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).

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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.

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.

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.

Disappearing Dialog

This is great for A1-A2 levels. It works on vocabulary, pronunciation, phrases… The dialog should be a “typical” one, like introducing oneself, in a cafe/restaurant, asking about someone’s family etc.

  1. choose or write a dialog on the white board.
  2. Check that the learners understand the dialog (use CCQ etc.).
  3. Then practice the pronunciation with simple choral and individual repetition of each sentence as a whole.
  4. Put them in pairs and have them read the dialog with one person A and the other B.
  5. Then have them switch roles.
  6. Now, go to the board and erase about one word per line. Repeat the process.
  7. Again, erase another word per line and repeat.
  8. This continues until there is no dialog at all on the whiteboard, only A: B: .
  9. Finally ask the pairs to demonstrate the dialog to the whole class.

Tip: the dialogs can’t be too long. About 6 lines (3 per person) is good, not more than 10 lines (5 per person).

1-1: This can work for 1-1 as well just as described. The language trainer takes on one of the roles.

Who has my phone?

This is a good review of questions and can be used form A1-B1 levels for best results.

  1. Explain that one learner will leave the room and the teacher’s phone will be given to another learner. The learner will then reenter the room and ask questions to find out who has the phone.
  2. You may need to board some question forms to remind them at this point.
    1. A1 level: Does a man/woman/person with brown hair/green shoes/etc. have the phone?
    2. A2 level: Is the person wearing…/Does the person …/Has the person got…
    3. B1 level: Did this person arrive late today?/ Is the person wearing…/Does the person …/Has the person got…
  3. Send one learner out and give a learner the phone.
  4. When the learner from outside returns, allow them to ask as many questions as possible until they can find out who has the phone (I encourage them NOT to ask “Does Maria have the phone/Do you have the phone, Maria” unless it is their very last question.).
  5. Repeat with a new learner leaving.

1-1: This could work with 1-1 if you print out a dozen pictures of different people and then place a card UNDER one of the pictures that says “phone” and have the learner play as above. You can start the game to show the learner how it’s done and to build confidence the first round (so the L “hides” the phone under a picture and you ask).