Tried and tested (and approved!) games and activities to help English learning.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Don't say a word!

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: drawing / speaking.

Topic: grammar / vocabulary.

Materials: pieces of card (strips of paper), paper sheets and pencils (or pens).

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This one goes well even with students who claim they are not artistically gifted. You can use any kind of vocabulary (e.g. furniture) or tenses (e.g. present continuous) you want. For this particular example, let's use jobsWrite ten jobs on separate pieces of card / strips of paper. Make one set of jobs per group. Sit students in groups of four, five or six. Give each groupa set of cards face down (or inside an envelope).

When you say Start!, the first student in each group takes a job card and has forty seconds to draw the word on a sheet of paper. He / she mustn't speak or use any words or letters in the drawing. While the first student is drawing, the other members of the group have to try and guess the word (saying exactly what's on the card). 

After forty seconds shout Stop! Ask each group if they guessed the word correctly and give them one point if they did. Then, the second student in each group takes a card, you say Start!, and so forth. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

A quick version of this game is to sit students in pairs. Student A has his / her back to the board, student B can see the board. Write a word or phrase on the board and student B draws it for student A, who has twenty seconds to guess. Then swap roles.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Conditional Chain Game

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: grammar.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This game is good to revise and practise structures in the first conditional. Sit the students in a circle and then  begin the game with a sentence; for example: “If I go out tonight, I’ll go to the cinema.” The next student in the circle must use the end of the previous sentence to begin his or her own sentence; e.g., “If I go to the cinema, I’ll watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The next student then could say, “If I watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’ll eat lots of chocolate.” Then, the other continues with “If I eat lots of chocolate, I’ll put on weight” etc. The first student who gets 'stuck' and cannot carry on is considered 'out of the game'. The game continues for any amount of time that you consider suitable.

You could use this same game without the 'elimination' process, just for the fun of it. Some zany ideas usually sprout from some clever students. (You could feel tempted to give some kind of reward to those, though).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: sheets of paper and pencils (or pens).

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This fast paced game is intended for students with higher vocabulary levels. Divide students into pairs, asking them to draw a grid of five squares by five on a piece of paper for each pair. The first student writes a five-letter word anywhere in the grid, horizontally or vertically. The second student then has to insert another five-letter word, either parallel or interlocking with it. It is imperative to remember that the words, if written side by side, they need to make sense on the areas that they are interconnected

The students continue alternately writing in words until neither student can fill in another word. The winner is the player who inserts the last word.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Yessir, Nossir

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: listening and speaking.

Topic: grammar / vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 minutes.

A very quick and fun game, suitable for all levels. It can be used as a warmer, too. The objective here is to answer questions for one minute without saying 'yes' or 'no'. It is somewhat similar to V.A.M.P..

Pair up the students. In each pair, one of them asks the other a series of quick questions, which that student has to answer without using the words 'yes' or 'no' or nodding the head. The students quiz each other in turns. The winner is the student who lasts longer without saying the forbidden words. 

In a more difficult variation of this game, the words 'I' and 'you' also have to be avoided.

Another way of playing this game is for each student to be given five counters or tokens. Instead of pairs, divide the class into groups of five students. They act in turn as 'question master'. Each time anyone is tricked into saying 'yes' or 'no', that student is given one token by the questioner. The winner is the first student to get rid of all his or her tokens. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Running Dictation

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: speaking and writing.

Topic: vocabulary and grammar.

Materials: paper (lively music - kept in low volume -  is welcome).

Time: 5 to 25 minutes.

It's an oldie, but it still promises (and delivers!) lots of fun. Divide the class into groups of 3 to 4 students, or pairs for small classes. Write a sentence on a piece of paper for each team and stick this piece of paper somewhere out of the classroom (but not so far from it). Take care on placing the different pieces of paper away from each other, so as not to cause unnecessary clashes between the teams. One member from each team goes out and tries to remember their sentence. This student returns to their group and dictates the sentence while team members write it down. First team to finish correctly gets a point. Change words/sentences and switch the students who go out to read the sentences.

