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Short Activities for the ESL / EFL Teacher

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I'm sure you are familiar with this situation: It's five minutes before your next class is going to begin and you really don't know what to do. Or maybe this situation is familiar; you've finished your lesson and there are still ten minutes left to go. This feature serves as an introduction to a new section on this site dedicated to short, helpful activities to be used in those situations when you could use a good idea to help get the class started, or fill those inevitable gaps.

Please share your own quick exercises with other teachers by clicking on the "Readers Repond" link at the bottom of this page. The more activities we share, the more we will all be armed and ready at a moment's notice!

More quick classroom activities to use in a pinch:

Quick Grammar Activities
Quick Speaking Activities
Quick Vocabulary Activities

To begin with, here are three of my favorite short activities:

My friend...?

I like to draw a picture of a man or a woman on the board. This usually gets a few laughs as my drawing skills leave quite a lot to be desired. Anyway, the point of this exercise is that you ask students questions about this mystery person. Begin with: 'What is his / her name?' and go from there. The only rule that applies is that students have to pay attention to what other students say so that they can give reasonable answers based on what other students have said. This is a great little exercise to review tenses. The crazier the story becomes the better, and more communicative, the activity is for the students.

Short Topic Writing

The idea of this exercise is to get students to quickly write about a topic they choose (or you assign). These short presentations are then used in two manners; to generate spontaneous conversations on a wide range of topics, and to take a look at some common writing problems. Use the following subjects and ask students to write a paragraph or two about a subject they choose, give them about five to ten minutes to write:

The best thing to happen to me today


The worst thing to happen to me today
Something funny that happened to me this week
What I really hate!
What I really like!
My favorite thing
A surprise I had
A landscape
A building
A monument
A museum
A memory from childhood
My best friend
My boss

Music Description

Choose a short piece or excerpt of music you like (I prefer something by the French composers Ravel or Debussy) and tell the students to relax and listen to the music. Tell them to let their imaginations run free. After you have listened to the piece twice, ask them to describe what they were thinking about or what they imagined while they were listening to the music. Ask them why they had those particular thoughts.

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