Skip to main content

5 activities to develop anticipation skills

Have you been watching the tennis at Wimbledon? Thinking about tennis for a moment, can you complete these sentences?

She hit a great first ________.
That was a great back-hand ________.
Federer won in three _______.

Now try these. You are in the classroom:

Open your _______.
Put up your _______.
Do you know your target _______? (yuk)

We have a great store of linguistic and whole world knowledge which helps us to understand and produce appropriate and correct language by predicting or anticipating what comes next in a sentence or utterance. As well as being able to decode sounds, spot words and parse sentences grammatically, being able to sub-consciously anticipate what comes next is a great aid to fluency and comprehension. We cannot be fluent one word at a time - we have to be constantly scanning ahead, as it were, to keep going or understand messages. Are there activities we can do which help develop this ability?

Perhaps the first thing to say is that the ability to anticipate the next sound, syllable, word or chunk primarily stems from having a good knowledge of the sound system, vocabulary and syntax of the language (as well as the "top-down" world knowledge you used in the gap-fills above). So there's not much point in trying to do exercises to build up predictive power unless students have enough knowledge to apply it. Even so, it's reasonable to suggest that, once students have some language to work with, it should be valuable to get students to be flexible and creative by thinking ahead in words and longer utterances.

Here are five activities you could easily do to help students build their anticipatory powers and, therefore, listening skill and spontaneous use of spoken language.

1.  Aural gap-fill

I have blogged about this before, but it's worth mentioning it again because it is such an easy activity to build into a lesson. Once you have spent time working on a text at any level, tell students to hide it. Read aloud the text from the start pausing to leave a gap to be filled (probably orally, possibly in writing). Students can add the next single word or phrase before you continue to read. You can tailor this to your class, supplying them with just the right amount of language and making the gaps as easy or as hard as you like. You can vary the difficulty level to allow students of varying abilities to respond. Some students may be able to supply whole sentences.

Other advantages of this task is that students enjoy short-term memory tasks, you can make the exercise as long or short as you like (flexible filler) and it enables you to give a twist to the lesson, recycling language you have previously used. I always found students enjoyed the challenge of this activity.

2. Complete the sentence

This makes for an easy starter, filler or plenary. Just write up or get pupils to transcribe (an added listening task) short verb sentence starters, e.g. I played..., I went to..., last weekend I bought...., this evening I am going to... If I won the lottery, I... You can make your starters fit the most recent recent area of language or topic you have been doing. Or else you can revisit a topic done some weeks ago (we know that spaced retrieval practice helps embed memories).

Students put up their hands and offer alternative sentence ends. An alternative is to supply the end of a sentence and get students to supply a possible start, e.g. ... tennis, ... with my parents, ... in the supermarket, ... blue.

3. Multiple choice

This needs more preparation. Suppose you have been working on an audio or video listening text. Replay the text, pausing in the middle of a sentence and asking pupils to choose from three option displayed on the board or on a worksheet. You can make these options as obvious or as subtle as you like, depending on the class or the content.

The different options could be the basis of some lexical or grammatical discussion.

4. One word at a time

This is the game where you go around the class (or do random/part random "cold calling") getting students to add the next word in a story. Explain how the activity will work, ten give an example, e.g.

One - day - I - went - to - the - cinema - where - I -saw.....

This task can be done at various levels and can fit with your latest topic or grammar. However, the unpredictability of where students will go with the account means you cannot necessarily stay on topic. It works well, for example, if you want to revise verbs.

To do this quite high-level task students need to show knowledge of morphology,  syntax and gender (where relevant). You can let them come up with bizarre twists in the story as long as they remain grammatically correct. You must also allow them to say "full stop" when appropriate.

You don't just have to do one story. In a ten minute session  you might cover half a dozen short accounts. Stop them when they get repetitive or too silly. Students enjoy this game and it gives them scope for their sense of the absurd as well as linguistic creativity.

5. Word completion

Tell students you are going to tell them a story about something you did recently. Tell them that at certain points you are going to pause in the middle of a word and they have to guess the next phoneme(s) or syllable(s). Here's an example for French with the gaps indicated:

Le weekend der___ je suis allé au cin___ avec mes en____. Nous avons v_ le nouv___ film de James Bond. Avant le film nous avons ach____ du pop___ et du co___. Le film était su___. J'ai ad___ le nouvel act___ qui joue le r___ de Bond. Après le film, nous sommes all___ au rest______. C'était un rest______ ita______. J'ai ma_____ de la pi____ et mes par____ ont pr___ des spa______.

Once again, this is an adaptable task depending on the class in front of you. In this case the anticipation is at the phonological morphological level. With higher-attaining classes this could then be done as a paired activity after you have modelled it yourself.

All the above tasks aim, therefore, to help develop students' anticipatory skills at the same time as their lexical and grammatical knowledge. When teachers ask "how do we get pupils to speak spontaneously", I tend to reply that there are no short-cuts to this - it takes years of comprehensible input and practice - but that there are tasks which can help develop the type of skills you need for spontaneous speech and good listening comprehension. You might like one or more of the above which are adaptable to all levels.


Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.

Setting work for home study

A major challenge for language teachers just now is selecting and sharing work with students to do at home. Here a few suggestions on the issue to add to your own. The sites I mention are the tip of the iceberg and focus mainly on French. I have stuck to free resources, not subscription sites.

By the way, I'm not getting into the use of tech here, as I have no great expertise on that. In any case, I imagine for younger learners especially it may be a question of setting other types of work.


For advanced learners the job is not so tough. There is a plethora of listening, reading and grammar material they can use, whether it be from their textbooks, other resources shared electronically or online resources. You may have your favourites, but for a selection for French you can check out my links here and here. You may want to stick with topics on the syllabus, or free up students to read and listen more generally to what interests them.

One idea I used was to ask students to c…

"Ask and move" task

This is a lesson plan using an idea from our book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's a task-based lesson adapted from an idea from Paul Nation and Jonathan Newton. It is aimed at Y10-11 pupils aiming at Higher Tier GCSE, but is easily adaptable to other levels and languages, including A-level. This has been posted as a resource on

This type of lesson plan excites me more than many, because if it runs well, you get a classroom of busy communication when you can step back, monitor and occasionally intervene as students get on with listening, speaking and writing.