The key with TESOL games and activities is keeping them fresh. Even the most exciting activity can induce eye-rolls from your students if you return to the well too many times.

When I got my first teaching job in Luoyang in 2011, I generally only saw the same students once every two weeks. Over the course of a week, I would teach 18 different classes, and the following week I might teach 18 different classes. This made it difficult to remember all my students names and their language proficiency level. On the positive side, it meant that any game, activity, or ice-breaker I designed had a very long lifespan.

I could play a game with one class, and when I saw them again two weeks later, the game would still be new and exciting. I could use it again a third time as a warm-up, so a single game or activity could sometimes last as long as six weeks.  However, at my current school I teach my own classes, and sometimes see the same students twice a week. Now, remembering their names and skill level is easy, but I sometimes find myself running out of games to play, because the lifespan of the games is much shorter.

As a teacher, you learn to value games and activities that are reusable or easy to adapt. Games can be used repeatedly, even though you’re teaching levels, or different words and sentences. These are also useful as “fall-back” activities, for when you need to suddenly fill-in for another teacher, or you have extra time left at the end of class. I’d like to share a few with you here, today.

Sticky Balls and Dice
The sticky ball and dice are a teacher’s best friend–they’re versatile and useful teaching tools. Some schools don’t have a lot of teaching aids and materials, so you must make do with some basics to keep the class exciting. Something as simple as throwing a sticky ball on a flash card stuck on the whiteboard is something children love. Chinese students are extremely competitive, so it can infuse energy into a class. Plus, it can add a little randomness to what they want to say, because the language they use is dictated by what card they hit on the board.

With younger students, when you teach them prepositions such as on, under, in, over they can throw the sticky ball on the whiteboard, the computer, the window, a chair or even a book, and then use that to make a sentence, e.g., “Where is the ball? It is on the wall!

I also have the alphabet printed on laminated cards, and students can spell simple words by throwing the sticky ball at the letters, hitting the letters in sequence. They enjoy it because it’s spelling practice, but it’s also like a sport; they’re competing to get the most points. This works better with slightly younger students, as it takes to long to write words like “Music Performance” and “Birthday Party” when you have to throw a ball at each letter.

Similarly to the sticky ball, dice can be used in a myriad of ways. For example, I use a big plush die to play “hot potato” with my students, having them pass it to each other until I say, “Stop!” Then, they must either ask or answer a question related to the subject or grammatical point I’m teaching.

Instead of sticking flashcards on the whiteboard, I number a set of words from 1-6 and I have the students roll the dice to see what word they have to use. I also conveniently usually only have 6 students in my class and they sit in numbered chairs from 1-6, so I draw boxes on the floor with words or small assignments and then throw the die in a box to see which student has to perform the action or make a sentence using the word. These are small simple activities that are in no way topic specific and can be used for teaching and practicing almost anything. I find that simplicity is king when it comes to designing games and activities, because the simpler they are, the easier they are to modify. That way, one game turns into many games!

Do you have any dice or sticky ball games you like to play with your students? Share in the comments below, or send a link to your blog!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here


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