Dec 18, 2011

Things I've done

I came up with this activity while looking for a creative way to review Present Perfect + superlatives. I think it's awesome to let students use their imagination. They are likely to surprise and more than once to come up with really interesting ideas.

Level: Intermediate
Materials: Cards with adjectives
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Present Perfect/Adjectives-Superlatives
Prep time: 2-3 min to cut the pieces of paper.

Before the class you'll have to prepare cards with adjectives like: scary, tasty, fun, interesting, rewarding, dangerous, hilarious, bad, sad, etc. These are going to be the basics that will serve as a main guide. To introduce the activity, I suggest that you tell the students that the class is going to be about interesting or remarkable experiences that we've all been through and that using the cards they'll get to ask/answer questions about life experiences. It's important to emphasize that there are no rules and they can choose the verbs they want based on what the cards say. The main goal is to get them to ask questions using the present perfect and the superlative of the adjective in the card. Each student will take a card and use it to ask a question to the person on his/her right, until everybody has asked/answered once. I'd recommend that you do it once or twice as an example until everybody gets the idea.

Student A: What is the most dangerous animal you've ever touched?
Student B: The most dangerous animal I've ever touched is a snake. I have never touched anything more dangerous than that.

Student A: Where have you tried the most delicious ice-cream ever?
Student B: When I went to Brazil with my family we went to get ice cream. It was the most delicious ice cream I've ever had, I still remember its taste.
Prompt students to use different structures to ask and answer, in fact, it's a good idea to set one rule: Do not repeat the question/answer structure that the previous students. I would also offer a creativity award to the best question/answer. 

When sharing about (important) moments in their lives, students tend to relax and even sometimes forget that they are in the classroom and that they are supposed to learn. I have found this activity very rewarding and lots of fun, and I'm sure you will too!


Nov 20, 2011

What are you thankful for?

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”  W. T. Purkiser

This week in America, they celebrate Thanksgiving. For many teachers from around the world I have talked to, it doesn't seem right to globalize traditions and adopt patterns of behavior that are not supposed to be part of our particular culture. However, (and I might be a little biased, since I lived in the US for some time and I've fallen in love with the country and traditions, but oh well!) I think it's a great idea to introduce that very important American custom to our classes. Rather than corrupting our own country's tradition, we'd be enriching the students' cultural knowledge and taking a moment to do something that should be part our every year (or month!): to say thanks.

No matter how level or age you are currently teaching, it's a great time to devote 10 or 15 minutes of your class to have students write on a piece of paper 3 or 4 things they are thankful for. A very good way to introduce the idea would be to write a quote related to thanksgiving on the board and then give them color papers to express what they wanna say thanks.  

Tip for kids: Have them draw their hand on a piece of paper. Once they do, they can decorate it any way they want  and write inside each finger or draw in the center of the palm the reasons why they are thankful (you thought I was gonna suggest the turkey drawing, huh? - I like to surprise ;) )

Remember that the reason we do what we do is to make a difference in the lives of all those who come to our class. You have a great opportunity to touch lives, don't waste it. And be thankful for it!

Happy Thanksgiving week, y'all! :)


Aug 30, 2011

Would you rather...?

This is such a fun activity to be used as an icebreaker or time-left activity. It works amazingly with medium to large groups of students and it usually very enjoyable for everybody. I would recommend it for teens in their 17-18 and up. I played it with my class of adults and we had a blast!

Level: Upper Intermediate/Advanced
Materials: None.
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/I would rather... (It's a great and fun way to practice debate)
Prep time: A few minutes to prepare the questions.

The only purpose of the activity is to have students choose an option of the two you provide by answering a 'Would you rather...?' question. To make it more complex and if you think it's necessary have them explain why they chose that option. It is very important to think of questions that are creative and perhaps a bit controversial. In this way, it's likely that students will have different opinions and they'll get the chance to explain their point of view.

