Category Archives: teaching



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.

2 Truths and a Lie

two truths border
When I first started teaching, I had never even heard of two truths and a lie. Crazy, right? Now, it is a staple in my classroom, because it is no prep, requires no materials, and gets students talking and listening.

I either run it as a whole class activity in small classes, or we play in groups of 4-6 in a bigger class. My general rule of thumb is that it takes around 3-4 minutes per student without follow-up questions. However, if you allow 2-3 minutes for students to quiz the speaker for more information, it takes about 6-7 minutes per student.
This is a useful activity not only for practicing the speaking sub-skills of initiating a conversation and responding to something in a questioning/ doubtful way but also for practicing “always/ usually/ sometimes/ never” or “can/ can’t” and “I’ve.” For example, if you allow question time, students will have to say something like, “You can make/play/do _____? I don’t believe you! Tell me _____.”

If you haven’t played it before, it’s an easy game. Students begin by writing three sentences, one of which is false. They read their sentences to their group and the other students guess the false one. Higher level classes can ask three questions, or question the person for a pre-determined amount of time (2-3 minutes) to determine the false one. Each student gets a turn to play. A correct guess gets one point. If no one guesses a student’s lie, that student can get a point, too, if you like. The lower the students’ level, the fewer rules you should have, though.

You can do this as a single activity in one class, or you can also do it over a series of days as a warmer to begin class or a filler at the end. This is a great first-day ice breaker if your students haven’t met before.

Before you have students write their sentences, give them a few examples of good sentences and bad sentences. You may even want to write them on the board. “Good” sentences include ones about hobbies or experiences they have had– information that they can elaborate on in answer to the other students’ questions. “Bad” sentences would be ones that have no other details for students to discover through questioning, such as, “I was born at X Hospital.”

Time each turn to keep the game moving. At the end, you can finish up by asking which students were able to trick their classmates, who was the best at picking the lies, etc.

Five Ways to Use Would You Rather?

5 Ways to use

You may be familiar with Would You Rather? as a silly party game, but it doubles as a super-fun class discussion starter. You can buy ready-made decks, but they aren’t ESL specific. I make my own cards, but you can just make a list of questions or wing it without materials if you can think of choices on the spot.

You can play in class in a few different ways.

Would You Rather...?
Would You Rather…?
  1. Give the class a single prompt and have them discuss their choice with a partner or small group. Then, bring all of the groups together and poll to see the most popular response.
  2. Give each student a different prompt and have students mingle, taking turns discussing their prompt with several different partners. Give each pair 1-2 minutes to discuss before having them find new partners. Since you can easily vary the length of the activity, this is a good activity if you unexpectedly have time. For example, if students get back early from a field trip, or finish testing early.
  3. Have students create their own prompts to discuss.
  4. Have students work in pairs or teams and alternate defending their opposing choices, debate-style. They should respond to their counterpart’s arguments as well as provide additional reasons for their choice.
  5. Combine Would You Rather? with a lesson on conditionals. Have students imagine their choice were real: “If I had horns, I would. . .” Have them discuss with a partner or small group or write a  paragraph about it.

Would You Rather? always goes down well, and the grosser the prompt, the more likely my too-cool-for-school boys are to get involved in the conversation. (Think: Would you rather drink your own urine or a stranger’s vomit?)

If you play Would You Rather?, what are some prompts you use?

Using Task Cards for Small Group or Pair Work

Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6
Irregular Verbs Simple Past Task Cards 1-6


Task cards are one of the most versatile group activities you can do. The beauty of them is that you can reuse them over and over for different activities.

Here are just a few ways I like to use them with small groups. Give each table, group, or pair a deck of task cards, and:

  1. Have students draw cards and quiz one another.
  2. Have students work together to complete them cooperatively.
  3. Use them as draw cards for a game board– land on a square, answer a task card.
  4. Create different “stations” around the class, so each table is completing a different set of task cards. Give a time limit (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the number of cards and difficulty, etc.), then have students rotate. This is a great activity for an end-of-unit/ book/ semester review before a comprehensive test, or if you only have one deck, but you want to work in small groups.

Task cards are excellent for multi-level classes. Group students according to their level, and give them different decks of task cards. For example, lower level students can complete multiple choice tasks while higher level students fill in the blanks.

If you have a group of students far above or below the rest of the class, they can work on something completely different, but more appropriate to their level. I’ve had classes with returnees mixed with phonics students and task cards gave me the chance to attend to both groups’ needs. It’s also great for keeping everyone engaged while you go from group to group.

Task Cards for Individual Work

Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4
Christmas Part of Speech Review Task Cards 1-4

Task cards get used in group work most often in my class, but they are perfectly suited to individual use. You can always direct early finishers to a set of task cards to work on. Just keep your collection sorted by grade or book, and let your students know to choose a deck from their area and just get to work. Your more advanced students can self-study with higher level cards. At the other end of the spectrum, lower level students can get remedial practice. If you keep the file of answer sheets handy, they will always know what they have already done.

If your school wants students to get to work as soon as they walk in the classroom, you can use task cards as a bell ringer activity. Either choose a random card and write the task on the white board or have each student draw a card from the deck as they enter the room. The task can be anything from a writing prompt for a quick write to a card (or cards) related to the previous lesson as a review.

Task Cards in the ESL Classroom

ABC Task Cards 1-6
ABC Task Cards 1-6

You may be asking, “What are task cards?” and the simple answer is they are cards with tasks (activities or questions) on them. Typically, a card will have a single task for the student to complete. For example, complete a sentence, circle a noun, respond to a journal prompt, or pretty much anything else you might create a worksheet to practice. In fact, task cards are a great reusable replacement for worksheets.

