Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

One of the things we do for professional development in the school where I work are so-called ‘experimentation cycles’, where the team chooses a topic, we pool resources (books, resource packs and blog posts with all sorts of activities on the topic), after which everyone who is interested in the topic picks a few activities and tries them out in class. Finally, we organize a workshop to share the activities we liked.

This post is a summary of one of these workshops, which was focused on Vocabulary revision activities. As I mentioned above, the activities mostly came from books and the Internet, and I’m sure you’ll see here quite a few ideas that you’ve tried too – so if you have a variation that you love, could you share it?

‘Vocabulary revision’ is a very broad term and activities could be very different in terms of what the learners need to do with the words:

  • am I given something or do I need to retrieve something from memory?
  • am I given / need to retrieve the meaning or the word itself?
  • how many times?

Based on these questions, the activities here can be roughly categorized (with some overlap) into four groups (ordered according to how cognitively demanding they are):

  1. recalling the meaning of an item
  2. recalling the item (to be more exact, these are mostly pairwork activities in which one person recalls the meaning of the item and explains the item and/or uses it in an isolated sentence and the second person recalls the item) 
  3. recalling and using multi-word items
  4. using lexis in extended speech

Recalling the meaning of an item


Elena Wilkinson shared an activity in which the learners review lexical items learned previously and sort them into three categories: I know, I’m not sure that I know, I have no idea. They then discuss the words in pairs, with people who know words explaining them to those who are not sure / have no idea. The pairs then get combined into groups of four and so on. A variation is to do this activity with the lexical items on slips of paper.


Source: Elena Wilkinson

Vocabulary auction

In this activity the learners review a list of words and expressions and discuss what they mean (a variation: they come up with a definition and an example sentence). Depending on how certain they are, they place a bet on each definition – the bets should add up to $1200.

Once that’s done, the whole class goes through the list word by word. For each word, the team that placed the highest bet explains the word. If the definition is correct, they gain their bet. If it’s wrong, they lose their bet and the chance to define the word is given to a team with the second highest bet. However, if this second team gets the definition correct, it gains the amount the first team bet (e.g. if Team A bet $150 on a word and got the meaning incorrect, Team B, which bet $100 and explained the meaning correctly, will get $150, not $100).


Source: Olga Akimkina

I think this game could work especially well with easily confused words, false friends and lexical mistakes commonly made by the learners in the group.

Recalling the item

Memo (tried out by Olga Akimkina)

In this simple activity the learners look at a list of words/expressions on the board for 30 seconds. Then the list gets erased and the learners try to recall as many expressions as they can (for one minute). They check in pairs – the pair that has recalled the most words is the winner.

Tip. Explain to the learners that they’ll need to recall the words before you display them.

Vocabulary die (tried out by Olga Akimkina and Irina Dubovitskaya)


For this activity you need a set of vocabulary to revise for each pair/small group of learners and a die with tasks (you can create your own dice using this free dice maker). Alternatively, use standard dice and write the tasks on the board (1 = give definition; 2 = draw it, etc).

Tip. Both teachers who tried out this activity found that it worked quite well with ‘concrete’ verbs (see sample images produced by the learners below), but didn’t really work with more abstract concepts like ‘stagnation’.


Source: Olga Akimkina


Polina Safronova shared a nice crossword maker that automatically creates half-crosswords for pairwork guessing games. In this type of crossword student A’s version contains only the horizontal words, while student B’s version contains only the vertical words. The students need to complete their crosswords by listening to their partner’s explanations.

The tool requires registration. Once you’ve registered, the process of creating a crossword is very simple: choose Pairwork crossword and tick I want to make my own:


Type your words (for some reason the words without clues didn’t show up in the crossword, so I simply typed dots for clues) and click ‘Make my crossword‘:
editingHere’s what the resulting crosswords look like – you can print it into a pdf document in order to keep the worksheet for future use:





In this guessing game (tried out by Evgenia Antonova and Irina Dubovitskaya) the learners pick a slip with a word and say an example sentence, substituting ‘banana’ for the target word. Here are some examples:


Source: Evgeniya Antonova

Walk and swap

This is a variation of the Banana activity which requires only one set of cards for the group and allows the learners to stretch their legs. At the beginning each learner is given one or two cards with words. They get up and mingle to play banana. Each time someone guesses a word on their card, they give the card to that person. The aim of the activity is to swap cards as many times as possible.

Hot Seat

Another well-known simple activity that requires no preparation at all is Hot Seat. The class is split into two teams. Two learners (one from each team) sit with their back to the board. The teacher boards a word. The team explain the word to the person on the chair – the first team to guess gets a point.

Tying out of class revision with classroom activities

One thing that has really grown on me in the past couple of years is using Quizlet for vocabulary learning and revision. Quizlet is a free web service that allows you to create sets of flash cards and then share them with the learners by link. The learners can play a number of games with the flash cards (moreover, if they install the mobile app, they’ll be able to access them even when they’re offline).

