Teaching grammar without a book: third person singular

Since I posted a lesson about inversions a while back, I have been thinking about writing more about grammar. I haven’t used many coursebooks recently, so I figured a personalized grammar lesson may interest other teachers.

While working in a Celta course, I usually only observe candidates teaching. However, if a candidate doesn’t show up for his or her teaching practice, I need to step up and fill in the void so that other candidates’ lessons are not affected.

The lesson I’m sharing today is one I prepared for such an occasion. It’s aimed at adult elementary students but, with minimal adaptations, it could be used with adolescents as well.

The aim of this lesson is to introduce and practice the present simple third person in the context of talking about family and friends. You’re going to need some photos of friends or relatives. Siblings are ideal and it helps if you are next to the person on the photo. However, you can use any photos from Google images and just pretend they are from people you know.

Start by showing students the photo you selected.

Third Person

Ask students who they think the person is (this is my sister). After they have guessed it correctly, ask them to answer these questions in pairs:

  • Do you have brothers or sisters? How many?

When eliciting answers, you can use this as a diagnostic moment and get students to talk about their partners (i.e. My partner has two sisters). This is a way of knowing how much they already know about the third person singular. At this stage, it’s likely that many students will produce ‘my partner have one brother’. If you’d rather not have your students produce incorrect language they haven’t been presented to yet, just ask individual students to tell you about themselves.

Go back to the picture and tell students you are going to describe things you and your sister like. At the end, they have to decide if you are similar or different.

Read the sentences out loud and then put students in pairs to decide if you are similar or different.

I like basketball. My sister likes volleyball.

I like Japanese food. She likes Italian food.

I like rock music. She likes MPB.

After a minute or two elicit from the whole group if they think you are similar or different. Ask students to justify their opinions.

Now board the sentences (if you have access to a projector or IWB, that saves time, but you can just as well write them on the board).

I like basketball. My sister likes volleyball.

I like Japanese foodShe likes Italian food.

I like rock music. She likes MPB.

Ask students why there is an -S after the verb in the sentences about your sister. There is usually one student who says ‘because it’s she’. Make sure you go a little further and ask about ‘my sister’ and why it also needs an -S.

Once you have established that, do the same thing for ‘he’ and ‘it’. Even though I don’t have a brother or a cat, I usually elicit examples like ‘my brother likes football or my brother like football?’ or ‘my cat likes MPB or my cat like MPB?’.

Now board this and ask students to complete it, so that they can have a written record of the target language.

Use He/She/It + verb+__ for most verbs in the present simple.

At this stage, you can give students some simple speaking practice by asking them to finish the following sentences in pairs. If earlier on you identified that some students are only children, include other options (such as my mother/father or my best friend):

  • My brother/sister likes …
  • My best friend likes …

Give students only a minute or two and then elicit some answers. If students fail to use the -S despite having a model on the board, correct on the spot by drawing their attention to the model and pointing at the -S.

In order to introduce the negative, show students the following sentences. Elicit the negative forms to complete the gaps.

My sister likes volleyball.

I _____ like volleyball.

I like basketball.

My sister _____ like basketball.

Work on pronunciation and focus on the /z/ sound in /dʌzənt/.

Again, give them a chance to have a written record of the target language.

In the negative, use He/She/It +_______ + verb.

Give students some very controlled practice again and pay close attention to their pronunciation.

  • My brother/sister doesn’t like …
  • My best friend doesn’t like …

Give students only a minute or two and then elicit some answers.

At this point, you can move on to controlled practice or also introduce irregular verbs (has) and verbs that take -ES. If you skip this stage, don’t use the last two activities (8 and 9) in the controlled practice gap-fill.

Show students some sentences and then ask them to complete the sentences below.

My sister has a car, but she goes to work by subway.

In the morning, she watches Cartoon Network.

  • The 3rd person singular form of have is _____.
  • When a verb ends in O, SS, SH, X or CH, add ____ to make the third person singular.

