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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fruit Cocktail

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary, grammar.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

The goal of this game is to find a seat quickly. If you are in the center, to find a seat thereby  putting a new person in the center. For elementary students, use fruits or category vocabulary. For intermediate, future/conditional with category vocabulary, or relative clauses. For advanced students, relative clauses or past/present/future grammar.

Put the whole class seated in an exact circle on chairs, with one chair less than the total number of students. If the class is too big for one circle, make two circles. One student begins in the center of each circle, standing, without a chair.

Center student tells each student what word they have; (for elementary students: apple, pear, grape, pineapple, ... apple, pear, grape, pineapple... until everyone has a fruit, including the student in the center). Be sure that everyone remembers who they are. Ask: "All pineapples please raise your hands!", etc.

Center student calls out one type of fruit. Whichever fruit they call, those students must stand up and rush to change seats. Students who move must always take a new seat and the student in the center must also try to get a seat, leaving a new student without a seat and standing in the center. If center student wants everyone to change seats, they call "Fruit Cocktail!"

Important: Keep the game short!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Group Dictation

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: listening.

Topic: vocabulary, grammar, spelling.

Materials: a short (one paragraph) story.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

The purpose of this game is to improve listening skills, with a focus on grammar, vocabulary, constructing a narrative, and/or spelling.

Dictation is often considered a passive activity because students don't stand up, communicate, or move about the classroom. Yet it's quite difficult to catch the words, link the words into sentences, and then link the sentences into a narrative. This activity adds a communicative element, though, which will further reinforce the target language.
Prepare a story before the class begins. For a class of lower-level students, keep the story to four or five sentences. For intermediate or advanced classes, the story or monologue may be as long as a paragraph. It's important to consider the following points for an effective story:
  • The best monologues are real and relatable to the students.
  • Stories or monologues should incorporate key grammar and/or vocabulary from the lesson. this will give students the chance to see the target language linked with other ideas and information.
  • Stories or monologues should show how to use the language later in the lesson.
Here's an example for a class consisting of strong beginners: I'm going to go skiing this weekend with friends. I usually go skiing a lot in the winter. But I only went once this year because it's been too warm. There isn't much snow in the mountains. My friends and I plan to stay for three days. I hope it's fun!
Read the story once at a pace just above the level of the students. If read too slowly, then the activity isn't challenging. If read too quickly, then the activity becomes far too difficult. Students just listen at this stage. They should not take notes because this will limit how much of the story they hear.
Students form groups of three or four and discuss what they heard. Students will have caught different words and sentences, and a collaborative effort helps them understand the complete monologue. Students work together for several minutes.
Read the sentences again, but at a slower pace. It's important to read each sentence twice. Students now take dictation, writing every word if possible.
Students form groups once more and discuss/compare the sentences for a few minutes. Together, they should be able to recreate most of the story.
Students should come to the board and write the sentences from the story. Correction (if necessary) can be accomplished by the class. If there are too many students, or time is limited, you may simply write the sentences on the board.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Speeding to the Wall!

Level: Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Skills: speaking.

Topic: vocabulary, grammar.

Materials: none.

Time: 20 to 30 minutes.

It is a team game, however it works even better when teams are uneven in size at it means that students get to "compete" with someone different each time around. It allows for everyone to contribute something - the student who is agile but not so good at languages can use that, the student with the great memory for vocabulary is an asset to the team, as is the problem solver, and even the maths whiz depending on your questions. The game allows for consultation among the team, but there are also rules that control the volume too.

Get rid of all the desks (except two) - push them to the very edge of the room, stack them etc. You will need a large rectangular space. Line the chairs up in two lines facing each other at least one and a half metres apart (so there is space for 2 students to run back down the aisle at one time). You need one chair for each student. Put two desks (with another 2 chairs) at one end of the aisle next to each other facing down the aisle. At the far end of the aisle there should be a space that students can touch at the end of their run without knocking anything over - a wall, another desk or chair, a cupboard etc. Don't worry - the students get very quick at setting up the class for games once they know which set up you need!

Remember to go through safety rules (no pushing, tripping etc) as always!

Divide the class in two teams using whatever method you prefer and get them to sit in the chairs facing in each other. The two students who are nearest the two desks will go first. While they are sitting, call out a question (very useful to revise last class grammar and vocabulary points). Now, there are two possibilities...

a) The students know the answer - they get up, run to the other end of the aisle, touch the wall / cupboard and run back and sit at the desk.

b) They don't know the answer - in this case, they get up, run to the person on their team who they think will know and consult. No one else is allowed out of their chair. When they have the answer, they must go back and touch their chair before running to touch the wall at the far end and then running to the front to sit at the desk. (so, needing to consult will slow them down.)

The person who is sitting at the desk first is selected to answer the question. If they get it correct, they get a point. If they get it wrong, the other team gets to try. If it's partly right, the other team can have a go at giving a "better answer" - e.g., full sentence answer - up to you how you allocate points in this case. If they are both wrong, you can either let them run again with the same question (and same rules regarding consultation) or move on to the next question.

At the end of the turn, those students go to the far end of the aisle of seats and everyone shuffles up one chair so that the next student is in the head seat.

Extra rule for noise control:
No one can speak while their team's runner is running - otherwise they need to touch their chair and run again. This can reduce cheating also as it means they can't call an answer out.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Elves, Wizards and Giants

Level: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced.

Skills: miming (speaking).

Topic: warmer.

Materials: none.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Another team version of the old game of `Scissors-Paper-Stone’, but has funnier actions and noises which each team has to act out. Each character (Elf, Wizard, Giant) has a specific action or noise.

Elf: Squatting down and imitate pointed ears by holding two fingers up by your ears (similar to making bunny ears). Make "Eeeking" noises while doing this.

Giant: Standing on tip toe, arms raised in frightening posture making growling / roaring sounds

Wizard: Standing normally but with arms outstretched as if casting a spell. Make appropriate spell casting noises.

As with Scissors-Paper-Stone each character/icon can win against one character or lose against the other. In this case, if wanted, teams can make the appropriate actions for winning or losing (children are extremely fond of this).

Winning team:                         Action/s: 
Elves shoot Wizards: Elves win          Elves pretend to shoot an arrow, 
                                                  Wizards make dramatic gestures as though struck in the heart. 

Wizards frazzle Giants: Wizards win   Giants pretend to shrink. 

Giants squash Elves: Giants win          Giants pretend they are squishing something small. 

Each team finds a quiet corner and decides on a character to be as a team, after choosing their character each team stands facing each other with hands behind their backs. On a given signal (e.g. the count of three) the whole team acts out their character with the points going to the team that chooses the winning character. If both teams pick the same character there is a draw.