Make each team's paper different so students don't simply listen to other teams. The students who dictate are not allowed to take their paper, write down anything, or yell across the room. They are allowed to return to where the piece of paper is to look at it as many times as they like. It's very effective when you use words from class to reinforce learned vocabulary and grammar structures.

Use pictures for children who can't spell and have them draw the picture instead of writing the words. Use multiple sentences for more advanced students, place sentences in the vicinity of room and have each group member do one each. Groups then have to put the sentences into the right order before turning in the paper.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: sheets of paper and pencils (or pens).

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

The objective of this favourite game of mine is to think of words that start and end with letters determined by one word written forwards and backwards. Did it sound complicated? But it is not!

First, you choose a word of at least four letters (usually six or more), which each student writes in a column down the left-hand side of their paper. Then they write the same word in reverse down the right-hand side of the paper. Students have to fill in words which start and end with the resulting letters. The students, however, cannot use the given word as the first word in their lists (for instance, if you give the word 'English', the students cannot use it).

The winner is either the student who fills in all the spaces first; the student who finishes within a set time; or (better!) the student with the highest amount of points obtained. To count the points, each used letter is counted as one point.

Let's suppose you chose ´Horses' as the word. The winning student could have written the word like this:

             Total:      41 points!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back Writing

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advance.

Skills: writing.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: a list of words you want the students to review.

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

This activity is really engaging and fun. The tickling sensation provided by the tracing the message (word or sentence) on the back of the students gets them laughing and motivates them more acutely than simply asking them to remember previous vocabulary. Having students write on each other's back is a good way to stimulate the sense of touch (good for kinesthetic students!) in the lesson and further involves the student. This game is systematically used in my classes as a warmer, but you can bring it up anytime during your lesson.

First, divide the class into two groups and have both groups stand in team lines facing the board. Give the first person of each group a board marker. Teach the students that a tap on one's own shoulder means 'repeat' and a nod means 'OK, I understood'. Also, tell them that no verbal communication is allowed. If any member of each group is heard speaking or murmuring, the opposing group will be given a point.

Then, move to the end of the line, calling the last students of each group to see the message you have previously prepared (again, it can be a sentence or just a word). Next, students pass the message to the front of the line by tracing the message on the back of the person in front of them. Remind students of the two commands for repeating or accepting the message. When the message reaches the first person in line, they write it on the board. The group who finishes first and correctly earns a point. Draw student's attention to the importance of being fast and accurate at the same time. When the round is finished, have the first person go to the end of the line to change writers and show a second word. The game can end when every member of both groups had the chance to start writing on their partners' back or at any given time (depending on your choices; longer lines make the game harder but shorter lines allows for more opportunity to have everyone be the writer).

Variation for younger students: 
Have students sit in a circle for a smaller class or make team lines for a larger class. Choose a letter or word from current study and have children trace it in the air together. Next, have students trace the letter onto the back of the person in front of them. Observe the students and correct where necessary. Repeat using new letters. Use words or sentences for higher levels, as presented above. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Extreme Situations

Level: Advanced.

Skills: writing and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary and grammar.

Materials: paper sheets (with some information on them), pen & pencil.

Time: 10 to 30 minutes.

The point of these games (yes, there are at least two variations of it!) is to make difficult questions involving choosing a course of action in extreme situations. Usually these situations will involve feelings, prejudices, ethics, etc. Aimed at advanced groups, there is much scope for role-play here. This activity is suitable for classes of mature students rather than young schoolchildren; and in order to work it has to be taken fairly seriously. No particular language preparation is needed, beyond a check that the information sheets are thoroughly understood. 

Variation 1: Sahara Desert Safari
Give one slip of paper with a job (psychologist, writer, farmer, nurse, massage therapist, priest, lawyer, police officer, singer, fortune teller [more jobs can be included if the class has more than ten students]) written on the top of it to each student, and ask them to write down a short description about him/herself, e.g. 
  • if female/male;
  • name; 
  • age; 
  • the length of time in the work field; 
  • some of his/her good and bad characteristics; 
  • good and bad habits. 
Give them 5 minutes to complete the task. Don't forget to check the students' understanding of what they have to do, and help and monitor as necessary. 