Some examples:
  • Would you rather go a year without your cell phone or without a computer?
  • Would you rather have a brilliant mind or a very hot body?
  • Would you rather win the lottery or find true love?
  • Would you rather be completely bald or completely hairy?
  • Would you rather go a year without salt or a year without sugar?
  • Would you rather dump someone or be the one who gets dumped?
  • Would you rather be very fat or very stupid?
I am sure there will be plenty of other interesting questions. These are my examples and the ones I used. I hope you come up with your own and have a great time. I'll be happy to hear your ideas!

Enjoy, XOXO.

Jun 20, 2011

A twist to the Conventional 'Tic-tac-toe'

If you've taught ESL long enough, I'm sure you have used the 'Tic-tac-toe' game to review vocabulary, irregular verbs in the past tense, phrasal verbs and many other topics. This is probably the most cliche game when it comes to the ESL classroom. However, I'd like to make a suggestion for you to be able to use this game for anything. And I really DO mean ANYTHING!!!

Lately, I've used this game to review units from the book. You know how every unit in coursebooks is filled with different topics and contents that students need to learn? Well, I found a good way to check how much they knew about these by playing tic-tac-toe. What I'd do is to set up a tic-tac-toe grill containing key words from the unit in each space. For example, one of our books presented the topic: Jobs and Hobbies and we reviewed using the following chart:
Even when the words seem a little unrelated, we had studied all of these and students had enough information in their books to provide a description of the job/activity and the necessary skills and/or equipment needed to succeed in each of them. So, I would play with a small class divided in two groups. Each group would pick a topic, taking turns and in order to get their cross or nought in the spaces they selected, they are required to provide general information about the topic. I'd set a minimum of sentences according to the number of students in each group. They are all required to participate with at least one sentence related to the topic and using vocabulary and structures from the coursebook. Giving the students the opportunity to speak freely, allow them to be creative and you might get surprised to hear the sentences they are able to produce.
A different option that I LOVED to review grammar, was this amazing grill I found at, one of my favorite websites  :) It's an E-magazine that provides creative ideas and printables to use in class. Check it out! You're gonna love it too! 
As I said before, you can use this game for pretty much anything. And even if it's a very simple one, it helps create a different atmosphere and students forget that they are actually reviewing and learn while having fun. :)

Enjoy! XO

Jun 18, 2011

Tell me what they did

This is a very simple activity I've come up with in one of my many attempts to make my classes with teenagers more dynamic and interesting. In this case, I was working with Past Simple and I was looking for a creative way to review irregular verbs so I thought this would be a good way. I would recommend this to be used with small groups, unless the whole class is able to respectfully listen to their classmates for a considerable time. Otherwise, things may get complicated.

Level: Elementary/Intermediate
Materials: Little pieces of paper
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Everyday life/Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense
Prep time: 2-3 min to cut the pieces of paper.

First off, the teacher will give each student 5-6 pieces of paper and ask them to think about what they did last weekend. Students will pick 5-6 activities they did the previous weekend and write the verbs (in the infinitive form) in the pieces of paper. After that, they will pair up and exchange papers. The task will be to talk about their classmates weekend, so the teacher will give them a few minutes to put those in order and prepare their speech. After that, students will use the verbs they have been provided to talk about their partner's weekend. The interesting part is that they will only have a few verbs and it's up to their imagination to make it a good story.  
The information in the papers shouldn't be too accurate. In fact, it's better if they only receive random information, since they will have to 'fill in the blanks'. For example:

  • work
  • play
  • get up
  • drink
  • sing
Students will have to decide what their classmates worked on, what they drank, what and where they sang, and it can end up being a great story! The more creative students are, the funnier and more interesting their stories will turn out. At the very end and as a closure, students can decide on who told the best one.


  • In case you want to use it to review the Present Simple tense, students can be asked to write verbs they perform on a regular basis and their classmates will try to tell how a day in their partner's life is. 

Good Luck, XO

Jun 15, 2011

Using the imagination

When working with intermediate to advanced levels, it's always useful to have in mind a list of imaginary situations that would work great as prompts for speaking. I find these really useful, since the same ol' activities tend to bore me easily.