The beauty of it is that the site also allows you to print out two-sided cards based on the sets that the learners worked with for homework. For example, here’s a worksheet generated from this set. This makes it possible to play a whole range of games in class based on exact same cards that the learners studied at home, without any extra preparation apart from cutting up the cards and printing the game boards. For a set of game templates that could be used with any set of cards, see this post (where you’ll find nice tic tac toe templates, dots and boxes, variations of snakes and ladders, battleship, blockbusters, Game of the Goose and a few other templates).

Revising multi-word items

Collocation cards

One really simple way to revise collocations is to prepare a set two-sided cards: a word on one card and 3-5 collocations taken from the collocations dictionary on the second side. Each turn, a learner takes a card, looks at the collocations and guess the word. Again, these cards can be prepared using Quizlet – in fact, see here for more examples of Quizlet sets that help learners practice collocations (created by Leo Selivan).

collocation cards

Source: Olga Akimkina

Tic tac toe

Another activity is to put gapped multi-word items on a Tic Tac Toe grid. The goal might be simply to recall the expression or to use it in a sentence to say a truthful fact or opinion.

Tips. If you’d like the learners to be able to check their answers, provide them with empty grids and two-sided cards. A no-cut alternative is to do the activity in groups of three, with one learner checking the players’ answers using a cheat sheet.

Tic tac toe

Source: Olga Lifshits

Discussion gapfills 

Another suggestion, also shared by Olga Lifshits, was to provide the learners with a gapfill in which each sentence is a question. Gapfills can be done with any vocabulary, but they work particularly well with multi-word items where only part of the item is gapped out.

After the learners do the gapfill, they pick 3-5 questions they’d like to discuss with their partner – this won’t necessarily make them use target lexical items in speech, but it will help them to process their meaning more deeply.

Here’s a sample set of questions:


Source: Olga Lifshits


Pelmanism is a game that allows one to revise two-part expressions (e.g. two-word collocations such as ‘meet + the deadline’, dependent prepositions, such as ‘interested + in’, two-word compound nouns, such as traffic lights, and so on).

Prepare a set of cards for each pair of learners (each expression should be split across two cards). The players spread the cards on the board, blank sides up. Each turn one player turns over two cards – if they form an expression, the player keeps the cards. If the cards belong to different expressions, the player puts them back.


Compound nouns (pelmanism). Source: Olga Lifshits

A lot of teachers avoid this game because it seems too time-consuming and because it focuses only on form without any emphasis on the meaning of the expressions. Here are a couple of modifications that may make it less time-consuming and more useful in terms of language practice:

  • each turn, a player turns over one card – if they can remember the whole expression, they’re allowed to look for the second card (or, to keep the element of chance, they are allowed to turn over, say, up to seven cards);
  • each time a player finds an expression, they need to either use it in a sentence (again, telling a true fact or stating an opinion) or ask their partner a question that contains the expression.


Another activity that allows one to practice two-part multi-word items is dominoes, which can easily be created in a Word document (see a sample Word table below). The players work in pairs or small groups. The learners need to arrange the dominoes on the desk in such a way that they form a circle.

Again, Dominoes is primarily a form-focused activity, but it can be adapted to focus on meaning by asking the learners to make a statement or ask their group a question with an expression each time put two dominoes together..


Collocation dominoes. Source: Olga Lifshits

Using lexis in extended speech

For all activities in this category you need a set of vocabulary cards to revise – these can be prepared by the teacher or pooled by the learners – simply give them 5 minutes to flip their notebooks and coursebooks and put on cards any words and expressions they’d like to start using but haven’t started using yet.

Guess my word

Prepare a set of discussion questions and a set of cards for each pair / small group. Each turn, one learner picks a vocabulary card and a discussion question. Their objective is to talk for a minute about the question and to use the word on their card at some point. The objective of their partner / group is to guess which word was on the card.

A by-product of this activity is that it encourages the learners to use more ‘interesting’ vocabulary, so that the ‘fancy’ word on their card isn’t too obvious. Another reason I liked this activity is that it can be used when each person has their individual set of cards (e.g. I used it with a group of teens who did out-of-class reading and accumulated their own vocabulary sets based on the books they were reading).

Picture-based story (tried out by Evgenia Antonova)

Prepare a set of target expressions, a picture and an opening line of a story (here’s a nice ‘first line generator’). Learners work in pairs or groups of three. Each team picks about 7 cards with vocabulary and a picture. They have about 10 minutes to create a story based on their pictures that uses the words they picked. Here are sample materials that were used with a group of advanced learners (but the activity worked equally well with a pre-intermediate group):

Picture based story


Source: Evgenia Antonova


The learners work in pairs. One person picks a slip with a word. They ask their partner a question trying to get them to use the word in the answer. The important thing is that their conversation should be as natural as possible: they shouldn’t give the definition or reply with just one word.

Here are some examples of questions that the learners asked to elicit vocabulary items:


Source: Evgenia Antonova

4-3-2 Speed dating 

This is an activity that I actually learned only today from Julia Galichanina, another colleague of mine, and I really look forward to trying it out.

