10 Ideas for Games in the Classroom

The teaching of English can be a demanding profession for many, but if you are able to motivate or encourage participation from your learners during the lesson, you will have no classroom management issues. The key for encouraging interest and maintaining motivation during the lesson is to incorporate games or competitive activities during the lesson.  Most teachers tend to start or finish lessons with a ‘game’ to engage and interest their learners, but some of the ideas that I put forward could be included at anytime during the lesson.

1. Rolling Questions

Dice pictureIf you want to get students chatting, particularly adolescent learners, it can sometimes be quite difficult to motivate them to converse naturally in English.  One idea that I have used before in the past is to get a set of six-sided dice for small groups of students, prepare six questions prior to the lesson and write them up on the whiteboard.  Learners then roll a dice and the corresponding question is then asked.  You could change this activity slightly by getting students to un-jumble questions or to speak about a topic for as long as possible.  It is a great activity to promote speaking and enhance fluency and it requires very little preparation.

2. Role Play with a Twist

Every teacher has, at one time or another, used a role play to develop functional language.  However, you could spice it up a little bit.  Get students to think of two people, a place and a topic that these people are talking about.  For example, you may get Justin Bieber and Madonna talking at a bus stop about their weekend.  Before you get into class you do need to cut up some paper and a funny sentence on it such as, “You eyes are beautiful!”, “I can’t stop thinking about coffee!”, etc.  Place the pieces of paper (folded) on a table in the middle of the role play scene and mix them all up.  Get students to start their role play and get into their character and when you clap or blow a whistle the two students then have to pick up one piece of paper and then insert the phrase or sentence naturally into the role play.  It is incredibly funny and students find it very amusing.  I have used this with adult learners as well as young learners.

3. Chinese Whispers

Almost every teacher I have met have used this game at one point in their teaching career with young learners or adult students.  It is an activity which usually can be used as a filler for the last 10 minutes of class.  Most teachers know the game but if you are one of the very few who doesn’t know the game, here is what you do.  You get students either into a line or two lines.  I usually organise two teams to make it a bit more competitive.  Place students in a line or get them to sit down facing the board.  Give the student(s) at the front of the line a board marker and then you reveal a word, sentence or grammar point to the student at the back of the classroom.  The students whisper the word, sentence or grammar point to the person in front and this continues until the person at the front of the row has heard it and then they write the word on the board.  I usually give two points to a team which correctly completed the activity first, one point for those that finished second and correctly wrote the word, sentence or grammar point and minus one point to a team that wrote it incorrectly.  It is a very energetic game when you put students into pairs so expect a lot of enthusiasm in class.

4. Silent Chinese Whispers

A different take on Chinese Whispers is Silent Chinese Whispers!  What is “Silent Chinese Whispers?” I hear you ask.  Well the difference is that students are unable to whisper and have to remain silent during the game.  When students at the back of a row are shown a word, they must write the word on the back of the student in front of them.  It is best to start with small words which are quite easy to write (see, go, red, etc) and build the vocabulary up to something a bit more complicated.  Learners will find this different and they will have to focus a lot during the game.  You can sometimes see the tension rise when one student flounders a bit.  However, it is a wonderful take on the classic game of Chinese Whispers and demands a lot of focus from students.

5. Snowball Writing

You walk into classroom and each time that you try to get students to write they get bored very quickly.  Does this sound familiar?  Well not a problem!  You can do a fun and easy activity which encourages writing with all students.  It is called “Snowball Writing”.  You give each group of students lined paper and you tell them that they must write for a sentence.  When they have finished their sentence, they must scrunch up their paper to a ball – so that it resembles a snowball – and then when you blow your whistle or clap that students must start throwing their pieces of paper around the classroom.  If they see a piece of paper they must pick it up and continue to throw it.  When you clap your hands or blow your whistle again, students must pick up a piece of paper near them and then must continue writing another sentence.  Just repeat the activity as many times as possible.  You will find a lot of written input from students which you could then use for correcting at a later time.  It is a great and energetic activity which I would encourage any teacher (whether teaching young learners or adults) to include in their lessons.

6. Hangman

Hangman is another activity which many teachers have used over the years.  I remember using this with my young learners when I first started teaching and it was a great lesson warmer.  If you have not seen this game in action, don’t worry!  I shall let you know what to do.  You choose some words that you would like to introduce at the start of class, otherwise you could choose a number of words to review at the end of the lesson.  Write them on a piece of paper and make a note of the number of letters in a word.  For example, “helicopter” has 10 letters in it.  Keep a note to the number of letters in each word that you would like to use in the hangman game as this is important.  I always find it easy to have a list of words ready to hand and make a note of the number of letters next to each word.  It makes it easier to prepare the game.  To understand the game more fully, there is a wonderful video on YouTube by ESLClassroomGames describing the game.  I’d recommend that you watch the following video.  There are also some online hangman games available to play which has been created by the British Council.  These are great activities to use in class should you have a projector and internet access.

7. Sentence Hangman

So you have tried hangman many times in the classroom before but have you tried “Sentence Hangman”?  It is a twist of the original hangman but using sentences instead of individual words.  Have a think of a sentence or grammar form you would like to cover in class and write them out on a piece of paper.  Make a note of the number of words in the sentence and number these.  When you come to write out the words on the board, replace them with an underline – so if you have 8 words in your sentence, draw eight long lines to represent each word.  Split the class into two to four groups and each group decides on a word and they score one point if the word exists in the sentence, two points if they can guess correctly where it goes and minus one point if they choose a word which is incorrect.

For example, if you have a sentence such as “I(1) have(2) been(3) studying(4) English(5) for(6) eight(7) years(8)”, you must draw 8 lines on the board which are also numbered: ________(1) ________(2) ________(3) ________(4) ________(5) ________(6) ________(7) ________(8).  The first team shouts out a word such as “for” but they say it is in line 4.  They get one point and you write “for” in line 6.  The second team shout out “I” and say it goes in line 1 and they get two points – 1 for a correct word and one for placing the word in the correct line.  The third team shout out “was” but they score minus one point for an incorrect word.