Some ideas I'd like to share:
  • Imagine you are interviewing your favorite singer/actor. What 5 questions would you ask him/her? You may wanna consider his past work, his future plans, the effect of his career on his personal life, etc.
  • Imagine you are having a party next weekend. Explain how it would be. Remember to mention: place where it'd be, guests, entertainment, music, food and drink.
  • What would you change in school to make it more fun?
  • Imagine your parents gave you permission to redecorate your room. What would you change?
  • Imagine your best friend is having a huge party in his honor and you are asked to tell the story of how you both met. What would you say?
  • Imagine you won a trip for you and 2 more friends to any part of the world you choose. Where would you go and what would you do?
  • What could've made your weekend a perfect one?
  • If you were to become a singer, what style of music would you make? Who would you look up to? How would your life be different?
Any other ideas?

Memory Game

Memory games; I've come to realize; are particularly exciting for younger kids. Also, teens can respond pretty well to them if we motivate them properly. So I would suggest this idea for all ages and levels.
Sometimes, we work too hard to create a completely language centered activity from scratch, and we forget to use the tools we already have to make our class interesting. For my class, I decided to use this very nice set of memory cards I had and add my "language touch" to the game. Let me tell you how.

Level: All
Materials: A set of match cards
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any.
Prep time: None.

Select some cards from the set (like 10 pairs), so that the game wouldn't last forever - it's always better to add a couple of pairs than not being able to finish the game. Set the cards on the table or floor, wherever you are more comfortable playing and have students gather around them. 
Students will take turns to pick a pair of cards to find a match. Every time they do, even when there is not a match, they are requested to perform a task. For example,  I tried this with 7-9 year olds and the topic of review was spelling. I had numbers match cards, which in my case was perfect since they had worked with numbers the month before. So, if they didn't find a match, they were still requested to pick one of the numbers and spell it out. The rest of the class also had a task. They were the "Spelling Judges", so in that way I managed to keep them focused on the activity. 
When a student does get a match, then he'll be asked to perform a task that involves a greater effort in order to keep the cards. In my case, I would make them spell the number in the card and the one after and before. There are plenty of options as long as you use your imagination.
In this way, you can turn a simple matching/memory game, into a successful language activity.

Some options I suggest:

  • For colors: Use color matching cards and have students say the colors and provide 3 or 4 objects that are that color if they find a match.
  • For tenses: Using verbs matching cards you can ask students to provide their meaning. In case of a match, have students make a sentence in a certain tense using the verb in the cards.
  • For reviewing the past tense of irregular verbs: Prepare matching cards with the infinitive form of the verb and have students provide the past when they pick the card. In case of a match you can ask them to also make a sentence with the verb.
  • For phrasal verbs: Use matching cards containing phrasal verbs and have students explain the meaning of each and provide correct sentences in case of a match.
  • For vocabulary: Use matching pictures or words and have students say words related to the topic (word or picture). Eg: To review food: Breakfast, Dinner, Dessert, Lunch, Fruit, Vegetables, Candy, Drinks, Snacks, etc.
You can create your own memory cards and print them for free here.
I hope you try this and if you come up with a creative idea, please share!

Enjoy, XO

May 29, 2011

Take a break and enjoy...

I don't know about you, but Languages are my passion. Not only teaching and being able to say different things in different ways, but the essence of Language itself. The way it is so intimately connected to our feelings and how it conveys different meanings to different people. I guess that's why I found this article so fascinating. If you, like me, take pleasure in understanding Language and how much it means, you'll love this. Consider this your personal time and take a little break to read:

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World


Spelling Game

About a month ago, I was looking for a fun option to review spelling with my young students. Where I work, we have a mimio (interactive board) in each classroom, so I thought that taking advantage of that was a great idea. Thus, using Power Point, I created a document for Spelling Contest . This is how I did it:

1- The first slide is only a "Game Presentation". This is what I used:

2- Then, I arranged 15 numbers in 3 columns.

