Think on your feet


Teaching without material could be a dreadful idea in the beginning.

Let’s play a game

That’s a phrase that everyone loves to hear. It is a magical formula that works both with adults and children. No need for props apart from your imagination, a pen and some paper.  Here are some ideas to have on your mental list when in need of improvisation.

A teacher writing on a board. Think on your feet, no material activities for teaching

20 questions always a favourite

Apart from the classical version where you have to guess a famous person by asking 20 yes/no questions, you can modify it to guessing practically anything. Great for practising vocabulary. A fruit, a piece of furniture, a phrasal verb, you name it, it could be used in plenty of ways.

If you feel like students are always using the present simple, change the situation. Ask for a person from the past to practise questions in the past tenses or a person from a picture to review present continuous or present perfect tenses.

More question games

Ask students to draw some circles and set a topic such as childhood, school, hobby, win something, present. Ask them to write something in the circles connected with a memory on those topics and use it as conversational practice of the narrative tenses.

Expand by asking additional questions to guide the conversation or put them in pairs and make them ask each other.

Memory games

Make a ball out of paper or grab any other easy to throw object. Set pairs of association first. Let’s say  bed – sleep, desk – write, book – read. Then check how well your students remember. Throw the ball and say the first word of the pair eliciting the second word.

If you have higher levels you can try it with adjectives and preposition pairs, phrasal verbs, verbs and prepositions, compound nouns, idioms, etc.

Games are great for revision too.

Word games

Ask your students to pick some words from previous lessons and play giving definitions as the rest try to guess what the word is. If you have lower levels that don’t know how to define the words yet, mime them or draw them instead.

If you have more time, students can write the words on pieces of paper and divide them in three piles, then practise in all three ways – defining, drawing and miming.

Chain stories

I love doing those with the conditionals. One says one phrase and the next picks up their line and continues the story.

Ex. If I went to a party tonight, I would wear my black dress. If I wore my black dress, everyone would like to talk to me… and so on…

Obstacle courses

You can draw an obstacle course on the board or each student can draw one on a piece of paper and then describe the way from point A to point B to another student. While one student is explaining the other has to draw or show what is the correct way.

Another option is to make an obstacle course around the room by putting some chairs, bags or books, whatever you have at hand. Tie one student’s eyes and have the rest of the class guide them around the obstacles. Great for practising giving directions and prepositions of movement.

Draw what your partner says

This one is great for practising house vocabulary and prepositions of place. One student describes as much as he can in detail one room or the plan of their whole house or flat and the other tries to draw it as accurately as possible.

It also works with parts of the body as one student can describe an invented monster to the other. If the students have drawn the monster or the room in advance, afterwards they can compare to see if the two pictures are alike.

Everyday practice ideas

Enhance your listening skills through BBC’s 6 minute English page

Probably most of you, language learners, have come across and used any BBC materials. Their website is very complete and has tons of resources. I would like to concentrate on one of them in particular the 6 minute English page.

For learners

A lot of learners struggle with listening and the dialogues the website provides on diverse topics with vocabulary explanations and transcript are ideal in size and level for quick everyday practice. Something that you should be doing ideally if you would like to reach your English learning goals quickly.

If you are not practising a bit every day, then what are you waiting for?

For teachers

Self study is great and that is one way you can approach this wonderful resource. However, I have found an alternative way to use it and that is in phone or skype classes. As the topics are quite catchy and inspire conversation, I assign a specific dialogue to my student, they prepare it in advance and then during our phone sessions they retell what that article was about and then discuss further adding any personal opinions or experiences.

You could perfectly do this with any article on the web and I have tried BBC news and CNN, but having an audio and also introducing new vocabulary in a reasonable number is much more practical and simpler than having to read and resume a full blown article.

So this is my little time saver tip for teachers and a great self study resource for learners out there.

Quizlet a new way to study vocabulary


Paper is out, applications are in

Quizlet is one of my favorite applications to use when it comes to memorising vocabulary.

So here are my tips on how to use it with your students.

Instead of a vocabulary notebook

For example, your student has 15 new words per lesson so every time after class he or she introduces these words as a new unit. And as  homework he or she can play with these words in order to memorise them.

Search for a specific vocabulary topic

that other people have created and then just study from there. For instance, there are a lot of irregular verbs lists, adjectives and prepositions, phrasal verbs that other students or teachers have already created.

Mini dictations

The writing exercise that’s inside the application could be a perfect practice for mini dictations. You introduce some phrases studied over the last lessons mixing grammar and vocabulary and the students practise writing them down.

FCE sentence transformations

Another use I’ve seen is to practice the transformations on the first certificate. There are a lot of precreated units so just type in the key words and you are ready to go.  

Play in class

Everyone enjoys a good competition so why not use the matching activity and play a game.  Students can compete who is the fastest at matching vocabulary they have learnt.

Personalise your cards

Using pictures can help remember vocabulary that’s not abstract easily. That’s a paid feature though.

More options on the website

Don’t forget that on the website you have two or three more expanded activities than the five that you have on the application to be used on your mobile.

Easy list sharing

Lists could be shared so as long as one student creates a list for that class all the other students can use it if you got bigger groups. You yourself as a teacher could prepare lists and then share them with your students to either help them organize vocabulary or test them.

So as you can see it’s a very versatile application that gives a lot of play and younger students who use their mobile all the time seem to love it. Suitable for busy adults too.