Activity Reference:

If any activities referred to in the posts or in the materials available on the site aren’t adequately explained, a brief description may be found below:

(And of course, if there’s anything you think should be added here – please let me know in the comments section!)


Essentially a vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams (they can choose a team name?).

Take two chairs and turn them round so that anyone sitting in them will have their backs to the board.  One person from each team comes up and sits in the chair.  The teacher writes a word on the board and the other members of the team try to explain the word, without actually saying the target word.  The first person (sitting in the chairs) to say the correct word wins one point for their team.  Change the person sitting in the chair after each word, so that all team members get a chance to be the guessers.  You can use this with single vocabulary items or with collocations, phrasal verbs, or even full sentences!

Rules:  People sitting in the chairs may not look at the board.  Explainers may not say the word OR ANY FORM of the word – for example if the target word is “teacher”, teams cannot say “teaching” / “teach” / “taught” and so forth.  The only language allowed is English (or your target language).  No mime or gesticulation is allowed.  No writing things down.  no saying the first letter of the word or spelling the words.  Points can be taken off for infractions!

Obviously, these rules can be relaxed for lower levels.  Fun for all ages and abilities!


The balloon debate takes its name from the original concept – namely a group of people are all in a hot air balloon which is losing altitude and is about to crash into a mountain.  To avoid this, some of the people in the balloon need to make the supreme sacrifice and jump out of the balloon, thus allowing the balloon to gain height and avoid the mountain.  Or the people in the balloon need to choose who to throw over the side.  The most common variant of this is where learners choose (or are allocated) celebrity names, past or present, and have to justify their continued existence or their contribution to humanity.  Which occasionally leads to some interesting debates between such luminaries as Lady Gaga and Albert Einstein.

It can of course be extended to alternative situations and adapted – for example learners can choose which everyday objects are included in a “hall of fame”.  The basic principle is that learners justify their own positions and attempt to undermine their peers, and there is a cross over between the principle of “selecting in” and “selecting out” – i.e. some learners will choose people to stay in the balloon and some will choose people to throw overboard.


This is like a normal dictation task – i.e. you have a short text which you read out and which the learners

write down. Except…  you substitute the word banana for a selection of target vocabulary items.  For example – you say “I hated maths at school.  I didn’t do any of the banana, never paid attention to the banana and I skipped classes whenever I banana.”


EITHER:  The learners copy the whole text (as per a normal dictation) and then complete the banana gaps afterwards.

OR:  The learners only listen for and write down the banana words (i.e. not the whole text, just what they think the target items are).


Feedback on a learner task that focuses on WHAT they say, not HOW they say it.  In other words, you don’t worry so much about correcting mistakes, but you listen and react to their ideas.

So when a learner says “Last the weekend I goes to the shopping.” – you don’t say “No – Last weekend I went shopping.”  You say “Really?  What did you buy?”


Write a contentious statement on the board (or generate one from your current topic area).

Divide the class into two groups – one group must find reasons to agree or support the statement on the board.  The other group needs to find reasons to disagree or contradict the topic.  This planning stage is a good point to feed useful vocabulary into the mix.  With higher levels, they can be prompted to consider what points their opponents might make and to develop counter-arguments.  Allow a sufficient amount of planning time (ten minutes or so?) depending on the topic / abilities of the group.

Reorganise the class so that each person from group A is paired with a person from group B.  (Personally, I like to seat the learners in two lines facing each other down the middle of the classroom – it adds an element of confrontation!).  The learners then debate the topic and try to “win” by browbeating each other into submission.


Another vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams.  Team members take turns in being the “artist”.

The artist comes up to the board and is shown a vocabulary item.  They then try to draw the item on the board without any use of letters, words or numbers.  Their team mates guess what the target item is.  A correct guess wins each team a point and the winning team is the one with the most points at the end of the game.

This can also be a very challenging, but fun, way of practising grammatical structures – for example past continuous & past simple “I was reading a book when the doorbell rang.”


A speaking activity, best used for a fluency focus, but a good opportunity to note down common areas of linguistic concern with the learners.  This type of discussion usually requires a ranking or categorisation task, for example where learners need to select items to take on holiday.  Penny Ur’s “Discussions That Work” has some nice tasks that can be used in this way.

This description uses the example of holiday packing, but obviously this can be substituted for alternative scenarios and topics:

Working individually, learners select a number of items that they want to take on holiday with them – say 15 items.

The learners then work in pairs to compare their lists of items and agree on a joint list of 15 items.  The key here is that they MUST agree on their final list.  Obviously to do this they need to justify their choices and point out the flaws in their opponents argument.

Then put the learners into larger groups of four, with the same task – a group agreed list of 15 items to take with them.

And so on to groups of eight, finally arriving at a whole class list of 15 items.

If you have a smaller class, just go from the pair stage, to a two large groups stage and then finally a whole class discussion.

9 Responses to “Activity Reference:”

  1. Clarisse Sunday 29 January 2012 at 19:14 #

    Dear David,

    I love your blog!

    One of the activities from this site I will feature on this mini-blog next Thursday!

    Best, Clarisse

    • David Petrie Monday 30 January 2012 at 12:29 #

      Thanks Clarisse, glad you like it! I look forward to seeing which activity you’ve chosen!

  2. sizibro Wednesday 4 June 2014 at 06:21 #

    opposition debate i really like …. this is handy for me to build the confidence among girls and boys……


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