ESL Lesson: The Rabbit and the Turtle: Activity Two: Writing Simple Sentences


Students will understand the simple structure of a sentence by writing four kinds of sentences using the completed Venn diagrams from Activity One as prompts: affirmative and negative sentences, and Yes/No and explanation questions. Students will write explanation questions of their own, ask them and answer others.

Remember, in the four writing activities, students work together creating sentences. It helps to prepare them and give them confidence and direction for writing sentences on their own later on.


Teacher talk and discussion
Groups of three, individuals


Newsprint with the Venn diagrams
Newsprint and markers
Index cards


1. Writing positive sentences.

Before giving directions, depending on the level of the class, each part of this four-part activity can begin with a little bit of teacher talk before the groups get to work.

Hang up all the Venn diagrams from Activity One. Using the Venn Diagrams as a prompt, write a sentence on the board:

The turtle has a shell.

Explain that this is a sentence because it has a subject (turtle), a verb (has) and an object (shell). You need nouns and verbs to make a sentence.

One sentence can contain adjectives, prepositional phrases and adverbs:

A healthy turtle always eats berries in the summer.

A healthy (adjective) turtle (noun subject) always (adverb) eats (main verb) berries (noun object) in (preposition) the summer (object of the preposition).


The turtle has a hard brown shell. It lives in it.

Read the sentences and then direct the class to the second. Ask, “What is the first it?” It’s the turtle. What is the second it?” It’s its shell. Point out that pronouns can be used as subjects and objects just like nouns.

Ask a few students to give affirmative sentences from the words on the Venn diagrams. I write it the way the student says it so if there’s a mistake like

The rabbit has head.

I will ask, “Is this sentence correct?” and see if another student can correct it. I want students to do self-correcting and make a mark to show that a word should be inserted:

The rabbit has head. (The rabbit has a head.)

……..      . … ^

Put students into groups of three and tell them to write seven positive sentences getting their ideas from the words on the Venn diagrams. Give them about fifteen or twenty minutes. Circulate and see how the groups are doing. Make sure they are writing sentences about rabbits and turtles. Try to keep them all at about the same pace. If a group is lagging, help them a little to get started. And as groups are finishing, let those not finished know that they ought to work a little faster, and have those who are finished check their work.

When everyone’s finished, have the groups write their sentences on newsprint.

A word about newsprint: One objective of this activity is to get the students up, circulating among each other and talking. Newsprint is perfect for this. Also, it’s a good idea to fold the newsprint in two. The top half will be for the first group of sentences. These sentences will serve as prompts for the bottom seven sentences that will follow. Folding the newsprint in two also saves on newsprint.

Students write seven affirmative sentences on newsprint and hang them up.

With the students watching, the teacher corrects one newsprint using some correction marks.

To the Teacher: I want the class to become familiar with correction marks so I use them and talk about them when I correct. I don’t write what the correction should be. Let the student think about that. In Activity Four, I will go into more detail about the correction marks I use. Right now leaving a check by a word is enough.

Tell the students they are going to correct the other newsprint. Give each group one marker; this will encourage each group to discuss.

Let them mingle and go at their own speeds. Be sure groups understand that they are to read and put correction marks wherever they think they see mistakes on the newsprint.

When they have finished, go over the newsprint with the class standing, not sitting. Keep those students standing, looking, talking and thinking!

2. Writing negative sentences.

Once the corrections are done, tell each group to take down a newsprint that’s not theirs; they will be working with new sentences created by other classmates. Make sure each group has new sentences to work with.

Tell each group that they are to change the seven positive sentences into negative ones.


The turtle has a shell.

Ask a student to make the sentence negative.

If a student says, “The turtle hasn’t a shell,” say that that is understandable, but “doesn’t” is used with the main verb, have.

The turtle doesn’t have a shell.

In English we need a helping verb to say no:

The turtle can’t jump.
The rabbit isn’t a turtle.

