Three new kinds of TEFL board game

I came up with the first of these as part of my trivia quizzes boom, and used it to make this narrative tenses board game. Students work their way around a board game by guessing numbers. On each square they start with six points and lose one point for each wrong guess as they try to say how many of something there is, how much of something there was, how long something has lasted, etc. After each guess, their partner gives them hints like “(The real number is) much higher/ slightly longer/ quite a lot more often”. After they have guessed the exact number, they move one square for each point they had left when they guessed the number correctly, e.g. three squares if their fourth guess was correct. This board game could be used as fun variation on any of my numbers pairwork guessing games.

A more flexible version of this is for students to give each other multiple choice options and for the person whose turn it is to get one point for each option which is still left when they get the right answer. For example, one student could say “I have BLANK comics”, and give the four options “a”, “two”, “some” and “a lot of”. If their partner takes three turns to guess that the correct answer is “some”, they can move two squares (because there were two options left when they guessed correctly), but if they guess correctly first time, they can move four squares. This can work with personalised options, with factual answers such as trivia, or simple language tasks like guessing the right prepositions to make phrasal verbs. Although I haven’t made one of these yet, it’s probably my favourite variation as students always eventually guess correctly and move at least one square each time. Am planning to do a Use of English Part One version of this soon if I have time.

Thirdly, either of these can also work without any hints, with students just having (say) six chances to guess something right, then moving squares according to the same scheme:

First guess right = move six squares

Second guess right = move five squares

Third guess right = move four squares


63 more board games here and 48 other TEFLtastic classics here. And if you’d like me to have more time to make more photocopiable examples, please support TEFLtastic.

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Good and taboo questions (TEFLtastic Classics Part 49)

Updated 20 June 2021

The best thing you can teach students about almost any language point is how to ask and answer the kinds of questions related to that language which people really ask each other. However, doing just this more than a couple of times can get a bit dull and mean that the questions don’t really stick in students’ minds. One way around that is to give students a mix of those typical real-life small talk questions and ones that have the same language but we rarely or never actually ask each other (perhaps include the ridiculous questions that were put in the textbook without the intention of being taboo like “How often do you have a bath?”)

Nice activities with these kinds of good and taboo questions include students:

  • only asking and answering the good questions (rejecting all others with “I’d rather not say”, etc)
  • trying to choose the easiest and most normal questions, with the person who chose the one that they agree is least taboo being able to ask their choice each time and the other person having to answer
  • getting a point for each question that they answer or reject in a polite way with a phrase which is at least slightly different from previous rejections (e.g. “I’d rather keep that to myself” if someone has already said “I’d rather not say”)
  • asking a question and then flipping a coin to see if they can ask it to someone else (heads) or have to answer it themselves (tails) (the previous TEFLtastic Classic Ask and Tell)
  • flipping a coin to decide if the next question should be an easy common everyday one (heads) or a very personal one (tails), with the latter having to be answered if they can’t think of a new phrase to politely reject the question
  • flipping a coin after they hear the question to see if they should answer or not, and then discussing what their real reaction would be
  • getting more points if their partner asks them a taboo question, and even more points if they actually answer it
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they want next, with more points for trickier topics
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a coin (heads = easy common question, tails = taboo question)
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a dice (1 = very easy question even with strangers, 2 = less common with strangers but okay with acquaintances, etc)

Most of these activities should also help make students more aware of what kinds of questions are good and bad to ask, and can lead nicely onto taboo topics more generally.

And here are some I made earlier, organised by language point:

Good and taboo questions to practise grammar

Good and taboo questions to practise tenses

Good and taboo questions to practise present tenses

Present Simple taboo questions game

Good and taboo questions with be and do – NEW

Present Simple and Continuous taboo topics game

Business English Present Simple and Continuous taboo topics game lower level version

Adverbs of frequency- good and taboo questions coin game – NEW

Good and taboo Present Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions to practise past tenses

Good and taboo Past Simple questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo Past Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo Present Perfect Simple and Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions to practise question formation

Good and bad subject questions (including taboo topics discussion)

Good and bad how questions

Direct, indirect and taboo small talk questions

Direct, indirect and taboo Christmas questions

Good and taboo questions for other grammar points

Good and taboo passive voice questions

Good and taboo questions with have something done – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions on can for ability – COMING SOON

Good and taboo countable and uncountable questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo irregular plurals questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo have and have got questions – COMING SOON

It should also be possible with vocabulary-based topics, especially with subjects that are sometimes good for small talk but can sometimes be sensitive like:

  • good and taboo questions about family
  • good and taboo questions about work
  • good and taboo questions about health
  • good and taboo questions about free time

(not coming soon)

48 more endlessly adaptable activities that almost always work here.

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TEFLtastic blogroll updated

It’s the long “Golden Week” break here in Japan, so have had time to do my approximately once yearly look at the links on TEFLtastic.

Was pleasantly surprised to see that since this time last year only one or two blogs had disappeared, very few had become inactive, and quite a few inactive ones had become active again. You can see which are which by looking at those categories in the sidebar. If you are inspired by this to join those who are suddenly activating their blogs again or know of newer blogs for TEFLers which I’ve missed, please leave a comment below and I’ll do a further update before this time next year.

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New TEFL stuff 2021 Part One

Newest ones that I haven’t mentioned before top of each section.