When students have finished writing, start the speaking part. Each student introduces his/her character in one minute. Then tell them they are in a Safari in Sahara Desert, in two Jeeps [or more, depending on the size of the class]. There is a problem with one of the Jeeps: it has broken down and cannot be fixed. Five people will have to remain where the Jeep is, while the other five will go back to the camp, trying to get some help. Ask the students: 'Why do you deserve to be on the Jeep that is going back to the camp?' Students have to be creative/logical/convincing in 2 minutes, telling the rest of the class their reasons. While they are speaking, write on the board the jobs and when the last student speak, they take turns to vote who doesn’t deserve to be on the Jeep.

Variation 2: Escape From The Island
Tell students they are on a deserted island. There is a motor boat and they are the only one who knows how to drive it. It is up to them to decide which people of the following people you are going to take with you in the boat. There is space for only them (individually) and 3 more people. Here they are:
  • a prostitute who gives 30% of her fees to help homeless children;
  • a drug addict who writes magnificent pop songs;
  • a dying old man who was a caring and lovely clown on a TV show;
  • a doctor convicted of malpractice who is a staunch father and husband;
  • a child pornographer who is a spiritual leader of a church that helps millions of people;
  • a convicted criminal who is the most talented sculpter of his generation;
  • a corrupt politician who has created a working system to help the poor and the needy.
(Note: You should adjust the list to suit the students in your class. Delete some if you find them offensive. Add others that you think would generate good discussion.)

In this variation, students have to be grouped in pairs, then in fours, then in eights, until the whole class agree on who are going to escape the island with them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

V.A.M.P. (Vegetable, Animal, Mineral or Person)

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: speaking and listening.

Topic: warmer using previously taught vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

When the number of students is large, this game affords much amusement. One student is sent out of the room. While he / she is gone, the students decide upon some object or person which he / she is to guess. He  / she is then called in, and asks each one a question. 

The answers to the questions must be either "Yes" or "No," and a forfeit must be paid if any other answer is given. 

Suppose the object chosen is a piece of coal in the fireplace. The student will begin by finding out whether the object chosen is of the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom; thus the following questions may be asked: "Is it a mineral?" "Yes." "Is it hard?" "Yes." "Is it very valuable?" "No." "Is it bright and shiny?" "Yes." "Is it gold?" "No." "Silver?" "No." "Is it in this room?" "Yes." "Is it black?" "Yes." "Is it a piece of coal?" "Yes." 

The correct object being guessed, another student is sent out and the game continues. If not, this same student is sent out again.

If any student answers other thing but "Yes" or "No", this student will be part of the group of guessers and sent out of the room.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Change Places If...

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: listening.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

This is a great activity to get students moving about and practice some vocabulary or sentence structures. I have used this game not only as a warming-up activity, but also as a memory enhancer for recently presented vocabulary.

Start with students in a closed circle, with the teacher standing in the middle to begin the game. There should always be one less chair than participants. 

Depending on what you want to revise the teacher says, “Change places if … (Example) you’re wearing trainers.” All students who are wearing trainers must stand up, and move to another chair and the teacher should sit on one of the recently vacated seats. The person left without a seat stays in the middle and gives the next command, and so it goes on. 

Adapt for higher levels with commands such as, “Change places if … you went to the cinema last weekend”, or “Change places if you … would like to have less homework.” Young learners can get very excited with this game so make it clear from the beginning that pushing other students out of chairs and similar behaviour is not going to be tolerated! Be careful to incorporate this activity in the class at an appropriate time. It is a definitely a ‘warmer’ as opposed to a ‘cooler’ and may be better at the end of a class.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Who (or What) Am I?

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: Post-It slips (pens & pencils).

