Two fatties in butt floss bumpin’ bellies in a ring. No, I’m not referring to your love life. I’m talking about sumo, the earthquake inducing sport of Japanese wrestling. It’s fun to watch, funner to play and a great activity when you have five minutes to kill.

Students are in two teams, A and B, which sit in one large circle to form the ring. One student from each team plays at a time. They start face-to-face, holding flashcards behind their backs which neither of them can see. The objective is to see your opponent’s flashcard by maneuvering around him/her without letting your own flashcard be seen.

Sumo works best if it’s timed; one minute is plenty. Warn the rest of the class that points will be taken, or the game ended, if they try to cheat by telling their teammate the opponent’s flashcard.

This game’s flaw is that it only features two students at a time and very little English is used. For these reasons, use it sparingly and keep it short. Not every student needs to play.

Who would you kill?

What can philosophy bring to an EFL classroom besides a host of teachers that chose the wrong major in college? A lot, it turns out. Because much of philosophy requires little more than a reasoned opinion, everyone should be able to contribute.

The ‘trolley problem’ is a classic philosophy conundrum, an ethical dilemma that gets you thinking about the reasons you have for a particular belief. Perhaps you’ve never thought about why you believe what you do. Perhaps your reasons will surprise you.

Here, you’re standing at a switch with a train coming head on. You can’t stop the train, but you can choose which track the train will take. Tied to one track is a baby, while the other has five adults. You have no time to untie them. Who do you kill and why?

Choral Q&A Substitution Drill

If your students have little exposure to English outside the classroom, one of the main goals of your lesson should be providing opportunities for production in class. Practice and repetition are prerequisites to mastering anything, and drilling is one of the best ways to give learners intensive practice.

Suppose your target grammar is a question and answer: ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘I’m going to the _______.’ The target vocabulary is probably places in this example (e.g. bank, hospital etc). Pictures or flashcards can be used as prompts.

Put students in two groups, A and B. Repeating after you, group A asks group B the question, “Where are you going?” Group B responds by repeating after you, “I’m going to the bank.” Now it’s group B’s turn to ask the question.

Keep going back and forth, drilling at a natural pace. Eventually you can remove yourself from the drill and let them take over, prompting them with the flashcards.

Because drilling is repetitive by nature, keep it short. Five minutes or so. Anything longer tends to drag. But don’t be afraid to come back to it later in the lesson. Drilling is one of the best ways to increase student talking time and enliven an otherwise flagging lesson.

For more info on drilling, head over to British Council’s blog here.

Musical Chairs

A staple of children’s classes, I’ve seen adults play musical chairs and love it. Music, movement and lots of spoken English, what’s not to love? The only thing that could go wrong with this activity is one student giving another a forearm shiver as they wrangle over the last remaining chair.

First, find the target language. Question and answer is what you’re looking for. For instance: ‘What did you do yesterday?’ ‘I went to school.’

Have 20 students? Take away one of the chairs so there are only 19 available. Play a song while the students walk round in a circle. Stop. Students scramble for a chair. Those who are sitting ask the question while the lone stander answers perhaps based on flashcard you show. Swap it. The stander asks and the sitters reply. Rinse and repeat.

Introduce them to some Western culture with a tune, or grin and bear a few minutes listening to a song they’ve chosen. Maybe your school has modeling clay. Perhaps a project making earplugs before the song?

Hot Potato

Fun for kids, teens and adult classes alike, hot potato is just like what you remember playing as a kid, only this version puts an emphasis on focused speaking practice.

Hot potato is perfect for when there’s a simple question and answer you’re practicing. It’s even better with flashcards which function as the potato. In effect, it’s a substitution drill, but it’s fun enough that students won’t mind the repetition.

Suppose the theme of the lesson is food, the question is ‘what do you want?’ and the answer is ‘I want soup.’

Put you students in a (standing) circle and give your instructions. You will play a song while they pass a ‘soup’ flashcard. When you stop the song, everyone who isn’t holding the flashcard will ask the holder the question ‘what do you want?’ The holder must respond, ‘I want soup.’

Put another flashcard in the mix and play the song again. Stop. Now there are two questions and two students answering. Next time there are three and so on.

A game that counts.

If you’re teaching numbers to elementary classes, be they children or adults, it can be difficult to come up with a way to make numbers and counting interesting. Enter ‘Buzz’ — a fun, lightning fast, last-man-standing (or last-person-standing if that warms your cockles) game that keeps students on their toes.

warning sign  Students should have solid pronunciation practice before attempting. The minimal pairs (13 and 30, 14 and 40 etc.) can cause absolute fits for students who can’t hear the difference and spasms of frustration for the teachers who can’t understand why. But that’s a whole other post.

Get your students up and standing in a circle. Tell them that they’re going to go around the circle counting student by student, but that instead of saying 5, 10, 15 or any multiple of 5, they’ll instead say ‘buzz’. Of course they won’t understand your instructions, so you know what to do:


That’s right. Model that shit.

Point at the students as you go round the circle counting. “1, 2, 3, 4, BUZZ. 6, 7, 8, 9, BUZZ. 11, 12, 13, 14, BUZZ.” Model it a few more times if they’re still unclear.

If a student makes a mistake by either forgetting the count or to say ‘buzz’, he or she sits down and the game continues without them, the count resetting back to zero. The winner is the last student standing.

Just when students start getting a bit too confident, increase the level of difficulty and frustration by changing from multiples of 5 to 3. Boom. Buzzkill. Don’t forget to check out the look on their faces when they realize they’re not as smart as they thought they were.

Confused Student