How To Teach Have/Have Got

By Alex Case

“I have got a cold”, “Have you got an eraser?” etc are things students are likely to need to understand and produce right from the beginning of language learning, so this point is a great opportunity to show students that they can really communicate and have fun with just one little nugget of language. This grammar point is also vital when talking about topics that tend to come up in low level courses such as family (“I’ve got a sister and two brothers”) and appearance (“He has got blue eyes”). Have/Have got also ties in with lots of other lovely vocabulary such as classroom objects, possessions, clothes and toys.

The first thing you need to decide when teaching this point is whether to present and practise “have got”, “have” or both. “I’ve got” etc is much more common in spoken British English and has the slight advantages of making explaining the state and action (“I’m having a shower”) meanings of “have” easier to explain later on. It also introduces “have” as an auxiliary verb, which will be useful when they come to Present Perfect. However, “have got” tends actually to get confused with Present Perfect (and is sometimes mistakenly explained in textbooks as a peculiar example of it), is rare in American English, and tends to be avoided by the fellow non-native speakers that students will spend most of their lives communicating with. Even as someone who uses “have got” almost exclusively in my own speech, if the textbook gives me the choice I therefore tend to avoid “have got” and stick to “She has blond hair” and “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “Yes, I do. I have three sisters”. If you choose to present both, the two most common simplified rules are that “have got” is spoken (perhaps shown by a speech bubble) and “have” written (shown with a picture of a pen), and/or that “have got” is British and “have” is American.

Choosing “have” also avoids the issue of the contractions “I’ve got”, “He’s got”, “You’ve got” etc. Otherwise, you will need to decide between presenting contractions, no contractions or both. That the apostrophe S in “He’s got” is “has” rather than “is” obviously causes quite a lot of confusion, and you’ll need to decide between presenting that fact now, leaving it for error correction, or just ignoring it.

Another policy you will need to decide on is what to do with typical student mistakes like “Do you have…?” “Yes, I have”. This is a tiny mistake and one that even native speakers sometimes make in natural speech, but the general rule that you copy the auxiliary verb in the question is easy to explain and some work and correction on this point might help avoid mistakes like “Yes, I like” in the future.

Presenting Have/Have got

As mentioned above, this grammar point is bound to come up with topics of family and appearance. These two topics are quite involved enough without having to explain any grammar at the same time, however, so it is generally better to present this grammar earlier with easier vocabulary and then use those topics as revision and extension of have/have got. The easiest topic for this grammar point is possessions, but unfortunately that often leads textbooks to chapters where we are supposed to envy the possessions of the rich and famous. More morally neutral topics could include:

  • Technology
  • Getting rid of unwanted possessions
  • Things you’ve got but never use, e.g. things in your loft, shed or garage
  • Things in your kitchen

The other option is to start with an activity and present have/have got as they need it, preferably linking naturally on from an earlier stage that needs only lower-level language. For example, you could get students to shout out the names of flashcards to get them, then ask them to list the number of cards or actual cards they have at the end of that game (“I have seven cards”) to turn those cards into points. You can also do something similar with students getting flashcards and then trying to get more off their classmates by remembering which ones they got and asking for them with “Do you have a slide?” etc.

Practising Have/Have got

Example sentences below include both “have” and “have got”, but all activities work for both forms.

Perhaps the nicest pairwork activity is getting students to find things that they have in common, e.g. with students asking questions to make as many true “We both have…” sentences as they can. You could give them more specific sentences that they have to fill in such as “We have both got lots of…” and “We have both got… in our bags now”.

You can also do whole class activities such as surveying the class. Students make sentences about their classmates with a number of people and/or things that they think will probably be true, e.g. “Seven people have got a motorbike” or “The whole class has got thirty cousins”. They then choose one of their statements that they are pretty sure about and ask the class a question to check.

A more lively whole class activity is mingling. Students try to find “How many… have you got?” questions where their own answer is a higher number than everyone else’s. You can give them suggested topics like books, CDs, uncles and things to do this week if they get stuck. Students move around the class asking one question to everyone else, sitting down when they have found something where no one else has as many as them, or switching question and trying again if someone says a number that is as big as their own.

Depending on students’ levels, there is also the possibility of doing more conversation-based lessons such as using questions like “Do you have many things that you don’t need?” and “What is the one thing that you don’t have and you’d most like?” These can be tied into the topics given as possibilities for the presentation stage, as can roleplays like “It’s your job to help rich people simplify their lives. Find out things that your wealthy partner has and would be willing to give away” or something similar with a charity worker seeking donations.

Free speaking with “have got” tends to lead sooner or later to odd questions like “How much money have you got?” and “Have you got a girlfriend?”, plus maybe unsubtle reactions to negative answers to questions like “Have you got a car?” This can be exploited by getting students to rank such questions from five points for completely taboo to one point for easy and good for conversation with strangers. They can then choose how many points they want to go for and get a percentage of those points depending on their answer, starting at zero for actually deciding “It’s a bit personal”. This is also good for cultural training.

Written by Alex Case for March 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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