Sumo: A Student-Approved Game to Kill 5 Minutes.

Have five minutes before break time that you need to kill? Enter Sumo, the most fun your kids will have all class. And the next class. And the next.

Levels: Elementary

Ages: Children

Materials: Flashcards

Seat your students in a large circle to function as the ring. Divide the class into two teams. One student (wrestler) from each team enters the ring and stands face to face with the other. Not too close together. A meter is or more is ideal.

Both wrestlers put their hands behind their back in a way that they can hold a flashcard (put there by you), keeping it hidden from their opponent. Put one minute on the clock. The point is for students to maneuver so that they can see their opponent’s flashcard and call it out before the opponent sees theirs.

Students aren’t allowed to use their hands for anything but holding the flashcard, nor are they allowed to talk unless it’s to call out the flashcard. The other students are only allowed to cheer on their teammate (they’ll often try to cheat by telling their teammate what’s on the opponent’s flashcard).

Sumo isn’t the most communicative game in the EFL/ESL teacher’s arsenal, so use it sparingly and never at length. But when it comes to killing 5 minutes, except no substitute.

Dice Game: Talking About the Past

Levels: Pre-Intermediate to Academic (IELTS/TOEFL)

Ages: Teens and Adults

Pairs/Small groups

If your students are like mine, they habitually forget to change tenses when speaking about the past. This fun activity gets them using Simple Past with familiar questions that could easily appear in Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test. I’ve even used it with strong elementary classes with a little pre-teaching of vocabulary.

Make it competitive by having students tally their points for each roll. When one student is speaking, the others should focus on Simple Past mistakes which cost the speaker points.

Download the Simple Past Dice Game.

Get more Dice Game ideas.

Warming Up With Sound Effects

A fun, active and hilarious way to get students into English mode, this warm-up works for almost every age and level.

Cut out the cards from the handout and give one to each student. Each student is given a sound effect (e.g. a car horn)  to make while other students have to guess what it is. Tell students they’re not allowed to show other students their cards or reveal what’s on it.

Students will mingle, find a partner and start sounding off. They should take brief notes about the other students’ sound effects. There are 14 in total, so to make it competitive, you can have students race to discover the other 13.

A: Vrrooom!!

B: Are you an airplane?

A: Nope. Guess again.

B: Can you repeat it?

A: Vrrooom!!

B: Are you a motorbike?

A: Guess again?

B: A car?

A: That’s right!

Download the Sound Effects Handout.

Supporting ESL Student’s Writing — educational research techniques

ESL students usually need to learn to write in the second language. This is especially true for those who have academic goals. Learning to write is difficult even in one’s mother tongue let alone in a second language. In this post, we will look at several practical ways to help students to learn to write […]

via Supporting ESL Student’s Writing — educational research techniques

3 Simple yet Fresh Activities for Teaching Teens English Through Clickbait

Teaching teens English is hard work. They’re a flaky, temperamental, hormone-filled species with the attention spans of moths. One minute they’re this way, next minute they’re that. It’s hard to come up with activities they can get into. It’s even harder to keep track of what they’re into and what they’re not, but those who are successfully teaching teens English have one thing in common:

They find ways to connect to teens’ wants and interests.

Great teachers know what music their teen students are listening to, what movies they’re watching and what Youtube channels they’re following. Can you name a teen vlogger? A video game that everyone is playing?

Keeping up with trends and fads may seem, well, for teens, but students take notice when teachers take an interest. It helps build rapport and more importantly, respect. It’s almost cloyingly sentimental to say, but every student’s favorite teacher is the one who cares.

Here’s the best part:

You don’t have to actually share these interests with your students, although it certainly doesn’t hurt if you do. Awareness is enough. You merely have to find a few ways of engaging those interests.

It’s not enough to just have a teacher-student chat about hobbies and interests. The trick (and goal) for teaching teens English is creating activities which are current and relevant to their lives that get students talking to each other.

What is one thing we have in common with teens?

