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.

Mock Cooking Competition

This activity is best for B1-C2 levels after vocabulary for food and cooking has been introduced. I even use it with business clients when we discuss entertaining and explaining local dishes to guests.

  1. Create cards with various ingredients and also cooking utensils.
  2. Put the learners in pairs and give them some cards (say 6 ingredients and 4 utensils). Explain they are going to have a cooking competition using these ingredients and utensils.
  3. The learners look at the cards and discuss what kind of “new” recipe they want to create. After a few minutes of discussion, ask them to write the recipe out.
  4. Then swap partners and they describe their dish/recipe/cooking procedure and utensils to their new partner. This step can be repeated until everyone has heard everyone’s recipe.

Alternative: have the learners present their recipes to the class as a whole. Vote on the recipe that sounds the tastiest, craziest, yuckiest etc.

Shapes & Designs & Descriptions

This is a very simple but effective exercise to practice anything from shapes and patterns to people and homes or even for prepositions.

  1. After introducing the target vocabulary, have the learners work in pairs. Each will need 2 pieces of paper.
  2. Tell them to draw the thing they should describe (if you are just practicing shapes, make them draw shapes of different sizes in different places on their paper, they can overlap or be inside each other etc.). They should work in a way so their partner can not see. Alternatively, you can draw and photocopy designs and give them to the pairs.
  3. Now they have to describe it to their partner who draws what they hear. You may need to give more language like: in the top right corner/bottom left corner etc.
  4. Then they compare the pictures.
  5. Repeat with the other partner describing.

1-1: This works well in 1-1 as described above with the trainer as one of the partners.