Hands-on English current events activity for October, 1997

UPDATE--One of our readers suggests that this activity also works well if the topic is the July 98 forest fires in Florida. (She adapted the exercise a little and brought in some newspaper articles about the Florida fires for her students.)

Note: You are welcome to print, copy and use this activity with your students. However, this material is copyrighted, so please don't re-publish it anywhere without permission.


ESL Grammar activity: Forest fires in Indonesia

Practice with have to/can't/won't be able to
(Appropriate for high-beginning and intermediate level students; or use as review for advanced students. Also works for multi-level classes.)


The context for this grammar activity is the smog problem in Indonesia and surrounding countries. First, find out what your students already know about this issue. You might bring in some news photos to look at, a map, or some clippings to read and discuss.

If you have students in the class from the affected regions, this could be an excellent opportunity for them to tell the other students what they know about these events.

How to do it

Begin by explaining to your students:
Everyday life in Indonesia is being disrupted by the disasterous forest fires and the air pollution they create. What people usually do every day, they can't do now, and if the fires continue, they won't be able to do these things for a long time.

Present the following two lists side by side, and ask students to match the nouns in column A with the actions in column B (more than one correct answer is possible).


Column A

wild animals
coffee farmers


Column B

go to school
live in the forest
make money
harvest their crops
navigate the ocean
breathe the air
land at the airport
visit the beautiful places

Now ask students to use words from the two columns to make the following kinds of sentences. Do these orally first; then follow up in writing.

1. Make sentences with "usually."
For example: "In Indonesia, children usually go to school."

2. Make sentences with "usually have to."
For example: "In Indonesia, children usually have to go to school."

3. Make sentences with "can't."
For example: "Now, because of the fires, children in Indonesia can't go to school."

4. Make sentences with "won't be able to."
For example, "If the fires continue, children won't be able to go to school for a long time."


As a follow-up, have students write the sentences, but do each topic as a set, in one paragraph. For example, a student's answer might look like this:

"In Indonesia, children usually go to school every day. Now, because of the fires, the children can't go to school. If the fires continue, children won't be able to go to school for a long time."

Depending on how much writing your students want to do, they could write all of these, or just select two or three to work on. Since there is some room for variation here, it might be interesting to have students read some of their answers aloud to the rest of the group.


Ask your students if they have any ideas or suggestions on solving some of these problems. (For example, what about home schooling, or long homework assignments for the Indonesian children? If they have computers at home, can the children communicate with their teachers by email? What about television? Could schools broadcast some classes for the children? Or is it OK if they just take a break from school for a while?)

Why it works

This activity is simple and structured enough that even students with very limited English can succeed at it. Intermediate students can do the same exercise but create more complex sentences, and advanced students can use it as a review and a starting point to further work.

For adult students of all levels, the opportunity to discuss and share their ideas on serious issues of global importance is a valuable one!

Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.


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