Part 1. Give the learners a list of expressions and a list of categories (e.g. ‘Hobbies’, ‘Things I do every day’, ‘Things that aren’t related to work’, etc). Get the learners to decide which words could relate to which category (e.g. ‘occasionally’ could work everywhere, but ‘golf’ is more like a hobby)/ After that, each learner writes several sentences related to each category using target lexis.

Part 2. Split the group into interviewers and interviewees. The learners stand in two circles, with the interviewers in the inner circle.

  • During the first round (4 minutes) interviewers ask one interviewee any questions related to the categories, and the interviewees need to reply using as many target expressions as possible. The interviewers tick the expressions that the interviewee used. Conduct quick group feedback asking which expressions were used.
  • The learners go to the next partner and repeat the procedure in 3 minutes.
  • Finally, with a new partner, an interviewee gives a monologue summarizing their answers to the two interviewees questions.
  • The interviewers and interviewees swap roles and the 4-3-2 cycle is repeated.


Finally, here is another nice activity which was shared by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus at her conference workshop at IATEFL Poland:

Going through my notes from the workshop while writing this post, I realized that while I learned a few very useful activities that have since become my favourites, I completely forgot about some of the others. In particular, I’ll definitely be trying out picture-based stories and vocabulary dice.

Are there any great vocabulary revision activities that you’d add to this list?


A couple of weeks ago Irina Dubovitskaya, a colleague of mine at EPAM Systems, told me about an activity that worked really well with her students. I loved the idea behind this activity and asked Irina to write a guest post about it. The activity is highly adaptable, very personalized and uses a very simple, visually appealing tool that the learners can access from their own devices. See for yourself:

Irina Dubovitskaya

Irina Dubovitskaya

Level: B1+
Target structure: hypothetical conditional (conditional II)
Activity type: pre-class task (for homework) + warm-up

If it weren’t for Russell Stannard’s webinar “Key tools for quick collaboration between students” (an LPM’s Globinar organized by Jürgen Wagner), I would probably have never learnt about AnswerGarden, a convenient “feedback + word cloud” tool that can be used in teaching English. “Plant a question and invite participants to your AnswerGarden. Their answers will instantly form a growing word cloud!” says the promo, not mentioning that the growing word cloud can then blossom into a very engaging communicative task.

I decided to use the tool to prepare a warm-up activity focused on drilling Conditional II with my B1+ group of adult learners.  The objective of the task was to engage them in a discussion and encourage using Conditional II as much as possible. Here’s what I did.

Before class:

1. Think of a question.
In order to revise Conditional II I prepared two questions:

  • “What would you change about your working conditions?”;
  • “If you had more spare time, how would you spend it?”.

2. Get answers from participants.

As there are four students in my class (2m/2f) I paired them up and gave each team one question. To share the question with the students, I opened AnswerGarden, clicked on ‘Create an AnswerGarden’ at the top of the page and inserted my question.  This created a  link to a dynamically updated word cloud that I could send to my students – here’s what it looked like for them:


3. Print the word cloud.
Ss’ answers formed word clouds that I corrected and printed.

NB. I decided to set this idea generation stage for homework as my students sometimes have problem with what can be called “spontaneous imagination” in class. However, the whole activity can also be done in class, provided that the students have some technology to access the internet, to type their answers. Also, since each cloud has a unique URL, instead of printing the clouds you can simply share the links.

In class:

Warm-up. Part 1.
In class, I handed out the word clouds. Each group received their partners’ clouds. The first task was to reconstruct the original question. The only requirement should be met – the question should be formulated using Conditional II. It took the Ss about 3 minutes to guess the initial questions.

Warm-up. Part 2. 

Then the Students were asked to discuss the answers and decide which of their classmates gave them. As the groups were gender equal (a male and a female), they relied not only on the facts they knew about their classmates, but also on some gender stereotypes that proved to be totally misleading. In order to check their guesses, the Ss had to ask another team questions using the second conditional:
“Ilya, would you add more monitors?”
“Maria, would you get married if you had more free time?”
Surprisingly, it was Andrey who would get married and Olya who would add more monitors. 🙂


I really liked the task because of its power to generate an engaging discussion. Not only did my students use Conditional II every now and then, but also they extended both their answers and questions to get more information about their classmates and to get to know each other a bit better.



Here’s a quick activity that might be great for the festive season. It comes from a lecture by Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who teaches strategic communication.

In this activity, the learners work in pairs. They give each other imaginary boxes with gifts. They don’t say what’s in the box. The person who got the gift ‘opens’ the box, looks inside and says what they see. They should say the first thing that comes to mind. Then the gift giver should improvise to explain why they thought the gift receiver needed this gift.

This is the video extract in which Matt Abrahams explains the activity: (26:00 till 29:00)

You could get your learners to watch the video or, if you’re pressed for time or if your learners would find a three minute authentic extract difficult to follow, explain the activity yourself.

I’ve also written an editable worksheet to go with the activity and a Slideshare pdf document if you don’t have Microsoft Word:


In this post I’m sharing an Excel template that takes a list of questions and answers, chooses twenty random questions from the list and produces a printable grid that can be cut up into separate two-sided cards (with questions on one side and answers at the back). I create cards using both my own sets of questions and sets exported from Quizlet, and use these cards with board games (e.g. Snakes and Ladders or Tic-Tac-Toe) – you’ll find instructions how to export cards from Quizlet and a list of suitable games in the second part of the post, along with some links to board templates.