One thing we certainly share with them is that we’re information junkies. Sure, the content we’re looking at may be different, but the ways it’s delivered to us remain the same. Have you ever read an article because the clickbait was just too enticing too ignore? So have your students.

Clickbait Elements

What’s awesome about this is that teens should instantly recognize that this isn’t some tedious exercise that only exists in a moldy textbook. This is real-world application. Play it up. Everyone has dealt with clickbait. We see it every day.

Lets mine those elements of clickbait for some teaching activities your teens can get into. You decide the delivery, they decide the content.

1. Clickbait Headlines

There’s nothing quite like clickbait. I confess to spending countless hours diving deep into the wormholes of the Internet because of it, clicking on videos or the next article just to see what’s next. For instance:


The lion eats the man? I certainly hope so, and I’m damn sure clicking on that link to find out. That’s the hook that the clickbait dangles from — I’ve got to know what happens next.

Show your students a few examples of clickbait headlines. In pairs or groups of 3, they can make some predictions. What do they think happens next? Does the lion eat the man? Hell, let the manga nerd draw a picture of it.

Next, naturally, is for students in pairs or small groups to make their own headline. 5 minutes should be enough to write one. When they’ve finished they’ll rotate their papers. With the headline they now have, they’ll again make predictions about what they think the story would be about. They discuss it for 2 minutes and then rotate papers again and so on.

2. Top 5 Lists

Top 5 Dumb Ways to Die

Humans love lists. Our brains are wired for them — creating order out of chaos, sifting an overload of information into parsable chunks fit for digestion. ‘Parsable chunks’ — that’s band name material.

Name your top five bands, movies, foods. We all come into these categories with opinions. What topics would catch your teens’ interest? Make it it clickbaity:

Top 5 Ways Students Cheat

In teams of two or three, students have 5 minutes to write their top 5 cheating methods. The timing is important. Don’t let them dawdle. While they’re working, jot down your own top 5.

Once students have finished, pencils down. Now you, the teacher, read out your top 5 ways students cheat. Take a tally after each one. Teams that also wrote down the same method get a point. Most points wins.

As a variation or extension, you can also play the reverse. Now tell students they’ll be awarded points for uniqueness. You can have them do the same topic (e.g. Top 5 Ways Students Cheat) to stretch their creativity. Here, students read out their top 5 and points are tallied after each group presents their list.

3. Surveys

Survey Options

‘99% of People Will Not Get This Grammar Question Right’; ‘Most Doctors Recommend This for Immortality’; ‘5 Out Of 6 People Say Russian Roulette is Perfectly Safe’. Nothing uses surveys better than clickbait.

Surveys are standard fare in the EFL classroom, but they are rarely adapted into something the students want to talk about. Why not let them choose a topic they’re interested in, a controversial question they want answered?

Give them 10 minutes to interview as many people as they can. When they’re finished they compile their data and compose a clickbait headline summing up the findings. “3 Out Of 4 Students Cheated Last Week. You’ll Never Guess How.” They can present the results to the class or another group.

Final Thoughts

Teaching teens English is challenging mostly because we struggle for ways to connect and relate to them. By staying current with our approaches and content, we have more opportunities for engaging them on their own terms.

Duck Duck Goose

Duck Duck Goose (or Duck Duck Gray Duck for our strange brethren from the frozen tundra of Minnesota, though to be fair the game (like our flaxen-haired friends from the heartland) originated in Sweden where it was called Anka Anka Grå Anka, or Duck Duck Gray Duck, so maybe they aren’t completely misinformed) is the same game you remember from your elementary gym class. If your P.E. teacher was anything like mine — a mustachioed, whistle-sucking dictator — you may still suffer from PTSD along with the occasional flashback triggered by quacking waterfowl, so consider yourself forewarned!

Ages and Levels

Duck Duck Goose works best with Kindergarten to pre-teen children of elementary ability.

