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Teaching Tips: Activities for Pair-work

POSTED ON August 15th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

Group activities are lots of fun, but for maximizing student talking time, you can’t go wrong with some pair-work in the classroom. Smaller groups (and pairs) give more students time to talk and keeps students engaged so that you can monitor more closely. Try out some of these activities for pair-work in your classroom.

Back Tracing

A good game for children, (but not for awkward teenagers or adults!) back tracing is a game for students to practice the spelling of a new lexical set. Write up the vocabulary on the board and put students into pairs. One student ‘writes’ a word one letter at a time, using their finger, onto the back of their partner. Their partner should try to guess each letter as their tracer spells it, and write them down to spell out the word.

And more games:  6 Favourite ESL Games and Activities to Use in Your Classroom

Noughts and Crosses Q & A (Tic Tac Toe Q & A)

A popular two player game, this can easily be turned into a TEFL activity by getting students to ask a target question each time they make a move. Either you can write up target questions on the board and, when each student wants to make a move, they pick out a question to ask their partner, or you can make your own Noughts and Crosses board and write the questions directly onto the squares. Another idea is to make a coloured board with each coloured box corresponding to a different question on the board – this way you can make sure the students ask a different question each turn and use the board for different topics later.

And here are a few more simple games: Keep It Simple: No-Prep Games and Activities


This activity works well for higher level students who can read and write well. Either supply the students with a list of questions – or get them to choose their own – and then the students interview each other and write down the answers. Questions can be on any topic – choose something that fits into your lesson plan and gives students a chance to practice the language they’ve already studied. Important Note: In this type of activity, sneaky students sometimes try to simply ‘switch papers’ and answer the questions on paper without opening their mouths. Monitor carefully to check that all pair groups are asking the questions verbally, or have the students sit back-to-back so it’s easy for you to see who’s doing the writing! For a follow-up, you can ask the students to present their interview findings to the class to check that they’ve been listening carefully!

Do you want more articles like this? Visit our Teaching Tips blog.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a veteran English teacher and freelance writer whose teaching adventure has taken her to Japan, China and more.

 6 Favourite ESL Games and Activities to Use in Your Classroom

POSTED ON August 1st  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

In a learning English as a foreign or second language environment, games and other activities form a key part of your lessons. Any ESL teacher knows the value of using a few favourite ESL games and activities in the classroom. It is important to remember that students, whether they are young learners or adults, learn faster when they are ‘playing’ or having fun and when learning does not feel like a chore. (Get more information on the value of games in the classroom here.)

Furthermore, ESL games and activities can be used:

  • at the start of your lesson as a warm up and to get students thinking in English,
  • when you are teaching grammar or vocabulary and the games/activity serves as ‘fun’ practice,
  • during the lesson when students need a break or when you are teaching something particularly tough, or
  • at/near the end of class when there is some time left over ‘before the bell rings’.

In this article, we will look at some games you can use in your ESL class. Where necessary, I will indicate the level for which this activity or game is most appropriate as well as for which area/section it can be used, e.g. vocabulary, grammar, conversation practice, etc.

Game 1: Board Race

  • Group game
  • Appropriate for all ages
  • Vocabulary, grammar

How to Play

Split the class into groups of 3-4 students. Each team gets a different coloured marker. However many teams there are, split the board up in that many columns. For vocabulary revision for a specific topic, groups must write as many words related to the topic in the form of a relay race. Teams get points for each correctly spelt word.

Game 2: Call My Bluff

  • Appropriate for all ages
  • Ice breaker, speaking skills

How to Play

In modelling how to play the game, the teacher writes three statements about themselves on the board, one of which should be true and two should be false. The students need to ask you some questions about each statement to guess which one is true. They win if they guess the correct one.

To make this more student-centered, have students play in a group. One person writes two lies and one truth on a piece of paper, and the other members question the student to guess which statement is true. At the end of the activity, allow the students to share what they learned about their fellow classmates.

