Author: British Council | Published on 1 March 2023


Stage 1: Present examples 

Write these sets of sentences on the board. Ask: “What do you notice about these sentences?”

Set 1

  • The students are laughing.
  • The teacher smiled.
  • What time did they arrive?

Set 2

  • The students enjoyed the activity.
  • Fatou wants a bicycle.
  • Can you buy some bananas? I like them very much. 

To help learners, you could:

  • Underline the key words which you want them to focus on (2 = the activity/a bicycle/ some bananas/them)
  • Ask more focused questions (e.g. What is the subject of the sentences? What is the verb? What comes after the verb?)
  • Ask very specific questions (e.g. Can we put a noun or ‘it/them’ after the verbs in 1? =No)

Stage 2: Take feedback 

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

  • In English some verbs, e.g. want and like need an object. (E.g. Fatou wants a bicycle. I like them very much.) These verbs are transitive and the structure is Subject + Verb + Object. Common examples include: bring, enjoy, like, make, take, wear.
  • However, some verbs, e.g. smile and arrive do not have objects. (E.g. The teacher smiled. What time did they arrive?) These verbs are intransitive and the structure is Subject + Verb. Common examples include: cry, die, fall, happen, work.

Some verbs can be transitive (T) or intransitive (I), e.g. sing, play, draw, help, learn, study, watch, write. Examples: 

  1. They were singing an English song. (T) They were singing when I arrived. (I) 
  2. We played football. (T)  We were playing outside. (I)
  3. The teacher helped them. (T)  Can you help? (I)
  4. He wrote a poem. (T)  I’m writing to my friend. (I)

Note: At lower levels and with young learners, labels such as transitive or intransitive can be confusing. It is more useful to focus on meaning. 

Stage 3: Use the grammar

a) Jumbled sentences

Write 6–8 jumbled sentences on the board: some should have transitive verbs and some intransitive verbs (use other example verbs listed above). Learners work in pairs or small groups to order the words in the sentences. Then they group the sentences into transitive and intransitive. 


  1. Yesterday they wrote a story. (T)
  2. We are learning to say the alphabet backwards. (T)
  3. Something strange happened on the bus today. (I)

b) Hands up! Hands down!

Put learners in groups. Read out sentences to the class. Groups have 10 seconds to discuss and decide if the sentence has an object or not. Count down: “3, 2, 1.” Groups put hands up if it has, hands down if it hasn’t. 


  1. He was reading a book. (=yes) 
  2. She prefers walking to school. (=no) 
  3. Don’t forget your bags! (=yes) 

c) Experiment

To raise awareness of verbs that can be transitive and intransitive. Learners work in small groups. They have 5 minutes to try to create a Subject + Verb and a Subject + Verb + Object sentence for each verb. Example verbs: draw, help, learn, study, watch. 

d) Using texts

Choose a text from the textbook that learners have already read. They work in pairs to underline Subject + Verb + Object sentences. 

e) Story lines

Write ‘One day …’ and some nouns and past simple verbs on the board. Include a mix of transitive and intransitive verbs. 

monkey    boy   bus  bananas    mouse     bag    postcard    tiger

wanted    made     played     found     woke     sang     fell    took 

Learners work in pairs and create the first lines of stories. E.g. One day a mouse woke a tiger. One day a monkey took the bus to market. One day a boy fell from the sky. Learners can then work together to write a short story.  


Transitive: characterized by having or containing a direct object

Intransitive: characterized by not having or containing a direct object

Subject: any noun, pronoun or noun phrase that does the action in a sentence.

Object: the thing/person that the action is done to.