Since worksheets require wide line spacing to give students room to write, the number of items which can fit on a page is limited. You are left choosing between less practice or more pages. However, with task cards, you simply create a larger deck to provide more practice. With only one item per card, students are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the total amount of work they will be doing. And think of all the trees you’ll save.

Students can work on a single card, a few cards, or an entire deck, depending on the time you have and the specifics of the lesson. Whether you have an extra few minutes at the end of a lesson or an activity took half the expected time, you can grab some task cards and keep your class working productively. The same deck of cards can be used over and over, in different ways, to recycle material.

Open Class survived, now on to Field Day

Last week, I had Open Classes for the parents to observe me in action. For the past while, I’ve had increasing issues with the chattiness of the class. Of course, for the Open Class, you might have thought they had taken vows of silence. The other 4th grade teacher and I had planned what we thought the parents would like to see: reading, speaking, and writing in one class. The reading was limited to phrases (the students were given cards with phrases on them to hang on the wall to match to the correct category) and the writing was a group effort on the board. The speaking was a non-starter. No one wanted to risk making a mistake in front of their parents. Later, my partner teacher told me that the parents would have liked the kids to play a game. Seriously? They had one class period to get a feel for what we do in an “average day” and they wanted a game? With annual tuition over US$20k, you would think they would want to see something more substantial.

That was last week. This week, we will have a Field Day on Saturday. All day. 8:30-3:30. To “prepare”, we are taking the first 90 minutes of school each day this week to practice. The students have to stretch and then practice the prescribed cheers and hand jive. The stretching is clearly a routine they know well, which is a good thing, because when we got started yesterday, I found out that I was supposed to lead my class. I “led” by watching what my students were doing. The students also had to practice a relay race which was run by two teams made up of one boy and one girl from each class. There are about 20 classes. By the end, I felt like I was watching a marathon.

Tomorrow, the kids have midterms, so I won’t have any classes. One of the moms will come to proctor, so I just have to sit here quietly. Next week, we only have a full day on Monday. Tuesday, we have Children’s Day ceremony, then the rest of the week off for Children’s Day.

I like time off as much as the next person, but I’ve got a lot of material to get through this year, and I’m already skimming over most things far more than I would like.

Nothing Says “I want my kid to succeed” quite like this

I’ve got a few posts I’ve been sitting on, mostly because I haven’t uploaded the photos from my camera, but here is a quickie, thanks to my phone camera.
My students had to bring plants in a plastic bottle planter for their Korean science class. Most of the kids brought water bottles or soda bottles, but one kid (whose name was not on the bottle) brought this:

That’s right, a two-liter soju bottle. Hehehe. If it were for my child, I might just go out and buy a bottle of soda (or water), so it wouldn’t look like the only two-liter bottles lying around my house were ones which previously contained grain alcohol. If my frugal nature prevented such an extravagent waste of a dollar, I would at least have removed the soju label to pass it off as a cider bottle. But that’s just me.

I’m Not Exactly Sure What Happened, But I Definitely Gave Something

I went to the hospital and gave “blood” which involved me being hooked to a machine with multiple bags and an alarm that went off about every 90 seconds for the nearly two hours that I was attached to it. I felt really bad for the nurse, because I arrived as they were all scooting out the door and she had to stay. Then it took two hours (plus rest time after and set up time before, so really, over two and a half hours). She couldn’t even get anything done because she had to babysit the machine. I didn’t look at it, but apparently my blood did not look normal, but all the tests were fine, so whatever. I guess I’m an alien. In addition to whatever issue was causing the machine to beep incessantly and ever-more-urgently.

So, I roll up at home just before 8PM (I went to the hospital at 3:30), and… NO KEY! Grrr… So, I called my landlord, who lives upstairs. No answer. So, I sat there for TWO HOURS until the upstairs light turned on. They had been napping or something (wink wink nudge nudge) the whole time. I called again and they quickly ran out with the spare key. From the embarrassed look on my landlord’s face, they had either heard (and ignored) my previous call, or I hadn’t interrupted a nap, if you know what I mean. Today, there was a video announcement with a child holding my key, so it is now safely in my bag.

The Ministry of Ed folks toured the school today, so we were warned a week ago to dress up. Of course, I remembered that as I was clocking in. All of the male teachers are in suits and all of the female teachers are in skirts or otherwise dressed up, and then there is me. I decided to wear jeans today, which I do about once every other week. Of course. Go me. So, I’ve been hiding all day.

Happy St. Pat’s er… PTA Meeting Day

Well, they’ve got the same letters, so they should be equally fun, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so, either. Apparently, my homework load has been getting complaints. So far, I’ve given out 10-15 minutes per day, plus one to three writing paragraphs for chatting in Korean or talking louder than me when I’m speaking to the class. Cry me a river. I doubt any kid has had a full hour of homework yet.

How little homework should I be giving? Under ten minutes a day? Under five? Maybe that’s why these kids have gone to an immersion school for four years and still can’t write a sentence with a subject AND a verb. We won’t even talk about articles, because that’s a pipe dream.

Seriously, my new job is awesome, but these kids need serious work on their English and osmosis has pretty well been discounted as a way to learn. I’m pretty much living proof– I’ve lived in Korea for over ten years, but I speak English at school all day, then come home to my English Batcave, and my Korean still sucks. If I were paying big bucks to someone to improve my Korean, I’d be pretty angry at the return on my investment.