Magic Square and Lesson Plan – complaints and advice (B2)

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I don’t get it!!

It takes a bit of practice for them to get the hang of it and I elicit a few examples until it’s clear – there’s often one student who like me, tends to get the wrong end of the stick and needs to be taken through it step by step, but once they can do it, I only need to put the square on the board as they’re coming in to class and they’re off looking for words.


I use the square as a warmer. Levels of concentration vary, and most of my students come to class after a full day of school, university or work. I find this activity gets them focused quickly and while they need to concentrate, the stimulus of searching and finding seems to work well for most students giving them space and time to engage. I also like the non-linear aspect of the square- beyond the initial rules, the target language is jumbled up and it’s up to each student to notice the letter patterns that create words. On lots of occasions they find English words they’ve never seen before, but intuit through their knowledge of the language.

The example above is packed with verbs. How many did you find? Here’s a short list of the ones I consciously placed in the square:

said, put, ring - rang - rung, run, pick, pack, sing - sang, turn, get, spin, sin

And these others came out incidentally once I’d created the square:

speak, peak, sip, pin, tug, raid, peg, dig, darn, cap, paid

Other words come out too, which is always good for recycling vocab they’ve maybe forgotten or testing if they know target vocabulary they are going to see later in class :

daring, range, pacing, saint, gut...

On the next page, you can see how I extend the use of the square from a warmer into a matching activity. (Click on page 2)

Click on the photo to see full size.

Click on the photo to see full size.

That really gets my goat!!

The heading says it – in my B2 FCE class, we were looking at phrases we use to express annoyance. I wanted to combine this with some recycling of vocabulary and being a Cambridge exam class, we’d recently practised the Reading and Use of English Part 2 (Open Cloze – Click here for an example from flo-joe), so I decided to follow the word square exercise with a sentence gap-fill. It’s worth noting that Part 2 of the Use of English paper is grammar-focused, whereas I was only interested in the format so I could test my students to see if they could remember what part of the U.o.E. involved an open cloze.


  • Create the word square including at least one topic-related word. I used ‘nerves’ (get on someone’s nerves).
  • Give the students an allocated time to find words in the square. Elicit some of their words (can be done as a pair/team game if you give points for word length or words no other pair/team has – though this can be quite time consuming).
  • Write a sentence with the target word removed and ask students to complete it.  I put, “It really gets on my _______ when people are rude.” (see board work photo)
  • Write up or give out four or five more sentences with gaps to be filled with words from the word square. What’s important here are not the words they fill in, but exposure to the target language embedded in each sentence. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see each sentence contains a phrase related to being annoyed; our focus for the class.
  • Ask students to complete the sentences.
  • Now ask them to identify the common element in all the sentences (your language focus).
  • Continue practice as you would after taking examples from a reading text.

On the next page, you can see how I continue the class. (Click on page 3.)

Click on the photo to see full size.

Click on the photo to see full size.

Language Focus

As you can see in the photo, under the word square and sentences I wrote:

 ".... really get(s) on my nerves."
"It really gets on my nerves when..."
  • I asked my students why there was an ‘(s)’ in the first phrase and elicited that the subject can be, but doesn’t have to be third person singular.
  • I then asked them why that wasn’t the case with the second phrase, “It really gets on my nerves when…“. As we have ‘It’ referring to the thing that causes annoyance, the subject is always third person singular. Not a very technical explanation, I know, but it suffices to say my students got it. And if you’re teaching students who don’t use ‘it’ as we do in English, (as is the case with my Spanish speakers) it’s probably worth highlighting.


  • Next, I asked my students to write down something that gets on their nerves, using either of the structures above.
  • When they’d done this, I took in the papers, got them to write everyone’s name in a list and read out all the sentences for them to copy next to the person they thought had written them. We went through an example together to form questions and answers.
  • They then mingled to check by asking questions. E.g. “Juan, does it get on your nerves when people speak with their hand over their mouth?” and I wandered around, monitoring for correct form. I also encouraged them to use some of the other expressions we’d seen in their replies. E.g. ” Yes, it really pisses me off when people do that.

Once they had identified and corrected who had written the sentences, we went on to the next activity: Giving Advice. (Click page 4 to continue.)

Click on the photo to see full size.

Click on the photo to see full size.

Giving Advice

Have you tried + verb+ing?
How about + verb+ing?
Why don't you + verb (bare infinitive)

We followed up the activity about expressing annoyance by providing some advice on how to deal with our bugbears.

  • I got my students to individually think about one of the annoyances and write 3 pieces of advice, using each of the expressions above. E.g. “Have you tried telling them that it’s really difficult to understand someone when they’re doing that?” “How about doing the same to them and see if they get the hint?” “Why don’t you tell them they’re talking to you, not their hand?
  • It’s important that they don’t include the problem in their advice, because the other students have to identify what problem they are responding to. In the 3rd example above, it’s a bit of a give away. But you could get them to grade it, so the first piece of advice (clue) is most difficult to identify and gets most points and the 3rd is the easiest for just 1 point.
  • For homework, I asked them to look at the bugbears and respond to 3 imagining they were agony aunts / uncles for a magazine.

I hope these ideas are helpful and any feedback / comments can be posted on the board on the next page. (Click Page 5 to go to comments board for this post.)