It is a great game for all ages and it will really get students engaged in the lesson.  It is a wonderful idea to get students interested in sentence construction and getting them more aware of the grammar in an exciting and competitive way.  If students are having difficulty choosing the correct words, you could draw a picture which corresponds with the sentence.

8. Board Games

Talk AboutBoard games are wonderful to use in the classroom with many being created in MS Word or available on the internet but why do you have use the board games that have been created by someone else?  You could create your own board game for use in the classroom.  Or better yet, get the students to make their own board game.  You don’t necessarily need any dice, you could use a coin – heads move two spaces, tails move one space.  If you make your own board game, it is best to use A3 paper and use some felt tip pens.  Create a start and a finish position, add some bonus squares (move two spaces forward, next person misses a turn, etc), add some trapped squares (move back one space, miss a turn, etc) and then either write prompts for questions or discussion topics.  Board games can be used in class to prompt learners into talking English in the classroom and they are suitable for any ages.  You can even get young learners to create their own colourful board games for future lessons.  They are a wonderful resource and teachers should use them more in class.

9. Vocabulary Grab

You have taught some new vocabulary to your students but you want to check whether they can remember it.  What is the best way to check their knowledge?  Well you could test them, but you would have to be really mean to do this.  I would recommend a game which I call “Vocabulary Grab”.  If you have taught some new nouns, get some pictures of these, laminate them so that they don’t get destroyed, and stick them up around the whiteboard with BluTack.  Put students into two separate groups – it becomes a lot more competitive at this point – and when you call out a word, the students have to grab the corresponding picture and the team with the most amount of pictures are the winners.  It is a simple but effective game for all ages and if you use this game as a vocabulary review at the end of the lesson, learners will be leaving the classroom with a smile on their faces.

10. Twenty Questions

The final game in this blog post is another well known classic game called “Twenty Questions” which I assume many teachers have used in the past.  For those that have not come across this game, it is incredibly basic.  A student will be sitting at the front of the classroom and the teacher will give this student a word on a piece of card or show a picture.  This student is the only learner in the classroom who is aware of the word/picture and the other students have to guess the word by asking him/her closed questions.  The student at the front of the class can only say “Yes” and “No” so the students asking the questions have to aware of closed questions and they have twenty questions to ask to find out what the word/picture is.

For example, you show the student at the front of the class a picture of a watermelon and the rest of the class start asking: S1: “Are you a person?”, S2: “No”, S3: “Are you an object?”, etc.  After a bit of practice, the learners will start to understand the concept.  I usually demonstrate by telling students that I am holding a picture of something and they must ask me closed questions – questions where I can only answer “Yes” or “No” – and that they must find out what the object is.  Once the students have had a bit of a demonstration, I then nominate a student to come to the front of the class and then the students ask them closed questions.  During the demonstration process, I encourage learners to raise their hands if they wish to ask a question – it is a lot more controlled and rather less chaotic.


There you have it, my ten favourite games that I usually use in class for both adults or young learners.  What are your favourite games?  Why don’t you share them by either commenting or blogging about them!

ETp Live Conference 2014: Brighton

I was fortunate to attend the English Teaching Professional Live Conference this year, which was held in Brighton – so just a short train journey to the event. I arrived, collected my badge and was given a wonderful goody bag filled with various books and other things. There were 11 speakers at the event which included Chia Suan Chong, Antonia Clare, Jeremy Harmer, Mike Hogan, Philip Kerr and Ken Wilson, so I was spoilt for choice on which talk I would attend. It was quickly decided that I would attend talks based on personal importance and those that were possibly necessary for my school.

Thus, I decided to attend Jeremy Harmer’s opening talk “Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”, followed by Dennis Davy’s talk “London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”, then Philip Kerr with “The brave new world of adaptive learning”, next with Anna Musielak’s talk with “How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”, then Chia Suan Chong’s talk on “Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL” and finally with Ken Wilson on “Ten ways to get your students to DO something”.

“Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”: Jeremy Harmer

Opening plenary ETp Live 2014The opening of English Teaching professional Live 2014, in Brighton, was started by Jeremy Harmer.  As usual, he was incredibly energetic during the talk and started the conference by giving a quote by Sheryl Crow on what she has sacrificed for her music, which was her love life, but she also said, during a Guardian interview “I think whatever you give your attention to is what thrives”.  Jeremy attempted to link ‘more heart and more creativity’ in the classroom by focusing on what you love doing: teaching.  However, before answering this question, Jeremy wanted to remind attendees of the conference of important issues in teaching such as prompting creativity and attention in the classroom as well as demanding more from your learners.

Jeremy also, having been to various of his talks, linked musical practice to repetition in language learning which would then prompt automaticity.  There was a nice spin with the improvisation of jazz music with lexical chunks, with jazz musicians knowing over a hundred licks which could then be included during improvisation.  The obvious metaphor was that learners should have a bank of lexical chunks which they could pepper their speaking with to sound more fluent.  There was also another link with musical practice and English language teaching, which I had not thought about before, where Jeremy attempted to link ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘mindless practice’ with an emphasis that deliberate language practice is more cognitively important, where mindless language practice is unsuitable for any teacher and learner.  He finally suggested areas to improve focus and creativity in the classroom, such as demanding learner focus, seizing the teaching moment, providing CLIL-based tasks, etc.

It was wonderful start to the conference and it is always a pleasure to see Jeremy give such an enthusiastic and thought provoking talk.

Additional Reading: What Sheryl Crow gave her attention to

“London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”: Dennis Davy

Dennis DavyThe second talk that I attended was by Dennis Davy on using cities, with him offering London as an example, to develop cultural awareness and interest in language teaching.  There were various ideas offered by Dennis and it was nice to see that a teacher based in France was keen to incorporate cities into their repertoire of lessons.

