Activity Corner: Two Truths and a Lie

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

1471150324_a52068a957_zI don’t usually choose to use this one in my own classroom. I mean, first of all, it’s a drinking game. Second of all, do we really want to get to know each other by lying? And third of all, since we’re all lying about something, it can lead to confusion, especially in a language-learning setting.

Boy, I should’ve gone into marketing, eh? I can really sell these activities.

I’m including it because as an assistant teacher, I’ve seen this activity used multiple times to great effect. Nobody cares (or knows?) that it’s a drinking game, most people seem to have fun making up a lie to innocently trick everyone, and I’ve been impressed at how little confusion results from this game.

Plus there’s no prep, it requires no materials, and is general enough to be used in many levels and situations.


  • Write the name of the game on the board.
  • Model: tell two truths and one lie about yourself. It’s helpful to write them on the board at all but the highest levels. Have students guess which is the lie. When they identify the lie, go ahead and draw a line through it to show that it is indeed not true.
  • Give students time (around five minutes) to think of two truths and one lie about themselves.
  • Call on students randomly to share their two truths and their lie. Encourage the other students to guess which is the lie: the first, second, or third sentence.

It’s really simple, it doesn’t take much time, and people seem to get a kick out of it.

Note: there’s usually someone in all but the highest classes who doesn’t quite get that they are supposed to tell one untrue “fact” about themselves. When that happens, remember that it’s inevitable and be prepared to joke, “You’re just too truthful!” or “You’re so honest!” No big deal.

Give it a try!

Photo Credit: Carmella Fernando on Flickr

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Activity Corner: Who Are You?

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

This is a nice warm-up activity that helps students get to know each other a bit better as we share how we see ourselves.


You split students into small groups of about four each, and each group has a group of “personality” cards. Students have quiet time to think about which personality card(s) best describe(s) them, and then share what and why with their small group. This can be as simple as outgoing vs. shy, to pictures of various animals, to Jung’s 12 architypes.


  • Decide on a set of personality cards.
  • Print out enough that you have one set for every four students in your class.
  • Students work in groups of about 4. Give each group a set of cards.
  • Students look together at the different cards. Each picks one to represent him/her.
  • Students take turns holding up the card that best describes themselves and telling their group why.


In an intermediate class, the teacher should separate the class into groups and hand out five cards per group: lion, sheep, chameleon, robin, and goat.

Go through the cards as a class. What does a lion do? What about sheep? What kind of lizard is this, and what does it do? What kind of bird is this, and what does it do? What do goats do?

Their answers might differ – things like this are open to interpretation, and different cultures and individuals likely interpret them differently. This is part of what makes it an interesting conversation activity.

Model the activity. “I am looking at the cards. Which card is like me? Which card is similar to me? Here is the goat. Goats get into trouble. They jump over fences. They eat crazy things. They are always active. I am like the goat, in my mind. My brain jumps around like a goat. I think too much and I get in trouble like a goat.”

Give instructions. “Now, it’s your turn. Which animal are you? First, think. Then, tell your group. Tell them why. You have ten minutes.”

Circulate to make sure everyone understands and everyone participates.


  • use different sets of cards depending on the level and interests of your students, and the content of your unit of study.
    • personality vocabulary (outgoing, shy, thoughtful, etc.)
    • colors (red, blue, gray, etc.)
    • musical instruments (trumpet, erhu, bass drum, etc.)
    • plants (cactus, rose, oak tree, etc.)
    • animals from an area of the world being studied currently
    • characters from a story you’re reading or a movie you watched as a class
    • Jung’s 12 archetypes
  • after students share within their own small groups, ask all students to re-group with others who chose the same card. For example, all the goats form one group. Students can compare why they chose that card – was it for the same reason or different reasons?
  • reflective writing can either precede or follow this activity.
  • follow this activity with a grid activity, in which students ask each other which card they chose and for one reason why. This in turn can be used for students to practice using reported speech.

Photo Credit: svklimkin on Flickr

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Activity Corner: Quick-Switch Conversations

Callanish Stone Circle(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

This activity works best with at least ten participants. It’s a great communicative activity, and makes use of a lot of speaking and listening.

Its logistics are inspired by speed dating, but it’s classroom-appropriate.

In this set-up, students are organized in such a way that with very efficient movement, students can switch conversation partners quickly. If you have enough space, students will form two concentric circles. If you have limited space,  they’ll form two lines instead.

It really lends itself well to fluency practice, because it’s very high-energy, fast, and noisy – not conducive to careful concentration!

Since partners are switched so quickly, it also lends itself to repetitious practice.


