A designer lessons ESL lesson plan developed by Neil McMillan

Neil McMillan is a TESOL teacher and teacher trainer from  Perth, Scotland. He can often be found in the staffroom surrounded by trainee teachers furiously scribbling in notebooks, faces awestruck, pencils shortening. When he’s not teaching you’ll find him DJ-ing or talking to his cat.


The Green Card A2-B2 

A group role-play task to practise present simple routines and personal information, question forms, reported speech using the past simple and writing skills.

 Length: 1hr – 1hr 30

This game is a variation on the well-worn Alibi but allows for practice with tenses more commonly learned at elementary/pre-intermediate stage. It can, however, be adapted to add more challenge for higher levels.

Stage 1

Show the Ss a picture (or a real example) of a resident’s card, passport or work visa and ask how, in their country, an immigrant might go about getting one.  Elicit/explain that in some countries, getting married to a local citizen can be a way of obtaining some kind of visa. But that in some countries, the authorities are very keen to make sure that the couple married for love, and not just for a visa!


Show the following movie trailer for the movie Green Card:

Ask the following comprehension questions:

  • Why do the couple get married and then say goodbye to each other?
  • Who calls the woman and why does this change everything?
  • What do the couple have to do?

Vocab: immigration officer/authorities, marriage licence, work permit/visa, green card, marriage of convenience, to get a story straight


Stage 2

 Explain to the class that some of them are going to play the role of immigration control officers, and others are to be married couples who the officers are investigating.  The officers are going to decide whether the couples are genuine or not by questioning them. For a 12 student group, divide the class as follows:

3 “couples”

3 teams of 2 officers

Establish that the couples are going to be questioned separately and decide on which areas. For lower groups, stick with personal information and routines, e.g. each person’s birthday, favourite colour, family, job etc. More advanced groups could also go for past details, e.g. when they met, how long they’ve been together, and so on.

Stage 3

 Send the couples out of the room to concoct their intimate knowledge of each other out of thin air, while the two teams of questioners join together to brainstorm questions. The couples might find it easier to start from the truth than to invent. In either case, the questioners will need to ask each person about their significant other as well as themselves, so encourage questions in both the 2nd and 3rd person, and help with question formation.


Stage 4

 The questioners split back into their teams. Each team interviews one married couple, but separately, taking notes on each person’s answers.

Stage 5

The interview teams get back together and report on any discrepancies in the couples´ stories, effectively deciding who seems genuine and who not. Meanwhile, the couples compare notes on the points they were tripped up on and how any inconsistencies might be explained away. During this and the next stage, monitor and note down how effectively/accurately the Ss are reporting each other’s speech.


Stage 6

The whole class gets together for each interviewing team to present their decisions and why, and if necessary, for the couples to defend themselves and clarify any ambiguous information. The final decision, however, rests with the immigration authorities.

Stage 7

Feed back to class on reported speech structures. For lower levels, limit the reporting verbs to say/tell/ask + obj pron and the backshift structures to present simple – past simple, present continuous – past continuous. Also introduce if for yes/no questions. For higher levels, introduce more reporting verbs and extend the backshift focus to cover all the tenses used in the interviews.

e.g. We asked them what they ate for breakfast.

He told us he ate toast but she said he ate sausage and beans!

Stage 8

Ask each interviewing team to write up a report on what was asked and said and the reasons for accepting or rejecting the couple. The couples could write an email to a friend explaining what happened, what they were asked and how they replied. Monitor and correct for accuracy in use of reporting structures.

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Designer Lessons by George Chilton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.