Vocabulary in a Box

This can be used for all levels.

  1. Choose a box (I use empty tea boxes) and create dividers for it so that you have three compartments. Then cut pieces of paper or card stock to fit the box.
  2. Keep a stack of the cards ready when new words come up in class and write one word per card. If you have a group, you can assign one learner to do this every lesson.
  3. Put the newest words in the front compartment (which I usually make bigger than the other two compartments).
  4. Use the cards to quiz the learners at the end/beginning of the lessons. If everyone knows a word, move it to the middle compartment. You can quiz the middle compartment words when it gets full and if the learners remember the words, move to the last compartment. Repeat with the last compartment and then throw the words away now that the learners really know the word.
  5. Use the cards to play a myriad of games (see VOCABULARY in this blog).

For 1-1: Use as described above.

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Guess who I am

This one is a very simple exercise perfect for A1-A2 level learners.

  1. After you have introduced and practiced the verb “be” and some other basic verbs, tell the learners they are going to describe a famous person. They should use simple sentences like: I am a man. I come from Austria. I have big arms. I live in California. I am a movie star. I am a politician. (answer: Arnold Schwartzenegger)
  2. As the learners are writing their clues, circle and help when needed.
  3. Then in small groups (or as a whole class) have the learners read their clues one by one. I usually have them read the most vague clues first. The others should guess who the person is.

There is no “winner” but this is a great confidence boaster and they usually enjoy this exercise.

1-1: Do the exercise as above. You can also have the learner write 2 or 3 descriptions as home practice (and you do the same).

Mad Libs

This is good for A1-B1 levels especially. If you never played Mad Libs as a kid, check out the wikipedia entry for an example:

 "_____________! he said ________ as he jumped into his convertible
   exclamation            adverb
  ______ and drove off with his ___________ wife."
   noun                          adjective

After completion, they demonstrate that the sentence might read:

 "Ouch! he said stupidly as he jumped into his convertible 
  cat and drove off with his brave wife."
  1. Select a recent text from the coursebook that the learners have already studied.
  2. Type up the text (or photocopy it and blank out some words) and leave some words blank. Then write what kind of word goes in the blank: verb, adverb, adjective, noun, place, name, animal, color, exclamation etc.
  3. Then have the learners work in pairs or small groups. One person has the text and requests the types of words by saying: Give me a color/animal/verb in the past etc.
  4. When the text is complete, the learner reads the new text to their partner/group. If they laugh or look confused because something doesn’t quite fit, you know they have really understood the text and had a lot of fun.
  5. Then give the partner another text and repeat.

1-1: This can also work for 1-1 lessons as described above with the trainer taking the role of the partner.

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 https://www.amazon.com/Winning-Moves-Games-1191-Guess/dp/B00S732WJE/ref=sr_1_2?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1510777151&sr=1-2&keywords=guess+who+game

  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: http://www.destination-innovation.com/the-top-ten-lateral-thinking-puzzles/).
  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.