Like most teachers, I love a no-prep, no-materials activity, and students generally enjoy this one. You begin class by telling the students you are an alien. The scenario is you landed just a few minutes earlier, right outside the school. Since you are new here, you don’t know a lot of words, and you need some help.
You can create a mission scenario, and elicit vocabulary that will help you. Maybe you want to send a letter telling your mother you have arrived safely. You can elicit pen, paper, stamp, envelope, post office. Maybe you need to meet someone in another part of the school, such as the cafeteria. You can elicit types of rooms in a school (hall, bathroom, library, etc.) as well as direction words.
The game can go on as long as you like– simply adjust the mission to the length of time. Once you have played the alien, you can have students work in small groups. One student will take the role of the alien and the rest of the group are helpful humans. If your students are lower level, it may be helpful to give them a card with a scenario.
Have you played I’m an Alien with your students? What is your go-to mission?
This game is an oldie, but a goodie. It gets students talking and thinking critically to guess the unspoken rule. Even better, there are no materials, and if you can think of a rule and a few good examples on the fly, it’s no prep, too!
To begin, think of a rule for items on the picnic, but don’t tell the class. For example, “must contain the letter E,” or, “must be countable.” Tell them you are going on a picnic, and give examples of 3-5 items you are taking with you, to give them hints about your rule. Then, elicit from the students what they would take. If their item doesn’t fit your rule, tell them they can’t take it.
If you have very large classes, have students work in twos and threes to keep time between turns to a minimum. In any case, set a time limit for each person or group making a guess (30-60 seconds max., according to their level), or they are out. The student or group to guess the rule wins.
When I play this with my students, suggesting an item that doesn’t match the rule or guessing the wrong rule doesn’t get anyone out. The time limit is to keep the game moving, and disqualifying students for not making guesses keeps students from just listening to other guesses to guess the rule without contributing otherwise.
I know just about everyone has played telephone before, but sometimes you forget about the games you played as child, or don’t think of how familiar games can be repurposed for ESL. Telephone is a fun way to get students to listen carefully and make logical guesses to fill in any gaps.
To play, line your students up in two or more rows (teams) starting from the front and going to the back. The student at the front of each team is given a sentence.
You need to consider the level of the students carefully when choosing your sentence– make sure the lead students can all understand it really easily. It can work well to take something that you’ve been studying from the textbook and adjust it slightly. They whisper the sentence
The lead students whisper the sentence one time to the next student in their line. That student whispers it to the person in front of them, etc. The last person to hear the sentence must correctly state what they have heard. The team with the closest phrase is the winner.
You may need to explicitly forbid students from using their L1. It is usually pretty obvious if someone has translated along the way, because the ending sentence has the same meaning as the original but uses synonyms.
You can either give each group the same sentence or use different ones. I like to take the team leaders into the hall, give each a different sentence and allow them the chance to have it repeated before we begin. Then, the students return together and the game begins.
Keep the teams to about 8-10 students or fewer in order to increase speaking time. Remember that students will only say one sentence each per round. Remind students that even if they didn’t hear the sentence clearly, they need to make their best guess and tell something to the next person instead of nothing.