I got the idea a few weeks ago as I was reading a great post by Tekhnologic about a tool that he created: over the course of the year, he accumulates discussion questions in an Excel file, and his tool chooses 9 random questions from the list and arranges them into a 3×3 Tic-Tac-Toe grid, for the students to discuss and play. Reading that post, I realized that I needed something very similar to revise language feedback that I type up for my students. I got the Excel document created by Tekhnologic to produce the cards, by playing a bit with his formulas, so now it takes me about five minutes to create, print and cut-up cards for a revision game. Thank you Tekhnologic!! 

Preparing the cards using the Excel template. 

If you have a long list of questions and want to revise some of them, use this Excel file: randomiser template.

Alternatively, if you have a small set of up to 20 questions and want the students to revise them all, use the 20 cards template

Here’s how to create the cards:

  1. Create the questions: open the ‘Question database’ tab. Insert or type your questions and answers. Your questions and answers will be automatically copied into the tabs Question grid and Answer grid.Questions
  2. Print the cards:
    First, print the tab Questions grid using the following settings: Print active sheets + Landscape orientation + Normal margins (Left: 0.7”, Right: 0.7”) + Fit Sheet on one page.
    Settings1Second, insert the printout back into the printer and print Answer grid with the same settings. Voilà!
    NB It should also be possible to Select both grids and print them using the following setting: Print on Both sides (Flip pages on short edge) . However, unfortunately about 50% of times it gets printed on two separate sheets (this seems to be a known issue with Excel).

Randomizing the grid
If you press F9, the file will generate another random set of cards. This will delete the previous board, so don’t press F9 until you’ve printed both the question and the answer grids.

Creating a pdf worksheet . If you want to share your worksheet, you can use a pdf printer and print your grids into a pdf file that can be printed without any hassle with the settings.

Games to play

Below are some games that can be played with a set of Question/Answer cards, some widely known and some that I only learnt about while on my hunt for games.

No adaptation is required for any of the games – simply print out the board and a set of Questions/Answer cards and you’re done. At the start of each turn, a player picks a card with a question. If they answer incorrectly, they miss the turn and the card goes back into the stack.

A tip: if you’re creating a randomized set for revision, you can create different versions for different pairs (by pressing F9, as explained above). This way the students can share the cards that have been played with fast finishers.

1. Dots and boxes 

The number of players: 2

Rules: The goal of the game is to win more squares than your opponent. Players draw lines on a grid, and the player that ‘completes’ the square wins it.

Links: check out this beautiful free template.

2. Tic Tac Toe


The number of players: 2 (or two teams of two for the adaptation).

Probably everybody knows the rules: this is a paper-and-pencil game for two players, X and O, who take turns marking the spaces in a 3×3 grid. The player who succeeds in placing three of their marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game. There is a nice adaptation that takes a lot more time to play: players play on a 7×7 grid, trying to place five marks in a horizontal, vertical, diagonal row or a cross.

Links: Check out this blog for some great free templates: 

3. Hex/Blockbusters


The number of players: 2

Rules: These games are played on a hexagonal grid of any shape. Each player is given a colour. Players take turns colouring a single cell within the overall playing board. The goal for each player is to form a connected path of their own stones linking the opposing sides of the board marked by their colors, before their opponent connects his or her sides in a similar fashion.

Links: Download a powerpoint template created by Adam Simpson (Blockbusters), this template (Blockbusters), this template (a hexagonal grid for three players), or search for ‘Blockbusters template’ or ‘Hexagonal grid’ in Google images.

4. Battleships


The number of players: 2

Links: This is another oldie – see the rules and a board on Wikipedia or download a board from here.

5. Ludo


The number of players: 2-4.

Links: See the rules and a board on Wikipedia (you’ll need a colour printer to print this one out).

6. Snakes and ladders


The number of players: 2-4


  • Each group will need a dice and counters.
  • If the student lands on a square with a snake’s head, they slide down to its tail.
  • If the student lands on any other square, they have to pick a card and answer it correctly (if they make a mistake, they return to the square from which they started the turn). If they land on a square at the foot of a ladder and answer the question correctly, they climb the ladder.

Links: You can print the board from British Council website (registration required), from here or you can find boards using Google image search. There’s also a variation called Chutes and Ladders (download a template from here).

7. Game of the Goose


The number of players: 2-4.

This game is somewhat similar to Snakes and Ladders: landing on a goose allows the player to move again by the same distance (see Wikipedia for the rules).

Links: Ursula Dubosarsky wrote a novel for children, The Game of the Goose (Penguin Australia 2000), in which three children find an old copy of the Game of the Goose in a Salvation Army store, and have magically transforming adventures while playing it.The site about the book features a beautiful .pdf board 

8. Other board games

Finally, simply use a blank board template – a simple Google Image search returns lots of sites. I personally really liked this page.

