Activity Corner Round-Up Update!


It’s time for an updated Activity Corner Round-Up!

Click here to see all of my ESL Activity Corner posts in chronological order. This link is updated automatically.

I thought it would be nice to round up my activity posts thus far and make an at-a-glance activity resource. Feel free to bookmark this page!

I’ve sorted the list by two factors:

  1. Prep – anything you would need to do/make/get before doing the activity. Most of the activities here that require prep are pretty low-key, i.e. print out a grid.
  2. Movement – anything in which students need to move around during the activity. I do not consider switching seats to be significant movement.

Zero-Prep Activities

Chain Drill
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Guess the Word
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Hidden Vocab Words
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Language Experience Approach
movement – some
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Making Groups
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Dictation Relay
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Quick-Switch Conversations
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Minimal-Prep Activities

Scaffolding Peer Review
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Jigsaw Reading
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Quizzing Styles
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Scaffolding Editing
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Conversation Jenga
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

One-Question Surveys
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Grid Activity
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

The Flyswatter Game
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Building Blocks
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

From Textbook to Gallery
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – not really

Information Gap
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Put It In Order
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – yes

You’re reading Activity Corner Round-Up Update!, originally posted at


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

You’re reading Activity Corner: Who Are You?, originally posted at

Syllabus Activities

14193201770_0f44e45da7The course syllabus gives students powerful information about the upcoming semester: learning goals, assignment schedules, grading policies, academic resources, and so much more.

But it just looks like a stack of paper.

Unfortunately, in my experience the students who need this resource the most are the ones least likely to recognize and understand all it provides.

In my opinion, the single most effective way to get students to realize what is in the syllabus and see how it can help them, is to have them use it.

Here are several activity ideas:

On The First Day

Embed Write-Ins

When you write the syllabus, leave prompts for students to write in personalized information.

“A classmate’s name and contact info: ___________________________”

“Dates I know I’ll have to miss class: ___________________________”

Take it a step farther and go for some metacognition:

“Which of these technical skills do I need help with? ___________________________”

“Is it better to go to the writing center or fail the class? ___________________________”

“What will I do if I get less than 75% on a major assignment? ___________________________”

Info Gap

Turn the syllabus into an information gap activity. You can do this with the whole thing or just one or two sections.

Make three different versions of the syllabus:

  • one complete master document
  • Version A (see below)
  • Version B (see below)

Name the files abundantly clearly.

In Version A, blank out 5-10 key pieces of information. Leave space for the students to write in the information during class.

In Version B, blank out 5-10 different key pieces of information. Double check that the information missing from Version A is present in Version B and vice-versa. Again, leave space for students to write in the information.

When you print them, be sure to label the cover of each. Color code, call them “Complete,” “A,” and “B,” etc.

Have students circulate and ask each other for the information they’re missing.

Note: Specify that the purpose of this activity is to practice conversation AND to be familiar with the syllabus.

Good question:  “When is the midterm?”

Bad question: “What is the third word in the second paragraph of page 2?”

Jigsaw Activity

This is the most advanced suggestion on this list.

During class, use the syllabus as the basis for a jigsaw activity.

Have small groups become experts in one section of the syllabus. Suggested activities: within each group, take turns reading a paragraph out loud while the others follow along. Then each student take a few minutes to develop a comprehension question on each paragraph s/he read aloud. The students quiz each other, closed-book. They share their opinions about how important their section is, and when it’s most useful. Last, together they put together a one-minute summary of their section that they will share with the others.

Then, these small groups break apart and form new groups with at least one representative from each original group. Within the new groups, students each share their one-minute summary. Then they give their opinion about how important their section is, and when it’s most useful (e.g. the grading policies section is very important, especially useful if you’re worried about your grades; the school closing section is important, but only if it’s snowing out).

After The First Day

Make Sure It’s A Relevant, Living Document

When you talk about grading or policy issues come up, refer back to the syllabus. Open up the document online or in your hands. Or both.

When you “complete” a course objective or a major assignment is handed in, graded, corrected and thoroughly finished with, take a moment during class to check it off on your syllabus. Use a document camera if you have one. Encourage students to check off accomplishments on their copies as well.

If your syllabus includes a schedule, and that schedule changes (e.g. Unit 5 needs another week), update the master copy of the syllabus. Ask students to put an X through their latest version of the course schedule, and then hand out updated (and labeled) hard copies.