In my very first job as a teacher, a colleague showed me a mnemonic to remember which verbs need -ES. It only really works for Brazilians who are adults, but here it is: O SHow da Xuxa é SSuper CHato.

You may also want to draw students’ attention to the fact that all of these verbs (has, goes, watches) end in a /z/ or /iz/ sound. Look here for further info.

For controlled practice, either show these sentences on a slide or print them out as a worksheet. It’s a good idea to have a mix of first person and third person singular/plural to make it more challenging. First, ask students to complete the sentences on their own and the check in pairs.

  1. My brother ______ (speak) English very well.
  2. My best friend ______ (work) in a multinational company.
  3. I ______ (love) Japanese food.
  4. My sister ______ (like) to watch reality shows.
  5. My husband/wife _________ (not like) dogs.
  6. My parents ______ (live) in São Paulo.
  7. I ______ (not have) children.
  8. My father ______ (have) an old car.
  9. My best friend ______ (go) to work by bus. 

Elicit answers from students and get them to justify it (i.e. ‘My brother is like he, so you use the S’ or ‘my parents is like they, so you don’t use the S’).

After that, tell students to look at the sentences again and say if the sentences are true from them or not. If they aren’t, student should change the sentences to make them true (for instance ‘my brother doesn’t speak English very well’ or ‘my friend Daniel speaks English very well’.)

For freer practice, put students in trios. Tell them they are going to introduce one of their friends to the rest of the group.

Model the activity by showing a picture of a friend (this is Roberta, the maid of honor at my wedding). Students need to write 4 sentences about their friends and one of them must be false. Show them the sentences and ask them to guess which one is false.

Third Person (2)


This is my friend Roberta.

She lives in Rio de Janeiro. (This is false, she lives in Campinas)

She works at Tetra Pak.

She loves samba.

She doesn’t have children.

As students write their sentences, monitor closely and correct things on the spot. I usually ask students to show a picture of their friends using their mobile phones, as it makes the activity more personal.

If you want to give students additional practice, I’d recommend a ‘find someone whose’ where you ask students to find people whose best friend likes/works/goes/travels etc.

Thanks for reading.


11 thoughts on “Teaching grammar without a book: third person singular

  1. This was really good, thanks! I like your explanations and examples for diseminating grammar concepts to students, and would appreciate seeing more of this type of post. 🙂


  2. Great stuff! Thank you for taking the time to share. In most of my classes I tend to deal with noticing grammar and drilling in a similar way even if I do have a book. Seems to be much more memorable.

    I know it wasn’t the point of the post itself but, why would the students guess which one is false in the last phase? Wouldn’t it be more realistic for the students to pay attention and see how you are similar our different to the described partner? I say this because I do a similar icebreaker but have noticed the true-false thing doesn’t motivate the students as much as comparing my tastes or interests to theirs. Just an idea.


    • Hi, Dwteacher. I think you are right about the last activity. It really depends on how much students know about you, but it’s likely that comparing likes/dislikes would be more interesting.
      And this kind of lesson can definitely be done with a coursebook. The reason I don’t use them nowadays is more economical than anything. As I don’t work for an English institute, buying coursebooks for different levels can get really expensive in Brazil. When I did use them, my idea was similar: to adapt activities so that they are more personalized and, as you said, memorable.


  3. Hey,

    That was amazing lesson, we do so many tiny mistakes and have so much confusion .
    Thanks for claring it further i would like to know do u have any specific page where u upload ur lessons and kindly inbox me your email i have to ask few things for the same.


    • Hi, Sizone. I post most of my lessons here on the blog, but this was my first (and so far, only) grammar lesson. I’ll try to do more of them in the future. If you need to, you can reach me at ricbarros at gmail dot com.


  4. Pingback: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish | ricardo barros elt

  5. Dear Ricardo,

    Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful idea! It seems private students are not really into using textbooks and I’ve looking for new ideas to still work on MFP… I do believe they need to learn grammar, however, it super depends on us to present it a “light” way =D!


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