What’s missing?

This game is good for A1 level learners when focusing on vocabulary. This game is good after the initial presentation of the vocabulary.

  1. Create picture cards of the word set you are teaching, e.g. animals, colors, clothes, furniture, jobs etc.
  2. Lay the cards on the table (or hang them on the board) in a jumbled manner in front of the learners. Repeat the for pronunciation and check meaning.
  3. Ask the learners to turn around or close their eyes. Remove one of the cards. Ask the learners to reopen their eyes and say which word is missing.
  4. Award points to the person/pair/team that can name the missing word the first. Reinforce by asking for the translation of the word (if desired) each time.
  5. Quickly add the card back to the mix and repeat step 3.

This is a fast, simple game that always energizes groups.

1-1 Variation: Play as above but take turns allowing the learner to remove a card as you, the trainer, close your eyes.


Comparative Adjectives Battle

This can be used for A1-B2 levels. It’s best used for freer practice after formal introduction and controlled practice of comparatives. For higher levels, include other comparative forms such as: much, not as… as, less, about the same as etc.

  1. Create a set of card with famous people, professions, animals etc. Give one set to each pair of learners. The deck is split in two and one half given to each player.
  2. Explain that the learners will flip over one card each, simultaneously. These two cards then “battle”.
  3. The learners take turns making a sentence about the cards. For example, if Learner A turns over Batman and Learner B turns over Angela Merkel, Learner A might say: Batman is much stronger than Angela Merkel. Learner be: Angela Merkel has more political power and can call an army. The learners continue until they decide which card wins.

1-1: Play the game as above with the trainer and the learner.

Identity Swap

This exercise is good for A1-B1 levels. It is best in one of the first lessons.

  1. After introducing phrases to introduce oneself (if necessary) and reviewing question forms, tell the learners they are going to introduce themselves to each other. Give them 1-2  minutes to do this.
  2. Then, tell them that they are going to introduce themselves to a new person in the class. However, this time they will use the identity of person they just spoke to.
  3. Repeat a third time, having them swap their identity again.
  4. Finally, have the learners return to their seats and introduce the “real” people to each other by eliciting information from the group. Ask: Who is this (pointing to the first person)? Establish the correct name and then: What can you tell me about X? And allow the person to correct any misinformation.

1-1: This can not be used for 1-1 training.

Conditional Chains

This can be used for the first conditional, second conditional, or third conditional or even mixed conditional forms as practice after introduction and controlled practice.

  1. Explain that you are going to make a statement in the conditional. The next person in the group is going to continue the chain by reformulating your statement and adding a new one. Give an example (best not to be in the first person singular).

First conditional example:

Trainer: If we ban cars from the city center, we will have less traffic.

Person B: If we have less traffic, it will be safer for cyclists and children.

Person C: If it is safer…

Second conditional example:

Trainer: If people had tails, we could climb trees better.

Person B: If we climbed trees better, we would also live in trees.

Person C: If we lived in trees…

Third conditional example:

Trainer: If Elvis hadn’t died, he would have made more records.

Person B: If Elvis had made more records, he would have earned more money.

Person C: If Elvis had earned…

2. Continue the chains either until everyone has had a chance to contribute or there is a natural ending to the chain.

NB: Always make sure they REPEAT the first condition. Though this is not necessary natural in conversation, it checks if they understand the form.

1-1: This can be used as described above for 1-1 training.



Journals can be used for any level from A1-C2.

  1. Give the learners (or request the learners to bring) a notebook that will be used ONLY for journal entries.
  2. Explain that you will give them a topic at the beginning of every lesson (alternatively this could be homework. Sometimes it’s good to do “timed writings” in class though) and they will have X minutes to write (if you only have 90-minute lessons, limit this to say 5 or 7 minutes, if it is an academic English course at university or school you may want them to write for 10 or 15 minutes) about a topic/topics you give them.
  3. After they write, you can either collect the journals and read/comment on them and return them OR have the learners volunteer to read their entry OR swap journals with another learner and read silently what the other has written and comment on it. If I collect the journals I usually don’t correct mistakes, but use symbols to indicate mistakes like TENSE, SP (spelling), WW (wrong word), WF (wrong form) etc. A follow up activity might be for them to rewrite the entry making the corrections. I always comment on the content as well.
  4. Topics: Anything you want. I sometimes choose a topic that we are going to have in the lesson/next lesson to get them thinking about it before hand. Or, world holidays (google them, almost every day is a special day), or I take a day from a book I have called “Writing down the days”. I sometimes write a question “Do you think it’s a good idea to XXX” or I write a statement like “Today is international vegetarian day.” and they respond, or I just write a word like: DOGS or BROCCOLI and let them go wild. Sometimes I offer two or three options if I feel they would benefit from the choice.

1-1: For a 1-1 lesson you can also do this, but I would probably only do it if the learner wants/needs to practice writing. Ideally I would probably assign this as homework, then the learner brings it in, I read and comment and return it in the following lesson.