Assign It As Content

Sometime in the second week, have the students complete a basic take-home assignment using the syllabus as a reference. Depending on your style, some might call this an open-book “quiz,” but others would simply say “homework.”

Ask straightforward questions that highlight what you want students to be most aware of.

“What happens if homework is late?”

“How much of your grade is your midterm worth?”

Use It As A Text

Going over coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS)? Highlight them in the course objectives in the syllabus and discuss why each one was chosen.

Learning to paraphrase? Why not paraphrase some of the syllabus section on plagiarism?

Practicing intonation? Use the syllabus! There are certainly statements, lists, dependent clauses, and so on.


Wishing students and teachers everywhere a wonderful semester!


Photo Credit: Phillip Wong on Flickr

You’re reading Syllabus Strategies, originally posted at


Summer Vacation!


I have decided to take the summer off from publishing on this blog.

The plan is to return in September when I start assistant teaching again, or possibly before.

Some links around this blog that may be helpful to you while I’m away:

Have a great summer!


Photo Credit: Carmine.shot on Flickr

Activity Corner: Quizzing Styles

33272595691_0d0b0037cdQuizzing students is a pretty common classroom activity that deserves at least one slot in the activity corner.

It doesn’t really fit my usual template though.

Instead, here are the primary ways that four different teachers I know use quizzes in their own classrooms. I’ve changed a few minor details to make these folks anonymous. Over the years they’ve shared with me what they do, but I did not ask them for permission to star in my blog.

I’m sharing these four styles of quizzing because I think they’re all very strong. I hope you find them useful too!

Four Quiz Methods

Low-Beginning Content and Test Prep

One teacher I know gives very short quizzes (2-3 questions) every day at the end of her community ESL classes. She uses it as a formal formative assessment – to make sure they learned what she thinks they learned. She deliberately formats them in the same style as the standardized tests her students need to take from time to time. When someone commented that this all sounded pretty intense for low-beginning ESL, she replied mildly, “If you set the expectation, they learn to meet it.”

Take-Home Review

Another teacher I know gives take-home quizzes after every session of his ESL classes, no matter what level he is teaching. They tend to be 5 – 10 questions. He uses these quizzes to review the main points from class and from the homework. He deliberately makes them as straightforward as possible. They count as a small percentage of the students’ grades, so they’re not high-stakes, but they’re not a joke. He asks students to try to complete them closed book. Whatever they can’t remember, they can then do open book. And they can come to class early to collaborate on the questions they struggled with right before handing it in. It’s due first thing the next class session.

Dictations, Modified

Yet another teacher gives dictation quizzes at the beginning of every grammar session, usually 5 or 6 questions. She uses these as both review and formative assessment. Plus if students are late or absent, they miss the quiz. The questions are always connected to the previous class session and/or homework. Sometimes they questions are straight dictations, and sometimes the students must transform/correct what she says (i.e. she reads a statement, the students write that statement as a question).

Traditional, With Corrections

A fourth teacher I know only gives periodic quizzes. She deliberately makes them difficult and on the long side (at least 12 questions). She uses them to encourage her students to study hard and really learn the material in order to pass the quizzes. She makes sure to allocate class time for going over answers, and allows students to earn back a small number of additional points if they submit corrections with explanations. In this way her quizzes are also great review.


How do you use quizzing?


Photo Credit: Animated Heaven on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Quizzing Styles, originally posted at

Activity Corner: From Textbook to Gallery

(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 really flexible activity kind of like jigsaw and grid activities.

This is a great one for making the textbook fun and getting students out of their seats. It’s also a great way to have students tackle particularly difficult questions because there is a lot of thinking out loud, explaining to each other, etc.


  • Copy five or so relevant questions from the textbook so that you can print them out and tape them individually to the board. (Maximum is number of students divided by 2) Tape them horizontally with as much room between as you can.
  • Students work in groups of 2 or 3. Give each group a stack of sticky notes.
  • Each group begins at a different example. They should read it and write down their answer(s) on sticky notes, one per group. They should stick their notes under the question.
  • The groups rotate to the next question. They should consider the question and the previous group’s answer, then stick their own answers on the bottom.
  • Repeat until time is up or until all students have answered all questions.
  • When going over answers, ask students to justify their answers, look up answers, etc. A lot of critical thinking happens here!
  • Take note of the ones that many groups were confused about!
  • Point out what page in the textbook the activity was taken from so they can refer back to it.