The talk started with Dennis getting attendees to think of famous poets, musicians, painters, etc that were related to London.  There were numerous ideas of this shared in the room and then we moved on to the teaching of cities.  Dennis mentioned that the course that he developed in France was 30 hours in length and was loosely CLIL related.  The content of the course was negotiated by the learners and his learners were academics with the main aim to develop cultural awareness and cultural competence.

Dennis suggested different practical ideas which could be incorporated to practice the various skills of English:

  1. Speaking: presentations, discussions, spoken commentaries on paintings, etc
  2. Listening: TimeOut London, podcasts, films, music, etc
  3. Reading: poems, newspapers, short stories, etc
  4. Writing: essays, summaries of presentations, etc

The talk was invaluable for those teachers that had not considered teaching with the focus on cities, but there were a few questions from attendees enquiring whether students would be ‘sold’ on this idea of teaching, how student progress could be measured during the course and what the assessment criteria would involve.  Nearer the end, I felt that Dennis was giving a commentary of his slides as he was showing slide after slide of painters and paintings, and unfortunately I started to switch off.  I did come to this talk to see what could be included in the classroom not to see numerous slides of paintings, architecture, etc.  However, it was a good chance to reflect on what our school could develop or deliver by developing learner interest in cities or places of interest within the classroom, prior to our learners visiting these places.

“The brave new world of adaptive learning”: Philip Kerr

Philip KerrPhilip Kerr’s talk was about adaptive learning and it was the first time that I had come across the term ‘adaptive learning’.  Adaptive learning is online computer education which amends the delivery of teaching material based upon the answer provided by the learner.  Kerr painted a picture of the industry of English language teaching which was slowly becoming more and more reliant on technology with publishing houses focusing solely on adaptive learning applications to supplement and complement coursebooks.  He gave a first-hand account on how a large publishing house had spent their budget on the technology rather than focus on the content in the coursebook and the project had to be shelved in the end.

The second part of the talk looked at the replacement of teachers with technology and interestingly I read an article a number of days previously about teachers being replaced by technology and it is a worrying proposition by educational institutions.  Despite the debate of technology versus teachers, the big global institutions are able to drive their market to affect language teachers and schools.  The final focus of the talk by Kerr, focused on the development of learning management systems which were being developed and used for English teaching institutions such as Macmillan Campus and Pearson MyLab and Philip proposed that ‘technology in the classroom is offering a solution for no problem’.  Although the talk was of any practical nature, Philip maintained interest in the industry of English teaching that it was as useful as any other talk during the day.

Additional reading: Adaptive Learning in ELT

“How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”: Anna Musielak

10503750_10154274374345573_1336425711_oAnna’s highly practical and invaluable talk was wonderful and it was so nice to go to such a talk and take away so many ideas which could be incorporated into the classroom.  She started the talk by asking attendees what we could do with drama, pop culture and/or literature with many ideas include:

  1. Drama: role-play, body language, etc
  2. Pop Culture: entertainment, instagram, etc
  3. Literature: Shakespeare

Anna provided examples of the different valuable games and activities which teachers could use in class.  Some of the best ideas which were proposed included:

  • Grab a slip: a pair of students are acting in a scene, the example at the talk was about the weather, and then when the teacher blows a whistle or claps, the students then have to grab a piece of paper and try to use the phrase as naturally as possible for the context.  Obviously, Anna created some funny phrases for the conversation and topic and both people demonstrating the activity were in hysterics.  I would like to use this activity in the near future with my young learners and you can change it from phrases to words or people, etc.
  • Snowball fights: everyone at the session wrote a question on the piece of paper, rolled it into a ball and then we threw them around the conference hall.  When Anna blew her whistle, we all picked up a paper ball and then wrote an answer to the question.  I would love to do this activity for get to know you activities and will use this in the future.
  • Talk gibberish: a pair of student work together and then one student is talking gibberish or some old literature like Shakespeare and then the other student is now translating in more modern and up to date English.
  • Cheering corrections: Anna told attendees of an engaging and interesting idea of correcting learners through the use of cheering or booing.  If an answer is incorrect, students should boo, and if it is correct, students should cheer.  It was a nice and engaging way of maintaining learner interest in the highly useful area of learner feedback.

Anna’s talk was really useful and I would recommend any teacher to attend her talk in the future.  She has some wonderful ideas which young learner, or adult, teachers could incorporate straight away into the classroom.

Additional Reading: Anna’s Twitter

“Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL”: Chia Suan Chong

Chia’s talk on politeness in English was a very educational and helpful talk.  Chia initially shared her experiences of being considered ‘rude’ and ‘impolite’, when she asked her housemates, “Can you take the rubbish out please!”, in a very direct and loud way – which is often considered rude and impolite.  She introduced the concept of English as a Lingua Franca, known as ELF, and Kachru’s 3 circles of world Englishes.  This reminded me of my MA studies when I was looking at ELF and a Lingua Franca Core (LFC) by Jennifer Jenkins.  The great thing about this talk was that research had been conducted, with Chia sharing the results of this.  What she had done was record a day on the front desk at IH London and then go through the recording and transcribe this, then finally interview what was considered polite and impolite.

It was a very useful talk, with Chia demonstrating important areas of ELF: pronunciation, politeness, etc.  We finally looked at the ‘impressions of (im)politeness’ through the use of a video and being asked what was impolite about the situation in the video and then comparing it with a similar situational video.