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Hand in Post-It slips to students. Ask them to write a name of a person, an animal, fruit (or food), a country, an object (or whatever item of vocabulary they’ve already known) on it, taking care not to show what’s written to anyone. When they’ve done it, ask them to choose a friend in the classroom and stick the Post-It on his/her forehead. 

When everyone has a Post-It stuck on his or her foreheads, they move around class asking each other questions in order to find who (or what) they are, e.g., “am I a bird?”, “am I a famous?”, “am I small?”. The person who’s been asked can just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If the student discovers who (or what) he or she is, he or she can take the Post-It off their foreheads and sit again. The last student standing must pay a forfeit.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sight Unseen

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Type of activity: speaking (and drawing).

Materials: pictures (realia, if you will), pencil and paper.

Time: 5 to 20 minutes.

Organise the class into pairs. Give each pair a sheet of paper and pencil. The chairs must be arranged side by side, but facing in opposite directions, so the one who is to draw may not see the object his partner has. Then give Student As pictures (who will keep them secret, so Student Bs could not see them) who will describe the scene in the picture for Student Bs, who must draw it, from the description given. Afterwards, give Student Bs pictures, and reverse the roles.

After both students in each pair have finished describing and drawing, collect the drawings and the pictures, arrange them side by side, and ask the whole class to decide by vote which drawing is most like the picture it represents.

I used this game with students who claimed they could not draw at all, but later revealed to be quite good artists themselves. Besides being a good activity to revise certain vocabulary areas (prepositions, mainly), it also prepares students for the tasks of some international exams (KET, PET, FCE, etc.).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot Seat

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

This is a good way to review vocabulary and create some healthy competition in your classes. All you need is a list of vocabulary the students have been studying; or, even if you want to introduce a new topic, words that they should know can also be used. You can use this game in classes with four to about fourteen students (more than this number is not feasible for the amount of time required). 

Choose a number of words that you want the class to revise (e.g. gerunds). Divide the class in half and have the two groups select a name for their team; write the names on the board. Place a chair for each group in front of the board facing the class (so that students sitting on them will have their backs to the board). To start the game, ask one student from each team to be a volunteer and have him/her to sit in the "hot seat" in front of his/her team. Next, write one of the words on the board and have the students try to elicit the word from their teammate (who is not allowed to turn around to see the word on the board). They can mime (my favourite) or explain the words (using English), but they cannot write, spell or do anything else that might be considered cheating (if students get truly stuck on a word, I tell them the first letter – in rare cases, even the second letter). Whichever student in the "hot seat" guesses the word first earns a point for his/her team. Repeat the activity with the other words, choosing a different student (to sit in the chair) each time.

For intermediate and advanced levels, sentences, and not only words, can be used. The student in the "hot seat" must say the exact sentence that is behind him/her. 

This game can really cause some excitement, so make sure you won't be disturbing other classes being held near yours. As an added incentive, I sometimes bring in chocolate candies to give to students when they discover 'their' word/sentence really fast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fizz, Boing, Bounce

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: listening and speaking.

Topic: warmer.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

A warming-up game aimed at focusing students' attention. Sit the students in a circle. Tell them they have to pass an imaginary (invisible) ball to each other (it's a nice touch if you hold the ball in your hands, pretending it is there). Every time they pass the ball, they have to say 'fizz'. If they fold one of their arms, with their fist clenched (show it to the students, as if you were defending yourself from an attack), they say 'boing', and they change the direction of the imaginary ball, rebounding it to the previous student. If they say 'bounce' (make the gesture of a bump, as in volleyball games), they skip one person (it doesn't change direction, but the imaginary ball goes over someone's head, to the next student). 

The student who commits a mistake while moving the ball (saying the wrong command or not following the previous student's command appropriately, for example) must make a brief speech (one-minute talks are very appropriate) about a topic you determine (examples include their last holiday, their favourite foods, what they are planning to do next weekend, or any other suitable themes, depending on their level).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Party Time

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: writing and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: none (lively music is a nice touch, tough!)