Groups write negative sentences and hang them up. Because the students have already done correcting, assign one newsprint to a group to correct. They can stand to do the corrections. Then let them circulate to examine all the sentences.

With the class standing, go over their corrected newsprint to see what they’ve missed.

3. Writing Yes/No Questions.

Groups sit, leaving the newsprint hanging. Hand out new newsprint. Be sure they fold them in half. Tell them that they are going to create seven Yes/No questions. They can get ideas from the sentences they’ve already written or they can write questions on their own, but the questions should be about rabbits and turtles.


The rabbit has fur.

Ask a student to make the sentence into a Yes/No question.

Does the rabbit have fur?

In Yes/No Questions, the helping verb comes first.

Can the turtle swim?
Can (helping verb) the turtle (subject) swim (main verb)?

Don’t rabbits swim too?
Don’t (helping verb) rabbits (subject) swim (main verb) too (adverb)?

Groups write their seven questions, and hang them up to be read and corrected by the whole class. Then the teacher goes over their corrections with them.

4. Writing Explanation Questions.

Groups take a newsprint that isn’t theirs and sit. Tell them they are going to change the Yes/No questions into explanation ones.

Point out that question words often don’t change the rest of the question.

Why does the rabbit eat carrots?
When does the rabbit eat carrots?
Where does the rabbit eat carrots?
How does the rabbit eat carrots?

To use What, the sentence must change. What do rabbits eat?

In an explanation question, the order of the question never changes: question word, helping verb, subject, main verb, and everything else:

Question words begin with the letters Wh: why, who, when, where, what, which, whose. Even the question word how has an h and a w in it.

Write question words on the board and have the class define each one by stating some facts about them.

Why do rabbits jump? Why asks for a reason. We often answer it with because. Rabbits jump because they want to get away.

Who jumps? The answer must be about the subject.
 The answer will be at the beginning of the sentence. The rabbit jumps.

When does a rabbit jump? The answer must be about time.
 Time usually goes at the end of the sentence. Rabbits jump when they want to get away.

Where do rabbits jump? The answer must be about a place. Place also goes at the end of a sentence before the time. Rabbits hide in a safe place when they are scared.

What do rabbits like? The answer’s about a person or a thing, an object. Rabbits like vegetables, green grass and safe places.

Which do you prefer, a rabbit or a turtle? Which asks for a choice between persons or things, an object. Objects go after the subject and verb: I prefer turtles.

Whose life is better, yours or the rabbit’s? Whose asks about something that the subject has.
 A choice is often involved. I think my life is better than a rabbit’s.

How do rabbits jump? How asks about the way something is done. You’re going to have to do some explaining. Rabbits jump with their strong legs.

Why do people like rabbits and turtles so much?

Groups change every Yes/No Question to an appropriate Explanation Question.

When these newsprint are hung up, follow the same correction procedure with the groups. But when they’ve finished correcting, let the class examine the questions.

Which questions do they think are the best? Which question would they like to ask?

Index Card Question and Answer

Using the explanation questions already written, students pick the explanation question they like the best. They can write a new one if they want. This is going to be a question that they are going to ask.

Call on the students one at a time. If a question that a student likes has already been picked, he or she must pick another question.

Continue until each student has a question that no one else has.

Give each of them an index card. Students write their questions on one side and answers on the other. Each student checks with the group to make sure the question and the answer are a good match. Everyone in the group must agree. The teacher also checks.

Collect the cards and shuffle them. Hand out the cards to the students.

Students look at their new cards, the question and the answer. Students share their cards with their group.

When all groups are sure all members understand their question and can answer them, select two students (maybe just go down the attendance sheet, two students at a time). Have them stand and face each other. Students ask each other their questions in turn.

It’s good to have them stand and get used to speaking in public. In later activities, they will be debating and role-playing so this prepares them for those activities.

Keep the cards. Bring them out on another day for review.

Save all the newsprint for future activities.