Additional Reading: Chia’s blog

Ten Seven ways to get your students to DO something”: Ken Wilson

The closing talk was by Ken Wilson and it was the first time that I was going to see a talk by him.  He proposed seven, not ten, due to time restriction, ways to get students involved in the classroom and getting them to do things.  It was a very useful and practical end for the last session of the conference.  His seven strategies included:

  1. Make your students curious: what do you think this person is?
  2. Challenge them: a 7 second reading challenge – what can you remember?
  3. Teach unplugged (Dogme): abandon your plan and see what happens.
  4. Let them use their imagination: personalise the lesson and content.
  5. Do something just for fun: an active role-play – “What time is it?”
  6. Turn your class into a spider web: throw out answers back to the students and see if they agree or disagree.
  7. Be enthusiastic: if you walk into a class looking pretty miserable, your students will be bored and not want to be there.

It was a quick and paced talk with attendees having to do various activities during the session and before we knew it, that was the end of the talk.  It was so useful.

The talks were so useful and I really felt that I had acquired new practical ideas which I could incorporate into the classroom.  I was so happy to have met so many other teachers who were incredibly motivated and enthusiastic about teaching and I would highly recommend teachers to attend the next ETp Live event.

20 More Ways To Be A Better English Language Teacher (Part 2)

In the first part of these blog postings, we looked at various ways to develop and enhance your career as a language teacher with 20 ideas which could be incorporated within your personal CPD goals or aims.  The second part of this series looks at another 20 ideas which you could incorporate at any stage of your ELT career.  Before I start this blog post, I would like to thank all those that have visited this post – it has been the most popular blog post on this website despite only being live for a short period.

1. Volunteer with a Special Interest Group (SIG) or Association

If you have joined an ELT association such as IATEFL, or a local association in your country, then you could volunteer to help them in your free-time.  There are numerous posts that may require your skills or assistance.  For example, if you are able to use technology affectively or have organised your own Google Hangout, then you maybe able to help organise a similar event for the association or if you have experiences of writing book reviews then you could help co-ordinate the editing of these.

2. Improve your board work

I have now made a conscious decision to improve my board work in as much as learning how to draw various places, activities, etc.  It definitely shows to those observing your lessons that you are able to draw or use your board effectively.  You will become more confident on using your board effectively and shall become quicker during lessons.  I have had students photograph my whiteboard after a lesson as they find it more visually appealing.  More information about the whiteboard in the following blog post here.

The (White) Elephant in the Room

3. Create a (video) podcast

If you don’t have the time to dedicate to writing blog posts, you could look at creating a (video) podcast about your experiences of ELT.  It is very simple to do.  You can just use your smartphone to create them and then can upload to: YouTube (for video podcasts) or SoundCloud (for audio podcasts).  Share them with your colleagues in the staffroom or via other social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

4. Learn a language

I started learning a foreign language, more information available on my other blog “Kimchi Bites“, Korean to be precise, to put myself in the shoes of my learners and to become more aware of what a language learner is like: the difficulties, possible habits, etc.  Learning a language and how your students keep making mistakes can be aided by learning about their language and culture.  You will then be able to relate to your students in both inside or outside your classroom.

5. Demand more from yourself

As in the previous blog post – demanding more from your students – you should demand more from yourself to keep yourself evolving as a teacher.  If something didn’t go well, change it.  Evolve with the changes otherwise you may become that teacher who is always moaning in the staffroom and trust me you don’t want to end up being that teacher.

6. Consider doing another course

You completed your CELTA a number of years ago and have gained some classroom experience.  But things are not just developing as you have expected in the past year or two.  You could consider doing an additional course to supplement your CELTA or equivalent such as a young learner extension course, a Diploma or Masters.  You will meet similar teachers when you do this type of course and it will further confirm your desire to continue in this profession.

7. Take a break

To avoid any form of burnout, you need to take time out from teaching during the year.  The time you take away will give you the space and time to unwind, relax and have a well deserved break.  During this period of relaxation, try to meet with friends or family, listen to some music or read a non-ELT book.  If you are suffering from burnout, your lessons will be difficult to plan, learners will notice your lack of motivation or concentration during lessons and they will likely complain to your line manager.  So if you need a break, tell your boss and arrange a mutually agreed period to have time off.

8. Collect books for your school

Your learners will likely have access to eBooks via their tablets, smartphone or computer but reading a traditional book still has its place in any school.  Unfortunately for many schools, they do not have the resources to purchase brand new books and stock them up similar to a local library.  However, you could collect or ask for a donation of unwanted books from family, friends or hotels.  Hotels are a wonderful place to request for books as they are likely to receive them from tourists who leave them in their room or lobby.

9. Use smartphones in class

Rather than banning the use of smartphones outright in the classroom, you could incorporate them during dedicated lessons.  A previous blog post that I had written offers 7 wonderful ideas of the use of smartphones in the classroom.  Perhaps you can create your own lesson(s) with your learner’s smartphones or get students to record speaking to review at a later date.

10. Create a school magazine/eBook

If you want to be a bit more creative and would like to showcase all the wonderful work that students have completed over the course of an academic year or so, then creating a school magazine (available as PDF or digital download) would be fantastic.  I created a school magazine for a group of young learners who were studying at our school during the period of four weeks.  This was then emailed to the group leaders so students could then download or print their own personal copy.  It is a great opportunity for students to share their work with family, friends or other teachers.School eBook

11. Pilot material for publishers

There is a chance, should you wish, whereby you can get in touch with the main ELT publishers and pilot any of their material or their coursebooks which they are considering for publication.  After a period of piloting material, you will build up a good relationship with the publishers and they may offer additional opportunities for you to consider in due course.  There is a new website set up for teachers who wish to get into authoring with publishing houses known as “ELT Teacher 2 Writer” and it is free to register.  Once you have registered, you will find possible courses on starting to write for various publishers.

12. Mentor a new teacher

When you were a new teacher, as was the case for me, everything was probably quite overwhelming and there was a lot to take on board at the time – keeping registers, marking students writing, dealing with student queries as well as preparing and planning lessons.  However, I was fortunate to have the support from various teachers at the time but unfortunately, I hadn’t had the chance to be mentored during this period.  These days, I take a very active role in developing teachers and in one way, I get more experienced teachers to mentor less experienced, or newly qualified, teachers.  So, consider mentoring a teacher over a period of time and help your team out during the year.