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

Brainstorm adjectives of character (shy, generous, etc) and write as many as students can think of on the board. Then tell each student to choose one of the adjectives of character from the board. Explain to students that they are all at a party, and that they must mingle and chat to each other in the role of their character adjective. Explain that they must pretend to have that character, but that they must never say what the adjective is. 

Have students write the name of each student in the class on a piece of paper. Tell them to start mingling, and explain that they should try to speak to everyone and identify the character adjective they are representing. When they think they know what adjective the person they are speaking to is trying to express, they should write it next to their name and move on to speak to someone else. At the end of the game, tell students to sit down and then call out the name of each person in the class and ask students to say the adjective they thought that person was trying to represent.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Relative Clause Clues

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing.

Topic: grammar.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This is one of my favorite TEFL games for practicing defining relative clauses. Write a list of definitions for four or five nouns. Choose nouns with the same first letter. Give the students the clues, and they must decide - in pairs, groups, or as a whole class - what the original nouns were, and the shared initial letter.

An example for an advanced ESL lesson might be: "A novel which tells the story of a zombie private eye," "The god of the sea who gave his name to a large planet," "The country where hobbits have been seen."

The answers, of course, being 'N.' Necropolis (written by Tim Waggoner), Neptune and New Zealand. Much easier examples should be given when teaching English to kids. "An animal that gives us milk," "A bird we eat that cannot fly," for example [cow & chicken].

After you have demonstrated the activity, the students can write their own examples in pairs. With lower level classes, you can give a list of nouns for them to define. This also makes a good homework activity which can then be read out for guessing, as a warmer in the following class.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Level: Intermediate and Advance.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: prompt cards with words written on them.

Time: 10 to 30 minutes (sometimes longer).

This is one of my favourite TEFL games, because besides being fun, it helps reinforce and teach vocabulary. It is definitely a hoot!

First, prepare a list of words you want students to use. Normally, I use the words they have learnt in previous levels (Elementary words for Intermediate, Intermediate words for Advanced). Examples include: sun, teacher, elephant, today, yes, bicycle, swim, banana, skin, comedy, sofa, island, coffee and shoulder. In fact, any word can be used in this game!

Divide the class into two teams. Then, using paper, rock, scissors or selecting randomly, one member of the first team to the front of the class. He/she has to try to describe/define to the class the word at the top of the card, without using any of the five forbidden words (that's the origin of the name of this game, the "taboo" words) listed on the card. Should the student say one of the words listed, you stop him/her and give the point to the opposite team. The describer may only use speech to describe to the class; gestures, sounds (e.g. barking), drawings or spelling (or translation!) are not allowed. While the describer is talking, the class may make as many guesses as they want with no penalties for wrong guesses.

Example, for the word sun the forbidden words would be hot, day, sky, star, and moon. Student describes it as "it's something that is in space, and around which our planet revolves". So far so good. But if the student adds: "... only visible during the day...", you should stop him/her, allowing a point to the other group.

Allow a minute or two for the first student, and then bring a student from the second team to the front.  Every time a team guesses correctly, they get the correspondent card. Continue until you run out of cards. The group with most cards wins.

Extension: get the teams to make their own cards for a second round of the game, using recently learned words.

Variation, with no material involved: select a student and ask him to come up to the board. Turn the student so that his/her back is facing the board. Write the keyword on the board. Underneath the keyword, write three other words which are also "taboo". This means that the students cannot say these three sub keywords either and they cannot make any actions to help the student with his/her back to the board.

When you say "start!", the first team will get two minutes to help the student guess the keyword. If any of the students say any of the Taboo words, his/her team cannot win a point. But if the student with his back turned to the board says the keyword, his/her team will get one point. After the team gets the point or time runs out, the teams will switch positions. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: pencil and paper.

Time: 10 minutes.

The students are provided with pencil and paper. Each student selects the name of some animal, fish, or bird, and mixes the letters so as to spell other words. For instance, if one chooses elephant, the words might be "pent heal"; if monkey, "no key m"," while gorilla may be "lag roil".

