TPR Games – Can/Can’t For Ability

Games with miming and other movement for the pronunciation and meaning of can and can’t.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub

Although almost all the games below can be played without students having to move their bodies (too much), the Total Physical Response element adds fun, shows if students really understand the language that they are using, and is great for young learner classes.

1. I can brainstorming
Choose one object and ask students to brainstorm things that they can do with it, e.g. “I can break a pencil” or “I can balance a pencil on my nose”. You could ask them to demonstrate their ability each time to add a TPR element.

2. Can projects
Ask students to design a monster, superhero, robot, tank, suitcase for spies, high-tech car etc with between six and ten abilities. Students can then present their designs and vote on which one from the rest of the class they like best. Alternatively, they could take turns narrating a story of some kind of combat between the robots or tanks from two groups, perhaps also acting the combat out (standing up in front of the class or using cut-out pictures of their designs). A variation with more speaking is students needing to also explain how their design can do each of those things, e.g. how their futuristic policeman can see through walls without superpowers.

3. You Bet
This idea is borrowed from an old TV game show of the same name. A student makes a statement about something that they can do, e.g. “I can hit the blackboard with this rubber band” or “I can hold my breath for a minute” and the other students can bet any amount of their imaginary money on whether that is true or not. After the student tries to do it, students either lose the money that they bet or double their money. To add more language to the game, students should explain their bets in full sentences like “We think he can’t hold his breath for a minute”. Something similar can also be played with a video, with students guessing what will be attempted and making positive or negative sentences about the likely outcome.

4. You can’t outbid me
The teacher asks a question about how well the students can do something, e.g. “How quickly can you sing Jingle Bells?” or “How far can you jump?” Students take turns outbidding each other with “I can sing it in one minute”, “I can sing it in thirty seconds”, “I can sing it in twenty seconds” etc until no one will say something more ambitious. The last person to put in a bid tries to do what they said they can, then gets five points for doing it or loses five points for failing. To get more involvement from the other students, they could also bet on whether they believe that bid or not, as in You Bet above.

5. Can/Can’t challenge me
Students challenge each other with “Can you…?” The person replying gets one point for just saying “No, I can’t” and five points for saying “Yes, I can” and then successfully doing it – with no points for failing after saying Yes. Though students can just make lots of silly questions like “Can you punch through this wall?” they should hopefully spot that the best tactic is to ask something that the student thinks they can do but actual can’t. You could also provide verbs or complete questions that they can or should use.

6. Can/Can’t mimes
Students mime sentences like “I can paint” and “I can’t swim”. The sentences should be mimable without needing to use a negative sign such as shaking their heads, e.g. miming drowning for “I can’t swim”. Such negative signs should also probably be banned. The activity could also be personalised by giving gapped sentences like “I _______ row a boat” and students miming their own true sentence.

7. Can/Can’t stations
One of the most difficult things about can/can’t is recognising which one is being said. This is especially so when the following word starts with a “t” or “d”, e.g. “I can take it off” and “I can’t take it off”, when students must rely entirely on the long /a:/ in some British accents, the unstressed schwa (short “er” with silent r) sound in the positive form, or the different stress patterns to recognise which one is being said. One way to practice this is for students to listen and run and touch the wall which the teacher has put a “can” card on or the wall which has a “can’t” card on depending on which they hear. They could also guess the teacher’s ability in something, run and touch the wall and then quickly change if the teacher’s statement is actually different. Students who don’t want to or can’t run around can raise their left hand for can and right hand for can’t, raise their pencil for can and eraser for can’t, stand up for can and raise one leg for can’t, hold up cards with the two words written on, etc.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | December 2012
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.