Catch & Count

This is good for A1 or review at the A2 level.

  1. Choose a ball or stuffed animal or other easy-to-throw and not dangerous object.
  2. Learners should all stand (if possible in a circle).
  3. Explain you are going to count using the ball. Start by saying “one” and throwing the ball to a learner. That learner says “two” and throws the ball. Continue until someone makes a mistake or until you decide it’s enough practice.
  4. Vary the next round by counting in twos (2, 4, 6, 8…) or threes (3, 6, 9, 12…) or backward from 100. You can also do sequences like plus 1 (or 2,3,4). For example, 1 plus 5 (sequence 1, 6, 11, 16…). Another fun variation is that every other learner does NOT say a number but says BUZZ (or MOO or another funny word) so the sequence goes: 1, BUZZ, 3, BUZZ, 5, BUZZ… This variation is funny because of the funny word and it is easier to make mistakes (but in a fun way).

For 1-1 This is also possible to play as described above if the trainer is the active partner.

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Word Snakes

There are many versions of word snakes, often used at A1-B1 levels. You can create word snakes yourself. Can be adapted for higher levels and 1-1 (see below).

  1. Choose a list of words (either new or for revision) and connect them using the overlapping last letter of one word and first letter of the next.

2. Example for animals: dogooselephantigeratermitelk

3. The learners (alone or  in pairs solve it by breaking the words apart. The solution should be: dog goose elephant tiger rat termite elk

Variation: Have the learners create their own word snakes in pairs. Collect them and check them (make sure their spelling is correct!). Then copy them and use them in the next lesson. Add a timed element (say 60 seconds per snake) to make it more competitive (learners can solve alone or in pairs).

Variation 2: For higher levels give a topic and do it orally in a circle. For example: Things in a house. The first person says: chair. The next person says a word that begins with R such as “rail” and the next for example “light switch” and so on. If someone can not think of a word in a certain time frame, say 10 seconds, or repeats a word, they are “out”. Continue playing until there is a winner.

For 1-1, use the exercise as described or even Variation 1. Use Variation 2 where the learner and the trainer play.

One Word Chain Letter

This can be used at most levels, but is best from B2-C2. I usually do it as a review/practice of conjunctions, but it could be used anytime. I originally heard a version of this on the radio when I was visiting the UK once.

  1. Choose a topic such as “a complaint letter, a request for information, an accident report etc.”. Then explain that the whole group is going to “write” a letter with no paper. They are going to create the letter orally. Start the letter my saying “Dear”
  2. The next person in the circle must add exactly ONE word to the letter. For example “Mr.” then “Brown” and so on. The object is to NOT come to a full stop/end the letter! This is where conjunctions come in handy (and I usually refer them to their handout/book or the board with many conjunctions).
  3. If a learner provides a word that does not fit grammatically, allow them the chance to correct themselves/add a word that does work.
  4. The game ends when a learner can not continue the sentence. In which case they respond “period/full stop”.

This is great fun as a review or practice of the conjunctions and there is not a lot of pressure on the learners since they only need to create one word. If they are shy you could put them in pairs, but I have never had to do this.

For 1-1: This activity works well for 1-1 as described above.

Word Cloud

This is a great way to preface a text (especially a longer one), finds the main vocabulary needed to understand the text, and presents it in a cool way. Best for B1-C2 levels.

  1. Find the text in digital format, for example, an article or wikipedia entry. Copy the text into a word cloud generator (there are a ton, just check the ones that are compatible with your computer). Press enter and voila, you have a word cloud. (you can make adjustments to the settings).
  2. Show the word cloud to the learners. Explain these are the most frequent words from a text (the larger, the more frequent). Ask them if there are any unknown words, pre-teach them or ask the others to explain if they know.
  3. Then ask the Ls to predict what the text is about. I usually write a few of the guesses on the board.
  4. Then read the text (using whatever strategies you normally use for texts). Check if their predictions where correct.
  5. Then have them write or give an oral summary of the text using the words in the word cloud. This is where the unknown words will move from passive understanding to active use.

This is basically a great confidence booster. When the Ls get a long text with lots of new words, it can be demotivating. But when you explain that they just need the main words, that helps. Usually, however, they don’t KNOW what the “main” words are. A word cloud helps out in that area as it pulls the words with the highest frequency (usually omitting words like a, the, it etc which can be changed in the settings).

