Author: British Council | Published 2 January 2023


Stage 1: Present examples

Write these sentences on the board and ask. “What do you notice about the sentences? What is the difference in meaning?”

a) My brother who lives in Dakar is a teacher.

b) My brother, who lives in Dakar, is a teacher.

To help learners:

Ask: “How many brothers do I have in sentence a)?Elicit – more than one.

Ask: “In sentence a) Which of my brothers is a teacher?” Elicit – the one who lives in Dakar (e.g. unlike my brother who lives in Saint Louis)

Ask: “How many brothers do I have in sentence b)?” Elicit – only one.

Ask: “In sentence b) if I remove the words ‘who lives in Dakar’, does the sentence still make sense?" Elicit – yes, because you only have one brother. The information ‘who lives in Dakar’ is additional and not essential to the sentence. 

Write the following sentence on the board.

c) A giraffe is an animal which has a very long neck.

Ask: “Why do we say ‘which has a very long neck’?” Elicit – it defines what a giraffe is.

Stage 2: Take feedback

Ask learners to share their feedback on what they noticed in the examples. Some key points you might want to share with them include:

  • We use relative clauses to define things (sentence c).
  • When we are talking about something unique (i.e. there is only one), we can use a non-defining relative clause (sentence b).
  • When we write a non-defining clause we use a comma before and after the clause which has extra information (sentence b). When we speak, we pause where the commas are.
  • When we need to be specific about which thing we are referring to (i.e. there is more than one), we use a defining relative clause (sentence a).
  • When speaking, ‘that’ is commonly used to introduce defining relative clauses. It isn’t used for non-defining relative clauses. 

Stage 3: Use the grammar

a. Defining or non-defining?

Write up some defining and non-defining relative clauses say: “Read the sentences. Decide if it’s defining or non-defining.” 

  1. My mother, who lives with me, is 55 years old.
  2. The cat which caught the mouse belongs to me neighbour.
  3. The teacher who has grey hair teaches us maths.
  4. My sister who has a son is a nurse.
  5. My sister, who has a son, is a nurse.

b. Likes and dislikes

On the board write up the following prompts:

I like people who …

I dislike people who …

I like things which …

I don’t like things which …

Say: “Finish the sentences so they are true for you.”

Monitor and help where necessary.

Say: “Stand up, walk around and say your sentences to each other. Try and find someone who has two or more sentences that are the same as yours.”

c. What is it?

Demonstrate the game. Say: “I will give you a definition, you need to guess what it is.”

Say: “A [Beep] is a thing which you use to brush your teeth. What is it?” 

Let learners guess. (A toothbrush) 

Say: “A [Beep] is an animal that walks very slowly. What is it?”

Let learners guess. (A tortoise)

Put learners in teams. Give each team a letter and say: “Write five words that start with that letter. Then, for each word write a definition i.e. A [beep] is …

Monitor and help where necessary.

Say: “Each team will read out a definition. The team which guesses correctly first wins a point.”

Play the game. 


Elicit: How a teacher gets information from learners, e.g. asking questions, prompting.

Define: intend to convey

Clause: a group of words that contains a verb and often a subject, object, complement and adjunct. 

Pause: interrupt action or speech briefly.

Monitor: The way a teacher watches to see how well an individual, group or class is doing a particular task.

Demonstrate: To show and explain how learners should do a task.

See also