Allow some minutes for the students make the "muddle". No letter can be used twice, and words must be formed. Then clap your hands and each student in turn reads his "muddle" to the rest of the class, who guess what his chosen word is.

Each puzzle is carefully timed. The one whose puzzle takes longest to guess is the winner; therefore, each person must mix the letters as much as possible.

Sides may be chosen if preferred, with students taking turn alternately, and the side which has taken the least time to guess the puzzles is the victorious side.

You can substitute animal names for food names, nationalities, clothes, personality adjectives, etc. I have tried with all those vocabulary categories, with teenage and adult classes, and it definitely works!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Level: Elementary and Intermediate.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary (numbers).

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Have your group of students sit around in a circle. A student starts by saying the number "1". The next person (the person sitting to the left or right, choose an initial direction) says "2", then the next person says "3", and so on and so forth. When someone gets to the number "7", that's when the fun begins. Whenever you get to the number "7" or a multiple of "7" (ex. 7,14,21,28,35, etc) or any number that has a "7" in it (ex. 17, 27, 37, etc.), that person must say Buzz (or Bazzinga!, that's what some students of mine have been calling it). Whenever someone says Buzz when they're supposed to on a "7" number, then you switch directions. That means if your group was counting in a clockwise direction, then you switch to counter-clockwise after Buzz is said.

If there is a mistake, start over at "1" with the next student in line. The student who has made the mistake is out of the game.

Once it is going well and the group has reached 50 or so, stop them and add 'Bizz' to the game (or Boing!, if you are using Bazzinga!). Now, substitute 'Bizz' for 5 (for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, Bizz, 6, Buzz, 8, 9, Bizz, 11, 12, 13, Buzz, Bizz, 16, Buzz, 18, 19, Bizz, Buzz, 22, ...). If the number is a multiple of 5 and 7, or has 5 and 7 in it, like 35 or 57 or 70 or 75, say 'BizzBuzz'!

Try for a group record or reaching 100 (one of my classes got to 200!). Eliminate students who make mistakes until only one champion is left.

Good for reviewing cardinal numbers, this game could also be used for ordinal numbers, keeping the same rules. Most of my classes simply love this game and although it could seem a bit challenging at first, the more you play it with your students the more they (and you) will enjoy it.

Variations: instead of 5 and 7, you can pick 3 and 5 as the 'buzz' numbers, making this game more agile.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing (some speaking).

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: pencil and paper.

Time: 20 to 30 minutes (sometimes longer).

This game is a variation of Animal, Country, Job..., which I have already described. A word of about six letters is chosen, either at random or (more preferably) from the pages of a book (you could select a word to the topic you are going to start talking about, as a lead-in, for example), but it should contain no letter more than once. I usually pick up a word which is the kernel of the topic students are going to see (tourism, leisure, working, country, school, etc.).

Students suggest a category (animals, towns, objects, book titles, etc.) and write them down the left-hand side of their paper. If your class has more than eight students, have them agree on a number of categories. Then, and only then, present the letters of the chosen word, making them writing it along the top of their grid. Next, they try, for each category, to write words that start with the letters of the chosen word (on top). Here, it is not a matter of who finishes first, but who completes the most columns with right words. A time limit is set, and a student scores two points for each word that no other student has written (or, if preferred, one point for each of the players who has not written that word). Misspelled and utterly wrong words suffer a one point penalty.

Variation: For each category students think of an appropriate item that begins with the letter at the top of the column. Then they think of an item from that category that ends with the letter at the top of the column.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I'm hosting a party and I'm bringing...

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: none.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

For this game, you will need the collaboration of a student. This is because you will have to tip him on how to play it, in order to make the game more fun. It works best with students who are not the 'teacher's pet' or even the brightest ones in class; an 'average joe' will do fine. Call this student aside, before class, and tell him/her the 'trick' of the game: you are going to start the game by saying "I'm hosting a party and I'm bringing [an object/a person]", with this object or person starting with the first letter of your name. So, as an example, my name is Fabrício so I will say: "I'm hosting a party and I'm bringing some figs". (Check if the student got it, because I had some funny, but not so productive, experiences with absent-minded students). 

