How often do you find yourself preparing for a class, racking your brain for something different, a new activity to perk up a group of tired students, or just to bring something new to the classroom? If you’re like most teachers, coming up with something new and exciting every day isn’t easy, and often we just don’t have the time (or energy!). , or to follow page after page of a textbook.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that hard. Many ideas can be adapted to many different language points, giving you something that can be used over and over again. If the activity has a clear focus, motivation (students need to know why they are doing something; adding an element of competition to an activity is one way to achieve this), and of course clear instructions, then you are set to win.
There are many good resource books available with hundreds of quick and easy activities that require little or no preparation. Check your school resources for books like “Five Minute Activities” by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright, or “Keep Talking” by Friederike Kippel. Don’t forget that your fellow teachers are also good resources – use them!
Here are some ideas to get started:
1 You may be familiar with “Backs to the Board”, in which a representative from each of the two teams has their backs to the board, while their teammates try to explain to them the word they have written on the board, without saying the word or any variation thereof. Well, why not extend this to full sentences? Teams have one minute to explain the sentence to their partner, without using any of the words, spelling them, or using gestures. You can adapt this to whatever time or structure you want to practice.
2 Sentence Reduction: Write a long sentence or short paragraph on the board, rich in vocabulary. In teams, students take turns erasing one, two, or three consecutive words. The sentence should still make sense, grammatically, afterwards. If not, replace the words and go to the next team. Continue until no further reduction is possible (your students will be amazed at how short the sentence can become, while still keeping its grammatical meaning!) The winning team is the one that eliminates the most words. (Variation: do the opposite: start with one word and have students replace it with two or three, expanding the sentence.)
3 To practice spelling and vocabulary, try this: Start with a letter on the board, say “S.” Then the first student thinks of a word that starts with “S” and adds the next letter, for example, “ST”. The next student then thinks of a word beginning with “ST” and adds another letter, and so on. If someone in the group thinks there is no such word, she can challenge the writer to name the word for her. If there is no such word, the writer is out, but if he was thinking of an actual word, then the challenger is out. The winner is the last student left.
4 If your students are imaginative, give each group four or five pictures cut out of magazines and ask them to create a picture story; you can keep the context very open or have them focus on a particular time or function. If you want to focus on oral communication, don’t let them write your story! If you also want to assess their writing, ask them to write it down as they go. When they have finished, ask each group to tell their story to the rest of the class.
5 As a “Knowing You” exercise, ask students to write down three things that are true about themselves and two that are not true (but believable). Students take turns reading their sentences to the rest of the group, who must discuss and ask the reader questions and try to figure out which of their sentences are true. A good way to break the ice is to do it yourself first so they get the idea: write the five things about yourself on the board. (Variation: Write five one-word facts about yourself on the board, e.g. “32”, “Liverpool”, “Three”, “Bloggs”, and ask students in pairs to guess the questions that will give you these answers.)
6 Another for imaginative learners: Dictate the first line of a different story to each of several groups. They have a few minutes to continue the story and then pass their sheet of paper to the next group, who read the story so far and add the next part. Continue until the stories reach their original groups, who then wrap up and read the stories. To focus on a particular language point or vocabulary item, you can do it orally as a chain story: give the first sentence, then have the first student continue the story. At some point they must use the tense, structure or word (assigned in advance) that you want to work on. Continue until all students have contributed.
7 For powerful writing practice, divide the board into three columns and give each column a heading with three structures you want to practice (for example, “first, second, third conditional,” “yes/no questions, indirect questions, tags questions”, “present perfect simple, present perfect continuous, past simple”). Divide the students into pairs. One of each pair is the writer, the other is the runner. Give each pair lots of slips of paper and some blu-tacs, and tell them to make as many grammatically correct sentences as they can, in each of the three categories, and stick them on the board (with their initials to identify them). ). Set a time limit of five or ten minutes. The writer writes a sentence, then the runner takes the piece of paper and sticks it on the board. Yell “SWITCH” from time to time so they switch roles. At the end, have all the pairs look at the sentences and evaluate them. If they find an incorrect one, they tell you, and that sentence doesn’t count towards that pair’s score. (Variation: You can make this activity more difficult by saying that each sentence must contain a minimum of 10 words, for example.)
8 Another favorite is to give each student a secret celebrity identity, which is stuck on the back or forehead. They go around the class, asking yes/no questions to establish their identity. You could make sure they practice the past simple by making all the famous people die (“Did I live in the United States?”), or the present perfect, by making them alive (Have I acted in many movies?), imagining that these famous people haven’t yet are born (Will I be an actor?).
9 Have students stand up and shout out two opposite ideas, people, concepts, adjectives, or places. For example, “beach or mountain”, “Spielberg or Hitchcock”, “red or blue”, “Playstation or Nintendo” depending on the age/interests of your students. Point to one side of the room for one idea, the other side for another. Students move to the side of the room they choose; choose a few students each time to explain the reasons for their choices. If you wish, you can let it turn into a discussion between the two groups.
10 Hold a ‘grammar auction’ or ‘gap-fill auction’ on mistakes students have made (and made a note of) or on an area of language you want to work on. Divide the students into teams and give each team $100, or 10,000 yen, or whatever amount you want. If you can photograph some real money, all the better. For the grammar auction, give each team a worksheet with 10 (or more) sentences (depending on the mistakes they made or the language area they are working on). Some must be grammatically correct, others incorrect. Give the teams time to discuss whether or not they think the prizes are correct, and then ask them to bid on that decision for each prize. Then give them the answer: if their decision was correct, they double the amount they bet; if not, they lose their bet. To fill in the gap, give them 10 or more sentences to fill in the gap (again depending on the area you are practicing or your mistakes) and this time they will choose the correct word to place in the gap and bet on it.
You can find variations of these activities and many, many others in the books mentioned at the beginning of this article, among others. Try one of them today for something different in your ESL classes!