Game 3: Word Jumble

  • Group activity
  • Appropriate for all ages and levels
  • Spelling, word order, writing skills, grammar

How to Play

Some planning is needed before the class. The teacher needs to write (or type) a couple of sentences, and each sentence needs to be in a different colour. It works best with between three and five sentences per group. Cut up the sentences so that there are a handful of words and put these into cups, keeping the words per sentence separate. Divide the class into teams of 2-4 members. The groups need to put their sentences in the correct order, and the winning team is the one who correctly puts their sentences in order first.

What about adults? Adults Want to Have Fun, Too! – Games for Beginners

Game 4: Last Man Standing

  • Appropriate for all levels and ages
  • Vocabulary (could be adapted for grammar, too)

How to Play

To play, have a ball ready and get the entire class to stand in a circle. The teacher names a category or theme, such as things found in the house, food, colours, countries, etc. The teacher tosses the ball to a student. That student needs to say a word that is related to the theme and throw the ball to another student. As every student catches the ball, they need to say another word related to the category. No words can be repeated. If a student says a word that had already been said or cannot come up with a new word, they are out and need to sit and listen.

Game 5: Choose Your Victim

  • Appropriate for all levels and ages
  • Grammar

How to Play

This is a good activity to make a question and answer grammar practice session more active. Have all the students stand in a circle. They all need to practice a grammar point by asking and answering questions; for example, they have to ask questions with a past verb form, so they practice the past simple tense. The first student can ask “Did you eat ice cream on the weekend?” and need to throw the ball to another student who needs to answer the question correctly in order to stay in the game. This student then earned the right to ask a question, throw the ball to another student who must answer correctly to ask a question. And so the game continues. If you have a large class, students can play in groups of 4 or 6, and you can walk around and monitor.

Game 6:  Roll the Dice

  • Appropriate for elementary to advanced levels
  • Perfect for review, grammar, vocabulary

How to Play

Divide the class into groups and each one gets a dice to play with. Write numbers one to 6 on the board, and each number needs to correspond to an activity. This can be to ask your group members how to spell a word, say a sentence in the past tense or ask a question in the present perfect simple tense, read a page from the book they have been reading the term, practice a phonic or two, sing the song the class learned, etc. Incorporate points and the team with the most points wins.


This article discussed six easy and favourite ESL games and activities that any teacher can use in their classroom. There are, of course, many, many, many more games and activities out there, and most teachers would tell you that they know at least a hundred games and varieties to incorporate at the start, middle or end of their lesson.

What are some of your favourite ESL games and activities to use in the classroom? Which ones do your students like best?

Want more great articles like this? Check out our Teaching Tips.

About the Author

Denine Walters is currently a freelance writer, editor/proofreader and ESL teacher. Previously, she taught online English lessons to students from all around the world and, before that, she lived and taught English to young learners in Taiwan. In her free time, she likes to read, do scrapbooking and grammar quizzes, and travel. For her educational background, she has an MA in Politics, with a dissertation written on post-conflict peacebuilding, a BA Journalism degree, a TEFL and CELTA certificate, and also a few certificates in various other short courses.

Keep It Simple: No-Prep Games and Activities

POSTED ON July 18th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

It’s always a good idea to have a few extra class activities prepared, but it’s not always realistic. There are times when students finish planned activities too quickly and other times when you may unexpectedly take over for another teacher. But have no fear! We’ve got you covered with these three ‘no prep’ activities for your teaching emergencies.

Whether you’re running low on lesson planning time or are covering a class with no handover notes, there are bound to be times in your teaching career when you’re in need of a ‘no prep’ activity, or at least something where the only thing you need is a whiteboard and marker. It’s great to have a few of these games in your repertoire, not just for when you run out of planning time, but also to use as fillers when students finish your planned material too quickly. Take a look at our easy-to-run activities that won’t have you spending hours at the photocopier or cutting up bits of paper for a complicated game.