For the Teacher: A Quick Review of Helping Verbs and Main Verbs

1. Main Verbs have three principal parts: the base form, the ING form, and the participle:


2. There are twenty helping verbs divided into four families:

Do, Does, Did

Am, Are, Is, Was, Were

Have, Has, Had

Can, Will, Could, Would, Should, May, Must, Might, and Shall (which we almost never use).

3. Helping verbs give the principal parts time and number:

The Do, Does, Did Family help the base form in the simple past and present. They are the only helping verbs that can hide. But they are always seen when they say no or ask a question.

The turtle swims. Rabbits don’t swim. Do you swim?
The rabbits hop. Turtles don’t hop. Do children like to hop?
The turtle ate the fish. The rabbit didn’t eat the fish. Did you eat sushi last night?

The Verb To Be Family, Am, Are, Is, Was, Were can stand alone and help the subject describe itself:

Rabbits are mammals and so are we.
My sister is in love with animals. Rabbits are her favorites. Is this her rabbit?

Am, Are, Is, Was, Were can help the ING be here now in the present or the past:

The turtle is swimming. This rabbit is eating. These rabbits are digging a hole.
The turtle was swimming when I saw it. The rabbits hid while the hawks were flying.

Am, Are, Is, Was, Were can help the participle be passive:

Passive: The carrot was eaten by the rabbit.…………..Active: The rabbit ate the carrot.
Passive: Carrots are eaten by turtles.…………………..Active: Turtles eat carrots.
Passive: The hole was dug by the rabbit.…………….. .Active: The rabbit dug the hole.

The Have, Has, Had Family help the participle in the unspecific past.

I have eaten rabbit and turtle. (You don’t know when I ate them, but it is in the past. Perhaps I still do or perhaps I am a vegetarian now. But in the past I have eaten rabbit and turtle.

The Modals: Can, Will, Could, Would, Should, May, Must, Might, and Shall help the base form in the future or the possibility of the future.

The turtle can swim. (That doesn’t mean that the turtle is going to swim.)
We might see the rabbits tomorrow. (That doesn’t mean we will see the rabbits tomorrow).
The turtle will lay her eggs. (Yes, the eggs will be laid by the turtle).

Again the principal parts:


The Do Family helps the base form in the simple present and the simple past:

Do, does and did are usually hidden:

Unlike a rabbit, a turtle lays eggs. (Does is hiding behind lays, but we can see the s.)

We see the base form clearly when we ask a question:

Does a turtle lay eggs?

We see the base form clearly when we say no:

Rabbits don’t lay eggs.

We can see this helping verb in positive sentences when we are being emphatic:

I do love turtles, I really do.

Am, Are, Is, Was, Were can help the subject, help the ING and help the participle:

Many turtles are amphibious.

Turtles are slow when they’re crawling, but fast when they’re swimming.

These eggs were laid by a turtle.

Modals: Can, Will, Shall, Could, Would, Should, May, Must, Might help the base form:

You can donate money to help protect sea turtles.
A rabbit will be gentle if you treat it tenderly.
When you’re walking in the woods, you might see a turtle.

Have, Has, and Had help the participle:

Children have always liked turtles.
Rabbits have always been a favorite as well.

Yes/No questions always begin with a helping verb.

Can the turtle swim in deep water?
Do rabbits like cucumbers.
Have the rabbits eaten yet?
Is the rabbit a mammal or a reptile?
Did you ever watch a turtle swim?

Explanation Questions put a question word in front of the helping verb. Now you must explain.

Why do rabbits jump? Why asks for a cause or reason.

When do turtles hibernate? When asks for the time.

What do rabbits like to eat? What asks about an animal, place or thing (object).

Where are the rabbits? Where asks about a place.

Which do you children most prefer, turtles or rabbits? Which wants us to make a choice.

Who do you know who has a turtle for a pet? Who asks about a person (a subject).

How does a rabbit jump? How wants to know the way or the method.

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