Guess Who

You may know the game “Guess Who” (sold on amazon for about $10-15). Use the game exactly as intended. It’s great for A1-B2 levels for describing people. see here¬†

  1. (once you have obtained the game) Play as instructed. Make sure to review language like “Does he/she have…”/”Has he/she got…”, “Is he/she wearing…” . Of course review words for hair (curly, straight, wavy, long, short, medium-length etc) and head wear (glasses, hats)

1-1: Only 2 minimum players required, so good for 1-1 lessons.


Lateral Thinking Stories/Black Stories

This exercise is possible at the A1 level (after the past simple at least has been learned), but better from A2-C2 levels. The focus of this exercise is forming questions especially in the past (past simple or past continuous). There are many of these games on the market (see amazon) or you can find them online. Lateral thinking stories or Black Stories are a mix of a riddle/puzzle and a story in which the learners are told the ending of the story and must ask questions (yes/no) to figure out how it came to be. One story could go on for anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, so be prepared. I usually just do one or two stories at a time.

  1. Choose a story (see here for some:
  2. Explain to the learners that they will ask you closed questions. You can have them work in pairs or small groups if you have a large class.
  3. You could allow a person/team to ask a follow up question if the answer is YES. (your answers will be YES, NO, or NOT RELEVANT)
  4. The person/team that solves the story wins.

NB: Be prepared to give clues if they aren’t coming up with. For example: Ask about the wife/what he looks like/her age etc. (especially if the exercise is taking longer than planned).

City Maps: Directions

This is good for any level when practicing prepositions and/or giving directions. I do this after I have introduced the topic and done controlled practice.

  1. Print out maps of various cities that include attractions on them. Distribute the maps to the learners who are in pairs.
  2. Explain they should choose a starting location and ask their partner: Where shall we meet? How do I get there? (actually the partner should not name the place, just describe the way). The partner then describes the way without touching the map. If the other person does not find the way successfully, they should begin again.
  3. Continue from that location and then the person who gave directions last time asks: Where shall we go now? And their partner leads them to a new attraction.
  4. Finally, have them research one of the attractions online for home practice and give a mini presentation about it.

For 1-1: use the activity exactly as described above, the trainer is the learner’s partner.

Circle Translated Vocabulary

Some teachers debate about using L1 in the classroom, and that is a valid conversation. However, some teachers use it judiciously and this is an activity to exploit that. It can be used at all levels.

  1. Create cards with the vocabulary item in English and another set with the item in the learners L1 (if the group is monolingual).
  2. Spread the L1 cards on the table. Explain that you will call out the English word/phrase and the learners should touch the translation as quickly as possible. The person who touches the card first wins the point. You can reverse this by putting the English cards on the table and then calling out the L1 translations as well.

Alternative: If the class is really big, distribute a list of the words in the L1. Then call out the translations and they circle the words. Then check with a partner or as a whole class.

Alternative: Write the words in the L1 on the board. Divide the group into 2 teams. Call the first person from each team to the board. Call out 5 words and the two players touch the translation on the board as quickly as possible. The person who “wins” the round by having the most correct touches remains at the board. The person who “loses” the round sits down and is replaced by a new player on their team. Repeat until everyone from one of the teams “loses”. The person remaining at the board is the champion.

Alternative: Create flashcards with the English on one side and the L1 translation on the back. Use the cards for individual or group drilling. Flip the cards and test again. Hand the cards to the learners and have them quiz each other in pairs (to reduce anxiety). Good as a warm-up or review at the beginning/end of the lesson.


There are many ways of grouping learners for pair work or small group work activities. Here are some of my favorites.