The Listing Game (Shopping Game)

Not even a whiteboard is required for this one unless you want to write up the target sentence to guide lower level students. The idea is simple – create a list, with each student adding one item to the list, to be recalled from memory. The usual target sentence is I went to the shops and I bought… Perhaps the first student will say a banana. So the next student will say a banana and a rabbit. The next student will say a banana, a rabbit and a mobile phone. The list continues until a student can no longer recall the list correctly. You can make it simpler by having each student name a word beginning with a letter of the alphabet in sequence, to make it easier to remember. Example: an apple, a brooch, a cat, a pan… The target sentence can be changed depending the on level of students and topics recently studied. Examples: The last time I went on holiday, into my suitcase I packed… For my next birthday, I’d like… I have a job in the local shop, and today I sold…

Clap / Stamp Game

This game can be applied to any language point, and all it requires is for your students to either clap their hands or stamp their feet. For example, you could practice CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words and ask students to clap/stamp depending on which medial vowel they hear. You could teach countable/uncountable nouns, verbs in different tenses… pretty much any topic can be worked into this game. Just explain to the students to listen and then either clap or stamp depending on what they hear. You can do it as a review, or make it into a game so that the last one to react is ‘out’. Higher-lever students could even be the game master and say the words.

Simon Says

A great game with younger kids, all you need is your imagination. Explain the rules of the game (TPR works well) just jump right in and start playing. If the students like it, let one of them be the teacher and lead the game. It’s also a great one to review imperatives. Most teachers are familiar with the game, but it’s easy enough to learn if not. The teacher will say something (usually an imperative) like “Simon Says touch your toes” or “Simon says clap your hands”, to which the students react by completing the action. If the teacher says the phrases without the ‘Simon Says’ at the beginning, for example, just “touch your toes”, then the students should do the action. A student is out if they do the action when they aren’t supposed to.

For more teaching tips, visit our teaching tips blog. Or for tips and tricks to share with students, check out our language learning tips.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a long-time ESL/EFL teacher and freelance writer.

The PPP Method in Detail: Production

POSTED ON July 4th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips

ppp method

The PPP method’s production phase is the third and final stage. It often includes games and activities give students some structure while using target language.A language production game/activity is one that allows the students to freely produce the language that has just been practiced. Never ask the student to produce something that you haven’t let them practice, i.e. if you have been teaching and drilling the answer form, the production game should focus on the answer form.

This is the third stage of the Presentation-Practice-Production method (or the PPP method for short). Click here for an overview of the PPP method. Alternatively, you can also read the detailed introductions to the Presentation phase and the Practice phase.

There are a few major considerations when planning a production game or activity;

  1. Whole Class Participation
  2. Setting up
  3. Safety
  4. Relevance to target language
  5. Interaction patterns (should be student to student)

Younger students need games with slightly more structure, whereas older students can be trusted with true freer activities.

Use picture prompts in production activities; the students should not be able to read full sentences anywhere. If they are reading, they are not producing.

Below are some ideas for activities, grouped for level.

ppp methodPPP Method: Production for Younger and Lower-level Learners

In the PPP method production phase, it’s important to give students the building blocks for the target language.

Whispers – The students have to pass a question down the line, with the final student running to find the answer somewhere in the classroom, e.g. a flashcard face down on the floor at the front of the room. This is a race between the two teams.

Questions down the line – One team complete activity such as build a tower, write something, or draw stars on the board while the other team has to do questions and answers down the line.

Naughts and crosses or other two person game – Put students in pairs. They have to deliver a question or answer before they can take their turn. Give them picture prompts to ensure the quality and relevance of the language produced.

Flashcard guess – This can be achieved through the teacher holding flashcards to their chest or by having them on the board then turning them round. Or students have the flashcards and have to guess what the other students have. If they answer correctly they win the card.

Information gap mill drill – Both teams lack information, they must question members of the other team to fill out their own sheet. Use picture prompts rather than written ones to encourage real production.

PPP Method: Production for Older and Higher-level Students

Older and more advanced students in the PPP method’s production stage need some structure, such as in the following activities. It’s important for the teacher to take a step back and just monitor the students progress rather than offering too much guidance.

