5 Quick Activities: The Causative

The Causative (or ‘having something done’) is one of those grammar areas that can frustrate. Though it may be taught less often than a number of other grammatical structures, I often found myself using the same two or three activities to teach groups, and due to the fact that it does not even exist in many other widely-spoken languages, contextualising it was key.

I often give students a simple ‘HOPP’ key to this structure, standing for ‘Have’, ‘Object’ and ‘Past Participle’. It is an easy memory tool to take the stress off structure and allow students to focus primarily on meaning.

The following activities are probably widely used by TEFL teachers all over the world. These just happen to be five quick, snappy ones that I use as quick-fire activities when I want to bring the structure to life in short, sharp bites of language practice. I hope you enjoy them!

1. The Mad Billionaire


A mad billionaire lives far, far away and has far more money than sense! He has beer flown to him straight from Germany every day, he has his clothes driven from hotel to hotel as he tours entire continents, and he even has his hair cut every eight hours by top stylists!

The present simple causative comes up naturally when students have to come up with the most bizarre and wonderful ideas for what a crazy billionaire would do with all his surplus money. After a quick idea-generations stage and discussion in small groups, students can put ideas up around a classroom and vote for the most creative idea.

2. Causative O’Clock!


Inspired by ‘Games for Grammar Practice’ by Zaorob and Chin, draw a picture of a clock on the board with 12 numbers. At each number, there should be a picture or name of a shop.

2 Causative Clock

Firstly, the classroom should have a clear open space in the middle with 12 chairs around the outside of the room placed in a circle. Place a number on each chair and arrange them like a clock, with chair number 12 at the top or bottom of the classroom.

Choose any particular causative structure you wish to focus on first and shout an example to your students. For example: “I need to get (my pulse checked)“. Students should run as fast as they can to the appropriate clock hour, and any student running to the wrong chair (or, if everybody runs to the correct chair, the final student) should move out of the circle. This student can then either invent the next phrase, or if they are at a lower level, provide them with some sentence cards to read out.

It’s a silly exercise in all honesty, but it can be adapted and it’s a nice way of getting students up and about.

3. Extreme Makeover


A bit of a causative staple in the TEFL world, what have they had done?!

Pete Burns (above) famously changed his appearance dramatically over his life, and this especially works well when students are unfamiliar with the celebrity and the older pictures means little.

A simple procedure would go:

  1. Brainstorm vocabulary for beauty (pluck eyebrows / dye hair / pierce nose / etc), higher-level face vocab (eyelashes / earlobes / etc) and apply to a causative sentence (e.g. ‘What can you have done at the beautician?’)
  2. Show a picture of a celebrity pre-surgery. Tell the students about him/her, and mention that this person spent a lot of money changing their look. Get students to predict in groups using the verb will. (e.g. I think he’ll have his hair curled) and brainstorm lots of ideas.
  3. Give students a board pen and tell them to write the three predictions they believe are most likely. Check the language is being used correctly.
  4. Time for the big reveal! Show the ‘after’ picture, and once students have laughed at their predictions, check which were true and who made the most correct guesses.
  5. As a follow up, get students to use Present Perfect for describing changes, and discuss what he actually had done. (e.g. ‘He has actually had his lips filled!’)

4. What are they having done?


A good activity for practising Present Continuous Causative in positive, negative and interrogative forms, this game involved drawing stick men and only stick men! No fine art is permitted!

In a speed guessing game, pairs of students must draw somebody having something done for their partner. As soon as they start drawing, the timer must start, and in as fast a time as possible, the guesser must speculate what the stick man is having done.

The number of seconds it takes will be the number of points the pair receive, so a clock or phone should be handy in order to time accurately! At the end of a round, the pair with the lowest number of points wins!

5. It must’ve been awful!


Finally, a causative activity for talking about past abilities. Take a city, take a time period (e.g. Victorian London, Rome 1000 years ago) and brainstorm services that both were and were not available back then.

Encourage dialogues in pairs or small groups, assigning a position to each person (either positive, negative, or both) following a framework such as:

A: You couldn’t have your teeth polished.

B: Yes, although you could have yourself transported across the city by horse!

A: But you couldn’t have pizza delivered at all!

B: Ok, but you could still have food cooked for you in the streets, though.

Encouraging students to ‘one-up’ each other and become more and more ridiculous would work well here, and you could even give groups of three a minute to see how far they can go, how far their imaginations can take them and, of course, focus on using could/couldn’t plus the causative to talk about general past ability.


  1. There’s rigmarole dealing with the “causative verbs”, it could have been more specific. There are four types of causative verbs such as ‘ get ‘ make let and have… I’ll have the gardener plant some new saplings. Don’t make the child run in the sun. I’ll let you know beforehand when I’m coming. He got his elder sister to help him finish his homework.


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