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How To Teach Want/Want To

How to present and practise a much neglected and badly taught verb for expressing desires.

“Want” is something that is often presented early in courses just after the other common verbs “have”/“have got”, “can” and “like”. Unfortunately, it is often done so in the almost useless context of requests where “Can I…?” and “I’d like…” would be much more polite and therefore useful. For example, “I want to see it by Monday” is much more likely to be a command or communication inside a family, two things that students are much less likely to need to do in English than make requests. In fact, the first time to mention “want” is often to warn students not to use it in requests, especially as in many languages the equivalent form is commonly used in polite or at least everyday requests. The function that students will need “want” for is to express desires in sentences like “I want to be an astronaut” and “I want to improve my fluency”. This use can be a useful thing to mention even at higher levels to contrast “want” for desires with “going to” for plans, Present Continuous for arrangements and “will” for predictions. Free speaking on the future will also often bring up all four forms. The same distinction is true for “I wanted to have a party but…” (for a desire that I gave up on) and “I was going to have a party but…” (for a plan that I gave up on).

As with requests, the verb most similar to “want” for desires in form and function is “would like”, but in this case I would argue that “I’d like to see him again soon” sounds a bit more wistful and therefore unlikely than “I want to see him again soon”. This means that those two are actually on a line on which the next two sentences are “I hope to see him again soon” and “I wish I could see him again soon”. That useful contrast means that “want” is also useful to bring up again when presenting “hope” and/or “wish”.

“Want” might also come up in offers and invitations (“Do you want to come to the races with us?”), but the meaning of “want” for desires above is probably the only one that is worth presenting and practising on its own and so the activities below are all for that meaning.

Do what I want

Students say a sentence with “want” and students compete to come up with the most desirable example of that thing. For example, one student says “I want to read a book” and the others compete to draw the cover that interests that person most. The game can also be done just with speaking, e.g. in response to “I want to buy some stationery” students try to come up with the best example of that thing, e.g. “An eraser that looks like a robot”. With the drawing variation, you’ll need to keep the drawing part short and probably have a stage where they explain what they have drawn in order to increase the amount of English used. There are many sentences that are suitable for this game, such as “I want to watch a movie”, “I want to buy some clothes” and “I want a superpower”.

I want advice

One student explains a situation with “I want…” and the other students compete to come up with the best advice, e.g. “You should buy your wife some flowers”, “Why don’t you do all the housework at least once a week?” and “If I were you, I’d take your wife out to dinner more often” for “I want to be a better husband”. The student should respond to every suggestion and choose the best, then the students switch roles and repeat. This can be a good opportunity to exchange language learning tips with sentences like “I want to improve my pronunciation.”

I want you to guess

Students explain the word that they have chosen or been given without saying its name until their partners guess what it is. At least the first sentence should have “want” in it, e.g. “I want to do this today/later/sometime this week/sometime”, “I think most of you want to do this” and “I don’t want to do this, but maybe one of you do”. The things that they should describe should be chosen carefully so that they are likely to have an opinion about the desirability of them. Good topics include jobs, toys and technology.

Find what I want

Students ask each other “Do you want…?” questions to find out if something is suitable for their partner or what the most suitable thing would be. For example, if they are given a job or list of jobs they can ask things like “Do you want to work with animals?” and “Do you want to work outside?” to work out if “vet” or “soldier” is most suitable for the person answering the questions. They reveal their conclusions, e.g. with “You would like to be a soldier”, and see if that person agrees.

How many people want

Students try to make true sentences about how many people in the class want something with sentences like “Nobody wants to…” and “Almost everybody wants to…” They then ask the class to check.

We all want peace

Students work together to come up with as many statements as they can that are true of (basically) everyone on earth or (basically) no one on earth, e.g. “We all want our families to be happy” and “No one wants to live in a city with polluted air”. The other groups then try to argue with some of their sentences.

We want what we search for

Students predict the top results for “Everybody wants…”, “Most people want…” etc in an internet search engine such as Google and then check.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | April 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.

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