  1. Decide what you want the students to practice. See below for ideas. This is a flexible exercise – make it work for you!
  2. Write prompts on cards if needed. For repetitious practice, just write the one prompt on the board.
  3. In class, describe what students will be practicing. “We are going to do an activity to practice ____.” Maybe even write the purpose on the board.
  4. Explain that in this activity, you will have many fast conversations with many people. When you hear the signal, you will get a new conversation partner.
  5. Model, especially less advanced classrooms. (see below)
  6. Help students get into formation! This will be two concentric circles or two lines. Either way, the students in one circle/line will face the students in the other circle/line.
  7. Remind them of the purpose. Remind them of the signal sound. Remind them which circle/line moves.
  8. Sound the signal and have everyone start!
  9. Stay nearby to watch, listen, and prompt.
  10. Keep signaling the partners to switch as appropriate.


Click for an example where we practiced a verb tense and adverbs of frequency. We had 23 students in Intermediate community English and we used prompt cards.

Below is an example of how to use this for repetitious practice, plus how to model the activity.

In a beginner class, I wanted students to practice introducing themselves again and again. We had already practiced dialogs and vocabulary from the textbook – we just needed to get more comfortable now.

For this class, I definitely had to model the activity. After I explained the purpose and what we’d be doing, I brought four volunteer students to the front of the room and had them stand along the board. I wrote “Hello! My name is ____” on the board and then introduced myself to the first student until my signal went off (I set my cell phone alarm for 15 seconds for this example). As soon as it went off, I stepped sideways to the next person and began again with the prompt. I repeated this with each of the four students up front.

Next, we needed the students to be in formation. I helped six form the inner circle. Then I asked the other six students one by one to stand in facing a specific student. I told them specifically, “Ahmed is your first partner,” “Amal is your first partner,” to try to make the abstract concrete.

Since this was a beginner class, I also had them practice changing partners. We were in a smallish space so I had only the inner circle move. I had my signal go off and the inner circle students all stepped to their left. I had the signal go again and the inner students stepped to the left again.

Then I reminded them that we were practicing introducing ourselves. The outer students would begin. “Hello, my name is ___. What’s your name? Nice to meet you!”

“One, two, three, talk!”

When they went all the way around, we switched to having the inner students initiate the conversation.

This was a lot of set-up time! It was also a lot of repeating the same thing, but the interesting format made it pretty fun and less like a drill.

Content Possibilities:

  • a grammar form
  • general get-to-know-you conversation
  • a specific piece of conversation (i.e. introduce yourself, ask where mens’ shoes are at the store, etc.)
  • vocabulary words
  • prompts can be pictures or objects (or words, of course)

Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett on Flickr

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Students’ Notes

312697129_94967f6b1bWhat do you do when you notice that your students take “disorganized” notes?

The “Disorganization”

I put “disorganized” in quotes because their notes appear disorganized to me… but they’re not my notes. Maybe they make perfect sense to the students?

Some of the examples I’ve seen over the years:

  • students open to a random notebook page and begin writing
  • no meta information at all added to the page
    • no date
    • no sub-headings to group what they’re working on
    • just a list of answers – not the questions, and no page or unit number
  • guides pre-printed on the page (i.e. a graphic organizer, a 2×2 grid, etc.) are utterly ignored like they’re watermarks

I don’t mean this to sound critical – in adult ESL, we’ve got folks from many cultures and all sorts of educational backgrounds. Of course their note-taking styles vary, too. Most of my students are highly motivated and earnestly respectful. It’s my pleasure to meet them where they’re at.

My question is, how best to meet their note-taking? Narrowing a broad question a bit more, how much of this should be my focus in an academic ESL setting?

Ideas and Activities

Right now, I’m leaning away from methodically making them take notes the way I do, or making it a rule that every piece of paper be dated. The way I see it, taking notes is personal. It’s private and ungraded. The student is generally the only person who sees or uses most of his/her notes. External, enforced change is unlikely to stick.

I think I’d use a metacognitive approach. In the second class session, we’d discuss the purposes of notes. The two purposes I see are 1) reinforce learning as it happens, and 2) create study materials for ourselves. I’m genuinely curious to see what the class would come up with!

Then we’d have think-pair-share time about how we can take notes that support those purposes. Students would generate and share ideas about how to improve their notes. It would be up to students to adopt any new habits – or not.

Right after the first graded assessment – when they’re fresh from studying – I’d follow up with another metacognitive notes activity. I’d probably run the Snowballs activity with each student writing one way their notes were useful and one way their notes could be improved for studying. Then they’d scramble their answers snowball-style and write a short reflection on the random answers they received: would either of these improve their own notes? What is one more strategy they’d like to try?

Actually, in a writing class, that could make for a nice little in-class writing assignment and be useful for practicing transition and organization words.


How do you support your students’ note taking? Or how would you?


Photo Credit: Jonathan Lin on Flickr

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Activity Corner: Put It In Order

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

My lead teacher used one of these activities to introduce essay structure in our Advanced Academic Writing class last week. She gave each student an element of an academic essay (i.e. “thesis statement,” “topic sentence 2,” etc.), and as a class they had to tape them to the board in the correct order.

