Recurring activities

Where I teach, lessons are generally structured into the following rough lesson components:

  1. The warm-up
  2. The conversation topic
  3. Grammar
  4. English for specific purposes

It’s a fluid list. Some groups don’t have a ‘specific purpose’ and not every lesson covers grammar (I’m a big fan of focusing on a certain grammar for four or five lessons, and then taking a break). For many lessons, you can add ‘correcting the homework’ to that list.

It seems like plenty to do in 90 minutes of two hours, right?

Sometimes I like a little more

This shouldn’t surprise you, because I’ve mentioned that I try to take more material than I can cover in a single lesson. (Short explanation: try never to feel like you have a hectic lesson, but try to keep the pace up, so nobody things “that was a slow lesson.”)

One of the ways I do this is by having what I think of recurring activities. They generally bridge the ‘conversation’ part of the lesson and the ‘work’ part. (If you count homework, grammar, and specific purposes as work.)

My criteria for a ‘recurring activity’ is that it should be simple enough that, if I explain it in one lesson, the students can do it without my help in another lesson. Right now, in my beginner group, hangman is a good example of this.

Before we open the book, I just draw the hangman gallows on the board and give the marker to a new student. (I keep track of who has done it and who hasn’t.) Then, they come forward and lead the group in a game of hangman and I’m only there to be strict about “is there” and “there is” or “there isn’t” and the correct pronunciation of the English alphabet. (The “there is” construction in German is different, so it takes some getting used to in English.)

Then, in the best case, there are a few minutes of classroom discussion where I don’t have to say a word. The students are able — within this activity — to do everything in English on their own.

I call that “maximizing student speaking time.”

I don’t force it

If I look at my watch and there isn’t time for the activity and everything else I have planned, I have no problem skipping it. After all, it’ll still be there for the next lesson. That means that an unusually good conversation can be allowed to continue without the students feeling cut off, but that a conversation that falls flat can be shorter and the lesson can still have the feeling of being “well paced.”

Some great recurring activities

Here are things that, at one time or another, I have included as a recurring activity:

  • Hangman (obviously, see above)
  • The student family tree activity. This takes a bit of time, but my (German) students are genuinely interested in learning more about each other. One student per week means that the vocabulary keeps coming back.
  • The review envelope activity. Students just pass this around and either answer the questions themselves or challenge the person across from them.
  • Trivia quizzes. Students draw a card that has a question with the correct answer marked, and they challenge the group to answer it. The group is allowed to discuss things between themselves before either agreeing on an answer or allowing each member to give their own answer.
  • The German naturalization test. This works like the trivia quizzes above, except with questions that I have translated from the German naturalization test.
  • Draw the floor plan of a student’s living room. This works just like the family tree activity above, with one student silently drawing while another student looks away from the board. The other students have to ask questions that elicit the information needed to draw.
  • Describing vocabulary. I made a collection of simple objects and put them on slips of paper in an envelope. I pass them around and students have to get the other members of the group to say as many words as possible in ninety seconds. This is great for ‘technical English’ groups because you can make them focus on the functions and dimension of the objects.
  • A question race. Students are timed to see how much time they need to get their classmates to say all the words in a 20-word list (not using the words themselves). Then, I record their time and another day a different student gets the chance.

What do you do?

Have any of the activities above flopped for you? Do you use any of your own activities? Which ones?

4 thoughts on “Recurring activities

  1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing – I will try out the envelope games in my classes.

    I have 90 minute classes and although we have preset material for the primary classes, I often build in time for speaking activities and games.

    I created a visual poster of irregular verbs in the present tense, then I shout out a word and my students have to reply with the simple past tense version. I have a What’s the Word game where cards have 4 images connected by a single word which we play in 2 teams. I also created dictionary challenge worksheets with various tasks to encourage my students to use dictionaries and alphabetise. We sometimes have mini debates too on which superhero is the best!


      1. I bought it in an independent shop in Singapore and can’t find it online, but I’ll try find something similar for you.

        To give you an idea, one card shows:
        – a house
        – a parcel with a tag
        – a megaphone
        – a set of keys

        The answer is: address. This is a fun one as it uses the word as both a noun and a verb.


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