By Craig Simons
What is more gratifying to a teacher than getting a lesson off to a fun, stimulating start? Other than … a satisfying finish and students leaving with smiles on their faces? And how about in the middle of a long lesson, when energy levels are flagging, something to break up the lesson and get the learners re-focussed? Whenever they occur, short, light language activities can have a positive effect. Call them “warmers”, call them “enders” or even “fillers” – they can always be winners and a great help to teachers.
So here is a short collection of proven activities that you can use any time in a lesson to break the ice, change the mood, break up a lesson or send them away smiling.
Teams hangman race.
Divide the class into two teams and put two sets of marks denoting the letters of two different words on either side of the board. The teams take turns guessing the letters of their word, and the teacher writes up the correct letter or penalises the team as per hangman. When a team gets sufficient letters that they think they can guess the word, they consult and if they agree, they have a guess. If they’re right, they win. If wrong, they lose. If you don’t like drawing a “hangman”, use your own system of penalising, like a Humpty Dumpty climbing 8 steps before falling off the wall.
What/Who am I?
Students stick the name of a famous person / food / household object on their foreheads, making sure that they don’t see it. They then ask Yes/No questions to their partner until they guess the word. (“Am I metal? Am I sharp? Am I a knife?”)
I’d like to be a giraffe.
Think of a category and write four words from the category on the board eg, lion, giraffe, crocodile, panda. Students decide, “I’d like to be a panda” etc. Their partner has to ask questions to get more information. “Are you a wild panda? Do you live alone or in a group? Do you have panda parties? What does bamboo taste like?”
Truth or lies.
The teacher writes 3 sentences about themselves on the board and tells the class that one of them is a lie. The students all make guesses as to which is the lie and the teacher makes a note of how many votes each statement gets, and finally reveals the truth. Students then play the game with each other in pairs or groups.
Put the class into pairs and read out a list of tricky or recent words, which the pairs have to spell correctly. The pair with the most correct words wins.
Make a list.
Choose a suitably random category, e.g. “things that are pointy” or “musical instruments” and give pairs 2 minutes to write as many items as they can. The longest list wins.
The teacher models the game by thinking of a verb that they “do” (for example, breathe) and inviting students to ask questions to work out what it is. Questions might be, “How often do you verb? Where do you verb? Are you verbing now?” Students then take turns thinking of a verb and inviting their classmates to guess what it is.
If you like these ideas and you’d like to find more, an excellent book is Penny Ur and Andrew Wright’s Five Minute Activities.
Craig has been teaching English in Japan for more than 10 years and currently works at The British Council.