Am I missing any great games? Please share in the comments

Material for the cards: language feedback and Quizlet

As I said, I have mainly been using these games to revise language feedback. Each group has an .xlsx document shared with them via a cloud service (dropbox). Here is what it looks like:


However, the source of questions that is probably a lot more relevant to teachers out there is Quizlet – a site that features a huge number of flashcard sets (Google search ‘quizlet fce transformation‘ alone returns no fewer than 2370 results).

These flashcards can be exported and inserted into Excel in a couple of clicks.

First, open the set in Quizlet, click on More and choose Export:


The site will open the following window. Click ‘Select all’ and copy the data:


Finally, open a copy of the template and insert the data. Quizlet changes the order (storing first the answers and then the questions), so you’ll have to paste the data into some other columns, and then copy the second column into the ‘Questions’ column , and the first one into the ‘Answers’ column. You’re done!


The games shared here have spiced up my classes and saved me a lot of time. I hope you’ll find them useful too. Let me know what you think!

I’m enjoying a Saturday lie-in with Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis, a great new book which arrived in my mail just yesterday. It made me think of a quick exercise that can be used as a follow-up to any reading or listening activity. 2015-07-18 17.52.12It’s really simple, but since it takes a bit of technology to create it quickly, I thought I’d write a quick post.

The book overviews the insights into language achieved by corpus linguistics and discusses their implications for the ELT classroom. I’m currently reading the chapter called Corpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a number of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

I’m thinking of giving my students an occasional gap-fill exercise based on the reading and listening texts that we are working on, with these verbs gapped out (their frequency is said to be higher in conversation than fiction, news and academic texts, so probably the task will work best with listening transcripts and informal writing, e.g. forum posts).

Finding and replacing the various forms of these verbs could be time-consuming, but there are tools in which one can make such a gap-fill exercise in one click. The first one is a free nifty little text editor called Notepad++.

notepadThe trick is that the editor uses so-called ‘regular expressions’ to allow you to search for more than one expression at once. So, if you open your text file in Notepad++ and type in (some|any) in the search box, you’ll see all occurrences of both words in your file and will be able to replace them with gaps in one click. The following search will find all verb forms of the 12 verbs mentioned above:


(If you want to know why this expression matches all forms of those verbs, scroll to the bottom of the post).

Here’s how to create a gap-fill using Notepad++ in a bit more detail:

  1. Insert your text into Notepad++, select the text (on my system, by pressing CTRL+A),  and open the search window by pressing CTRL+H.
  2. In the search window, click the ‘Mark’ tab. Ensure that Search mode is set to ‘Regular expressions’ and that the ‘in selection’ check box is checked. Insert this into the ‘Find what’ box:

    Click ‘Mark all’ to highlight all occurrences of these words, so that you can look through them and check how many there are and how they’re used, and that nothing unrelated was accidentally found. In the example below there are 14 matches.

  3. Go to the ‘Replace’ tab, type in ‘________’ into the ‘Replace with’ box and click ‘Replace all’.
  4. Finally, insert the gap-filled text alongside the initial text into a word document. Voilà!

As an alternative to installing Notepad++, use the web-based Find and Replace tool – thanks to Mura Nava for the heads up! It’s even quicker and you don’t have to install it on your computer (one possible drawback is that you can’t highlight and check what you’re going to replace).


I’ve tried this activity with a few transcripts from youtube, and I found it doable and enjoyable. I think I want to try to use it on a regular basis with my Upper-Intermediate students, encouraging them to note down interesting chunks with those verbs.

Let me know what you think.


Biber, D. and Reppern, R. (2002) What does frequency have to do with grammar teaching? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24/2: 199-208

Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice. Routledge

A bit on regular expressions

If you want to create your own regular expression searches, you might like to figure out how the one in this post works.

  • | stands for ‘or’. So (say|said) will return all present/past/past participle forms of ‘say’.
  • ? stands for ‘this part is optional’. So, (say|said)(s|ing)? will return all the forms from the previous example, plus ‘says’, ‘saying’, ‘saids’, and ‘saiding’. Only the first two words exist, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Some instances might be ‘false positives’. For example, ‘essays’ contains ‘say’, but that’s clearly not what we need. So, we need a way to show the tool that we’re only looking for full words. This is done by wrapping the search expression into ‘\b’ tags (they stand for ‘word boundary’).

So, in order to find all verb forms, I list all present and irregular forms, separating them by ‘or’, add possible endings (ed|ing|s)?, account for the fact that (e) will disappear before ing (hence, mak(e)?) and add \b at the beginning and the end:


It’s summer and it seems that this blog has gone into a light mode. 🙂 Here’s another short game that we enjoyed playing with a pre-intermediate group a few days ago in order to revise some grammar (past and present simple, future for plans and hopes, second conditional).

Level: strong Pre-Intermediate (for End-of-Course revision) or Intermediate (B1).
 10 minutes for the warmer, 20-30 minutes for the game.
Materials: One class set of quotes for the warmer, a board game for each pair (Worksheet page 1), a grammar task for each student (Worksheet page 2), playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suite – for each pair). If you teach Business English, check out this version of the worksheet.



