sentences

First you need something to work with as models. The most efficient way to do this is to take them from the textbook or workbook. However, students are sloppy with getting the right answers, so it helps to check their books first.

Once the students have all the right answers in the books, have them use the correct sentences as models to make new sentences. Review vocabulary you can use to make new versions of the same patterns.

Make them true

I always tell the students the exercises are full of good English. The only problem is the sentence may not be TRUE for the student, or may not be interesting for him or her. They can change the sentences to make them true or interesting, but they have to leave the grammar and word order intact.

I love this exercise because it transfers the work from the teacher to the students. They can use English to say things that are important or interesting to them, and all you have to do is check. It’s also a great review, because they may guess some of the sentences on the test, which are often similar to the exercises, but not exactly the same. I have the students read the sentences out loud, so the others can get more ideas.

Using an exercise as a model:

Here are the answers to a very easy exercise with Present Simple:

  1. I live in a big apartment.
  2. I don’t have a pet.
  3. My wife works in a school.
  4. We eat dinner at home.
  5. I like coffee, but my wife likes tea.

First, change nothing

Ask the students to find sentences which are true for them as written. They can circle or underline them in the book, or copy them into their notebooks. Finding good English in the book is much better than creating English in their heads.

Next, go negative

The simplest way to fix a model that isn’t true is to change it to the negative. If the student always goes out for dinner with friends, he can simply change number 4 to “We don’t eat dinner at home.”

At the same time, they can change the negatives to positives to make them true. Everyone who has a pet can change number 2 into “I have a pet.”

Change the vocabulary, not the grammar

The best way to work with models is to change the vocabulary to make lots of different sentences. To get us started, I underline some words they can change.

Then I point out that the sentences in the book already include grammar, word order, and vocabulary, but we are only going to change the last one.

By thinking about their own situation, there are many possible sentences the students can generate. Focus on TRUE sentences that they want to say, rather than simply examples of ways to manipulate the language. I have them write their own true sentence beside the exercise or in their notebooks.

Depending on the students situation, he or she might come up with one of the following sentences based on the models.

I live in a big apartment.

  • I live in a small house.
  • I live in a big house.
  • We live in a big apartment.
  • I don’t live in a big apartment.

I don’t have a pet.

  • We don’t have a pet.
  • We have a dog.
  • I have a cat.

My wife works in a school.

  • My father works in a bank.
  • My wife doesn’t work.
  • My sister works in a hospital.
  • My friend Sylvia works in a restaurant.

We eat dinner at home.

  • I eat dinner at home.
  • I eat dinner in a restaurant.
  • I don’t eat dinner at home.
  • We eat lunch at home.

I like coffee, but my wife likes tea.

  • I like football, but my brother likes basketball.
  • I like television, but my wife like movies.
  • I like Italian food, but my wife likes Indian food.

Watch out!

Many students will try to aim too high with this exercise. They want to change too many things. The idea is to use what’s there, not to create any sentence in the English language. Make sure they get the simple sentences first. The more changes they make, the greater chance of a mistake. Keep it simple.

Give it a try!

You will be surprised how many students have trouble using what’s there to make new sentences, but it’s really worth the time to give them the skill of following models.

Make the students really focus on using their book to help them learn. It’s very rewarding when you get them to a point where they can make their own, correct sentences.