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Make A Question

This is a great game for beginners just learning the grammar of how to ask questions, or for intermediate students to review question-making. Before class, prepare several sets of cards with words on them. I make about one set per four to six students, with twelve cards per set.

  • who
  • what
  • is
  • can
  • Sandy (or someone’s name)
  • holding
  • eating
  • hold
  • eat
  • a
  • hamburger
  • ball

Each team gets a blank sheet of paper and one set of cards. On the board, draw a picture of a person (Sandy, in my case) holding a ball in one hand and a hamburger (with a bite out of it) in the other hand. Give the students an example question – “Is Sandy eating a ball?” and have them make it by rearranging their word cards, and then write it on their paper. Now challenge them to make as many questions as possible from their cards.

In beginner classes, I have each team raise their hands whenever they have a completed question, and I check it for grammar before they write it down. I keep track of how many questions each team has by awarding stars or stickers for each question made.

In intermediate classes, teams write down questions as quickly as possible without consulting me. Then each team reads out their questions to the class, and we discuss whether the grammar is correct so they can earn a point. Other teams can correct any grammar mistakes to “steal” the points for the question. This takes much more time than the beginners’ way, but is more educational, I think.

I’ve also used this game in advanced classes, with more complicated pictures. At that level, the students don’t need any vocabulary cards to rearrange and can make up questions quite well on their own. You’ll get much more creative questions (Why doesn’t Sandy seem to like his hamburger? Does he like ice cream better?) but a lot more grammar mistakes.

Using the twelve word cards above, my students have made at least 20 grammatically correct, logical questions, but there are a lot more if you accept obscure questions such as “Who is eating Sandy?” or “What is a ball?” My best class got 68 unique questions, which I’ll leave as a comment.

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Crazy Photo Story

A great way for intermediate to advanced students to practice their speaking or writing.

Before class, gather a variety of strange or unusual photos. (If you can get them blown up to a larger size, that’d be helpful so all students can see without passing them around.) The pictures could be your own vacation shots, or strange things you’ve found on the internet.

(Edited to add: some great photo series like these might be fun!)

Hand out the pictures so that each student (or pair/group) gets one. The students have to think of a story that explains why this situation is taking place. Have the students brainstorm for a few minutes, then tell their story to the class.

After the stories have been told orally, give the students a homework assignment to write a short story or essay somehow related to their picture. Display the pictures and stories around the classroom for all to enjoy.

Variation: Have one student come to the front to start telling a story about his or her picture. After a few sentences, have them sit down and invite a new student to come up, continuing the story but adding in something from their picture. Let the story get more and more ridiculous as more students contribute to it.

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Categories Race

This is a fun game to play with intermediate to advanced classes to get them thinking and up out of their seats at the same time.

Before class, make a list of categories for your students. Categories could be foods, animals, drinks, types of transportation, and simple things like that. More advanced students can handle categories like “things you don’t want to see when you look under the bed”, “ways to kill someone”, and “bad excuses for not doing your English homework”.

To play, divide the class into teams. Each team has a space to write on the board, with numbers from one to six (or ten, if the team has enough members and you want to challenge them). The rules are that students must write as many words or phrases as they can that fit into the category provided. Each round ends when the first team has filled out all six (or ten) blanks with answers. Score one point for acceptable answers, and you can choose to give half points for iffy ones or put the answers up to a class vote.

A sample categories race that my class did. You can see some confusion about what finger foods are - a couple of students thought they were foods you could dip your fingers into. Also, the whole class argued that ham was better eaten with the fingers, so I gave them credit for it. And ice cream cones and bars are both held in the hand, so I accepted it reluctantly. This round was a tie.

A sample categories race that my class did. You can see some confusion about what finger foods are – a couple of students thought they were foods you could dip your fingers into. Also, the whole class argued that ham was better eaten with the fingers, so I gave them credit for it. And ice cream cones and bars are both held in the hand, so I accepted it reluctantly. This round was a tie.

For a large class, or to avoid total chaos, have students take turns running up to the board to write one word apiece for their team. In smaller classes, you can get away with having the whole class gathered around the board suggesting answers as one student on each team writes their team’s answers down.

A round takes only about three minutes in an active class, including time to evaluate the answers.

Categories suggestions for advanced students:

  • Ways to kill someone
  • Things you don’t want to see under your bed
  • Foods you can eat with your fingers
  • Words that describe our teacher
  • Things you’d want in a husband
  • Parts of the body
  • Things you shouldn’t say to your mother
  • Bad excuses for not doing your English homework
  • Ways to make the class next door angry
  • Things you shouldn’t teach your little brother
  • Places to go on vacation with your friends
  • Things you can’t explain to your grandmother
  • Activities you avoid doing
  • Things people criticize or complain about
  • Things to do when you have time to kill and no smartphone
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Spelling Target Practice

Set-up: Draw two rectangles on the whiteboard, of equal size, where the students can easily reach them. Mark a line on the floor about two to three meters (six to ten feet) away from the board.

The targets, with students' vocabulary words spelled inside them.

The targets, with students’ vocabulary words spelled inside them.

Divide the class into two teams. One person from each team comes to the front of the classroom to compete in front of the whiteboard. The teacher calls out a spelling word, and the students race to spell the word correctly by writing it in their team’s rectangle. Then the students run back to the line on the floor, grab a sticky ball, and hit their team’s rectangle with the ball. After hitting the word, they must spell the word aloud and pronounce it correctly to earn a point for their team.

Note: Because this game practices multiple skills (listening, running to the board, writing, throwing a ball, spelling aloud, and pronunciation) it makes the playing field a little more even – chances are every student in the class will struggle with some part of the challenge.

In lower level classes, I recommend writing the vocabulary on the board and going over the correct spelling and pronunciation before starting the game.

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Word Relay

Divide students into teams. Students line up in front of the board, and each team has a starting word written on the board. (A fun way to start is for each team to choose a name – Elephant versus Tiger – and the team name is the starting word.)

For game play, each student on the team has to write a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. For example,

Elephant 

Tea 

Apple 

Easy

and so on. If this is the first time playing, make sure students understand that each word depends on the word before it – some kids get confused and think every word should start with the same letter. The game ends after a time limit (two to three minutes works well) or when one team reaches a target number of words (20, for example).

Note: I allow team members to help each other out with word suggestions or spelling, and don’t allow repeated words (including words that the other team used). A good rule to institute is that students may not shout out the spelling of a word that the student is struggling with, but have to shout out the sound of the letter that comes next instead. For example, a student is struggling with the word Mexican and has written only Mexi____. students can shout “Kuh! Kuh!” (student writes c) “Ah! Ah!” (student writes a) “Nnn! Nnn!” (student writes n).