Taboo

Many of you know this game for native speakers. It can easily be adapted for most levels. Warning: Do not attempt to play the store-bought game with any level other than C2! It is extremely difficult and demotivating. However, customized cards can work well.

  1. Choose about 20-30 recent words from lessons and write them at the top of a slip of paper.
  2. Next, add 2 words that are related, but are “taboo”. For example, if the word at the top is advertising agency the taboo words could be TV and magazine.
  3. Put the learners in groups of 3-5. Explain that you will set the timer for 1 minute and one person in the group will take the first card from the stack and describe it to their group. They are not allowed to use the taboo words (or parts of the word itself). If they use a taboo word, that card is discarded. If the team guesses the word and there is still time, the player takes another card and describes again. NB all the other teams are listening as well but not speaking at this point.
  4. Then the next team plays and so on.
  5. The winning team is the team with the most points.

Alternative: Have the learners themselves create the cards with the taboo words. Don’t worry if there are doubles (i.e. if two learners have the same head word).

1-1: This game can not be adapted for 1-1 lessons.

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Reading Review

I usually use this exercise for A1-B1 levels. It aims to check not only comprehension and grammar but also memory.

  1. After learners have read a text (as homework or in class). Divide the texts into sections and assign one section to groups/pairs. For example, if the text has 12 paragraphs and you have 9 learners, create 3 groups and assign 4 paragraphs per group.
  2. Give the learners scrap paper (A4 cut in 4 is fine). Tell them to write one question about their part of the text on each slip of paper. You can decide how many slips to give each group, depending on the length of the text. The questions can be open or closed, but should not be opinion questions. Example of OK questions: When was X invented? Where did… How did… Did X patent the invention right away? etc. The trainer should circle and help with grammar as needed.
  3. Then have them fold the questions and throw them into the center of the table.
  4. Once all the questions have been written, tell them that each team is going to take a question and has 20 seconds to answer it. They will get 1 point if the content is correct and 1 point if the grammar is correct. Keep track on the board.
  5. The winning team is the team with the most points.

This is great for lower levels because it a) gives them the chance to review the text and make sure they really understood in a way that they feel safe, b) it reviews the asking and answering of questions which learners at this level still have trouble with. Even if they get a question they wrote, they have to actually answer it, so it’s OK.

1-1: This exercise can be adapted for 1-1 but then the trainer is one team and the learner is one team, which means the trainer can not check the grammar of the questions before they go in the center (but that’s OK).

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.

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.

Grouping

There are many ways of grouping learners for pair work or small group work activities. Here are some of my favorites.

  1. Counting off (group work). How many groups do you need, 3? 4? 5? Decide that number first then have the learners count off. Learner 1: “One”, learner 2 “two”, learner 3 “three”, learner 4 “one” (if you need three groups, for example). Then tell everyone who counted “one” to come together. Everyone who counted “two” forms a group and so on.
  2. Strings (pair work). Everyone loves this. Cut long strings (at least a meter). You should have half as many strings as learners. i.e. if you have 10 learners, you will need 5 strings (for uneven number of learners, you should count yourself). Lay the strings flat on the table, then grab the center of the strings. Hold your hand up so the ends of the strings dangle. Then tell the learners to all grab one end. Then you let go and they should find their partner at the end of their string.
  3. Sentence halves/thirds (pair work or group work). Create some sentences using recently learned vocabulary (collocations are great) or grammar. Write/print them on strips and cut them in half (or thirds if you need groups of three). Example: Have you ever / ridden a camel? Did you / ride a camel on your last vacation? etc. Distribute the pieces and then tell the learners to find their partner(s).
  4. Ability (pair work or group work). Ask the stronger learners to work with the stronger learners and the weaker learners with the weaker learners. Separating by ability is effective especially when you are doing a differentiation exercise in which the level is actually different though the task may be similar. Or you can pair stronger learners with weaker learners and ask the stronger learners to CHECK the work of the weaker learners.
  5. Balloons (pair work or group work). I use this for review games. Create team names that are relevant to the topic you most recently studied. For example, Thanksgiving or Advertising. Then create team names (such as: The Animals, The Dishes, The People or The Brands, The Companies, The Slogans). Then write/type examples of the categories on strips of paper (such as: duck, seal, turkey, deer, pig. and yams, stuffing… or Fanta, MacBook Pro and Coca-Cola Company, Macintosh etc.). Then put one slip of paper into a balloon and inflate the balloon and tie it. The balloons can be scattered in the room, hanging on the walls or the chairs. When you are ready, tell the learners that they will be in teams. The Animals are in this corner, The Dishes in this corner etc. Tell them to find a balloon and pop it! They should then read their slip and try to figure out what team they belong to an collect in that corner of the room. Loud but fun!
  6. Names in a hat (pair work or group work). Half the class writes their name on a slip of paper and throws it in a hat/bag/bowl/on the table. Then one by one a person who didn’t write their name on a slip, takes a slip, and opens it. That person is their new partner/team member.
  7. Find an image of a famous couple (or super hero and sidekick). Cut the image in half, fold and throw on the table. The learners then take a slip of paper and find their partner. Alternatively: just write the names (Bill & Hillary, Batman & Robin, Patrick & Sponge Bob etc.).