Let’s talk about activities that can help us keep our students tuned in, motivated and involved throughout the lesson. These are the activities that every teacher need. I’m going to categorise the activities and give some specific examples but keep in mind that some of them can be used for any lesson type and at different stages of the course.
We need an ice-breaker to establish a positive classroom atmosphere and put our students at ease at the beginning of a new course. These activities will help us and them get to know each other. It is easy to build up a good rapport with your learners if you run a personalised activity with an element of a guessing game.
For example, I like creating a kind of mind map with some information about myself. The students work in pairs and make their guesses, e.g. Ann is our teacher’s name. I think her hobby is Pilates. She might be teaching for two years or she may have two cats. The students are good at guessing and the level of challenge should not be too high. We want them to be able to successfully deal with that task, be interested and engaged at this stage.
After talking about their teacher, the learners are ready to continue doing the same thing about each other. First, they prepare their mind maps by filling in names, numbers, dates and some other important things they may want to reveal about themselves. When the worksheets are completed, the students can work in small groups or pairs. They may make sentences or ask each other questions. For example, if one of the notes says ‘cats’, they may say “I think you like cats” or “Do you like cats?”. This activity may take about twenty minutes or even longer. The students may continue doing this with new partners or report on their finding to each other.
You can ask your students to create statements about each other, one of which will be false and they will have to guess which statement is false by asking some questions. Another nice alternative to creating a mind map is drawing a timeline. The idea is the same and the students will have to ask questions and guess what their partner’s lifeline represents.
It seems that we often need an activity before introducing a new topic to help our learners relax and start speaking English at the beginning of a lesson. If you work with adult learners in the evening, they need a fun activity that will help them revise something that they have learnt recently or just give them some energy at the start of a lesson. Young learners also need some time to switch from L1 to English so a warmer can help the learners of different age groups and levels communicate with each other.
I sometimes use ‘Hot Potato’ game to revise some vocabulary or grammar from the previous lessons. You need a soft ball or a scrap paper ball, which the students will pass to each other. They gather in a circle and take turns to toss the ball. They will have to say a word or phrase on the topic before they get rid of the ball. This motivates them to use their memory and say the target language fast as they have to pretend that the potato is really hot and it’s hard to hold it for a long period of time. The person who can’t think of an example, is eliminated from the circle. This game can be played with a piece of music and when the music stops, the learners will have to say something from the previous lesson to keep playing.
If you want to revise some particular tenses or sentence structure, you can use a dice and 6 whiteboard prompts like ‘Where’, ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘How’, ‘Why’, ‘When’. With lower-level groups, you can use your answers to the questions you want to elicit. For example ‘a park’ to elicit ‘Where do you usually go at the weekend?’. You will elicit all the questions, drill them and write them on the whiteboard, whereas with higher-level learners the question words will be sufficient. Students may work in a small group or pairs, take turns to roll a dice and ask questions using the prompt according to the side of the dice.
This is an activity to prepare your students for the core task, which might be reading a text, for example. We need to generate interest in the topic of the text and activate the learners’ background knowledge. We may also test what the learners know about this topic and pre-teach some new language that they may need for the core activity.
I often use pictures to introduce the topic. For instance, if the text is about insomnia, I can show a picture of a person who is counting sheep. I may ask my students to work in pairs and describe what they can see. While the students work in pairs and chat about the image, I monitor and make some decisions related to the language they may need for the upcoming reading tasks. They may also predict the content of the article we are going to read. I like eliciting their predictions and writing them on the whiteboard. That’s how we can motivate our learners to read the text as they will want to check their predictions.
You may also use a quote or a statement on the topic of the text. For example, for the text about insomnia we can use a statement like ‘Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for our health’. This may provoke our learners into thinking and they may start talking about some possible reasons for that. To be honest, the more controversial the statement is, the better as it is likely to provoke a lot of discussion.
Apart from introducing new topics or revising something from the previous lessons, we may need to have something up our sleeve to be able to give the students more energy, to calm them down or to provide a transition between the stages of a lesson.
There are different types of stirrers that we may want to use to regroup our learners who may feel a bit bored or sleepy. For example, I sometimes use picture halves. The images are likely to be connected to the topic of a lesson. For example, we can draw or use google images with a pillow, a sleeping pill, a sheep etc. for the lesson about sleep disorders. The students will have to mingle and find a partner with another half of the same image. They cannot show the pictures to each other or name the things they can see on their card. They will have to talk and describing what they need is likely to be fun.
You can also cards with letters or dictate your students the letters which they will have to put in order to make words. You may dictate “H – S- double E – P” so that th students make ‘sheep’ as the words might be those that you need to highlight and clarify or just some vocabulary on the topic.
I also like to use different types of ‘Mystery’ boxes or bags to help the students play a guessing game. Depending on the type of mystery object, you can put it in a bag or box and let learners feel it or listen to the sound it makes. They will have to make their guesses and describe the object. Again, you can find the right realia you need for the lesson. That’s how you can introduce foam-rubber ear plugs for victims of snorers.
The list of useful activities seems to be endless so I’ll have to finish this article by saying “to be continued”.