Teaching professions and What do you do?

professions construction workers
13 Mar Shelley Vernon No Comments

*Professions: What do you do? I’m a mechanic. What does he/she do? She’s/He’s a vet.


Start by teaching the professions vocab by asking the class what they do and choosing 8 professions for everyone to learn. The danger of learning more than 8 new words is that it's too many, so no one remembers any of them!


Teach the 8 professions via a listening game where you repeat the words over and over. The best way, even for adults, is to do a mime or gesture for each profession. You say the profession, the class mime it. This makes the word and the meaning memorable.


Then have some students stand up and mime the professions in small groups. You say FREEZE. The students freeze in the position they are in. Point at one of the students and ask "What is his (or her) profession?"  The class guess what profession is being mimed, which may or may not be easy depending on the position the other student is in. Once you have demonstrated this a couple of times make three teams. One team is the students who are acting, the other two teams watch and guess the professions. Rotate around so each team has a turn acting and freezing while the other two teams try to score the point guessing what the profession is first.


  • If you find you have the same students jumping in and answering before anyone else has a chance then put all those quick students together in the same team.
  • You might be thinking that this sounds a bit childish but the thing is that it really works for learning vocabulary and remembering it. It's so much more effective than just writing up the words on the board for students to copy down.
  • Have students mime in groups or all together. This helps the shy ones feel less awkward.


professions female chef tossing vegetablesNext, write up the words on the board and have students copy them down since this is important and helps those students who need to see words written in order to memorize them. Then you can write up some anagrams of the words and let students call out what they are. "cotdor" - doctor.


Then, it would be useful to work on the question "What do you do?" or "What do you do for a living?" since this is typically how we ask people their profession in spoken English. We don't say "What is your profession?" We might ask that in a formal interview, but not for everyday conversation.


Passing game: For this, first drill the question with the whole class repeating it three times after you. Then take a piece of paper with the profession written on it, or use a picture. Show the card. "Doctor". Hand the card to a student and ask: "What do you do?" The person answers you with "I'm a doctor" and takes the card. Demonstrate this a couple of times. Now the student passes the card to the student next door asking "What do you do?" The other student takes the card and answers "I'm a doctor". Repeat with the next student along with the whole class watching. Now you are sure everyone knows what to do so that card goes on it's way around the class with everyone practising the question and answer. In the meantime you give the first student a different profession card to pass around, asking "What do you do?"' and answering "I'm a mechanic" (or whatever is on the card.) Once students are busy passing the cards and practising, clap to stop the activity - all those students with cards stand up and do a forfeit, like answering a general knowledge question, or, for kids, do a silly dance or something fun.


professions male carer at bedsideAfter that you can have the class draw a grid with NAME and PROFESSION and students go around the class asking the others "What's your name?'" and "What do you do?" and filling in the chart.


Then ask students to get into groups of similar professions, but don't tell them what they should be - leave it up to the students. Students group together in different parts of the room so you might have service jobs in one part of the room, people who work with their hands elsewhere, creative jobs, sales jobs and so on. Then compare notes and see why students thought their professions were related.



Next, play the Fill in Drill game. For this you can write out some simple English - aim it at the level of your class. The game is in my teen and adult ESL games book. This is great for using the professions, the question and answer and mixing in general English for fluency.


An example of a text you could use would be this:


"Hello there, I'm Paul. What's your name?"


"Hello, I'm Jane. Nice to meet you."


"What do you do for a living?"


"I'm a surgeon" (insert one of the professions you have been using).


"Wow, that's interesting. Do you like it?"


"I like it apart from the fact that you have to cut people open." (put in something relevant to the profession)


"Oh, I see. Mmmm, that could be difficult."


"What do you do?"


"I'm a _____________"


That should be long enough since the students will be memorizing the whole dialogue during the game.


Then you can ask them to write it all out from memory and swap papers and check each other's spelling.



Now you have worked on this, it’s time to introduce the third person question form: What does he do? What does she do? Get the class to ask the question with you. Point to a pic of a man doing a job. (Use my professions flashcard set, which can be purchased here, or have students draw pics, or find some in magazines or your textbook.) Ask ‘What does he do?’ Choose one student to answer. Now switch to a female for, ‘What does she do?’ and have students answer. Jump back and forwards between men and women so students get used to switching from he to she.


Say the question in different rhythms, pausing on a different word each time, and have students copy your rhythm. Speed it up, slow it down. That’s a good excuse to have students repeat the sentence several times but in a varied way.


If you are musically inclined, sing up an arpeggio ‘What does he dooooooooo?’ Boys hold the base note on ‘What’. Boys or girls hold the other notes in the chord in turn. Then point at a picture and class answers ‘he’s a gardener’ or whatever the profession is. If you have kids, this will take some training. But once your kids know how to hold a chord as a class, you’ll be able to use this musical interlude for lots of sentences.



If your students are fun-loving, play the hand slap game from 176 ESL Games for Children. Kids love this. Some adult will, but not all. Students stand opposite each other. Each one places his or her right hand out in front. Student A’s hand is on top. (See the picture, here left, but with two people not four.) Student A asks, ‘What does she do?’ Student B replies with any profession that comes to mind, ‘She’s a doctor.’ And SLAP, student B tries to slap student A’s hand, before student A can move it out the way. Swap over.

Your students don't have to be laughing in your lesson, (though they might) but the very fact that they are actively participating is going to mean they will be learning better.

If your lesson is a long one, you can play full game description



ESL Classroom Activities book coverFrom ESL Activities for Teens and Adults: Play the Grammar Auction game using all forms of the question and answer, some correct, some with errors. You could play Typhoon or Blow Your House Down using famous people your students are likely to know. This could be presidents, singers, actors, chefs, architects, politicians and people in the news, people on TV from soaps or shows and so on.  If you want to work on the past simple form and ask "What did she do?" then use famous people who are dead. Albert Einstein: What did he do? He was a scientist.


Let me know how it goes and what ideas you try out from there.



Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games


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