Print out a set of quotes (if there are more than eight students, print two sets). Display the quotes around the classroom. Ask the students to get up, look around, pick a quote that they like and get back to their seat with their quote. (Circulate and be prepared to give a bit of help with some of the vocabulary.) Get the students to share their quotes in groups of three, reading them out and explaining why they like them – also invite them to share as a whole group. Finally, ask the students whose quote is about the past. The present? The future? A dream?

First, the students revise questions for past, present simple, future (will or going to for distant plans) and hypothetical questions (Worksheet page 2). After that, hand out, to each pair

  • the board (Worksheet page 1),
  • a counter (e.g. a coin) and
  • playing cards (ideally, at least 12 cards – 3 cards of each suit – to each pair).

The students place the counter at the bottom of the ladder. Each turn, a student whose turn it is to ask a question moves one step up the ladder, draws a card and asks their partner a question of the corresponding type. Encourage the students to ask follow-up questions and chat for a few minutes before moving on to the next question.


The idea behind this game comes from an activity in Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, and the inspiration comes from Anna Zernova, who mentioned the activity during one of our chats about teaching.

The grid for the board comes from a fantastic post on turning tests into games by Svetlana Kandybovich and Tekhnologic.

Finally, I’m very grateful to Adi Rajan for the idea to use playing cards, and to my colleague Eleonora Popova for the beautiful England-styled pack of cards she gave me.

Happy teaching everyone – and enjoy your summer, if it’s summer where you are! 🙂


Omitting -s in Present Simple sentences (*My dad work at a factory) is one of those pesky mistakes that cause us English teachers lots of grief. The rule is extremely simple and it’s one of the first rules the learners learn when they start out studying English. Yet when it comes to speaking, the learners keep forgetting about it. All of us have heard it in the staff room: an exasperated teacher complaining that the students just won’t pay attention and get that simple grammar point right!

Unfortunately studies show that third person -s is acquired a lot later than it’s taught – not until at least intermediate level (Ellis, 2009, page 44). One reason that I’ve seen in the literature is that a lot of grammar gets acquired from reading and listening, and the third person -s, as a morphological feature that agrees with the subject and doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence, is a feature that is very easy for the adult brain, which is honed to processes information efficiently, not to notice in the input.

Here’s a simple game I created for my pre-intermediate teenage students to give them a chance to pay closer attention to this feature. In this game third person -s makes all the difference – the players choose who gains or loses points, based on the form of the verb.


Slip: The players can say:
??? get 5 points if *** can say five nouns that begin with ‘s’ in 30 seconds Pete and Tanya get 5 points if they can say five nouns…
I get 5 points if I can…
??? loses 5 points if *** can’t say 5 verbs that begin with ‘i’ in 30 seconds Mike loses 5 points if he can’t say 5 verbs…
Everyone loses 5 points if we can’t say…

We played the game from time to time right before working on reading texts that featured lots of examples of the third person -s – my hope being that attention to the feature would linger and they’d start noticing it in the texts.

Level: pre-intermediate

Time: 15 mins


  • something to serve as points (I use colour paper cut into 1cm squares);
  • a stop watch for each group of 4 students (my students used the ones on their mobile phones)
  • an editable Worksheet (cut-up slips for each group of 4 students; the rules sheet for each student); if you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from Slideshare:


Ellis, R. et al. (2009) Implicit and Explicit Knowledge in Second Language Learning, Testing and Teaching. Multilingual Matters

What I want to share in this post happened quite a while ago. It wasn’t anything new in terms of teaching methodology and I’m sure a lot of people reading this post will recognize what they do in the classroom. But nevertheless, the experience keeps popping up in my head and I wanted to share it, because it was one of the most positive experiences in my early years of teaching.

This happened when I was teaching in a secondary school. At some point, when my first ever group reached strong B1 level, I bought lots of graded readers, brought the better half of my personal library of English books to the school and launched an extensive reading programme, asking the students to read graded readers and unabridged books three or four times a year. As a follow-up to each round of reading, we did various activities, ranging from book fairs to informal chats, but one thing that stayed the same was that I asked the students to give the book they’d read a rating and write a short review. Another thing that stayed the same was that the majority of students hated writing those reviews.

I was taking British Council Learning Technologies for the Classroom course at the time, and so we started experimenting with some (pretty basic) technology and ended up with an approach to writing which was a whole lot more enjoyable and productive.


1. Creating the sense of audience
The first step was to migrate all writing to the class group on a social network. Instead of asking the students to hand in the reviews in handwritten form, I started creating a dedicated thread where all reviews were to be posted before the deadline (the evening before a lesson). This gave the students a sense of audience and made the activity a lot more authentic. We used a social media site (a Russian analogue of Facebook) because all students had accounts there, but as far as I know, many teachers use other free alternatives, e.g.

