Choosing Famous Places and People to Introduce Adjective Clauses

I’ve finally decided to meet the request for a full series of videos on adjective clauses. I posted my introduction this week. Being aware of common mistakes with this grammar structure, I’d like to take my time and try not to pack too much into too few lessons.

Determining what students already know about a topic and how accurately they use a structure is usually my first goal when I start a new topic with students. As I build my series on YouTube, I’ll also be practicing adjective clauses with my high intermediate students who take private lessons with me. I’ve seen some use of adjective clauses in their writing, but I have yet to test their full mastery.  I’d like my initial assessment to be an enjoyable one. A strategy I use in real-time lessons is tapping into students’ world knowledge, which makes them an authority as they share information with me and/or with classmates.

Have you ever built examples or a whole exercise around students’ knowledge of a topic? There are many possibilities, but with adjective clauses we could start with famous people and places. Trivia questions are easy to make and answer with adjective clauses. For example: Have you ever seen Neuschwanstein? No? It’s a castle in Germany. It’s a famous castle that has tall towers. It’s on a high hill that’s surrounded by trees and mountains.  – Oh yeah. I know it. It’s the one that Disney used to design the castle for Sleeping Beauty. Such an activity could allow you to assess how well students understand and use the target grammar.

So the first approach you may take is to challenge students to name famous people or places. One student asks a question such as, “Do you know Kate Winslet?” Another must respond positively, using an adjective clause: Yes. She’s the actress who played Rose in Titanic.” If no one can answer, the questioner must enlighten everyone with an answer that uses an adjective clause. Tell students that answers must use who, which, that, but they could also use when, where, or why. How easily this activity goes will give you insight into their comfort level with the grammar. If the target structures are used but with mistakes, write the correct answers on the board.

If there’s difficulty from the start, you can elicit information about the people and places. Note students’ ideas and then model how you combine their ideas to form complex sentences with adjective clauses. The examples you create will allow you to introduce the concept of using adjective clauses to identify or describe people or things in a concise manner. Take students through the process of building adjective clauses with relative pronouns. Looking at a set of examples, start with the most basic questions:

  • In each sentence, how many clauses do you see?
  • Where is the main clause?
  • What is the adjective clause doing? What information is it giving?
  • Where is the relative pronoun? What does the pronoun refer back to?
  • Could the adjective clause come before the head noun?

If you find it helpful, I’ve prepared a handout with some famous landmarks that could kick-off an activity. See my Famous People and Places_handout. But I’d encourage you to compile your own set of photos of people and places that would appeal to your students.


Photo credit: Castle, Neuschwanstein Castle by Aingnamma. Retrieved from the Public Domain at




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