13. Watch a webinar

The brilliant result of technology these days is that a lot of the seminars are now available to watch via Google Hangouts or recorded with Adobe Connect and you don’t have to watch exactly on the day or time of the online web-seminar (webinar), as you are able to rewatch these again and again.  Some free webinars which are available include: British Council Seminars, Macmillan or OUP ELT Webinars.

14. Write a teacher diary

Blogging about your experiences of an English language teacher can be quite open and lack any form of privacy.  However, you may wish to write about your experiences but keep them private and, in this case, within a diary.  You could decide not to share this diary with any other teachers and reflect on things that had happened during the week or look back at what you had done, with the intention to review your progress from any given date.

15. Rearrange seating in the classroom

If you are having trouble with motivation or lack of focus during lessons, you could consider rearranging the seating in the classroom, then monitor to see how the response is with regards to this change.  You are then able to note any positive changes in classroom dynamics with the seating of the classroom.  I have done this personally a number of times as well as nominated seating for particular students around the class.  There is both positive and negative feedback if you go ahead and tell students where they have to sit but sometimes it is nice to spice up the lessons a bit.

16. Specialise

Just teaching is not the be all and end all of language education.  There are plenty of opportunities for teachers to specialise in this field.  For example, you may find that you find an opportunity to train teachers, organise social events or be responsible for stock in the Teachers’ Room.  If you are able to become more responsible for more than just teaching, you will find that you are given more responsibility and are responsible for other aspects of running a language school.  Should you be incredibly lucky, you may secure permanent employment.

17. ELTPics in the Classroom

ELTPics is a wonderful yet unknown resource for English language teachers.  All teachers should become more aware of the possibility of using ELTPics in the classroom.  The benefit of using ELTPics in the classroom is that you do not have to worry about copyright law as all pictures are under Creative Commons Licensing and Attribution law.  As teachers, it is important that we use a stock of images that we are confident that do not place us in a legally difficult area.  For more ideas about using ELTPics in the classroom is available from a previous blog post here.

18. Get Involved with ELTChat

As with ELTPics, there are plenty other websites available to consider.  ELTChat is also another wonderful discussion group on Twitter which teachers of English around the world could consider using.  Every week on a Wednesday (either at 12 noon or 9pm GMT), the moderators organise a discussion on various topics for those that are interested.  Obviously being held on Twitter, it is necessary for teachers to join Twitter before contributing to the discussion.  More information about the ELTChat discussion group is available to read on their website.

19. Write an ELT book review

As with my previous suggestions in the last series of this blog post, you could read various books about English language teaching.  However, you could start reviewing ELT-related books for journals or other publications.  Read other book reviews and try to choose a style which is most suited for the journal or publication that you wish your book review to be published.  For example, a book review in the ELT Journal would be quite academic compared to the EL Gazette, which would be less formal and academic.

When writing your book review, consider the following questions to help you:

  • What is the type of book?
  • What is the contents of the book?
  • Who is the book aimed for?
  • What way is the book different to other books?
  • What did you like about the book?
  • What did you dislike about the book?
  • What is your evaluation of the book?  Would you recommend it for other readers?

If you are able to answer the following questions about the book you would like to review, you will then find writing up a book review relatively stress-free.  You can read up on my own book reviews here.

20. Create your own online teaching portfolio

The final blog post in this series looks at documenting and organising your own CPD.  As with anything, it is important to keep a record of your professional development so that they can shared to various organisations or individuals when requested.  To help assist you in producing your own online teaching portfolio, you can use the Cambridge ESOL Teacher Portfolio website, which is completely digital.  It is easy to create your portfolio and if you spend a little bit of time on each week or month, you will then be able to provide a digital copy when requested.

20 Ways To Be A Better English Language Teacher (Part 1)

English language teaching can be a challenging and difficult process, especially if you are seeking for new ideas and thoughts on improving your day-to-day teaching.  Much of the challenge is learning to develop yourself, especially once you have found your place in this career and feel settled.  You must continuously strive to improve your own teaching day in and day out.  Here are some ideas to consider when you want to improve and develop your own teaching or if you want to be a better teacher overall.

1. Reflect on your lessons

It seems like commonsense but for some teachers that I have observed, they have difficulty reflecting and improving their own lessons.  If you have observed or a teacher has taught a lesson which didn’t go as expected, most would have the knowledge that their lesson could have been improved.  So, next time you teach a prepared lesson, reflect on the lesson afterwards and try to learn or improve it for next time.  When reflecting on lessons, consider the following:

  • Did the students enjoy the lesson?
  • Did I achieve my personal aims at the end of the class?  Why/why not?
  • Were all students engaged?
  • Was I interesting?

2. Record your lessons with video

If you have any difficulty on reflecting your lessons, or you wish to consider studying your lesson in more detail, you could record your own lesson to analyse afterwards.  You will be able to see your own habits, become more aware of where you are usually placed in the classroom as well as see your own instructions or pick up any things that could be lost during the process of teaching.  It is a really useful activity and I would highly recommend doing this at least once every six months.

3. Consider your aims

When you are preparing your lessons, think about the following: “By the end of the lesson, students will be able to …”.  If you follow this mantra, you will be able to improve your aims/objectives of the lesson and the lesson itself.  For example, if you want to get students to practice reviewing/remembering irregular verbs, you could think about how you could students to review or remember the verbs.  Do you want to create a pelmanism game or do you want to create a bingo game?  It seems so simple but the number of times that I have seen teachers struggling to prepare a lesson for their learners is surprising.

