Always Keep Dice with You

When practicing a grammar structure with my class, I often use dice to randomize prompts.  This way, students don’t know what they’re supposed to say or write until I tell them the results of a roll, which keeps them on their toes.  For one thing, they’ll need to grasp the understanding of the structure and be prepared to apply it in different ways.  For another thing, it’s easy to turn this into a competition, which is a great motivator for many students.

The Dice

I tend to carry around two dice in my bag.  One is a standard six-sided die, and the other is ten-sided.  I recommend using a ten-sided die to increase the number of options and provide more variation to your prompts, but if you can’t find one, two six-sided dice will do just fine.

Each dice is matched with a subset of prompts, which I’ll get to shortly.  The two dice should be different colors to help you distinguish which one goes with which subset of prompts.

On occasion, I’ll have a third subset of prompts, but for this I’d usually draw tokens out of a bag (usually tokens of three different colors, say blue, red, and yellow).  Other times, I only used one subset of prompts; obviously, you’ll need to adjust to the context.

What to Use the Dice for

Suppose you are teaching modals of obligation and permission.  For practice, you want your students to tell you what they can, can’t, or must do for certain activities.  Create one subset for the modals and one for the activities.  The number of entries in a subset should match the number of faces on the die, and you’ll need to number then entries.  Write all entries for both subsets on the board.  Here is an example of what you might include in each subset:

white six-sided die

    1. must
    2. have to
    3. can
    4. don’t have to
    5. can’t
    6. mustn’t

black ten-sided die

    1. football/soccer
    2. fencing
    3. cooking
    4. photography
    5. judo
    6. acting
    7. chess
    8. basketball
    9. concert band
    10. tennis

If you roll white-6 and black-1, a student might come up with a sentence like “When you play football, you mustn’t touch the ball with your hands.”  If you roll white-2 and black-9, the resulting sentence might be “In concert band, you have to watch the conductor.”

After doing a few rounds, you might change the black die prompts to locations.  What are you permitted or expected to do (or not do) at a restaurant, at a swimming pool, at the cinema, etc.

Let’s suppose for another class you’re practicing continuous tenses.  You might have prompt subsets for the verb, time expression, and +/-/?, with entries like these:

black ten-sided die

  1. play outside
  2. eat dinner
  3. sleep
  4. do homework
  5. go shopping
  6. swim
  7. brush teeth
  8. listen to music
  9. walk
  10. watch TV

white six-sided die

  1. yesterday morning
  2. right now
  3. in 3 hours
  4. at 8:30 last night
  5. next Thursday
  6. when you called


  • yellow: positive
  • red: negative
  • blue: question
When you roll black-8, roll white-4, and draw blue, a student might provide the sentence, “Were you listening to music at 8:30 last night?”  A prompt of black-4, white-5, and red might inspire “Sarah won’t be doing her homework next Thursday.”

You can use dice for all sorts of different topics.  Here are some things to consider for your prompt subset categories:

common verbs (base form)

time expressions




auxiliary verbs

modals verbs



How to Use the Dice

Examples:  Roll the dice to compose a prompt, then out loud reason through word choices or through the possible structures.  Which apply to the prompt?  What do you need to use or change in order to fit the components of your prompt into a sentence?  After you’ve modelled it, do it a few more times with new prompts, letting a student reason through everything instead of you.  For more difficult lessons, you might want to spend more time on this.  Also, you should draw attention to the differences made between sentences that result from one prompt and sentences resulting from another.

Team Competition:  Write the prompts in the middle of the board, leaving space on the right and on the left for students to write.  Divide the class into two teams.  Each round, one student from either team comes up to the board and prepares to write an answer.  Roll the dice and tell them the numbers that come up.  The two students match the numbers to the sub-prompts, then form a sentence on the board.  The first one to write a correct sentences scores a point for their team.  As they’re writing, the rest of the students should be thinking about a correct answer and might cheer on their teammates, but I typically don’t let them assist.  Once they are done, if there is a wrong sentence, I ask the rest of the students why it’s wrong and how to correct it.

As a variation, you can tell the students to sub-prompts themselves instead of the numbers (i.e. instead of “white-6, black-2”, say “must, basketball”).  This frees up space on the board, so you can do three or four teams.

Pairs Competition:  If you have a small enough class, you can do the same task as the team contest, but students can work in pairs at their desks, and everyone can participate at once.  It helps if they write large enough to help you verify their answers quickly.  Once they finish with a sentence, they can raise their hands for you to check it.  Again, the first pair to form a correct sentence scores a point.  Alternately, you can set a time-limit, and every pair that answers correctly before time runs out gets a point.

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