Jan 31, 2016

Be like Bill for grammar (and vocabulary) practice

The third person singular of the Present Simple tense is known to be particularly problematic for learners and when the "Be Like Bill" meme took social media by storm last week, I thought that it presents a wonderful opportunity to practise the problematic structure.


If you don't know Be Like Bill, it works something like this: you see in your feed an image one of your Facebook friends has posted which looks like this.

You click on the image and after being redirected to the meme generator, you enter your name and gender, and the app generates a similar nonsensical story about you which always ends with "(Mike / Jane / Leo / Farouk) is smart. Be like (Mike / Jane / Leo / Farouk)"and has a stick figure sporting a bobble hat.

But what if you could get your students write their own "memes"?


Level: Elementary - Pre-intermediate (A2)

Focus: Writing

Aim: Practise affirmative and negative sentences in the Present Simple - 3rd person


Vocabulary to pre-teach
You might want to clarify the meaning of these:
Meme - an image or catchphrase that spreads very quickly via the internet (cf. = go viral)
Stick figure or matchstick figure - a picture of a person with thin lines for arms/legs and a circle for the head
Bobble hat - a wool hat with a small round wool ball on top (sometimes referred to as "pompom")

Writing activity

Show / hand out a copy of a Be like Bill picture from the "official" Be like Bill Facebook page, for example, this one or the image above:

Ask students if they've seen similar images (memes) in their Facebook feed.
Provide a template on the board: 

(1) This is ...
(2) ... is __________________
(3) ...  _____s _____________ (affirmative statement)
(4) ...  doesn't _____________ (negative statement)
(5) ... is smart.
(6) Be like ...
Put students into pairs and ask them to write a meme about their partner.
Circulate and help students with the language, i.e. feed in appropriate lexis for students' memes.


(1) and (6) should always be the same
(3), (4) one should be an affirmative and the other a negative sentence
(5) "smart" can be substituted for another adjective, but I'd keep "smart" if you don't want your students to write nasty things about each other.

Lo-tech version

Students write it on a piece of paper and draw a stick man with a bobble hat.
After they've finished, hang the drawings on the walls, ask your students to walk around, read the texts and choose the best one.

Hi-tech version

On their smartphones (or other handheld devices), students to go to an online meme generator: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/Be-Like-Bill

Write the text in the text boxes. Click on "More options", then +Add Another Text Box (x2) so that you have a total of 6 text boxes.

Tech adjustments
  • Change the colour of the boxes, so that the first one is black and the second one white (by default it's the other way around)
  • Change "Font" to Arial and "Max font size" to 16
  • Untick/uncheck "Use all caps"
  • Tick/check "Enable drag&drop and resize"

Drag the boxes to arrange them in the right order (following the template)
Click on "Generate meme"

Make necessary adjustments or edits by clicking on "Change settings" at the bottom.
When you're happy with the result, you can save the image (right click + Save image as...) or use the Image HTML to embed it into a class blog.


The activity is aimed at pre-intermediate students, but I've used it with an upper-intermediate class and was surprised at how many mistakes they'd made. This is one of the memes my students came up with:

This is Silvia
Silvia is learning English.
Silvia doesn't skip lessons.
Silvia thinks her English isn't good although we all know it's not true.
Silvia is modest.
Be like Silvia.

Lexical variation

To add some vocabulary to this otherwise purely grammar-practice activity (what's happened to you, Leo?!), provide the following pairs of collocations / phrases on the board or in a handout:

like his/her sister – argue over little things (with)
eat out - be a good cook 
have a real camera – take photos with a smartphone
look after his/her heath – eat junk food
take the bus - live close to the school
do homework – make up excuses (for)
play with his/her phone in class - listen to the teacher

Students have to write memes with the above prompts; they should decide which collocation will go into the affirmative and which one into the negative sentence, for example:

Mark lives close to the school.
Mark doesn't take the bus to school; he walks.
Mark is smart... etc

Hope your students have fun writing their own memes. If you can think of more pairs of collocations or phrases students can use as prompts, please add them in the comments below. Bear in mind the level though.


  1. I love it! This is such a great idea, Leo. Thanks for sharing a lesson plan to use it. Found your examples useful.

    1. Hi Laura,
      Glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Fantastic Idea!!!!

  3. I´m doing it in my classes, thanks!

  4. Great idea! I'm definitely using it with my pre-intermediate class to review the present simple tomorrow.

    I've had to teach a lexical set of personality traits today in my pre-advanced class, so I made the students make their own "Be Like Bill" using the adjectives they were about to learn to check their understanding. They wrote something like this:

    This is Bill.
    He doesn't change his views easily when he listens to other people.
    Bill is obstinate
    Don't be like bill.

    I found it a nice way of testing their knowledge.


    1. Hi Latifa,

      That's a really good idea: personality adjectives for higher levels. I suppose you gave the adjectives as prompts and the students had to write descriptions ("He doesn't change his...").

      I'll try that too. Thank you for the suggestion. That's what blogging is all about - exchanging ideas.


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. You're most welcome. Yes. I gave them the adjectives as prompts.

      I've tried the grammar activity twice in my pre-intermediate classes. It was really beneficial. I gave each student a blank "Be like bill" sheet and asked them to write their sentences and put them around the room. Then, I had a gallery walk activity. In pairs, they read their students sentences and expressed their opinions; whether they agree or disagree with what they colleagues wrote. Had an error-correction stage afterwards. They students really enjoyed the activity. It was much more fun reviewing the present simple that way.

      Thanks for sharing again. :)


  5. This is waqar
    Waqar and Zia went to MacDonald's
    They haven't given any post about MacDonald
    Waqar is smart ...
    Be like Waqar n Zia

  6. A definite yes for all levels. Am always aware of the irony of teaching conditionals to 12th grade students who still make mistakes with the "S" in present simple.
    Thank you

    1. It's something that has been shown to be problematic for all students of all levels of all linguistic backgrounds. So nothing to lose sleep over. It will be acquired eventually.
      Thank you for your comment.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Amazing activity, thanks for sharing!

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  10. I have a project about telling present simple tense.and I need some different ways to improve the students' skill on this tense.so it is very enjoyable and benefical study for my Project.so, Please accept my grateful thank.

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