1-1: This works perfectly for 1-1 as described above.

Picture Introduction

This can be used in the very first lesson or at any point in time, really.

  1. Choose a few photos that represent something about yourself. Mine are: a chicken, the Golden Arches, a group of school kids in Japan, a mountain in Arizona, a diving mask.
  2. Put the pictures on the board (or if you have a projector, project them all) so everyone can see them all at once. Alternatively, if they are smaller, give each pair a photo which they will pass around.
  3. Tell the learners: These photos represent a part of my life in the past or present. Brainstorm with your partner what you think the connection is.
  4. Give the learners enough time, usually 10 minutes to brainstorm what they think the connection is.
  5. As a whole class ask for ideas. What is the connection to the chicken? Groups might say: Do you love to eat chicken? Do you have a pet chicken? etc. If they guess it you could give them a point. If not, give little tips like: There is a connection to one of my past jobs, until they discover the story (I worked on a chicken farm for 2 years. It was my first job. I didn’t like it and on a side note, I am now a vegetarian.).
  6. Continue playing until all the stories have been discovered.
  7. Depending on the size of the class you can ask them to show a picture (just google image search) that represents something about themselves the others don’t know. If the group is large, have them do it in small groups or pairs. If the group is small, do it as a whole class. Alternative: as homework they should bring in 3 pictures (these do not have to be pictures of themselves! They can use “stock” photos to represent the concept).

For 1-1 training this can also be used. Just ask directly: What do you think the connection is? Follow up by bouncing it back to the learner. What about you? Have you ever worked with animals? Tell me about it.

Body Parts

This can be adapted to levels from A1-C2, depending on the target vocabulary.

  1. Elicit what the learners already know. Draw a person on the board, point to a part and ask, “What is this?”. If someone knows it, write the word on somewhere along the side of the board (you will have 2 lists along the sides of the board at the end) in random order.
  2. Continue eliciting, and giving words that they don’t know.
  3. Then give two of the learners a marker and tell them to connect 3 words on the board with a line to their corresponding body parts.
  4. Then they pass the marker to another learner. (So they CHOOSE which words they want to connect).
  5. Check the answers as a group, drilling pronunciation.
  6. Then erase the lines but leave the words. Go down the list and say “Where is your X?”. Once everyone has it, erase that word. Go through the entire list this way so that only the diagram of the person is left.
  7. Then quiz them the other way by asking “What is this?” when you point to your own body (or the diagram). You could split the group in two and give points for the first/correct answer.

This is the introduction of the vocabulary. I usually follow with Simon says (for lower levels) and/or other exercises. At higher levels I introduce more advanced vocabulary like organs, ear lobe, knuckles etc. and do exercises on the verbs connected to these (bend one’s knees, kneel, slouch, stretch etc.) and idioms connected with body parts (foot the bill, eye s.o. etc.). This exercise is really just a springboard.

For 1-1: This works perfectly in 1-1 situations as well.

Vocabulary Quiz from the Learners

I use this exercise with any level from B1-C2. I usually use it with a text, for example an article.

  1. After doing an interactive lead-in to the topic and prediction questions based on the headline, distribute the text/article.
  2. As homework have the learners read the text (if it is long, break it into sections and one group reads one section).
  3. Then they should create a vocabulary quiz (including collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms etc.). The quiz can take various forms and they are allowed to choose:
    1. match the definition to the word (they get the definitions from a dictionary)
    2. find the word in the text with this definition… (from a dictionary)
    3. gap fill (they type a sentence from the text and leave one word/phrase out)
    4. label the diagram with words from the text (they bring a diagram)
    5. broken collocations (match the first part of the collocation to the second part)
    6. etc.
  4. I usually limit it to 5 or 10 words. The learners are already familiar with these exercises from me, books, workbooks and worksheets from the training, so remind them to look at those for inspiration.
  5. They bring enough copies for everyone in class.
  6. You can do the quizzes as a straight up “test” or I like to make a game out of it. Give them a few minutes alone (or in pairs if weaker) if needed or do it spontaneously for stronger learners. Then “Who has number 4 on Maria’s quiz?” and give a point to the first team to correctly answer it.

It’s great to see them create these quizzes. Once they are strong on the vocabulary, of course we return to the actual text and then do various discussion/comprehension activities.