Interview & icebreaker questions

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For practicing particular verb forms

These are various simple interview-style questions with different verb tenses. They can be used somewhat like general icebreaker questions, and for simple practice of verb tenses, before doing more involved, creative activities - sort of a more controlled activity. Basically, students are given a handout with these items, they go around the class and ask each other questions to find some people who have done or been one of the things on the handout. (There should be a long blank on the right side of the paper to write in names.) You will need to adapt these items to your needs. One variation is to give two versions of the handout to students, and have them do this in pairs, where each partner has a different question set - sort of info-gap style.

They could thus be used in a communicative grammar lesson or oral communication class in an order like this:

  1. Intro to grammar point or structure (e.g., the particular verb tense, or type of pragmatic function)
  2. Verb Q&A activity as controlled practice
  3. Open-ended communicative activity or TBLT-type activity

1 Past tenses

  • perfect
  • simple past
  • past progressive
  • past habitual
  • pluperfect (past perfect) - maybe

1.1 When was the last time you...?

Interview your classmate(s) and find out when they last did these things.

  1. fried an egg
  2. went to a movie theater
  3. took a trip
  4. ate pizza
  5. visited a friend in the hospital
  6. went to a disco
  7. received a letter
  8. talked to a dog
  9. fell asleep while reading
  10. went to a zoo
  11. had a nightmare or bad dream
  12. broke something

1.1.1 When was the last time you...? (Question set 2)

Interview your classmate(s) and find out when they last did these things.

  1. read a book
  2. played cards
  3. took a photograph
  4. wrote a letter
  5. ate breakfast in a restaurant
  6. held hands with someone
  7. went to the dentist
  8. used a hammer
  9. had a haircut
  10. gave someone flowers
  11. told a lie
  12. made a long distance phone call to another country

1.2 What have they been doing? (Perfect & other past tenses)

Talk about the person in each of these situations. What do you think s/he has been doing - what would explain these unusual situations?

  1. A person whose body and face is burned red.
  2. A man with pimples and acne all over his face.
  3. A person who looks tired, with bloodshot red eyes.
  4. A person with a sore throat.
  5. A man with a black eye and ripped clothing.
  6. A person with cuts and bruises all over their body.
  7. A person smiling and very happy.
  8. A person covered with dirt and mud.
  9. A person breathing hard, out of breath, and red-faced.
  10. A person limping.
  11. A person who seems nervous and excited.
  12. A man with lipstick on his face and shirt collar.
  13. Two women with bags and packages from several department stores.
  14. A couple wearing shorts, walking shoes, and backpacks; they seem very tired.
  15. A woman with red stains on her hands.
  16. A person with white hairs on his clothes and scratches on their hands.

1.3 Find someone who (emphasis on perfect tense)

Go around and interview all your classmates. Find as many people as you can who fit these descriptions, and write down their names. For each item, find out details – when, where, what, why?

  1. Speaks a foreign language besides English. / Has learned a foreign language besides English.
  2. Has travelled abroad sometime in the past five years.
  3. Has done volunteer work.
  4. Has participated in an extreme sport (like bungee jumping, sky diving, or other dangerous sports).
  5. Has held a part-time job.
  6. Took part in a demonstration.
  7. Did absolutely nothing but sleep during the break.
  8. Can cook well.
  9. Knows how to create web pages.
  10. Comes from another country or another planet.
  11. Can play a musical instrument.
  12. Likes Star Trek or X-Files.
  13. Someone who has studied English the longest time
  14. Someone who has appeared on T.V.
  15. Someone who has swum in more than two oceans of the world
  16. Someone who has been to Disneyland or Disneyworld
  17. Someone who has been to Europe

1.4 Find out who... (all perfect tense)

Go around the class and ask your classmates questions to find out which people fit the following descriptions.

  1. Someone who has studied English the longest time
  2. Someone who has studied English the shortest time
  3. Someone who has known how to drive the longest
  4. Someone who has driven the shortest amount of time
  5. Someone who has worn glasses the longest
  6. Someone who has worn glasses the shortest time
  7. Someone who has appeared on T.V.
  8. Someone who has eaten tacos
  9. Someone who has swum in more than two oceans of the world
  10. Someone who has been to Disneyland or Disneyworld
  11. Someone who has been to Paris
  12. Someone who has not played soccer.

1.5 Childhood (habitual verbs like 'used to')

Interview a classmate about what s/he did in his/her past; s/he will also ask you some questions. Use the past habitual tenses in your questions, as well as other past tenses. In your answers to your classmate's questions, also try to use past habitual as well as other past tenses.