4. Incorporate the phonemic chart in lessons

Newly certified teachers have little confidence in using the phonemic chart in class but it takes a short amount of time to become more comfortable with this.  Try to incorporate a little but often.  Watch the phonemic video on YouTube with Adrian Underhill and you will find opportunities to include during the lesson.  If you are pre-teaching vocabulary, look up or try to guess the phonemic spelling in an English dictionary and then be prepared to include phonemic spelling in one section of the lesson.

5. Use flashcards in lessons

Teachers don’t often use flashcards as much as they could, especially for young learner classes.  Try to create some flashcards for use in a lesson, so if you are teaching parts of the body, create some flashcards on this lexical area and use some flashcard teaching ideas to include in lessons.  Learners will be more engaged and you will have less classroom management issues if you are dealing with the whole class during drilling or pronunciation activities with the flashcards.

More ideas for teaching flashcards available here.

6. Observe your peers

If you are keen to improve your lessons, try to observe your peers.  Ask your Director of Studies or line manager whether you are able to observe other teachers and focus on one area whilst observing: instructions, classroom management, drilling, etc.  You will pick up new ideas for teaching and find yourself more confident after observing your colleagues.  However, it is incredibly important that you have time to have a chat with your observed teacher afterwards so you can share ideas, opinions and general views of the lesson.

7. Being observed

If you are keen to observe other teachers, it is natural to open your classroom to your colleagues.  Furthermore, it is always important to be observed as well as observe your peers.  You could ask your colleagues if they are able to look at one aspect of the lesson if you are concerned about it.  Just like observing other classes, it is important to chat with the observer to find out any further information about your class.

8. Expect more from your students

If you are putting in the effort with your classes but the students remain limited or passive with their response to this, tell them to be more active in class.  Obviously, you won’t be able to change the dynamics of the classroom but you can gently remind them that it is in their best interest to be more involved in their learning.  Praise students who do make the effort to participate and are more active during the lesson and students will change accordingly.

9. Experiment during lessons

When teaching, you may often find yourself repeating or organising lessons with a similar format, try something new.  If you have not taught much grammar, try to cover this area of language, if you are keen teach a bit of pronunciation include it or if you haven’t included any form of technology, try using it.  You will learn something if you experiment or push yourself to try new things in the classroom.  However, should you decide not to experiment during lessons, your classes will be affected.

10. Become less coursebook reliant

There are two distinct types of teachers, those that follow the coursebook religiously and those that like to trek off the well trodden path while taking the most advantage from exploratory teaching techniques.  Try to create lessons with your aims in mind and use your coursebook to springboard ideas.  Refer to other supplementary worksheets or exercises to assist in the development of becoming less reliant on the coursebook.

11. Read books on ELT

You have finished your CELTA and you are constantly referring to “Learning Teaching” (Scrivener) or “The Practice of English Language Teaching” (Harmer) but you haven’t read anything else since.  Visit some online book shops (Amazon or BEBC) and order some additional books on ELT or specific areas of interest (teaching young learners, technology, listening, role-play, etc).  The majority of these books will often contain various lesson ideas which you could incorporate in the classroom.

12. Start an ELT blog

If you have started your career in ELT, it is often a difficult to take on board everything when you start teaching.  One way around this is to get your thoughts, ideas and views written down and to share these with other teachers.  You will retain a lot more if you read and reflect what you consider important in ELT and you will also get to know more about other ELT bloggers.

13. Follow ELT blogs

You have made your first step of creating your very own ELT blog, as recommended before, but you want to connect with other ELT bloggers, so what is the best way?  It is very simple.  Follow some other ELT bloggers, add some comments, connect with other bloggers and respond to what you have read – whether you write up your own blog post as a response or comment in the comment’s section is up to you.  When you connect with other English language teachers, you will be able to share like-minded ideas or opinions.

14. Consider yourself a learner

When planning your lessons, try to put yourself in the learner’s shoes and consider what you think would work well in your learner’s opinion.  Forget what you believe is important and appropriate, but try to teach what your learners expect.  When you are able to deliver lessons that your learners want, you will have no trouble at all finding work in the future.

15. Attend a conference

Setting up your own website or blog could be a great chance to connect with and share ideas with other English language teachers but it is not the same as meeting ELT professionals face-to-face.  One place to meet other English language teachers could be at an arranged ELT-related conference such as the annual IATEFL Conference held each year, or more regular events arranged by English UK or the Teaching English Seminars.  You will be able to attend a conference, learn a bit more about the profession as well as meet other attendees.

16. Give a talk at a conference

So you are attending all these conferences but you feel that you have the desire to share your experiences or ideas, then giving a talk at a conference is an ideal suggestion.  Naturally, you will feel slightly nervous the first talk that you give at a national or international conference but the more practice and experience you gain at an event, the more you feel better placed to train other teachers.  You will have some teachers at the end of the talk share their experiences or request that you give a talk at another venue and opportunities will develop.

17. Use authentic material

Whether you want to move away from the coursebook or you have a desire to bring in the real world to the classroom, for the benefit of your learners, authentic material has a place in the language classroom.  Try to, at least once per week, bring in some authentic material to the classroom: a clip from a radio show, a video from YouTube or newspapers.  You may find that you are intrinsically motivated to push your students further and expose them to natural and less artificial English, which may be the case with some graded coursebooks.

You don’t just have to restrict yourself to the authentic material and may find yourself seeking for authentic and natural contexts to prepare learners for the topic in the coursebook.  For example, if your topic for the lesson is about pets and animals, you may find a clip from a TV or radio show appropriate to develop interest, but there is a little preparation required.  However, students will recognise the effort you put into your lessons and, hopefully, appreciate it.

Example of Context Building:

  • What is the name of the cat?
  • Why is the cat at the vet?
  • Do you think vets are cheap or expensive?
  • Are vets cheap or expensive in your country?
  • Has this surgery with a cat been done before?
  • What is the vet’s opinion of the surgery?
  • Where do you think this surgery is located?