Small Talk Alphabet Letter

This is a no-preparation surprising and surprisingly interesting warm-up exercise for levels A2-C2.

  1. Ask the learners for a letter of the alphabet. Write that letter on the board (for example S).
  2. Now, ask for words that start with that letter and write about 15 on the board (for example sun, simple, socks, sorry, sick, soap, soup…)
  3. Put the learners in pairs. Tell them they have 4 minutes to have small talk on one (or more) of the topics on the board (of their choosing). Start your timer and have them start.
  4. Afterwards, get some feedback by asking: What did you talk about? Was it easy or difficult to discuss the topic? I also add why we do the exercise: You can’t always predict the direction small talk will take and practicing how to react in unexpected situations can be helpful.

1-1 variation: This works well in 1-1 as above with the trainer as one of the partner.

Call Me

This is just a quick twist you can add to any telephone practice. After the learners have been introduced to the particular telephone skill and practiced it in pairs, I give them more “realistic” practice.

  1. Hand out slips of paper to the learners. Have them write their cell phone number on the slip with NO NAME.
  2. Collect the slips and mix them.
  3. Explain you are going to leave the room and call a few of the numbers you now have. The learner whose phone rings should answer the call on loud speaker.
  4. While the learner is speaking, the others should take notes (What is the call about, was it successful etc).
  5. Then I go outside and make the calls. Usually I start with: Hello this is XX from YY. You called and left a message I should call you back? What can I do for you?” at which point the learner should respond in a similar way to the practice they had in the earlier stages of the lesson. I make notes on good language and areas of improvement. I usually call about 25% of the class, depending on how many are in the group.
  6. Return to the class. Have a feedback session. Important: to build confidence, don’t over correct at this stage since it is a fluency exercise. Focus on how they handled the call and if it was ultimately successful.

For lower levels: Have them answer the call in pairs.

1-1: This can work well for 1-1. However, if possible, I sometimes get a colleague or friend to make the call so it is a bit more realistic.

What Would You Have Done?

This one is perfect for the third conditional and mixed conditionals at the B2-C2 levels. I use it for free practice after we have formally presented and done the 3rd conditional in controlled practice.

  1. Send one learner out of the room. Ask the remaining learners to choose an unusual event such as: The room was painted neon green, the president of the country invited everyone to dinner, a mouse was in the room etc.
  2. Call the learner from outside back in. This learner should ask questions to find out what happened. The questions should be formulated as such: “What would you have done, if this had actually happened?” or “Would you have been happy, if this had actually happened?” etc. (but in the 3rd conditional). Encourage the learners to answer in full sentences: “If this had happened, I would have jumped for joy.” “I would have run out of the room, if this had actually happened.”
  3. After the asker has asked everyone a question, they can try to guess what the event was.

NB: other conditionals could be used as well: If this had happened, would you still be sitting in this room now? etc.

1-1 This can be used for 1-1 lessons, but instead, use a stack of cards with events on them and the trainer/learner takes one and answers questions based on that event. Swap and repeat.

Find the Clues

This is good for prepositions and the imperative at the A1-B1 levels.

  1. Choose a short story or easy joke. Type it and cut it into strips. You can decide how many strips but 5-10 is usually good. Hide/tape the strips in various places in the room (or if the learners are allowed to leave the room, hide them in places near the room outside). Write clues on the slips as you hide them. For example: Go to the window and look under the sill for #2. Walk to the door and open it. Look over the door to find #3 etc.
  2. Put the learners in pairs and explain they are going to look for the clues. NB you should have enough stories/jokes/texts for each pair! Otherwise they would all run to the same place at the same time.
  3. Once they have all the parts, they should go back to their desks and write it out (or glue/tape it together if it is a longer text).

1-1: This exercise can work for 1-1 lessons as described with the learner doing it alone.

Present Perfect Scene

This is a good exercise to introduce the present perfect simple for recently completed events. It’s best at the B2-C1 level.

  1. Choose two version of the same scene (google: find the difference images) or draw two simple versions of a house/office etc.
  2. Show the class the first picture and elicit what needs to be repaired, replaced or what other work needs to be done (the lawn needs to be mowed etc.).
  3. Then take the first image away and show the second where several things have changed (very recently). Elicit the changes by asking “What work has been done?”. TIP: you may want to include a person in the picture and give them a name. Elicit: “Thomas has mowed the lawn.” etc. OR you can focus on passive. Learners may need some prompting to come up with “The lawn has been mowed, The window has been repaired”.
  4. At some point they may ask questions about the form. Board the form using an example from the picture. Elicit the meaning and use through Concept Checking Questions.

Follow-up: As home practice have the learners find or draw two images. Ask them to write 10 true/false questions about picture B. When they bring them to class, they show the first picture for 1 minute. Then remove picture 1, then show picture 2 for 1 minute and then remove it. Then they quiz their classmates with their T/F questions (awarding points for each correct answer).

1-1: The activity works well for 1-1 as described above.