  • earliest childhood memory
  • played ____ when you were a child
  • when you were younger, wanted to be ____ when you grew up
  • favorite TV program as a child
  • something you were punished for whey you were a child
  • best subject in school when you were younger
  • used to ____in junior high / middle school
  • used to ____in the first semester of college / last semester of high school

1.6 Past regrets...

  1. Do you regret many things in your past?
  2. Is there some that you did not stay in touch with, and regret it?
  3. Is there anyone that you regret meeting?
  4. Is there someone you regret not meeting, though you could have?
  5. Do you regret any past romances?
  6. Do you regret wasting your time doing something? What was it?
  7. Do you regret doing something as a child? Would you like to tell us about it?
  8. Do you think people dwell too much on their past regrets? Do you? [dwell on = focus thoughts or attention on something]
  9. Some say that you must have regrets in order to learn or become more mature. Do you agree?
  10. What do you think you will regret when you are old?

2 Future & immediate future (will, going to)

Are you going to / gonna? Will you? (Which would be best in these situations?)

  • study hard in college
  • get an 'A' in the class
  • eat some kimbab
  • fall asleep
  • eat some squid for lunch
  • buy me lunch
  • be quiet
  • buy the teacher some coffee
  • read a Russian novel
  • go dancing

3 Hypothetical and conditional verb forms & topics

3.1 What if...?

Below are some unusual questions. Think about them, describe and discuss what life would be like, and what you would think about that kind of situation.

  1. What if everyone went bald every time it rained?
  2. What if soccer were played with a basketball?
  3. What if you were born old and grew younger?
  4. What if men turned into women and women turned into men at age 21?
  5. What if classes were only held on Saturdays and Sundays?
  6. What if baseball were played under water?
  7. What if all TVs were outlawed?
  8. What if men wore dresses instead of women?
  9. What if students gave teachers exams rather than teachers giving students exams?
  10. What if you were ugly and everyone else was beautiful? Or what if you were beautiful and everyone else was ugly?
  11. What if you had to drink alcohol before class?
  12. What if the library was only for sleeping?
  13. What if you had to eat your book if you failed an exam?
  14. What if people could fly?
  15. What if you had a robot for a teacher?
  16. What if computers could think like humans?
  17. What if we discovered intelligent life in outer space?
  18. What if children were born from eggs?

Now as a group write five "what if's" of your own.

3.2 What would you do?

Discuss the following and explain your answers.

  1. What would you do if you were on a plane that was being hijacked?
  2. If you had a chance to speak on TV (in English) for five minutes, what would you say?
  3. If you had next week free, a lot of money, and a passport, what would you do?
  4. If you could meet anyone from history, who would you want to meet?
  5. If you woke up one morning to discover that you were a child again, what would you do?
  6. What would you do if you met an alien from outer space?
  7. If you were supreme ruler of the world, what would you do?
  8. If your company sent you to a foreign country to live and work, where would you want to go? What would you do there?
  9. What would you do if you were on a sinking ship?
  10. If you met your ideal partner (future wife/husband) but discovered that s/he had been married before, what would you do?
  11. If you saw a gun in your friend's bag, what would you do?
  12. If you could make yourself invisible, what would you do? Where would you go?

4 Modal & quasi-modal verbs

In this section, students can also practice more colloquial and fast speech pronunciation of helping verbs & pronouns:

  • have → ‘v /əv/
  • you → /yu/ → ya /yə/
  • do → da, d' /də/
  • verb + you → ja (shouldja, wouldja, couldja...)

4.1 Should

Should I / Do you think I should / Do you think I ought to...? Don't you think you should...?

  • buy a new computer
  • take some medicine
  • study English
  • get a large dog
  • get more exercise
  • go see a movie
  • study all night
  • get an iguana

Should I have / Do you think I should have ...? Don't you think you should have...?

  • stayed home today
  • majored in philosophy
  • studied harder for my exams
  • slept last night
  • skipped class
  • learned Spanish
  • become a rock star

4.2 Could

Could you...?

  • loan me twenty bucks / dollars / euros / pounds
  • loan me your car
  • fix my computer
  • drive me to Pusan
  • cook me breakfast
  • loan me $1000
  • buy me dinner
  • teach me French
  • buy me a new car

4.3 Have to (hafta, gotta)

  • go to English class
  • get you a gift
  • take you to a movie
  • buy you dinner
  • clean the house
  • be nice to the teacher
  • loan you twenty bucks
  • fix your computer
  • take a quiz
  • get married

4.4 Want to (wanna)

What do you want to do? Do you want to / wanna...?

  • eat some pizza
  • go to work
  • go out to a bar
  • study philosophy
  • wash dishes
  • get married
  • eat lunch
  • help me shovel snow
  • go to Canada
  • do some homework
  • get the flu
  • catch a cold
  • watch soccer
  • go to prison
  • get a haircut
  • learn German
  • drink some German beer
  • take a nap
  • skip class