Activity Corner: Guess The Word

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is basically “Catchphrase,” a game by Hasbro.  I use it to review vocabulary.  One student randomly selects a vocab word from a hat and then tries to get his or her classmates to guess it.  They can say any word except the vocabulary word itself.

What you need: the vocabulary words they’ve already been working on, each written on a separate index card or a scrap of paper.

Here’s an example of how I used Guess the Word to practice the names of jobs in my Level 1 class.

Scaffolding:  We played this game early in the unit, so the words were still relatively new to the students.  First we went over what all of the words meant.  I wrote the words on the board, elicited definitions from students, and wrote those down too.  The students copied them down.  Then, I erased just the vocab words, leaving the definitions on the board.

Modeling:  I held up an index card with a job on it (carpenter) with the blank side toward the students.  I said, On my card, there is a job.  It’s a secret. At this point I held it close to me, protecting the information.  I will tell you about it.  What job is it?

I made a show of reading the card to myself, looking up at the ceiling to think, and then gave some clues: they build things, they use wood to build.

Here somebody guessed “construction worker.”  I was being vague deliberately so that the modeling would last long enough to get some flow.  I said they were close, and added, they build tables, chairs, and cabinets.

They guessed carpenter, and I showed them my card as I told them they were correct.

I immediately asked for a new teacher.  I had one of the more advanced students come up first just to make sure the process was clear, and it went off without a hitch.  She picked out one of the cards I presented her with, gave clues, and told the class when they were right.  Each student came up and gave clues for a word.

Other content possibilities:

  • practice descriptors – if you’re working on adjectives, write nouns on the cards so that the clue-giver has to list appropriate adjectives for the class.
  • spelling – have the clue-giver read the word and ask, “How do you spell that?”  The class will spell out loud to the clue-giver, who will write down the class’s answer on the board.
  • verb charades- write verbs on the cards and have the clue-giver mime the action instead of giving verbal clues.
  • advanced – use this to practice advanced vocabulary (mostly nouns and adjectives) just as I described above, but split the class into teams and have them compete to get the most correct the most quickly.
  • low-beginning- have words and pictures on each card.  Have matching word/picture cards (or even objects, like plastic foods).  The clue-giver should read the word, and then two students should race to hold up the matching card or object.

Activity Corner: Dictation Relay

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is a fun way to get students to dictate sentences to each other and focus on the nitty-gritty details of writing.  It also gets students up out of their seats.

This activity is not a quick one.  For a quick activity, just dictate sentences to your students and have them copy them down.  They tend to love plain old dictation, by the way.

What you need: a sentence on a piece of paper taped just outside the classroom.

Here’s an example of how I used a Dictation Relay to review dates in my Level 1 class.

Modeling:  Note that you will need to do a lot of mock-running for lower level classes to be sure that they understand the instructions.

I separated my class of 16 into four groups of four.  I held up a folded piece of paper and said, “I have a secret.”  I then made a show of taping it to the wall outside the classroom.  (The secret was, “Today is Wednesday, September 8, 2010.”  We had just worked on this earlier in class.)

I named the groups A through D.  I said I needed one student from each group to run and walk.  One student from A will run, one student from B will run…. you get the idea.  I had the runners stand in the front of the room.

The runners will read the secret.  They will remember the secret.  They will run to their group and tell the secret. (I play-ran out the door and back in again.) The other students will write the secret.

If they forget, they can read again and again. (Yep, I ran right back out the door again and then back in).

All students will write the secret.  It must be perfect, 100% correct to win.

Runners, no pens and no paper.  You cannot write.  Writers, does everyone have a pen and paper?  On your mark, get set, go.

I had to remind runners not to write just a couple of times.  After a few minutes they were ready for me to check their work, and it often had little mistakes.  I told them when they were close and what words they spelled wrong or how many commas they forgot.  When one team won, we all applauded.

Other content possibilities:

  • spelling – put some hard-to-spell words you’ve encountered recently into the dictation sentence.  It’s great practice.
  • vocabulary review – be sure to meaningfully use at least one vocabulary word in each sentence.
  • grammar – make sure the sentence includes relevant grammar, particularly if that grammar involves picky spelling rules (i.e. plural endings are either -s or -es)
  • pronunciation – have your sentence be a tongue-twister to focus in on a sound or two your students struggle with (i.e. The fish has a thin fin.)
  • reading – use a sentence straight from the day’s reading.  Make sure that the writers know not to just copy it from the story, but to listen to the runner.  Do this to review the reading.  Alternatively, pick an interesting sentence and use it to introduce the reading.  You can also have students scan the reading to locate the dictation sentence.
  • low-beginning – just write a vocabulary word and have the runner spell it to the writers.

Activity Corner: Grid Activity

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I took some time to describe some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

I use The Grid Activity for several reasons.  The most obvious is that it’s great fluency practice – it requires that they talk to each other and gets the teacher out of the middle of it.  I also use it as a pre-writing activity, having students gather information that they’ll use to write full sentences later in class.  The activity also serves as practice reading a grid.

What you need: a piece of paper for each student with a large grid drawn on it (for Intermediate I often used one that had three columns and eight rows).

Here’s an example of how I used the Grid Activity to practice Present Continuous grammar.

I drew my own 3×8 grid on the board.  On the top row, I wrote in one question per box:  What’s your name?  |  What are you doing after class today?  |  What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

I then proceeded to have a conversation with my coffee mug (I named it Michael for the purposes of this activity) in which I asked it the three questions on the board and wrote all its answers in the same row.

Then I asked a student the three questions and wrote all their answers on the same row.

Then I told the students it was their turn.  They needed to interview each other.  Just like I did, ask other students these three questions.  Write the answers.