Language Objectives

Duck Duck Goose should target particular vocabulary or grammatical structures for pronunciation. Because students in the game will move and speak quickly, it’s important to keep an eye on their pronunciation which tends to get sloppy sooner than later.

For this example, let’s say the students are studying ‘I’m going to the (blank)’, and the vocabulary are places around town such as the hospital, bank etc.

The Format

You’ll need a decent-sized classroom for this game. Students must be able to run around without having to dodge desks, tables or other students.

Clear the desks and have students sit in a circle on the floor. The larger they can make the circle, the more competitive the game will be. Make sure the area outside the circle has enough room for students to run unimpeded.

Nominate one of the students to be ‘it’. Whoever is ‘it’ will walk around the outside of the circle, tapping children on the head, each time saying ‘I’m going to the bank.’ When the ‘it’ student finally changes the vocabulary word (e.g. ‘I’m going to the hospital’) and taps that student on the head, that student stands and tries to catch ‘it’ while ‘it’ tries to run all the way around the circle and sit down in the original spot. If ‘it’ gets caught, he or she must try again.

Duck Duck Goose Gif

Note: Duck Duck Goose may cause some cultural issues about touching children on the head, particularly in Thailand. If this is the case, have students tap each on the shoulder.

Slap the Board

‘Slap the Board’ is fun and competitive way to get students repeating target vocabulary or grammar structures. It’s perfect for getting students out of their chairs and reinforcing what they’ve just learned in the book. Better yet, it can be graded in difficulty and made adaptable for different abilities.

Ages: Children – Teens

Levels: Beginner – Intermediate

Materials: flashcards, fly swatters (optional)

In its most basic form, Slap the Board is used as a vocabulary game. If you’re teaching young children and you have flashcards, tape the flashcards to the board. Divide the class into two, or possibly three teams. Invite one student from each group to come to the front. Call out one of the vocabulary words. Students race to the board and slap the flashcard (either by hand or flyswatter), calling out the word as they do so; whoever is first earns a point for his/her team. A student can be assigned the role of teacher to call out the words.

Perhaps your students are learning how to spell. In that case, invert the activity. Write the words on the board, and instead of calling out a word, show them a flashcard. They race to slap the word corresponding to the flashcard, perhaps spelling it before saying it.

For more advanced students the game works better by focusing on a question and answer. Perhaps the grammar structure is ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘I’m going to the (blank). The students who are sitting ask the question and the players race to slap the word corresponding to the flashcard you show them, then answer the question.

It’s important that the students vocalize the vocabulary or grammar. It’s easy for the game to devolve into a slapping match with little English spoken. Award points only for those who call out the vocab or grammar as they slap it.

Race the Clock

Here’s a fun way to get students repeating vocabulary and target structures with a focus on pronunciation. They’ll be speaking as fast as they can, but sloppy pronunciation is punished! The only things you’ll need is a stopwatch the students can see (there are plenty of timers online), and flashcards for them to pass.

Suppose your target structure is ‘I like _______’ and the vocabulary is fruit. Perhaps one of your flashcards is ‘apples’. The goal is to get your students repeating ‘I want apples’ as naturally as possible.

Students can play seated or standing in either a horseshoe or circle. Horseshoe Seating Arrangement

Give the first student at either end of the horseshoe the ‘apple’ flashcard. Put 20 seconds on the clock, making sure it’s visible. Note: students must be able to see the clock otherwise the game doesn’t work; the clock functions as a ticking time bomb which they race against. 

When you start the clock, the first student says, ‘I like apples,’ and passes it to the next student who says also says it before handing it to the next, and so on. Each student must repeat the target structure correctly or the flashcard goes back to the first student and one second is taken off the clock. In this example, students have 20 seconds to get the card to the other end of the horseshoe. Once successful, give them another flashcard (e.g. oranges) and take one second off the clock. Now they have 19 seconds.

As a variation, try putting students in teams. Now there are two horseshoes (or circles) and they will race each other. The team with the fastest time wins.

This activity works for lower levels of all ages.