2. Immediate feedback
Since I now got all the reviews before the lesson, I could print them out, mark them in the morning, and then in class the students worked in pairs to edit their contributions on the group page. Apart from the satisfaction of getting feedback immediately after submitting their piece of writing, there were a number of added benefits:

  • This gave the students a good reason to submit their work on time, and in general the proportion of students who did writing assignments increased as a result. Also, in my experience with teens, the very fact that everyone in the group can see who has submitted homework encourages students to do it.
  • Since I was working with a print-out, I felt at liberty to mark the students’ work more extensively without the fear of ruining it – I now not only used error correction codes to hint at mistakes, but also highlighted all nice turns of phrase that I liked in the students’ writing – so the feedback they received looked a lot more positive.
  • Editing itself became a lot easier – no need to rewrite anything and there were no teacher’s comments in the final draft.

3. Autonomous vocabulary learning

One more important tweak was using amazon reviews as a source of language. We did this using scrible – a wonderful tool that allows the user to save any html page to an online library and then annotate it, changing font sizes, highlighting and adding notes:

A typical assignment looked like this:

_) read a book and give it a rating
a) find a book in a similar genre (google ‘top detective novels’, for instance)
b) read reviews on amazon that give that book the same rating
c) highlight relevant expressions with scrible, _save the page_ and create a permalink to share it
d) write your review using these expressions and _underscoring_ them. Post the review along with the permalink here.

In general, amazon reviews are very well written and are a pleasure to read, and the whole group ended up hunting down some great expressions. Those students who chose to use those expressions (around 75%) were able to use them very aptly in their writing. Here are a couple of samples of my students’ work (big thanks to Ivan Syrovoiskii and Danila Borovkov for allowing me to share them here):

The annotated page:
The review:

On the prowl for something interesting, I happened on Bram Stocker’s Dracula. And when I took an abridged book I actually expected that it wouldl be shortened and generally quite tame in comparison to the original. But what struck me was how they’d oversimplified the whole plot.
I guess almost everyone basicly knows the story – it starts with Jonathan Harker’s arrival to the castle of Count Dracula, the very powerful vampire who’s intimidating the whole of Transylvania. But this edition was so shortened that the whole story of how Jonathan, Arthur and Professor Van Helsing struggled to locate and destroy their nemesis turned just in several pages and the life of vampires which original plot concerns – into several plotlines written in simple English.
In general, I want to say that while I was reading this book I was imbued with the notion that I’m reading just a summary of the original Dracula. On reflection, I reckon I need to add that it might be good as a book for studying English, and it should be treated just as a textbook, without looking at plot.
My overall impression is that if you want to read something interesting – read the original book or don’t read Dracula at all – but don’t bother with abridged books, especially with intermediate level.

The annotated page:
The review:

First of all I have to thank Graham Poll for sharing “Seeing Red” with us. It’s very interesting and a times funny read for people who know something about football and you just can’t put it down.
Every day there are some news about players and managers in the media, but nothing about referees. “Seeing Red” allows you to look behind the scenes of refereeing and to look inside the game.This book shows how young boy, linesman in his father’s match, became the best, world popular referee. I’m sure you will find out something new about referees’ regime, training and how refereeing affects privacy. It also includes many details about famous football players and managers, such as John Terry or David Beckhem or David Moyes. With this book you can participate in famous football matches in many tournaments like World Cup, Premier League or Champions League. After reading I understand how much pressure referees are under, how difficult this thankless but absolutely necessary job is and I have gained a whole bunch of respect for them.

Later on we used all the scrible pages produced by the students to analyze the overall structure of a typical review and put together a google document with useful expressions for talking about characters, plot, the author and so on (a great thing about google documents is that a lot of people can edit the same document simultaneously, so the students worked in pairs, each pair researching a particular aspect of essay writing across everybody’s scribble pages).

While I’m at it, here are some ideas what other genres this approach could be used for:

Closing remarks 

As I said at the beginning of this post, a lot of what we ended up doing is standard practice in many language teaching classrooms. However, I still really wanted to share the experience, because for me and my class those tweaks made a lot of difference at the time. They transformed writing assignments from a frustrating chore that the students used to moan about to something that felt good and was a lot more authentic and enjoyable.

And on that note, I must ask: What were some rewarding, happy experiences in your early years of teaching? 

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a simple needs analysis/goal-setting warmer to do at the beginning of a new module or unit, in order to help the group personalize the topic and take ownership of their learning.

Materials: editable .docx worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download a .pdf file from slideshare:


Think about where you might use the topic you’re going to study with the group and create a sample case study worksheet (see my example for food below). Ask the students to read the column on the left and guess the words in the column on the left.

T_ _ _ c Food
Something you’re
pl_ _ _ing to do, h_ _e for or
dr_ _m about
My boyfriend and I might stay for a week in Rome in a rented flat
Sit_ _ _ _ _ _n: Supermarket in Rome
T_ _ing to: buy food to cook breakfast (for myself and my boyfriend)
Pot_ _ _ _al
pr_ _ _ _ _s
I might not be able to find our favourite food and I won’t be able to ask the shopping assistant if I don’t know the English equivalents.
How to
pr _ _ _ re:
· Write the list of things my boyfriend and I typically eat for breakfast and learn English equivalents
· Practice a dialogue with the shopping assistant in class

(Key: Topic, Something you’re planning to do, hope for or dream about, Situation, Trying to, Potential problems, How to prepare).