When in class, get the game going by stating your sentence (perhaps you should write the first stem of the sentence on board to ease the memorization process of visual-based students): "I'm hosting a party and I'm bringing [something]." Point to the first student, not necessarily the one who you talked to previously, and ask him/her to repeat the sentence up to the part where he/she has to select what he/she wants to bring, adding his/her own idea. If the object/person selected starts with the same letter of their names, students can come to your party, then you say: "Yes, you can come to my party! Welcome!". Otherwise, simply say: "No, you can't come to my party, I'm sorry!". Do not explain the rules yet and continue the game, pointing to another student. 

When all students have spoken, go back to the first one, repeating the procedure, ensuring that students understood the rules. It may happen that, by sheer luck, a student says the right word but still does not have the grasp of the rule. Play continues until all students but one (or two, if you think it is taking too long) gets the rule figured out. Then, ask a student (but the one you talked to first) to explain the rule to the class.

Variation: this game can be played with a different rule each time (only the final letters of your chosen words, words with double letters, snippets of songs, etc.).

Special thanks to fellow teacher Arthur Parente, who kindly taught me this game. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Spelling Bound

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: writing.

Topic: spelling.

Materials: none.

Time: 10 to 20 minutes.

Spelling games are always useful, no matter what level the students are. In this game, students work in pairs to spell words on the board as fast as they can in competition with other pairs of students. Both students in each pair need a whiteboard marker. The two students link left arms (so one student will be facing the whiteboard and one student will be facing the class). 

Call out a word to be spelled and the student facing the board writes the first letter of the word on the board. Subsequently, the pair must spin so that the second student can write. Each student can only write one letter, and just one letter. If students wish to correct the letter that their partner has written, they can erase it and replace it, but then must spin. So, they take turns writing a letter then spinning so that the other student can write. Students cannot talk to each other or tell their partner what to write. 

It's best if you match up left-handed students with left-handed students and right-handed students with right-handed students as much as possible.

You can make it harder by saying that if a mistake is made and recognised the student who recognises the error can erase the incorrect letter, but cannot add another letter, and by saying that both students must take their turn to write. If you have a large whiteboard, you can have 3 or 4 pairs of students at the board at once (I have tried it once, and although a bit messy, it worked pretty well). With a tiny whiteboard, one pair at a time, but time how long it takes  possibly by having the rest of the class counting out loud in English! And, it must be legible  feel free to be mean if letters are not clear!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Crows & Cranes

Level: All.

Skills: listening.

Topic: warmer.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This one is a quick 'warming-up' game, aimed mostly at listening comprehension and attention. More suitable for teenagers than adults, chiefly because it involves a lot of movement and physical contact, which some cannot be comfortable with. It definitely whips students up!

Students stand in two lines, divided into two groups, the 'Crows' and the 'Cranes'. The distance between them should be an arm's length so that their fingertips can touch the fingertips of the student in opposite line. Explain that behind each team is a home base (the wall) which if they reach they are safe from capture.

If you call out ‘cranes’ this team becomes the chasing team and each crane has to catch their respective 'crow' partner before he/she reaches their home. If however you call out ‘crows’ then the opposite happens and crows have to catch the cranes. Each time a person is caught that team scores a point and this person changes team (if he/she is a 'crow', he/she becomes a 'crane', literally changing sides). Try to slur in order to confuse the students about which team is being tagged.

Game ends when either team is completely devoid of members.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Animal, Country, Job...

Level: Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: writing (speaking).

Topic: vocabulary.

Materials: pencils and paper.

Time: 20 to 30 minutes (sometimes longer).

This game is called by many different names, depending where it's played: Categories, Town/Country/River, "Adedanha", Stop!, Jeu de Baccalauréat, Stadt Land Fluss...

