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.

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

Find Someone Who…

Find Someone Who (FSW) is a classic activity that most teachers come across when they’re still finding their feet in the classroom. The heart of this activity is interaction, getting students out of their desks and communicating with each other. Best of all, it can be tailored to almost any theme and ability.

FSW works best if it’s broken up into several stages, each of which is its own little activity. Let’s assume this is one of your first lessons in an elementary level teen or adult class. Typically, the first units of EFL books will begin with basic ‘getting to know you’ questions and answers. You’ve finished the material in the book and you think your students have got it. Perhaps the book already included a pair speaking activity where students interview each other with these questions. Great. Now let’s really get them using it.


Write on the board:

Find Someone Who...”                      Name:                                              

  1. was born in Beijing.
  2. is 25 years old.
  3. has 2 brothers or sisters.
  4. lives in Dongcheng District.
  5. has a pet.
  6. likes pop music.
  7. is a doctor.
  8. drives a car.

The first stage of the activity will be putting students into pairs and having them come up with the questions they’ll need to ask. Students will inevitably misunderstand this part of the activity and will immediately begin trying to ask and answer with their partner. It’s important to know they’re asking the correct questions, so make sure this part of the activity is solely focused on that. How can you make it clear that’s what they should be doing? Model it of course. Model the hell out of it. Write some of the questions on the board.

Teacher: “With your partner, think of (or perhaps write down) the questions you will ask. For example, number 1. ‘Born in Beijing.’ What question should I ask?”

Students will probably sit there in silence at first because they don’t really know what you’re asking.

T: “I want to know where you were born. What question should I ask?”

More silence, most likely. Start writing the question slowly to elicit the rest of it.

T: “Where…were…you…”

A smart student at this point probably understands what you’re driving at and will be able to complete the question.

T: “Where were you born? Very good. Now number 2. ‘is 25 years old’. What question do I ask?” Start writing it again. “How…old…are you? Very good. How about number 3?”

Don’t fret about modeling two or three times. The imperative thing is that students are clear about the intention of your activity, otherwise it’s a waste of time as some will get it, some won’t, and then you’ll have to walk around reexplaining what you thought you’d already made clear.

T: “Now work with your partner. Think of the questions you will ask.”

Depending on where you’re teaching, students may have a compulsion to write down every single thing that you put on the board. It’s important to break them of this habit because not only is it time-consuming, virtually everything you put on the board will already be in the book anyway. What you really want is communication.

Give students a few minutes to come up with the questions they’ll be asking, then elicit and write them on the board. If you’re lucky and you have a computer/projector, you can just open Microsoft Wordpad and type the questions to save time.


You have the questions written on the board so drill, baby, drill. Drill it a few times. Exaggerate the intonation. Be funny. Break them into different groups.


Tell students the point of the activity. That they will need to walk around asking questions until they find someone for whom the statement is true. Many students will misunderstand this part and just walk around asking questions instead of looking for one who answers ‘yes’. So how do you make the intention clear? That’s right. Model the shit out of it.

T: “You will stand up. Walk around and find someone. For example, number 1.” You ask  Student A, “where were you born?”

Student A: “Shenzen.”

T:  You ask Student B, “where were you born?”

Student B: “Guangzhou.”

T: You ask Student C, “where were you born?”

Student C: “Beijing.”

T: “Great!”

Write Student C’s name next to number 1. Then perhaps model number 2 if you think they’re still unclear.


The fun part. Students actually do the activity, but only after you’re sure they’re crystal clear on the instructions. At this point you can walk around, participate, or perhaps jot down some common errors that you’re hearing. Don’t forget to set a time limit. Six to eight minutes should be enough.


Feedback. Ask the class a few of the questions. “Who can drive a car? Who likes pop music?” What were those errors you overheard? Were they grammatical? Pronunciation? Now’s the time to fix it.


Extension. Don’t let a good opportunity go to waste. The students have collected data about their classmates so exploit it and turn it into a speaking activity. With a partner, they’ll report what they learned.

S1: “Chen was born in Beijing. Zhang Wei likes pop music.”

S2: “Li Wei can drive a car. Zhang Li lives in Dongcheng.”

Final thoughts:

There are a billion Find Someone Who topics and grids out there on the web, but a common mistake (made out of laziness or ignorance, both in your case) is to just print out a random topic, hand it to your students and say ‘go’. This isn’t good enough. Take your time. Exploit it. Make it relevant and make sure your students know what they’re doing before they do it.

The best FSWs are often made on the fly. Is your lesson dragging? Probably. You do suck at TEFL, so stop what you’re doing and think of a way to do a FSW; just try to tie it to the theme of your lesson. FSWs are a great way to get students up and active and actually using English. By breaking things up into stages, you have several built-in mini-activities, all of which encourage even more Student Talking Time and keeps the lesson flowing. It’s also possible to make it competitive by letting students race against each other to finish their list first. Be creative. Tweak it. Above all, make it fun and interactive.