I’ve used it in the past to teach sequence signal words (first, then, etc.) and to review several different verb tenses all at once. I’ve also used a variation where students put words in an appropriate order to form a sentence.

One of my Russian teachers used it on us to teach… well, I’m not sure what she was trying to teach. It was the first week of class and she gave us two stanzas worth of separate lines of a Russian poem. We had to put them in order. It was waaaay over my head.

This is a great activity for students to do in small groups or as one big group. They’ll be negotiating meaning together and the conversations will be authentic because of that. It can be individually done as well, but there’s less conversation and lots more cutting out that way.


  1. Decide what you want your students to put in order. Some kind of chronological or other objective sequence (i.e. introduction, body, conclusion) is the most clear-cut way to do this.
  2. Decide how many students to a group, and how many groups.
  3. Decide where the students will be working – at their tables, on the board, etc.
  4. Cut out the pieces onto separate strips of paper.
  5. In class, introduce the activity. Explain that you’ll be putting the papers in order. Explain what the students will be looking for to determine the order.
  6. Give the students time to figure it out.
  7. Go over the students’ results. Highlight the clues that pointed us to the right answer (i.e. “last” would go at the end; a thesis statement always goes at the end of the intro). Go over what is correct and be sure to answer questions about it.


Other prep ideas:

  • Bring several pairs of scissors and have students help you cut strips.
  • Write on index cards or sentence strip card stock.
  • Assign students to each write on each card, then they can put the cards in order. Example: ask each student to write one sentence that told one activity they did last week and when they did it. (This element can be practice of Simple Past.) Then they can put all their sentences in order on the board.

Levels of focus:

  • word building (i.e. prefix, root, suffixes)
  • sentence building (each strip is just one word)
  • paragraph building
  • narrative building / timeline

Other uses:

  • Conversation starter – have students put things in a more subjective order, such as importance, preference, fairness, etc. This sets up the class for meaningful conversations: students can discuss why they put things where they did, ask each other questions, and practice politely disagreeing. Examples: best food, most important belongings, spouse traits, etc.
  • Syllabus study – the first day of class, when going over the syllabus, have students put their major assignments in order so they for sure know what’s coming up in the semester.
  • Grammar study – include sentences in various past, present, and future tenses and aspects that the students are familiar with.
  • Content – put a step in a process on each strip, then have the students put those in order. Examples: photosynthesis, blood transfusions, rebuilding a carburetor, etc.

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Throwback Draft: Life With Limited English

[I have a modest collection of unpublished drafts in various states of completion from at least five years ago, and I thought I’d publish some from time to time.]

427338446_4b1e18bef7From conversation time in Level 2:

“I’m sad… because… I want to discuss…. with neighbors… but…. can not.”

“My daughter, she sees the children playing outside, and she want to go with them.  But I don’t let her. Because I can’t speak to them.  I don’t have English.”

Worth remembering as teachers and as neighbors, I think.


Photo Credit: Nisha A on Flickr

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Activity Corner: Think/Pair/Share

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

The Think/Pair/Share is an extremely low-prep activity that can help even the driest of lectures become more interactive and student-centered.

The teacher poses a question and gives students a quiet minute or two to think about the question. Then the teacher asks students to turn to a partner and discuss the question. Finally, answers are shared with the whole class.

It can be used to introduce a topic, check for understanding after information is given, or generate creative answers. It can take just five minutes with closed-ended questions and transition back to lecture or a new activity, or lead into deep discussion time. Its flexibility and ease of implementation make it hard to teach without!


  • Pose a question. Write it down where everyone can see it and refer back to it. Note that open-ended questions will be discussed for longer.
  • Ask students to think for a minute or two about the question. You can ask them to write down their ideas, or not to.
  • After that time is up, ask students to turn to a partner and discuss the question.
  • After that time is up, ask students to volunteer their answers for the whole group. They can share out loud, by writing on the board, etc.


In an academic reading class, I used Think-Pair-Share as a pre-reading activity for “Making Heaven” in Tana Reiff’s Hopes and Dreams 2 series. This is a short novel about Korean immigrants in New York City, and we read it together as a class.

I told the class we would be reading a book about new immigrants in New York City. I told them that it was Think/Pair/Share time and wrote the question on the board, “Why is it hard to be a new immigrant in the USA?” I gave them two minutes to write down as many ideas as they could.

Two minutes later, I asked them to work in pairs and compare their lists of challenges for new immigrants. I gave them five minutes to see if they could think of more together. I expected and hoped that they might also discuss their own experiences.

Five minutes later, I asked each pair to write a few of their ideas on the board. We talked about these ideas as a class.

From this activity, I introduced the book more, including its setting in history, and we discussed what challenges this specific fictional family might have faced back then: what hasn’t changed much, and what has?

And from here, we began reading the book to find out if our predictions turned out to be correct. We returned to this discussion once or twice over the course of reading the novel.

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