My Favorite Classroom Activities for Teaching English

Since I am only teaching conversation classes at Pamukkale, I have the freedom to try creative activities in the classroom, which is sometimes great to be able to try new things, but it can also be challenging when you’re unsure of how well something will actually work. With each lesson, my goals are to 1) make class fun for the students and for myself, 2) create opportunities for students to practice speaking, and 3) make students feel comfortable speaking in front of the class. It’s challenging to meet all three goals with each lesson, mostly because with so many students in each class (generally around 20) and with only 45 minutes, it’s not realistic to expect that everyone will have a chance to speak at length. I often find that the activities that are the most fun don’t give the class much of a chance to speak, or that the activities that require more speaking aren’t as fun. But, I try my best, and at the very least the class can listen to me talk (I sometimes hear them repeating phrases that I’ve just said when it’s something they haven’t heard before). To give an idea of some of the activities that I’ve used, here are a few of my favorites that have worked really well:

1. The One Word Story: This game I just tried a couple weeks ago, and it was a lot more fun that I expected. I had the class move their desks and sit in one big circle (this can be a little cumbersome with large classes, but works better with small classes). Basically the objective is to create a story (or a series of mini-stories) with each student adding on a new word. I would begin with one word that would establish the time (today, tomorrow, yesterday, etc), and then we would continue around the circle. We didn’t repeat any words or write anything down, so everyone had to listen carefully. The story was really helpful in pointing out missing articles (a common mistake for Turkish speakers), and for using the correct prepositions. And it can be a lot of fun when the class gets really creative! In one class we ended up talking about a sheep and a dinosaur, and then they stumbled upon some zombies. You know, ordinary stuff :). All the classes seemed to enjoy it (and I did too!), and it was also a nice change for them to sit in a circle and all work together on something.

2. “Be Someone Else”: This idea I got from Oxford University Press’ Ken Wilson, who I saw at an English Language Teaching conference in Izmir this past weekend. He had a lot of great ideas for using drama in the classroom, and I tried one for the first time today. In this activity, one student comes to the front of the room and I ask them to make a fake name, nationality, hometown, and occupation. Some students made their identity up, and others used a celebrity’s identity. Then, the class will ask that person questions based on the information they have. Students got really creative with this; one was a Russian movie director, another was Napoleon Bonaparte, another was a space agriculturalist, and another student came up with an imaginary country and hometown. They also did a great job asking questions! I was a little worried they would resort to Turkish when asking and answering questions, but I was impressed by their efforts to use English, even when they had trouble forming sentences. Some classes were more creative than others, but overall it worked really well :).

3. Balderdash: I got this idea from my roommate, and both of us found that it was a lot of fun. I split the class into 4 or 5 groups, and I wrote a word on the board that they didn’t know (it’s important to double check that they don’t know it first). I looked up a list of SAT words and used that, since I figured the vocab was advanced enough that it would be hard for them to guess the definition. Then, each group wrote down a fake definition for the word (no dictionaries allowed!), and when they were done I went around to each group and wrote down their definitions on my own sheet of paper. After that I wrote all the definitions on the board and the real definition. Then each group voted on which one they thought was the real definition. After that each told me their votes, I tallied them up on the board–a team could earn a point if another team voted for their definition, or if they voted correctly for the right definition. We did a few rounds per class (explaining the game sometimes took quite awhile). Some students told me they couldn’t write a definition without knowing the word (“Teacher, this is so hard!”), but once we did a couple rounds they understood. And most classes felt like it was challenging, but not so challenging that they weren’t able to do it. And after each round I would give them an example of how to use the word, so they picked up some new vocab :). This worked well in the intermediate (B) and advanced (C) classes, but I think it would be too difficult for the elementary (A) classes.

I realized that unless I make class fun for myself, it is hard for the students to also have fun. So part of what I think about when I’m planning lessons is how much I’ll enjoy it too. If am talking to a class for 45 minutes straight, it’s not fun for anyone (and it’s exhausting!). Lately I’ve been trying to think of ways to get the students more involved in running the class, so I can blend in a little more and participate too. With the One Word Story I was still a mediator of sorts (sometimes deciding when we should start a new sentence or topic), but the students had control over the conversation as well.

I still have about 2.5 months left to teach English here, so I have plenty of time to try new ideas 🙂

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