In our academic writing class, my lead teacher noticed the class seemed confused about restrictive vs. non-restrictive commas, so she did this activity with several textbook examples.

She posted the examples, and then each group had to use two notes: one to indicate whether the example had restrictive or non-restrictive commas, and the other to indicate if the information was necessary or extra.

The students and she had a great group discussion while going over the answers, and she used their answers to inform the homework and the next quiz.


  • the sticky notes can either be one color per group, or all the same color so their answers are anonymous.
  • if students disagree with the answer immediately before theirs, you can require them to post an additional sticky note explaining why they disagree.
  • you could have students hide their posted answers, either posting them backwards or placing them under the question paper. This way each group would see each question afresh.
  • this could be modified for low-literacy classes to use pictures as questions and one-word answers on post-its
  • in case of low mobility and/or longer answers, the different questions could be placed in numbered folders and passed from seated group to seated group.
  • this activity could be used for grammar, content classes, and all levels of ESL.

You’re reading Activity Corner: From Textbook to Gallery, originally posted at


Scaffolding Editing

2750551146_1d22ab2e84Last week, I described several factors that make editing a particularly difficult task for ESL students.

Today, I’m going to offer some ideas for scaffolding editing in an academic writing setting. They’re based on my own experiences (including some from this semester in my lead teacher’s classroom), advice that’s been given to me, and my own ideas.

This is sort of a mini Activity Corner of its own, all about editing!

Strategies for Scaffolding Editing


Strategies to incorporate into your writing class routine

  • Practice writing the same information in several ways. Juggle clauses, use synonyms, use short sentences and long ones, etc.
  • Hand out example work that needs editing side by side with how you would change it. You’ll need to emphasize that this is not The Answer Key – just a pretty good answer. This could be a good information gap activity for small groups.
  • Practice editing a sentence or two together as a class each day as a warm-up. You could focus on grammar, word choice, style, hook/thesis/topic sentence effectiveness, etc.

Teacher Edits

Strategies for marking written assignments at home

  • Don’t fix things that you want your students to learn when you edit their writing. Identify errors for them, but let the fixing be the students’ job.
  • With minor errors, either let them go or quick write in that missing “the.”
  • Use codes (i.e. WW = wrong word) and/or color codes (i.e. yellow = I don’t understand, pink = This is great!!) in-line to help them identify specific errors and give them a clue as to what’s wrong. Be consistent with your code all semester.

Peer Review

Strategies for students to help edit each other’s writing

  • Prep the class for peer review and support their skills as reviewers with this Peer Review Scaffolding activity. You can do this to review each other’s homework, example thesis statements, etc.
  • Set students up to give and receive both positive and negative feedback. Make it the expectation and build it into the task itself.
  • If you use a code when you edit student work, consider having the student use that code (or part of it) to mark each other’s work.
  • Consider using a short checklist or yes/no questions to keep students focused.

Student Corrections

Strategies for having students correct their own writing, after teacher edits and/or peer review

  • Offer bonus points or a few “points back” if students choose to submit corrections. Set an upper limit on how many points they can earn.
  • Identify each student’s most common (or serious) error types and assign corrections on these. Corrections should be on separate paper and include a short explanation of why the change is correct. Note: this is really difficult and time-consuming for students. From what I hear though, it really pays off.

In The Moment

Strategies for when you’re circulating in class and a student is stuck on an editing task: 

  • Ask the student to read it out loud. This can be especially helpful with punctuation. Note: this will probably help auditory learners and Global English speakers more than it will help your book learners and hesitant speakers.
  • Target the basic organization: paragraph level, then sentence order. Ask the student if the organization is strong and every sentence is where it needs to be.
  • Target the shortest sentences. They’re the easiest to get right.
  • Target the longest sentences. They’re the easiest to garble. There is likely a problem.
  • When targeting long sentences, have the student break it into multiple short sentences on scratch paper. This can help them see the structure and fix the errors in the longer sentence.

What do you have to add?

Would it be useful if I spelled out details and examples of any of these strategies? Let me know in the comments!


Photo Credit: julian on Flickr

You’re reading Scaffolding Editing, originally posted at