Posted 3/8/16
Last month (July 2016) I was in Manchester, training on my Video and Image in Language Teaching course (VILT) for NILE. One of the activities that I gave participants was to take photographs of interesting texts that they saw in the city’s streets and public areas. Here is my own offering – a selection of questions which all contain ellipsis (missing words). If you would prefer create a slideshow for your students (rather than use the video) you can access my photographs here.
  • Language level: A2 +
  • Learner type: Teens; Adults
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Activity: Grammar activity
  • Topic: Linguistic landscape
  • Language: Question forms
  • Materials: Video + worksheet
Street questions pdf [downloaded 4329 times]


In linguistics, ellipsis refers to omitting words from a sentence, question or phrase. The idea is that the missing words are not necessary for comprehension. There are many different types of ellipsis and many situations in which you can observe it. For example, in the following sentence, there is an incomplete verb phrase:

I would if I could, but I can’t so I won’t.

This is not a problem. Context will inform the listener(s) or readers(s) what the complete verb phrase is. For example:

I would help him if I could, but I can’t so I won’t.

But even here, there has to be ellipsis. If not, the sentence would read as:

I would help him if I could help him, but I can’t help him so I won’t help him.

That is just one example of ellipsis. Different types of ellipsis can be observed in different situations. And recently, I became aware of how common it is to see ellipsis in questions in posters, adverts and flyers in public areas. Collage

  • Do you Want a better broadband deal?
  • Do you Love nature?
  • Are you Going up?

Some things to point out:

  • Register: We are usually dealing with informal, friendly messages or calls for attention.
  • Grammar: In these cases, auxiliaries and subject pronouns are the most commonly omitted words. And we are usually dealing with closed questions (questions that can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’). But that isn’t always the case (e.g. ‘Who ya gonna call?’)
  • Spoken written: Perhaps the creators of these adverts, posters and slogans are attempting to capture English as it is spoken. Listen carefully and you will hear that it is very common for people to use ellipsis in questions (e.g. “You got kids of your own?”)
  • Language students: Although students of English are generally required to produce full questions for examination purposes, I think that there is a lot to be gained by looking at English as it exists in the wild. In this activity, students work with a number of street questions and have to identify the missing words (i.e. the ellipsis).

Activity outline

The PDF download (see above) contains a grammar activity in which students have to predict the context of each street question before the see the image. They also have to consider what the missing words could be in each case. I hope you / your students enjoy it.

Jamie :)

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Posted 3/8/16

26 Responses to Street questions

  1. María Nieves Lorenzo says:

    Thanks for sharing. I met you in Valladolid (Spain) two years ago. Your lecture was great as they were your ideas to bring videos into the classroom. Using real language is always a great idea.

    • Jamie Keddie says:

      Hello María
      Nice to see you here. Thank you for your nice comment. I’m glad you like the activity.
      Hope that all is well in Valladolid
      Jamie :)

  2. jean sciberras says:

    nice one Jamie. Amazing what brilliant, authentic sources you can find if one is observant enough. Kudos to you. great lesson.

    • Jamie Keddie says:

      Thank you Jean
      I’ll happily take your kudos points. Now, where can I spend them? Hope all is well in Malta :)

  3. Frances Walker says:

    Hi Jamie! Great idea for a class, and room for lots of follow-up with the students, taking their own photos of advertising slogans they see walking around their town. Although ellipsis doesn’t quite work the same in Spanish, the translations could be fun! Take care. :-)

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Frances
    Did you see the Spanish flyer in the video at 00:35 (¿Libertad de expresión?) – a reference to the Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez controvery (I think). Interesting to see it in Manchester

  5. Thanks for sharing this Jamie. The word ‘landscape’ really hits the spot for me in all its manifestations. If ever you’re on a Virgin train (I think it was, going to IATEFL last year), look out for the very imaginative toilet seat covers. Along the lines of: this is not the place to disappear your husband’s disgusting jumper, the poem you wrote to a love who rejected you etc. Very creative and effective.

    • Jamie Keddie says:

      Hello Jane
      Yes – I have seen experienced those toilets. “Do not flush away your dead goldfish, unfulfilled dreams, …” It’s been uploaded onto YouTube a few times:

      PS The term linguistic landscape has been around for a while:
      Jamie :)

      • Thanks for this info Jamie. (Seriously) I never would have thought of looking for it on YT! This tells me I need to up my digital game in a big way (work in progress).

        • Jamie Keddie says:

          No Jane! I don’t think it means that you need top up your digital game at all. I think it says that I need to get off YouTube a bit more :)

    • Marco Daidone says:

      Thank you Jane for having introduced me to Lessonstream and thank you Jamie for this enjoyable activity! That perfectly meets the way I like learning English, looking at the real world and the informal standard street communication between people.
      The template is smart and entertaining and the video so cool. Multimedia always reduces the learning time, never making it a boring experience.

      • Jamie Keddie says:

        Thanks Marco
        Really glad to know that you found the site and happy to know that you like it!
        Jamie :)

  6. Galia says:

    Thank you Jamie! That’s a great way to teach ellipsis! You proved once again that every aspect of the language can be presented in an exciting and engaging way!

  7. radia says:

    Hi Jamie!

    Such an inspiring ideas to deal with inside classes since our students are an on line learners , they ‘d love to get what is similar to their own life ,ie.bringing the outside into the inside help to increase the amount of their learning process.

    you re so creative and helpful .Thank you so much

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Galia
    Thank you Radia
    You are very nice for saying so :)

  9. Justyna says:

    Thanks Jamie,
    Toilets are place where can you find a really funny signs and texts. Once I found “Only one person at a time in toilet cubicles please”.
    Bye for now,

    • Jamie Keddie says:

      Yes – I’ve seen some quite interesting things written in toilets as well. Maybe that could be my next video (or possibly not!)

  10. Magda says:

    Thank you for sharing such brilliant ideas for a lesson :) It’s both interesting and inspiring work for students as it can have really creative follow up.
    I gave my students homework for holidays to take pictures of their surrounding ‘holiday landscape’, can’t wait for their pics in September :) Going to use some of your ideas for the lesson then.
    Hope I can attend your lecture at IATEFL Szczecin in Poland :)

    • Jamie Keddie says:

      Hello Magda
      Great idea about your summer assignment. I hope your students enjoy the activity. And hope to see you in Szczecin. You can tell me about it then!
      Jamie :)

      • Magda says:

        would be great to talk about it with you :)
        I’m going to conduct a live lesson there.
        See you :)
        All the best,

  11. Ali hamdani says:

    great to see you again Jamie
    thank you very much for your valuable work.
    it is really very interesting topic with new inspiring ideas.

  12. Nirak Mohamed says:

    Thanks very much Mr.Jamie for sharing those excellent ideas. I do think that they are very useful for both of grammar and functional practice . Hope to see you again at the ELT Conference in Algeria !

    Best Regards

    The Poet

  13. Znam i Moga says:

    Thank you for this informative post about grammar, Jamie! Helped me a lot! Keep it up :)