Ideas I haven’t tried out yet #2: Story circles

campfireSource: GIPHY

This idea for a closer was shared with me by Marlon Schoep of Curtin University. He used it every day on a bridging course, and what I love about it is that it reminds those of our learners in tough, high-stakes courses that they’re part of a community and that they’re, you know, human.

And it’s very simple. At the end of the class, have all of the students stand in a circle. One student (a different student each time) tells a story about themselves.

A variation of this idea that my colleague suggested as a warmer is to have a different student each day give a 5-minute presentation (about themselves, about whatever topic is being studied that week, about whatever they have on their minds).


Ideas I haven’t tried out yet #1: Exploring new vocabulary with Google

This idea was suggested to me by Simon Cosgriff of Curtin University.

Take the word proximity. Have the learner do a Google search of, say, “proximity CNN.” They then look at the first six articles and note down as many collocations with proximity as possible.

A screenshot of the first three results alone yields close proximity, proximity to and proximity of X to:

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.


The learner could then try and formulate their own sentences using the collocations.




Alliterative adjectives for first lessons

wordle--alliterative adjectives

This activity, which has worked wonderfully for me as a GTKY activity with students from Pre-Intermediate upwards, is aimed at helping you and your students learn and remember each others’ names. It also endows each member of the class with an “identity” from day one. All you’ll need is an object that can be tossed among students without causing injury: a ball or plush toy would do the trick, but I usually use a scrunched-up piece of paper.

First, do a whole-class brainstorm of adjectives for describing people, writing them on the board as they are called out. Encourage positive personality adjectives to keep things light, and steer clear of appearance adjectives. You may need to suggest a few items of your own if you are teaching a low-level class. Drill and concept-check where necessary (but remember that this isn’t a vocabulary lesson).

Next, stand in a circle with your students. Demonstrate the activity by pointing to yourself and calling out your first name and an adjective to describe yourself with the same first letter or initial consonant sound, e.g. “Modest Matt.” Get the students to repeat this, then toss the ball to a student; that student then announces their chosen adjective and first name to the circle, the other students repeat what they’ve heard, and the ball is passed to another student, and so on until the ball returns to you.

At this point, pass the ball back to the student who tossed it to you, saying their adjective and first name. That student then tosses the ball to the student who had previously tossed it to them, repeating the latter student’s name and adjective, and so on until the ball finally comes back to you.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about this activity: all I’ve really done is combine two common icebreakers. But it’s a simple technique for building rapport and a sense of community in your classroom, especially if you keep using the adjective-name combinations when addressing students throughout the course. People like to feel acknowledged as more than just a face in the crowd.


Poster presentations


I have a roll of transparent plastic sheets in my office which I inherited from my predecessor, and on my last course I finally found a use for them in a nifty Friday afternoon group activity: poster presentations.

As the name implies, these are simply presentations delivered using a poster (rather than a PowerPoint) as a visual aid. In an ELT context, they can be used to help activate students’ knowledge of an upcoming topic, to give practice on a language point (mine were using the passive in describing how certain products are manufactured), to provide an opportunity for critical reflection on the topic of a reading or listening activity, or to develop presentation skills. Most of the necessary materials will be available in the classroom: whiteboard markers, flipboard paper (if you can’t access the aforementioned plastic sheets) and your students’ creativity.


  • Low-prep: all you need to do is provide the materials, set up the activity, and monitor
  • Student-centered: depending on your cohort, you may want to assign roles within groups–but once the planning stage is under way, you’ll only need to assist with language
  • Engages a variety of learning styles
  • All students are involved in the activity and have a stake in its success


  • Ensure, at the very least, that students are aware of the basic structure of a presentation–but it would be good for them to know a few presentation skills and phrases as well. These may need to be pre-taught in an earlier lesson. (Alex Case has a treasure-trove of presentation teaching tips and resources.)
  • To ensure all groups are on track, the planning stage should be broken up into at least three sub-stages: (i) planning of content and role assignment, (ii) poster design and (iii) rehearsal. Be strict with the timing of these stages and remind students of how long they have left before the next stage.
  • Assist students with the pronunciation of key words during the planning stage. Mispronunciation of important terms usually obscures the message and the audience may drift off.
  • Avoid A3 paper for the posters (it’s too small), and encourage students to write/draw large enough for the audience to see the details of the poster at a distance.
  • Help ensure the audience is engaged during the presentations. Have them fill out a KWL sheet before each presentation, or give each student a pre-written question (if you fear they may be reticent to come up with their own).
  • After the presentations, get students to reflect on what they did well and what they could have done better. This could be done as a whole-class discussion or a writing extension, and is a really good opportunity for students to identify for themselves some of the cardinal sins of presentations: reading from notes rather than speaking to the audience, failure to maintain eye contact, flat intonation, and so on.

A high-support, high-challenge activity that keeps students motivated and engaged: what more could you want on a Friday afternoon?