3- Each number was linked to another slide that contained a picture and a word. I did this using hyperlinks. So the overall layout was looked like this:

So how does this work? I started the Power Point presentation so my students got to see the first slide only. It's amazing how excited they got, just to see that they were playing a game on the board, like the ones on TV!! :) As I moved to the second slide, I explained that they were going to be divided in two teams and each team would take turns picking their numbers. Each number was gonna unveil a secret word that they were expected to spell, in order to get a point. Since it was a small class, I had each student pick a number and spell the word by himself, having his group as a backup in case he had trouble with a letter.
The great thing about using this presentation, is that as you click on a number, it immediately takes you to the correspondent slide, which makes it really neat. I was very happy to see how excited they were to play this and how easily it was to get them engaged. It's like they didn't even notice that we were reviewing! 
If you have the opportunity to try this in class I would highly recommend it. If not, you can always use flashcards and stick them on the board or even easier; you can just write numbers on the board, and have student pick one, and then write a word on the board for them to spell it out. 

You might even come up with a better idea! If so, I'd love to hear it!
Good Luck!! XO

PS: I will be more than happy to send you this document via email, so if you want it just contact me and let me know!

May 18, 2011

In my backpack I have...

You like to take advantage of every single minute in class? This is a great activity to practice vocabulary that requires no prep at all! And to make it even better you can adapt it to different topics. It's important to keep the dynamics in this activity or else it could turn very slow and therefore, boring.

The teacher will start the game with the phrase: In my backpack I have... and then point to a student who will be expected to provide a suitable word (notebook, book, pencil case, etc.). Then the teacher will continue by saying: And in my pencil case I have... and again, the students will provide words to complete the sentence.

Depending on the topic you are studying you can adapt the activity. I suggest some variations:

  • For clothes: In my closet I have... 
  • For food: In my fridge/pantry I have...
  • For furniture or objects around the house: In my bedroom/kitchen/living room I have... 
You can always come up with your own ideas. 
Good luck! XOXO

Topics for debate

This week I've been working a lot on debates with my students and I noticed it's not that easy to come up with good topics to help them express themselves. For that reason, I thought I'd share a list of those which proved to be useful for me and may be useful for you too.
I usually choose one of the following alternatives when I work with groups debate:

Presenting a situation in form of a question and allow them to answer it and provide reasons for having answered a certain way. For example:

  • Is it ok for parents to allow their children to have unlimited and unsupervised access to the computer and the internet? Why or why not?
  • What activities would you plan if you were scheduled to babysit a 5 year old next Saturday and why? What should you consider in terms of safety?
  • Should teenagers under 18 have their parents consent to get tattoos or piercings? Why or why not? What would be the pros and cons in each case?
  • Should parents constantly monitor their children when they watch TV? What are the dangers of children being exposed to the TV without adult supervision?

Presenting a line, quote or topic and ask students to agree or disagree. Some examples are:

  • Parents should do anything to protect their children, even if it involves lying or covering their mistakes.
  • Nature vs Nature.
  • Death Penalty: The man playing God?
  • Euthanasia: Should we have the right to choose?
  • Going to college is not important. What really matters is how smart you are.
  • It's useless working hard for something you want because what's meant to be will be. 
The more controversial the phrases are the more interesting the debate will be. However, when working with debate it's super important to make sure we do not include topics that would offend our students. Some of these would include religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, among others.

Good luck! XO

Apr 10, 2011

Icebreaker: Find your pair!

This activity is particularly useful for the first day of classes, when the students still don't know each other. However, I've found different ways to make variations in order to use them at anytime.

Level: All
Materials: (Depending on the level) pieces of paper containing matching information / paper cuts 
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any - Personal Information/Making questions and answering them. 
Prep time: 10-30 minutes (according to  the level of the class and the topic/method chosen.

I love this activity, since you can adapt it in 1000 different ways depending on the age and level of students in your class. The idea of this all is to get students mixed and allow them to talk to each other and probably get to make new friends within the class. This game, unlike most of what I post here, takes a bit of preparation time at home but on the bright side, you get to be creative!!  :)
So, at home pick a topic depending of the age of the group you're working with. It can be anything. You need to divide the information in two and write it in separate pieces of paper. The amount and level of information provided varies according to the proficiency level of the class. 