Paper-scissor-stone card giveaway – Students all have x number of cards, they have to ask and answer a question then play paper, scissor, stone, and the winner gets a card from the loser.

Hot potato – The students must ask and answer questions while throwing and catching an object. Repetitions can be forbidden to encourage more language.

Stop the bus – This can be used for review or have one question but various letters that have to be in the response (e.g, Student 1: What animals do you like? Student 2: ‘I like snakes, crocodiles, birds and lions’). The first team to produce x number of sentences wins. This can be altered for any level or language ability.

Writing race – The students race to write a story. Give them picture prompts and do some mind-mapping first to get the most out of this one.

Who am I? – One student chooses a character and the other students have to take turns asking questions to find out who they are. This can require additional vocabulary, so is better for older students.

20 questions – Very similar to “Who am I?” above but the students can also choose objects, places, emotions etc. This can require additional vocabulary, so is better for older students)

Backs to the wall – 2 students have their backs to the wall and on the wall is a picture or sentence. The other students must describe what is on the wall without using the exact language or name of the item.

Find someone who – Give the students a list of things related to today’s target language, and they must walk around the class finding people who connect with it. For example, on the list is “sushi”, if today’s TL is “Have you ever” they could walk around and ask “Have you ever eaten sushi?”, if the TL is “would like” they walk around and ask “Would you like some sushi?”.

Survey – These are very similar to above, although they don’t have to be related to personal accomplishments.

A version of this article originally appeared in Shane English School’s Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) program, which is part of new teachers’ orientation.

Active Games for Young Learners

POSTED ON June 6th  - POSTED IN Teaching Tips


Sometimes, classes just have a little extra energy. That’s especially true this time of year. As summer vacation approaches, students find it harder to contain their excitement. Teachers are also distracted by end-of-the-year administrative work, and students sense their weakness and push boundaries. There’s no better way to get a rowdy class under control than a few active games for young learners before sitting down to some quieter work.

Stand up/Sit Down – Young children enjoy this simple game. Give a command and the children must respond as quickly as possible. Then give the wrong command (i.e. Stand up when they are already standing). This can be adapted into a Simon Says/Please/Teacher Says style game, with the language getting progressively harder as your students get older and their command of English increases. You can keep it fresh by having the students who lose become the order giver. (Alternatively, have the winner be the order-giver as a reward and to give other students a chance to win in later rounds.)

Touch – A good way to get the children moving. Call out ‘Touch the door’ and the students rush to do so. This can be adapted to any language by having the students rush to touch flashcards or pictures. Always have the students call out what they are touching so that they are using language in the game, not just reacting to commands. Make the game safe by teaching the difference between right and wrong actions (i.e. touch and bang, walk and run, etc.) and having clear rules for behaviour.

Fruit Salad – This one needs some space. Arrange the chairs in a circle, with one fewer chairs than there are students (e.g. 10 students = 9 chairs).The student with no chair stands in the middle. Give each student a flashcard. The student in the middle calls out the vocabulary on two flashcards, and those two students have to change chairs without the person in the middle sitting on one first. The one left in the middle calls out the next vocabulary. This can be extended to three or four names in order to up the challenge.

Switch – This is a good, high energy drilling game, and is very simple to play. Drill the language as normal, and at a signal from the teacher the students must all swap chairs with a member of their team, or a member of the opposite team. The last team to complete the action loses.

Throw a question, catch an answer – This works well with all levels and is very simple. The students can stand/sit in a circle, or on opposite sides of the class. The student with the ball asks a question and throws it to a member of the opposite team, and whoever catches it answers. If the student drops the ball or answers wrong, they sit down and the thrower gets another chance. If they answer correctly, then they become the thrower. Or you can check these other ball games out.

A version of this article originally appeared in Shane English School’s Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) program, which is part of new teachers’ orientation.

Want to teach with Shane English Schools? Click here.