18. Try out different methods of teaching

You are slowly becoming aware of the different methods of teaching due to continued reading and reflection but you are stuck with incorporating your very own communicative approach in the classroom, but you feel that you would like to push the boundaries or your knowledge and try something new in the classroom.  One way to do this is to try a more traditional approach, such as drilling or a less student centred approach.  You will learn that there is a place for various methods and approaches in the language classroom and that they will also inform your very own teaching.

19. Write a journal article

When you are teaching and you notice something that other teachers or educationalists do not initially recognise, a good approach to inform those is to write an article for a respectable journal such as IATEFL Voices or for another publication such as one of the Special Interest Groups in ELT.  You will learn more about language teaching and you shall have the chance to share your experiences, opinions or views with potential readers.  One possible opportunity which may come from this could be being invited to give a talk on the article that you had written.

20. Read a journal article

If you are writing an article for a respected journal, you may as well read other articles and respond to these articles by getting in touch with the contributor and sharing your very own ideas, opinions or views.  You will extend your subject knowledge of ELT and acquire more information about teaching in various other contexts such as South East Asia, Europe, etc.  Furthermore, you may discover some teaching ideas from the various journals that you are reading and this could be incorporated into your future lessons.

Flashcards in the Classroom: Ten Lesson Ideas

The other day, I was preparing a lesson with an intermediate group of young learners and getting my flashcards printed and laminated.  However, when chatting to some other teachers in the staffroom, with myself behind the laminating machine, there was a brief comment that flashcards are more suited for beginner or elementary learners and more appropriate for young learners.

Flashcards are really good but more suited for young learners or really low levels of students.

Unfortunately, I really have to disagree with this sentiment as I have used flashcards with many different levels as well as ages of learners.  With this post, I really would like to push the boundaries of what is considered suitable for learners and offer teachers practical ideas on how they are able to incorporate flashcards into lessons with more than just young learners or beginner/elementary classes.  With this post, you will find 10 practical ideas for including flashcards in the classroom.

1. Circle Drilling

The most common use of flashcards in the classroom is for drilling and checking pronunciation with the class.  You can either nominate individual students or get whole class drilling organised with the use of flashcards.  However, when doing the Young Learner extension course at the British Council in Bucharest, I was introduced in how you could add a bit of a competitive element to drilling and pronunciation.  Get students to sit in a circle – get learners to place their desks to the sides of the classroom – and then they all sit down.  Introduce the vocabulary to the learners and drill pronunciation.  The next step to circle drilling is to hand one flashcard to a student to your left or right and then get them to pass the flashcard to the next student.  You can speed up the drilling by handing more and more cards to the students next to you and then watch the chaos ensue.  The students will find it incredibly enjoyable and highly competitive.

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom

Everyone enjoying circle drilling.

2. Pelmanism Flashcards

Another popular activity with flashcards, particularly if you have a picture and corresponding text, is to play a game where you match the picture with the correct text.  It is recommended that you demonstrate this activity to the learners so that they are able to pick up the rules of the activity.  Basically, you get place all picture and corresponding text flashcards face down and shuffle them up.  One student picks up two cards and if they pick up a picture as well as a corresponding word, then the learner will get one point.  It is best to get students to keep their pair of flashcards so that they are able to count up how many points they have achieved.  Young learners and adults alike enjoy this game in the classroom and is a wonderful memorisation activity.  If you have a large class of students, it is best to ensure you have at least four sets of picture/word flashcards for this activity, and share one set of flashcards among a small group of two to four students.  Therefore, if you have nine students, group them into three groups of three students and give each group a set of flashcards for the pelmanism game.

Pelmanism Flashcards

Grouped flashcards at the ready for possible lessons.

3. Bingo Flashcards

If you don’t have two sets of corresponding flashcards (either a set of pictures or a set of words), you can still use the one set of cards for a similar pelmanism game.  I developed this bingo flashcard game with a small group of elementary learners and we were looking at hobbies and interests.  I created my own set of flashcards, laminated these and then used them in the classroom to review the language from the previous lesson.  We reviewed the language by drilling and checking pronunciation (similar to the first flashcard idea) and then I shuffled them all and then placed them face down nicely on the table.  Then I called out one vocabulary, and one by one a student turned one card up.  If the card was the one vocabulary that I called out, that student would gain a point.  If it was not the vocabulary which I called out, then the student would turn the card back down and then the next student would turn up a flashcard.  The turn goes round student by student.  The student with the most flashcards at the end of the game wins.  You could get students to play this with one set of flashcards or you could group students into small groups each with their own set of cards, you call out the corresponding word or picture and then each group try to guess the correct card.  It is very similar to bingo but with flashcards.

Flashcards available for a bingo-style game.

Student made flashcards available for a bingo-style game.

4. Flashcard Whispers

The other day, I wanted to review vocabulary with a group of Chinese students and rather than naming the game “Chinese Whispers”, I decided to call it “Flashcard Whispers”.  I would use the flashcards to prompt the word/picture and students whispered the word/picture to the front of the group and the first group to write up the word or draw the picture would gain a point for their team.  It is a lively activity for students and gets them up and out of their seats during the lesson.  It is best used at the end of the lesson as a review and they leave the classroom with a smile on their faces.  Try it out and be creative with the points – the teams will be very competitive.

5. Student Created Flashcards

Why spend your own time making flashcards when students can be quite creative and make suitable flashcards for the classroom?  One way I do this is with idiomatic language.  For example, money related idioms are very visual and students could be quite creative by drawing suitable pictures for idioms.  You could use these pictures to supplement or review idioms at the end of the lesson/week.  If students make their own flashcards, which are then laminated, they could be used again and again.  Students also have a sense to own the language that they are learning and it becomes more memorable.  You could then use the student created flashcards for various games suggested above.