Elementary Level:
For young kids who can't read I suggest bringing matching pictures like an apple and the apple tree, a flower and the flowerpot, all depending on the vocabulary you wanna use. 
Also, for young kids who can read, you can write the word on one piece of paper and bring the matching paper cut.
Colors: Write the name of a color in one piece of paper and paint a circle of that color in another.
Objects: Write the name of an object in one paper and stick a picture of the object in the another.
Celebrities: Write the name of a celebrity in one piece of paper and his/her personal information (age, nationality, job, etc.) on another.
Sports: Choose the name of a sport and write in on one piece of paper and then the necessary equipment or the rules of that sport in another.
Emotions: Write the name of an emotion in one piece of paper and its description on another.
Phrasal Verbs: Write a phrasal verb and it's definition on different pieces of paper.

You'll need two baskets or bags to separate the pieces of paper into A and B. Then, you'll divide the class in half. If there's an odd number of students, just have one of them take two pieces of paper. Half of the students will get a piece of paper from basket A and half of the students will get it from basket B. (You could also do it all at once, but for some reason I think that way makes it more disorganized). After everybody has one piece of paper, you are going to explain that after the sign, they will mix and each student will try to find their pair in the other team. Once they did, they are going to introduce themselves and exchange basic information (You can provide basic questions on the board, as a guide). Little kids and groups with a very elementary level can skip this step. As a wrap up for the class, and depending on the number of students you can have each pair come to the front and have each student introduce his/her classmate, or select two or three pairs at random and ask them to do the same.
As I mentioned before, there're thousands of ways to modify this activity to suit your needs. So find your way, and try it too!

Enjoy! XOXO

Game: Guess what I'm thinking!

This is a good way to review vocabulary at the end of a unit, or even when reviewing for final exams at the end of the year. The more vocabulary categories you include, the more fun and interesting the game becomes.

Level: All
Materials: Board
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/Making correct answers to find out specific information.
Prep time: None.

Write on the board 3 or 4 categories of vocabulary that you've been working on with the class. For example: school objects, clothes, food; or if your working with parts of the house you can write: bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc. If necessary, make students name some objects before the game starts, this will be a good way to motivate them for the activity.  Pick a student at random and ask him to choose on object belonging to any of the categories you wrote on the board. Make sure you tell him NOT to say it out loud. Then tell the class that their job is to find out what object this one student has in mind, and they can do so by asking yes/no questions. I suggest that you establish some kind of questions hierarchy to make sure the activity doesn't end in a heartbeat and there's some kind of order. I prompt them to ask in this order: size, form, weight, color, uses, and then category. I also try to avoid questions like: Is it a food? or Is it a school object?. Instead, I insist that they produce questions like: Can you eat it? Is it sweet? Do you use it at school? It just allows students to think outside the box and shows them they can obtain the same information in different ways. Try to leave specific information for the end, otherwise the amount of questions the students are likely to produce will be limited. The student who can guess the object, gets to pick the word next, and the game is repeated.


  • Depending on the level of the class the questions can be more specific or advanced. It's possible to use this activity with any group, you just need to be creative.
  • To add some emotion to the activity, try separating the class into two groups and let them compete.
  • If you think necessary, make students write their word of choice in a piece of paper, to avoid confusions, lies, etc. (especially for team competition).
Hope it works for you!

Apr 7, 2011

Game: Let me be your eyes

This is one of my favorite games because I've tried it with different groups and it's always interesting to see how the outcome depends not only on the good performance of students but also on how each mind works. Sometimes I use the same picture with 4 different groups and I never get the same result. A great way to practice speaking and having fun at the same time!

Level: Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate, Advanced.
Materials: Pictures of people doing different things (the highest the level of the group, the more detailed the pictures can be), a board or a piece of paper and a pencil (I recommend the board, since it's more fun).
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/Detailed description of pictures using correct structures and vocabulary. 
Prep time: 20 min.