Now distribute a blank worksheet and ask the students to complete it with a plan, a hope and a dream that might be connected to the topic they’re going to study. In open class, get the s/s to share their plans/hopes/dreams and brainstorm a list of places/situations that might connect them to the topic. The s/s pick some of the places/situations and complete goals and potential problems related to the situations. After that, the s/s discuss action points, either in pairs or in a mingling activity. It’s a good idea for the teacher to circulate and suggest some strategies too! Make sure the students keep the worksheets in order to reflect on the goals they’d set when they finish the module.

P.S. Here are some examples of strategies that could come up.

  • [speaking] The person I’m talking to won’t understand me.
    Strategies: use a dictionary to check the pronunciation of important words in this module; use teacher’s feedback to speaking and writing to identify one frequent grammar mistake you make and do some self-study online; learn six expressions to give examples (e.g. To give you an example,…), check that you’ve been understood (e.g. Does that make sense?), reformulate (I mean,…) and summarize what you’ve said (So, to sum up…). Use each expression five times during this module.
  • [ideas/vocabulary] I don’t know much about this topic, so I won’t be able to chat about it. Also, I don’t know vocabulary.
    Strategy: choose three interesting articles about this topic. Read them, noticing topic expressions. Organize the expressions into a mindmap (see examples here) and then practice telling other people what you’ve read about, using your mindmaps (either find someone in this class to meet with in a cafe at the end of the module, or look for a conversation partner on sites like or
  • [speaking] I will have problem giving the presentation because I speak too slowly.
    Strategy: use 4-3-2 technique to practice: deliver the same monologue three times, each time giving yourself less time to say everything. Use a timer!
  • [listening] I won’t understand the waiter.
    Strategy: revise expressions that can be used to ask to repeat / clarify (e.g. Say that again? Pardon?) and reformulate to make sure you understood (So you’re saying …, is that right?). Use those expressions 10 times in class during this module.

Also check out these great handouts with ideas for activities to do outside classroom that Lizzie Pinard shares with her students.

One of the most exciting sessions of Day 2 of the E-merging Forum 5 for me was Alexandra Chistyakova’s workshop on teaching grammar to kids. Other participants clearly loved it too and after Alexandra’s talk there was a bit of a battle for handouts. Here are the notes that I took during the talk – but also read a post on Alexandra’s blog.  

Alexandra’s teaching experience is very diverse and it taught her one simple truth: we never teach adults and children in the same way. This realization made her look for practical ideas to make lessons with YLs more effective and more fun. As a result Alexandra came up with the idea of Lesson shells.


Shells in the picture provide structure and secure the living creature or the structure. In the same way, lesson shells provide a structure for the lesson and secure the learners. Especially when we talk about teaching grammar to YLs, they need ‘securing’ because a lot of them think of grammar as hard, dull, lifeless, etc.

So, what could provide a structure and the sense of security? Alexandra suggests shaping lessons around stories 

  • to explain grammar rules;
  • to practice them

Explaining grammar through stories

One of the stories that Alexandra shared was called ‘Town of Verbs’:


Verbs were very very happy because they lived only in the present and they didn’t remember the past. Once two little verbs climbed to the attic and found a chest with memories. When they opened it, out of the chest flew the memories of town dwellers. The memories started floating around the town and the verbs got their memories back. Not everyone responded to their memories in the same way. Some just accepted them. Some lit up like candles, delighted with their memories. Some blocked them. Some underwent complete transformation. But little kids didn’t change at all, because they didn’t’ have any memories!

  • Alexandra shared more stories for explaining grammar, and she promised to write another post about them on her blog.

Practicing grammar through stories

  • Turning sorting tasks into stories:IMG_20150313_150531_1As the lesson progressed, this idea was developed and the final ‘test’ took the form of a ‘Lie detector’ (the verbs that the learner remembered ‘went home’ and when she forgot them again, they went back to prison).
  • Hungry octopuses & Jelly fish – getting the learner to feed the correct words to the correct monster.
    If her student made a mistake, Alexandra made some funny digestive noises, which was a lot of fun!
  • Quick Games. Broken Magic Wands.
    The task was to write past tenses of verbs – which would be boring for a YL. Alexandra came up with the idea of saying that crayons are magic wand that makes the learner write the verbs correctly. If she made a mistake, the magic wand had stopped working and she needed to take another one.

Tips for good grammar stories

  • Make the story close to learners’ lives. E.g. in one story Alexandra used the name of the learner’s pet – to arouse interest and to establish an emotional bond with the story.IMG_20150313_145615_1
  • Draw ideas for stories from the environment (the mood of the learner, recent event, surrounding noises, objects that can be used as material) to come up with new stories and establish the emotional bond with your learner.
  • Make the story cohesive – it should sound logical, truthful and natural.
  • If the story is a bit sophisticated, use the mother-tongue – the target is to create a picture in the learner’s mind!
  • Invite learners to help you create the story.
  • Magic is magic – don’t overuse it!


Another very inspiring session. Unfortunately I don’t teach young learners, but hope to come up with a way to sneak some of these ideas into my classroom.