Student Idiom Pictures: "To make ends meet" and "To cost an arm and a leg"

Student Idiom Pictures: “To make ends meet” and “To cost an arm and a leg”.

6. Flashcard Sentences/Questions

A really quick and easy way to get students up and about is to create sentences on each piece of card (laminating is an option) and cutting up pieces of paper.  Write up a word on each piece of cut up paper, and then students have to rearrange themselves in order, so that they are able to create a sentence or question.  I was introduced to this activity in the wonderful “Five-Minute Activities” which I would recommend any teacher to purchase as there are also a wonderful range of ideas for lessons.  I have used this activity successfully with both adults and young learners alike.  When you check, you could get students to say the sentence/question one word at a time to check understanding or whether they are correct.  Students then start to recognise patterns in English and, as like the previous activity, it is more memorable for learners.

"Five-Minute Activities" (p.96 Ur & Wright, 1992)

“Five-Minute Activities” (p.96 Ur & Wright, 1992).

7. Pronunciation Checking Drills

A few weeks ago, I decided to create my own pronunciation flashcards for a lesson to review vowel sounds.  I printed these out and then laminated the pronunciation cards.  I visited Cambridge English Online Flashcard Maker and then created, printed and laminated the flashcards for use in class.  In fact, this free Flashcard Maker is very useful and I would recommend this website for all your flashcard making.  There are numerous pictures which you can embed in the cards, or you could draw your very own images for your flashcards.  You can create flashcards at any size (A4, A5, etc) and then print out when they are ready.  In fact I made these flashcards by inputting the text into the flashcard template.  So give the website a try.  Anyhow, once I created the phonemic vowel flashcards, I used them to elicit the corresponding sound from students as well as drill sounds – the students loved this activity.  After this activity, I got students to make their very own words using the corresponding vowel sound.  So a vowel sound with /e/, students could suggest: reset, bet, test, etc.  It was a great activity and got them to think outside the constraints of spelling particular topics of words.  We looked at the words the students created using the vowel sounds to help and it really made the students aware of their own pronunciation and how it also impacts on particular words.

Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.

Vowel phonemic flashcards ready for class.

8. Flashcard Hitting

When I was observing a fellow young learner teacher a few weeks back, he decided to use flashcards for his group of very young learners.  I was really impressed at how much he was able to incorporate them in his lesson.  One game which I particularly enjoyed was where he got two teams of students lined up and rows, with the learners facing the board.  He gave each pair of students at the front of the row a folded piece of paper – much like a ruler – and then called out a word.  The students then had to hit the corresponding picture.  The first student to hit the correct picture, their team was awarded a point and at the end of the activity, the team with the most points won.  The students rotated after each turn so all students had a chance to play the game.  He obviously spent a little time sticking up the flashcards upon the whiteboard in preparation for the game but the students loved it and I could see it being adapted for teenage or adult classes.

9. The Missing Flashcard

Another memorisation game which I used in class is whereby I bring in a set of objects and students close their eyes and I remove one.  One by one, the students have to remember the objects removed from the table.  However, these are with physical objects and young learners really enjoy this activity.  Nevertheless, you can use this with flashcards.  If you stick up a set of 10-12 flashcards up on the whiteboard and draw a small border round each, you can do a similar activity.  You drill all vocabulary from the flashcards with the learners and then you ask students to put their heads down on the desk.  Quickly remove one flashcard and then get students to put their heads up again.  Ask students which card is missing.  You point to each flashcard and elicit the vocabulary and then point to the missing flashcard and hopefully students remember the missing flashcard.  As more and more flashcards are removed, when you point to the blank borders on the whiteboard, the students should be able to remember the missing flashcard.  When you have a blank whiteboard and you point to the non-existent flashcards, the students will then feel a sense of achievement if they are able to remember the missing flashcards.  Try this activity out and is a really good 10-15 minute filler at the end of the lesson.

10. Flashcard Chunks

If you have two themes of flashcards and you would like to combine them, then this final idea might help.  For example, if you have a set of pictures of sports organised for flashcard use as well as set phrases to practice the Present Perfect Continuous, then you could elicit/drill lexical chunks with all ages.  Put the pictures on one side of the table and the corresponding set of time reference markers (using “since” or “for”) face down and pick up randomly a picture as well as a corresponding time marker and elicit from a student a suitable sentence.  So for example, if you pick up a picture of someone ice-skating and a chunk “2006” students could create a sentence such as: “I have been ice-skating since 2006″.  Check suitability with the other learners in the classroom and then drill the chunk of language with all other students.  It is a useful activity to focus on a particular grammar structure and does require a little more preparation than the other flashcard lesson ideas.  However, it does require a little more from the students and they will be able to find their way around the language with the required flashcard prompts.  This is possibly my favourite idea and have left this for last.

Using references of time for drilling.

Using references of time for drilling.

These are a range of ideas you could incorporate in class and you can see that flashcards are suitable for a range of levels as well as ages.  So please stop with the idea that flashcards are best suited for elementary and/or younger classes.  I hope that I have inspired readers to use flashcards more creatively in their lessons and that learners enjoy the use of the flashcards.  Just a few quick tips for managing flashcards:

  • Make flashcards large enough so students at the back of the class can see what they are.
  • Laminate the flashcards so that they can be reused in future lessons.  It will save you time in the long run.
  • If you don’t have a laminator, you can Sellotape the pictures/words onto card or use a plastic envelope to protect them.
  • Make your own library of flashcards and keep them in either a folder or within envelopes so that they are easily accessible.
  • Create a magazine drop-off box in the staffroom so that teachers have ready access to a range of magazines for pictures, text, etc for flashcard making.

Finally, I leave this post with a few questions for you to consider:

  • How do you use flashcards in lessons?
  • Do you use flashcards at all with your learners?
  • What is your favourite activity?
  • Do you have an activity to share with our readers that is not mentioned here?