This activity works best with small groups of students, since it's easier to keep them focused on the game. From the crowd, you are going to choose and "artist" and tell him he'll be the one in charge to draw a picture according to the description that will be provided by the rest of the class. The artist will come to the board, his back to the rest of the class. You will show a picture to the class and ask students to describe it, one at a time. Prompt them to go from the general to the particular details, and to be as specific as possible:

This is a picture about a park. It's sunny. There are 5 trees on the right and a bush on the left. Next to the bush there is a girl jumping rope. She is wearing glasses and a dress. Her hair is long. She looks happy. Etc.

It's important to specify that students are not allowed to correct the artist when he's making a mistake. Also, the artist can't ask questions to check if he's doing good. Instead, tell him to ask for repetitions or more specific information. At the end of the game, the whole class gets to compare the pictures and the artist can finally see the picture he was supposed to reproduce. It will be fun to see how each student interprets the picture descriptions.

Enjoy! XO

Game: Freeze!

This is a particularly useful activity to practice the Present or Past Continuous and most students tend to find it really fun, since they get to do some acting.

Level: Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate.
Materials: Little pieces of paper with verbs in an envelope(Choose verbs that students can act)
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/Correct production of sentences in the Present/Past Continuous tense.
Prep time: 5-10 min.

The best way to play this game is to divide the class in two teams and then ask one of the teams to send a representative, an actor, to the front of the class. This student will pick one of the pieces of paper and read it to find out what verb he's going to have to act out. After that, you ask the opposite team to close their eyes, while the student performs the action. Each team gets to watch their own actors perform, since that's what makes it interesting and fun for them. After the student has acted for 10-15 seconds (and his team has laughed a bit) you claim: Freeze!! and the student needs to freeze in whatever position he was. Now, the opposite group is gets to open their eyes and to guess what action the student was performing. It's interesting to keep a separate envelope for verbs that can be performed as a group and call 3 or 4 students at once to the front of the class, just for a bit of a change. 

He's eating spaghetti.                                      He was eating spaghetti.
They are singing in a choir.                           They were singing in a choir.

Suggested verbs: 
Ride a motorcycle, clean a window, dance ballet, skateboard, surf, write a letter, cut down a tree, hunt deer, chop an onion, jump rope, etc.
For the group actions: Row a boat, sing in a choir, play ping-pong, ride a double bike, play a rock song (band style), jump rope (+3 people), etc.

Note: Instead of using pieces of paper, you can whisper the verbs to the actors, so that you don't need to prepare the pieces of paper. Also, make sure you choose verbs that are fun to perform and try to be specific, i.e. instead of using 'eating', try: 'eating a hamburger', to add some spice to the game.

Have fun! XO

Apr 6, 2011

Game: Don't say yes, don't say no!

This is a particularly useful activity for those times when we have 10 or 15 minutes left in class and we've finished the lesson plan. Also it's a great way to review grammar, when we've been working with different tenses.

Level: Any.
Materials: None / A ball can be used for a fun variation.
Target Vocabulary/Grammar: Any/Correct identification of tense and correspondence of question and answer.
Prep time: None

Depending on the age of students, it sometimes takes a little time for them to get used to the dynamics of the game. This is basically a question/answer activity. Before the activity starts, make sure you tell your students that the only rule for this game is that they are not allowed to answer yes or no. Then ask random yes/no questions to the class, one student at the time. (You can point to the student to whom the question is directed or to make it more fun, throw a ball at him). Students need to answer the question using an affirmative or negative sentence that is coherent and provides the necessary information that was requested. You may need to provide some examples beforehand to make sure students understand the assignment thoroughly. Maybe you can write some questions on the board and make them ask you. Make sure you use fun questions to motivate students.

Do you eat ice cream for breakfast? Unfortunately, this is not heaven yet.
Are you wearing a wig? I have always had funny hair.
Have you ever been to the moon? Europe is as far as I've ever been.
Can you swim? I can swim like a fish.

Note: The more creative students are, the better the game works, since some of them can come up with really interesting answers.

I really hope you try this in class. Enjoy! XO