Magoosh English Class: All About American Football

Overhead shot of an american football on green grass

In lesson two of our Sports in America free English class series, we will look at one of the most popular sports in the United States: American football!

Goals:

  • Learn about basic rules and concepts in American football
  • Learn new football-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to use “while” to link contrasting ideas
  • Learn about the fascinating culture of football in America

Difficulty Level:

Intermediate

Time:

Approximately 15 minutes

All About American Football

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Football is a popular American sport that is played by professionals, college athletes, and even recreational sports fans throughout the country. Not to be confused with soccer (which is commonly called “football” outside of the United States), American football is a very unique sport that is an extremely important part of American sports culture.

Every year, diehard football fans dress in their team’s colors to tailgate outside of stadiums and cheer their favorite teams on. Typically, American football is played in large stadiums, some of which seat more than 100,000 spectators!

Though the specific rules and style of play are unique, American football shares a few similarities with soccer and other team sports. In football, there are two teams who compete to score the most points.

Each game is 60 minutes long (not including halftime and timeouts), divided into four, 15-minute quarters. If both teams have the same number of points at the end of the fourth quarter, then the game goes into overtime, giving both teams more time to try to win.

Each team must have 11 players on the field at all times. One team is on offense (they try to score) while the other team is on defense (they try to stop the other team from scoring). The team on offense is led by the quarterback (or QB) who begins every play. The QB can try to run with the ball, hand the ball off or throw the ball to someone else. Meanwhile, players on defense try to stop the players with the ball by tackling them.

A team scores six points when one of their players carries the ball into the end zone. When this happens, it is known as a touchdown. Teams can also score by kicking the ball through two upright posts positioned behind the end zone, which gives the team one point if done right after a touchdown or three points if completed on its own.

While football is one of America’s most popular sports, it is also surrounded by controversy. It is a particularly dangerous sport, with frequent injuries like concussions and broken bones. Though the rules and equipment have changed over the years to ensure the safety of the players, many people question whether the fun and entertainment of football is worth the risk it poses to young athletes.

Watch this beginner’s guide to American football to get a better idea of how it works:

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Recreational sport – (noun) – A competitive sport that is played for fun; a non-professional sport.
    • Touch football is one of my favorite recreational sports.
  • Diehard – (adjective/noun) – Passionate about a certain viewpoint or subject matter; a stubborn person.
    • He is a diehard fan of the New England Patriots.
  • Tailgate – (verb/noun) – An informal meal or party held out of the back-end of a vehicle; a small, outdoor gathering with food and drinks nearby a sporting event.
    • We tailgate every year for the Super Bowl.
  • Halftime – (noun) – The period of time marking the halfway point in a game.
    • The players had a chance to rest during halftime.
  • Timeout – (noun) – A brief time for rest in a game or activity.
    • The coach took a timeout to rethink his strategy.
  • Overtime – (noun) – Extra time added to a game or activity.
    • When both teams failed to score in the final minutes, the game went into overtime.
  • Quarterback – (noun) – A position in football; the leader or director of the offense.
    • The quarterback threw the ball down the field.
  • Tackle – (verb/noun) – To physically knock someone to the ground; the act of pulling or pushing someone to the ground.
    • He tackled the quarterback for a loss of yards.
  • End zone – (noun) – The area of a football field that a team must reach in order to score points.
    • The player was tackled just short of the end zone.
  • Touchdown – (noun) – The primary form of scoring in football; a score of 6 points that occurs when a player reaches the end zone with the ball.
    • Despite their best efforts, the Atlanta Falcons failed to score a single touchdown.
  • Concussion – (noun) – A minor brain injury, usually caused by an object colliding with the head.
    • Playing football without a helmet increases the risk of getting a concussion.

Grammar Center

Let’s take a look at a sentence from the passage above:

  • While football is one of America’s most popular sports, it is also surrounded by controversy.

As you can see, this sentence makes use of the word “while.” You’re probably accustomed to using “while” in relation to time:

  • I ate a sandwich while I waited for the train.
  • While I was away, my dog felt lonely.
  • The man waited around for a while.

In these sentences, “while” either functions as a synonym for “as” or “during.” In the third example, “while” refers to an indefinite period of time.

However, “while” can also be used to show contrast, much like “whereas” and “on the other hand” (though the latter does not work as a conjunction).

Here are a few more examples of using “while” to link two contrasting ideas:

  • While the referee rarely makes mistakes, he made a bad call in last night’s game.
  • The New Orleans Saints ended the season with a winning record, while the Seattle Seahawks had a losing record.
  • While the fans are usually very enthusiastic, they were relatively quiet during the last few games.

Quiz

  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?A. Football can cause serious injuries, from concussions to broken bones.B. American football is the most popular sport in the United States.C. Football is a competitive and dangerous sport that makes up a big part of America’s sports culture.

    D. In football, the offense tries to score while the defense tries to stop them from scoring.

  2. Where does a football game take place?A. CourtB. FieldC. Track

    D. Ice rink

  3. Based on your understanding of the word timeout which word best describes its meaning?A. BreakB. StartC. Finish

    D. During

  4. Fill in the blank with the correct word or words: “The fans wanted to _____ during the game, but the weather was too cold.”A. TimeoutB. CookC. Tailgate

    D. Tackle

  5. Which word could replace “while” in the following sentence: “This week our team scored 3 touchdowns, while last week they didn’t score any.”A. DuringB. AsC. Whereas

    D. All of the above

  6. Which sentences demonstrates an INCORRECT use of while?A. I like to drink coffee while I work.B. While the weather looks fine now, it will probably rain later on.C. I need to wait a little while longer for the water to boil.

    D. I stayed at home while the game.

Show Correct Answers:
  1. C
  2. B
  3. A
  4. C
  5. C
  6. D
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