• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


X-words for Beginners

Page history last edited by Nicole Safranek 7 years, 11 months ago


FrontPage > X-Words for Beginners





Hi X-Word Grammar Friends,

I teach beginning ESL to teenagers from Central America and Mexico. I would like to share with you how I am applying X-word grammar concepts in my classroom. I have taken Linda's wonderful do/does/did mice and made animal themed X-word cards for am/are/is/was/were, for can, and most recently for have/has/had. My goal is to teach the students to pay special attention to these words. I'd love your feedback and questions. 

Nicole Safranek  nicole.safranek@gmail.com


April 30, 2016

It has been ever so long since I had an X-word grammar inspiration, but I'm proud to present after several months of design and re-design, my Verb Cards. They are made from multicolored sentence strips; green for base form, blue for -ing, pink for past, and orange for -d-t-n. They are "laminated" with packaging tape. I'd like to have them close with magnets, but for now I use mini binder clips.



They are designed to fold so that students can either use the pink and/or green sides in a class or the orange and/or blue sides in a class. I've mostly used them so far to teach students how the verb changes in past tense questions with did and in past tense sentences. They also use them as flash cards to memorize past tense spellings (I think I have made about 20 that are aligned with my curriculum). 




I wrote the base form of the verb close to the right edge of the card so that sentences like this could be easily formed:

I'm looking forward to more posts as my students learn to use more forms of the verbs!


October 25, 2014

I taught a week-long study of can. We practiced using can to ask questions about abilities and to ask for permission (to drink water, to have a pencil, etc.). Again, I laud the organizational capacity of the pocket chart; after we learned the new vocabulary words (classroom objects and some new verbs), we practiced with this board set up:

Students used the x-word, chose the subject and added a verb or verb phrase (have + classroom item). Once they made a sentence I asked them to say whether it was a request or an ability question. Later I picked the verb and asked students to decide if it made more sense to ask Can you or Can I (or maybe both work!). This activity was helped by students thinking about the question in their own language. Full disclosure: I now work with traumatized Spanish-speaking teens and need to do a lot of explaining and defining in Spanish because most students are not emotionally prepared to deal with the frustration of English immersion :)


October 5, 2014

Its been too long, but after a bit of vacation and a short job search, I'm working again, this time in Portland, OR, with undocumented teens. The great news is that I still get to apply X-Word Grammar in my classes! This post is about a new tool that I have just discovered but that elementary teachers have known and loved for ages: the pocket chart.

I'm saying goodbye to my magnets and embracing multicolored sentence strips! The pocket chart allows me to demonstrate how x-words "jump" from the question to the answers. I use a sentence strip to write the entire question phrase so the x-word doesn't disappear when I move my do/does mice or my am/is/are chameleons. I create image cards with corresponding vocab strips which I use interchangeably to create the sentences in the chart. I also have dry erase sentence strips for phrases and words that I don't need to keep on file for reuse. The pocket chart is versatile, visible, and even helps me stay organized while I'm teaching: all the vocab goes back into the chart at the end of the lesson.

(This arrangement was for a study of adjectives and astrological signs. The blank space after "Are you" was for adding in any of a list of adjectives we learned as a class. I hope to get more pictures of how I'm using the chart in other ways, but it is so hard to remember to photograph your own lessons!)


March 20, 2014

A student asked me today at the end of our class review of x-words, whether you can ever combine x-words. Since of course you CAN combine SOME, I paused for a long moment, before answering "not these." I ran through lots of examples in my head to make sure I was right that the x-words I teach in my beginner course (DO, DOES, DID, IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE, and CAN) cannot ever be combined with one another. It also occurred to me, is this what people mean when they distinguish between modals and auxiliaries? A modal x-word can be paired with HAVE, and (as in the previous verb phrase) with BE, as HAVE can go with BEEN, and IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE with BEING, but are BE, BEEN, and BEING x-words if they come before main verbs? Then are auxiliary verbs the ones that cannot be combined? Or are they the ones that can also be main verbs? Luckily, I did not have to explain any of this to my student, since we didn't get anywhere near this complicated in beginning grammar class, but it got me thinking about how other teachers handle these rules. They're very nice rules since they are consistent, but they are not exactly easy. 


March 10, 2014: One thing I love about X-words is that they make English grammar tangible. I have been a middle school teacher for most of my career, and I find that learning activities are improved by tactile input and physical interaction. Thus, the inspiration for last Thursday's class as a series of 4-minute "stations." We just finished a unit on the simple past and have been studying the present progressive for a week. The students moved in pairs through each of five stations around the classroom:

Station 1: Review past tense verb spellings using a Quizlet game at the computer at the front of the class.

Station 2: Read an authentic postcard text and identify four tenses used by the writer.

Station 3: Use x-word "be" chameleons, subject cards, and verbs and complements on sticky notes to create positive, negative, and interrogative sentences in present progressive.

Station 4: Complete a speaking activity from the class text, Focus on Grammar 1, comparing two similar images (Think kids magazine activity: spot the differences)

Station 5: Complete a writing worksheet by constructing sentences from the elements provided in parentheses. (What are these types of activities called?)


The timing didn't work out perfectly for all the activities; some stations needed less and others more time. When I told the speedy students that they could just "relax" for the remaining 30 seconds to 1 minute, I was reminded of one of the most important differences between adult and adolescent students: Un-planned "downtime"  in a lesson for adults isn't cause for panic! :D


February 22, 2014: I presented today at the Spokane Regional ESL Conference. Here is my Prezi, Meet the X-Words 


February 18, 2014 Video of a warm-up review activity: Choose the x-word



A game to play with X-words, which scaffolds the creation of original sentences, making it easier for students to focus on the grammar forms rather than thinking for a long time about what they want to say/write.


This is the game board, which could be made into a handout, but which I usually just put on the white board:

Students work in pairs and roll dice to choose a subject and an x-word category. The teacher calls out "y/n question" or "negative sentence" or "positive sentence" and students generate a sentence using the subject and x-word indicated by their dice. A page of images of verbs and/or adjectives can be a useful scaffold for students who have a hard time with recall. 


Example: Students roll two dice and get 3 and 2. This gives them the subject "He" and the x-word "Be". The students then write a sentence or question (as indicated by the teacher) using "He" and the correct form of "Be": 

- He is going shopping. He is happy.

- Is he drinking coffee? Is he American?

- He isn't making dinner. He isn't my friend.


Students could generate these sentences orally, or they could write them (it would even work as a race). I put them in pairs so they can check each other's work. 


This game comes back in gameshow assessments. I divide the class into two teams, which alternate turns. I roll the dice and they consult briefly before presenting their sentence or question using the selected subject/x-word combination. 


February 2014 Find my X-word cards in the files section titled "do does did" and "is are am"

(I know, the "does" is capitalized. I scanned the wrong version and will fix eventually) 


Comments (3)

Bonny Hart said

at 11:05 am on Apr 29, 2014

Nicole, could you write an example for the game on the white board? I'm not quite sure how it works.

Tamara Kirson said

at 10:59 pm on Mar 3, 2014

This is exciting, Nicole! It's clear that your students are learning and having fun!

Cyndi said

at 11:15 pm on Feb 24, 2014

Thanks for posting this, Nicole! It's always helpful to see x-word grammar in action. I like the tactile, active nature of putting the words on the board with magnets!

You don't have permission to comment on this page.