First, each student creates a grid on a sheet of paper. On the left side of the paper, they draw a vertical line to create a column (it should be just wide enough to accommodate a capital letter). Next, they draw five more vertical lines to create six more columns of equal width. Their categories sheet is then ready!

Then, on the board, write a replica of this grid, labeling the columns. The categories are entirely up to your imagination, but some ideas follow:
  • Animals
  • Countries
  • Languages
  • Colours
  • Jobs
  • Food (and Drink)
  • Objects
  • Irregular verbs in the past (or participle)
  • Body parts
  • General or personality adjectives
  • Etc.
Important: the seventh column is the 'Total' column, where students should write the points they have scored each round.

You have some ways to start the game: you can call a letter arbitrarily; you can open a book and choose a letter from one of the words there; you can ask students to have a show of hands, where each finger shown is a letter of the alphabet (e.g., ten fingers shown, letter J). I have used the three systems, in different times, with similar success.

With the letter chosen and announced, the students have to immediately fill all the columns of the grid with a word (which begins with the chosen letter), as fast as they can, because the first student who finishes doing this must yell "Stop!" (or "Bazzinga!", or imitate a donkey, or clap their hands - it's your decision!) so the other participants stop writing.

Guidelines for deciding if a word is acceptable or not are up to you. You can use group consensus, your own judgment (my choice), a dictionary, the Internet... Whatever you think is fair and suitable for your class.

Students call out their words one by one. They score 10 points for each answer they give that no one else has. They score 5 points if one or more students have the same answer and deduct 10 points for every misspelled or utterly wrong word written (believe me, the students will come up with a lot of those. Once, I had a student, not remembering a fruit with letter O, simply wrote "ongoiaba" to general puzzlement and laughter). The game requires the players to be honest. It can be difficult to prove afterwards, if all answers are correct. The person sitting next to a player can control the players answer sheet or you can walk around class, with a watchful eye.

Students write down the total score for that round. Then restart the game by writing a different letter on the board, repeating the procedure. The number of rounds is up to you. In the last round, ask students to add all their points up. The winner is the student with the highest score.

In addition to being just plain fun (it is a blast when a student says a word which is pretty obvious but most of the class has forgotten, and they make that "oh, no! How could I forget that?" face), the game helps revising previously taught vocabulary – and I can testify that playing this game regularly can prevent nouns from getting stuck to the tip of students' tongue.

Variation: For each category students think of an appropriate item that begins with the chosen letter. Then they think of an item from that category that ends with the chosen letter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Word Tennis

Level: All levels.

Skills: listening and speaking.

Topic: vocabulary. 

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

This English teaching game is an ideal warmer when teaching English to kids, especially 6 to 8 year olds, but it can be used for any age group, and is an excellent way to review vocabulary. It also teaches category names to the students. Another good thing about it is that it requires no material whatsoever, so you can use it at any moment (as a filler, for instance) during your classroom.

Divide the class into two teams. Write the team names on either side of the board at the top. Leave a space in the middle of the board to write a list of categories. Write the first category (for example, animals). Have the students read this to you. If they can't do it yet, read it to them (repeated exposure to the category names will help them recognize them).

Point quickly to the first student. The student must respond with an animal name within a few seconds. Then the 'ball' bounces to the other team, and the first student quickly gives the name of another animal. Then the second student on the other team answers, and so forth.

This game must be done quickly, and without any repetition of vocabulary. When a student cannot answer, a point is given to the opposing team, and a new category is written on the board. The whole process is then repeated. Ideally, this game should be a fast review of vocabulary items.

The very first time you do this activity the students may well need help. However, once they are familiar with it, then it should become faster. Any categories can be used, from vegetables to verbs, and from city facilities to parts of the body. This game can also be used to teach/practice more advanced vocabulary categories (for example things that melt, personality types, phrasal verbs).

I tried and tested this game with Elementary (irregular verbs in the past, nationalities, parts of a city), Intermediate (irregular past participle verbs, clothes, animals) and Advanced (personality types, transport vocabulary, cinema words) students and it worked very well. Students loved it!