It was interesting because for some students, it was very easy.  A few students had trouble remembering how a grid worked each time.  And a couple other students (the students who had high speaking ability and much lower reading ability) would make up their own questions, usually completely unrelated to the grammar and/or content I wanted to focus on.

The point is that even after both modeling and explaining, you need to watch them very carefully each time you do the activity.  You can’t just assume that because they’re talking and writing that they’re practicing the language you want them to practice and that they use the grid correctly.  Not that it’s a disaster if they’re not doing it perfectly, but some gentle guidance can make it a richer learning experience than general conversation.

After the interview time (it can easily take 30 minutes), I asked them questions about their classmates’ answers.  This made them read their grids for specific information.

I also had them write full sentences based on the information they gathered.  The concept of taking the information from the grid and putting it into sentences is not necessarily obvious.  Even in Intermediate, you have to model this a lot.

Other content possibilities:

  • alphabetics – just have students write down each other’s names.  They’ll have to spell their name out for their classmates.
  • grammar review – use questions that use the target grammar.
    For example, “Where did you grow up?”  “Where would you like to live when you are old?”
  • vocabulary review – use questions that call upon target vocabulary.  For example, in a food unit, have them ask, “What are three foods you like?”  “What are three foods you don’t like?”
  • advanced – you can use more questions with more complex grammar and vocabulary.  This will take the interview process up to their level.  Definitely have them work with the information they gather, writing sentences, paragraphs, or even making graphs.

Activity Corner: The Flyswatter Game

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I took some time to describe some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

I use The Flyswatter Game to have students quickly match an input with something that can be written or drawn on the board.  It’s almost always review.

It can be competitive, and it has historically been known to get a little rowdy (I’ve heard of a staff meeting where people were jumping on tables playing this game.  Please note that this level of enthusiasm is neither typical nor necessary.)

What you need: two clean flyswatters and a large vertical writing space.

Here’s an example of how I used the Flyswatter Game at our end-of-session party to sneak in some review of our final topic, Present Continuous vs. Simple Present.

I wrote two phrases on the white board:  Present Continuous and Simple Present.

I prepared a numbered list of sentences before class.  Not surprisingly, they were all in either Present Continuous (PrCo) or Simple Present (SiPr).

I handed flyswatters to two students and had them stand at the front.  Their job: listen to what I read.  Is the sentence in PrCo or SiPr?  They should swat their answer as quickly as possible.  I read a couple of sentences for each pair.

After everyone has swatted, everyone goes again, but this time I relinquish my list of questions to the students, who will take turns being the teacher.

Other content possibilities:

  • listening for certain sounds – write approx. four phonemes on the board, have Ss swat what they hear
  • vocabulary review – write vocab words on the board, read the definitions to Ss, they swat the correct word
    NOTE: any worksheet with a word bank can become The Flyswatter Game very, very easily
  • low-literacy vocabulary review – draw or tape pictures on the board, read the noun to Ss, they swat the correct picture
  • alphabet review – write letters on the board, say individual letter names, Ss swat the correct one
  • advanced scanning practice – project two longer passages onto the board or wall.  Read a sentence from somewhere in one of the passages; Ss race to scan the text and find the passage the sentence is from)

Twitter Ifs

I would pay more attention to Twitter if:

  1. I could have a desktop client on my main computer at work;
  2. TweetDeck didn’t take up an enormous amount of memory on my home computer;
  3. itself made it easier to listen.

I would be happier with Twitter being part of the world if:

  1. People would stop fretting and fussing that Twitter is causing the general populace to cease to read longer texts such as books;
  2. It didn’t lend itself so easily to generating new words such as “tweeps.”  It’s ridiculous – I was half inclined to name this post “twifs.”

Things I’ve learned because of Twitter:

  1. URL shorteners are handy;
  2. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was fun;
  3. Automated messages are Irritating.

State of the Welcome Video Request

To re-cap, I’m hoping secure a 1-minute video of Obama saying “Welcome” to new citizens.  It’s part of every new citizen ceremony, and the first one is the day after Obama’s inaugurationRead more about the request here.

The good news is that people are looking at the post (not in overwhelming droves, but significantly more than normally read my blog).

And I know that at least a few people have tweeted @obamainaugural.  Thank you!

Next steps:

Continue tweeting @obamainaugural and @barackobama the message:

1st new citizen natlztn ceremony = 1/21. Will they have a new welcome message from the new Pres?

Spread the word to your contacts, linking back to the explanation post at  From that we’ll either get numbers or the attention of one person with an in.

How else are the Obama folks listening?

What do you think about next steps?

Re: Question about Listening

I did actually receive a few answers about 6/25’s listening question.

Paraphrased response via phone:

  • ‘why did you ask?’

I asked because it comes up extremely frequently in both my work and personal life.  I’ve noticed that many of the people around me fail to listen, and more irritatingly, that I often fail to listen to them.

Paraphrased responses via Twitter:

  • ‘because people are afraid they’ll hear something they don’t like’
  • ‘yep, it’s a problem for me too.’
  • ‘because you think what you have to say is more important’

From an experience yesterday, I would add:

  • unwilling to accept a situation they don’t like

It reminds me of something my uncle said years ago that cracked me up.  He remarked that sometimes people “invent their own reality and then proceed to live in it.”  Though it’s valid to choose your attitude and your battles, if you’re immersed in Personal Reality, Population: 1, you’re probably pretty positive that your opinions trump all others, making listening understandably difficult.

So how do we prevent total disconnection of ourselves and our organization from generally accepted reality?  How can we ease the fears that can go along with real listening?  Is it possible to create an environment where people are confident they will be heard and that listening is worth their time?  What other layers of complexity (generation, culture, etc.) are people untangling along the way to an environment condusive to listening?