Lists from Cards

This activity is good for any level.

  1. Divide the class into groups/pairs. If the class is small or if the learners are strong enough, each learner can work alone, but the dynamics are better if they can work in pairs or groups of 3.
  2. Give each group a deck of cards (or photocopies of a deck) and a handout with a list of categories (alternatively, write the categories on the board). The categories should be a review of recently learned items such as: environment, finance, animals, foods etc. There should be 11 categories.
  3. The first person turns over the first card in the deck. They then choose the corresponding number on the worksheet/board. For example, if a learner turns over a 3, they check the list and see that category 3 is (for example) “clothing”. They then need to list 3 items of clothing in English. Team members can challenge them to define a word and the person must defend it. Should the player not be able to list the items, or doesn’t know the word in English, or can not defend a word, they receive a mark (I usually play “horse” meaning if they fail once they earn an “h”, the next time an “o” etc. The first person to collect all the letters of “horse” is out of the game).
  4. Continuing playing as above.
  5. Face cards= skip a turn. The Ace is 1.

Variation: for higher levels you could additionally have the player create sample sentences for the words in their list and their team mates decide if they will accept the sentences based on use of the word and grammar.

1-1: This can work for 1-1 but only if the trainer lists their words in  the learner’s L1 to keep it fair.


Hot Seat

Many teachers know and use this activity. I only use it occasionally with the right group. If you have a group with learners who don’t like to be in the hot seat/have all the attention on them, then try a different activity.

  1. Divide the class into two (or more) groups. All learners should be facing the board.
  2. Put one seat for each team and place it with its back to the board. These are the “hot seats”.
  3. One member from each team comes to the front and sits in the chairs with their back to the board.
  4. The trainer has a list of review vocabulary and writes one of these words clearly and in large print on the board so the class can see the word, but not the person in the hot seat.
  5. The team describes the word in whatever means possible to their teammate in the hot seat. The first person to guess the word, wins a point for their team.
  6. Then, change learners in the hot seats and repeat with a new word.

1-1: This activity is not possible for 1-1 lessons. For an similar alternative see the activity here called PASSWORD.

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.

Variation: For lower levels, put the English on one side of the card and the L1 on the other.

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

  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).