You ask a question and look around for a brave soul willing to answer, but everyone avoids eye contact. You feel one of those age-old teacher catchphrases slipping from your mouth, “If no one wants to answer, I’ll have to start picking people”. It’s a situation every language teacher knows well and it’s where an easy starter activity can come in handy. Here are seven to get you started.
1. Picnic game
You might remember playing this memory game as a child. The first person starts by saying, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking…” to which they add a word beginning with “A”. The next speaker repeats the sentence and adds something beginning with “B” and the game continues until you’ve completed the alphabet.
It can work well with introductions too. Start off new courses with, “My name’s Ross and I like eating cake” and ask the next person to say, “Your name is Ross and you like eating cake” and then say their own name and something they like.
2. Hot potato
This take on pass the parcel is a great vocabulary builder. Take a ball and say it’s a hot potato so you can’t hold it for too long. Announce a topic e.g. sports and start the potato going around the circle. Each person has to name a sport within 5 seconds without repeating what’s gone before, the potato get too hot to handle and they’re out of the game. The winner is the one left standing.
3. Just a minute
Based on the long-running BBC Radio 4 game, give your students a topic and challenge them to speak about it for 1 minute (or 30 seconds for lower levels) without repetition, hesitation or deviating from the subject.
4. Stop the bus
Ask each student to draw 6 columns on a piece of paper. At the top of each have them all write a topic e.g. country, food, hobby, girl’s name etc. When they’re ready, shout out a letter. They have to put a word in each column beginning with that letter. The first to finish shouts, “Stop the bus!” Give points for a full row or creative answers.
5. One word story
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. The class creates an oral story as a group but each person is only allowed one word at a time meaning the class has to think fast and adapt their ideas as they go.
6. Embarrassing moments
Working in pairs, ask students to find out about an embarrassing moment from their partner. Then ask each person to tell the group about their partner’s embarrassing time. It’s an easy way to break the ice with a new group and lighten the mood.
7. Question time
Ask everyone to stand up. Using a soft toy or ball, throw it to a student and ask a question. When they answer they get to throw it to someone else and ask a different question before sitting down. Keep the game going until everyone has sat down.
Ross Clarke is a freelance lifestyle journalist and education advisor based in Spain. He has taught English as a foreign language to learners at all levels in the UK and Spain and advised on all aspects of higher education in the UK. He teaches ballroom dancing in his spare time and specialises in CLIL (content and language integrated learning).