  1. Counting off (group work). How many groups do you need, 3? 4? 5? Decide that number first then have the learners count off. Learner 1: “One”, learner 2 “two”, learner 3 “three”, learner 4 “one” (if you need three groups, for example). Then tell everyone who counted “one” to come together. Everyone who counted “two” forms a group and so on.
  2. Strings (pair work). Everyone loves this. Cut long strings (at least a meter). You should have half as many strings as learners. i.e. if you have 10 learners, you will need 5 strings (for uneven number of learners, you should count yourself). Lay the strings flat on the table, then grab the center of the strings. Hold your hand up so the ends of the strings dangle. Then tell the learners to all grab one end. Then you let go and they should find their partner at the end of their string.
  3. Sentence halves/thirds (pair work or group work). Create some sentences using recently learned vocabulary (collocations are great) or grammar. Write/print them on strips and cut them in half (or thirds if you need groups of three). Example: Have you ever / ridden a camel? Did you / ride a camel on your last vacation? etc. Distribute the pieces and then tell the learners to find their partner(s).
  4. Ability (pair work or group work). Ask the stronger learners to work with the stronger learners and the weaker learners with the weaker learners. Separating by ability is effective especially when you are doing a differentiation exercise in which the level is actually different though the task may be similar. Or you can pair stronger learners with weaker learners and ask the stronger learners to CHECK the work of the weaker learners.
  5. Balloons (pair work or group work). I use this for review games. Create team names that are relevant to the topic you most recently studied. For example, Thanksgiving or Advertising. Then create team names (such as: The Animals, The Dishes, The People or The Brands, The Companies, The Slogans). Then write/type examples of the categories on strips of paper (such as: duck, seal, turkey, deer, pig. and yams, stuffing… or Fanta, MacBook Pro and Coca-Cola Company, Macintosh etc.). Then put one slip of paper into a balloon and inflate the balloon and tie it. The balloons can be scattered in the room, hanging on the walls or the chairs. When you are ready, tell the learners that they will be in teams. The Animals are in this corner, The Dishes in this corner etc. Tell them to find a balloon and pop it! They should then read their slip and try to figure out what team they belong to an collect in that corner of the room. Loud but fun!
  6. Names in a hat (pair work or group work). Half the class writes their name on a slip of paper and throws it in a hat/bag/bowl/on the table. Then one by one a person who didn’t write their name on a slip, takes a slip, and opens it. That person is their new partner/team member.

Culture Lies

This is good for B1-C2 levels especially when discussing intercultural communication, but also when discussing modal verbs for advice and obligation.

  1. Print out (or better, have the learners research) a few culture tips from a website. These could be tips on body language, how to address someone, punctuality etc.
  2. For large classes, have the learners work in pairs or small groups. For small classes, have them work individually.
  3. Ask them to read the information you give them (or that they find) and write 4 sentences about the culture they are assigned. For example, if a learner is assigned Japan, they might write: 1. You should always take off your shoes when entering a Japanese home. 2. Japanese people bow when they meet each other. How long and how low they bow depends on the amount of respect they want to show. 3… etc. However, tell them that of the 4 culture tips they write, ONE MUST BE A LIE.
  4. Now, have the pairs work with another pair (or individuals with other individuals, or if it is a very small group, do it as a whole-class exercise) and read their culture tips to each other. The other pair (or individual) should guess which one is a lie and why.

Alternative: Ask the learners to write the sentences on cards (tip per card). Then they stand up and find a partner and tell their four tips. If the person does not guess the LIE, they have to take a card from their partner (so now one person will have 5 cards and one will have 3). This means that there may be multiple LIES or NO LIES in each telling. The object is to get rid of all your cards, if possible. Make sure the learners write T or F in the corner of the card so if they are swapped the new owner of that tip knows the correct answer.

1-1 This can also work for 1-1 situations, but then the learner must research a culture and the trainer must research a culture (in the lesson or at home).

This exercise will open discussions on similarities and differences among cultures and raise awareness of different cultures. Of course you can then discuss how the learners would react in each situation as well.

Collocation Card Match

Collocations are something I focus on from A1-C2. This is good as a lead in to test what they know or as review to check phrases that have been introduced.

  1. Before the lesson, I select the collocations and type up a word document with a table. Break the phrases in two and type half the phrase in one box and half in the other, e.g. to take / a photo, to go / on vacation, peace / and quiet (usually focused on a theme, here vacations). Print and cut into cards, enough for one set per pair of learners. Tip: You can add a THIRD card with a definition (either in their L1 if monolingual or in easy English).
  2. Explain to the learners that in pairs they will match the cards to create the collocations. If you use the definition card, then that would need to be matched as well. Monitor as they do this. Check as a whole class.
  3. Then ask them to turn over the FIRST card in each pair and quiz each other. For example on the table they will now see the cards XXX a photo, XXX on vacation, XXX and quiet. Then have them turn over just the second card and quiz each other again. If you are using the definition cards, have them turn over both cards of the collocation and try to remember the collocation based on the definition.
  4. Now collect the cards. Redistribute one set of cards among all the learners. Every learner should have at least one card, up to about 5 or 6. Explain that you are going to say the first part of a collocation and the person who thinks they have the second part should shout it out. For example, I say : “peace” and all the learners look at their cards and one shouts “and quiet”. If the class agrees it is a correct match, continue to the next learner.
  5. Once this memorization is complete, you can use the phrases in free practice, such as an interview exercise with Q&A (Where did you go on vacation last year? Did you take a lot of pictures? etc.). Alternatively, use a conversation game like those outlined in other posts here (search VOCABULARY category).

This can be used for 1-1, but the learner must be active in matching and the trainer gives hints.