New TEFL e-book

Teaching IELTS Writing: Interactive Classroom Activities

New TEFL articles spring 2021

How to make a personal connection in presentations

How to be friendly on the phone in English

100 common mistakes with starting and ending emails

How to teach used to, be used to and get used to

How to teach be used to and get used to

New TEFL photocopiables spring 2021

Directions flashcard memory game

Passive voice numbers quiz

Prepositions of position mix and match

There is & there are guess the place

Gradable and extreme adjectives guessing game (with modals of deduction)

Can you eat your house? abilities mix and match

ed and ing adjectives bluffing games

Weather vocabulary bluffing game

ed and ing adjectives coin games

Classroom vocabulary first letters games

Reported speech and determiners in names of places speaking activities

Generic brands vocabulary and speaking

Is there & Are there spelling games

Used to trivia quiz

How many… did…? trivia quiz irregular Past Simple practice

Family members trivia quiz

How often trivia quiz

British or American transport trivia quiz

UK or USA? British and American English trivia quiz

British and American household vocabulary quiz

How many… have? simple numbers quiz

How many times Present Perfect and Past Simple trivia quiz

British or American fashion trivia quiz

British or American food and drink trivia quiz

How many with irregular plurals trivia quiz

How long had…? Past Perfect trivia quiz

Which thing had already happened Past Perfect trivia quiz

What were people doing? Past Continuous trivia quiz

What places used to be called trivia quiz

Where is…? I don’t know game

Is there/Are there Trivia Quiz

Time of Day Trivia Quiz

Insurance trivia numbers pairwork

Metals industry pairwork numbers guessing game

Be used to and get used to ranking discussion

Be used to and get used to sentence completion games (bluffing, things in common and guessing game)

Be used to and get used to dice games

Talking about cultural differences with ‘be used to’ and ‘get used to’

Talking about life changes with be used to get used to

Changes to culture be used to get used to discussion

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Guest post: 11 tips for teaching controversial topics in the ESL classroom

A great post from Alice of Hot Take English, hopefully re-starting the once numerous and always popular TEFLtastic guest posts.

For a lot of English language teachers, the mere thought of teaching a so-called “controversial” discussion topic in class is enough to send them scampering out of the classroom faster than you can say “productive skills”. If you’re one of those teachers, you’re certainly not wrong to assume that teaching these types of topics to a group of mixed age and nationality students is going to require a bit of prudence. Indeed, if we were to follow some of the lesson ideas that can be found online about teaching controversial topics, then we can guarantee you will find yourself in some deep pedagogical waters.

A quick Google will provide you with a multitude of pages providing long lists of debate topics and little else in the way of lesson planning and preparation. I will not forget my shock at coming across a photocopiable worksheet book in a language school I once worked at, that suggested getting students to discuss questions like, “Does it matter if your teacher or doctor is gay?”, “Would you feel uncomfortable if you sat next to a transsexual [sic]?”, “Does torture happen in your country? Is it always wrong?” or, “What would you do if someone with HIV moved in next door to you?”

Whilst I admit there were days when the ‘print-off-and-go’ element of that book at times tempted me (especially on busy teaching days), I just couldn’t bring myself to use it – how could I guarantee that my students didn’t have direct experience with these topics and wouldn’t find them distressing to talk about in such a way? I believe we have a duty of care to our students, and the ESL classroom should not be a place that causes emotional harm.

Let’s not also forget that we are dealing with people with limited linguistic capabilities, so to throw one of these topics at them with no forethought could create an incredibly frustrating, perhaps upsetting and very disempowering learning experience. Not to mention the tears you will inevitably shed when the lesson erupts into chaos.

All that being said, using controversial topics in the classroom, when done in the right way, can create engaging and fun lessons and generate wonderfully stimulating language-learning opportunities for the students.

Most ESL students are eager to express their opinions about real life issues in English and it is our job as teachers to prepare them for the big bad world out there. Teaching these topics can also allow the class to get to know each other better and bond in a really meaningful way. It’s amazing to see quieter students come out of their shells, lose their inhibitions and express their opinions on something that they feel passionate about. I love seeing a student leave one of my lessons with a real sense of satisfaction at having overcome a big hurdle in their language-learning journey. And of course all positive learning experiences do students the world of good… since, when it comes to language learning, confidence building is 90% of the work!

The trick? Preparation!

Sure, that might be the trick for almost anything we do in this line of work, but bear with me. If you follow these tips you can be sure to avoid any classroom nightmares, develop your confidence as a teacher and ensure your controversial lesson runs as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Here goes.

1. Resist the urge to teach “vanilla” topics.

I know it’s tempting to go with the “for or against: smartphones” debate questions but you’re unlikely to inspire your students to really engage with the lesson.

Be brave, and remember, you got this!

2. Planning is key.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare a good lesson on controversial topics.

This includes researching the related vocabulary that you need to teach the students for them to be able to discuss the topic, preparing some key phrases and model sentences for them to learn then use whilst discussing the topic, as well as reviewing all third-party material that you plan to use to check that it is in-line with the direction you want to take the lesson.

When deciding on what language you want to introduce to the class, include language that enables respectful communication. You can bring your students’ attention back to this if, during the discussion phase of the lesson, they begin to diverge from this.

3. Don’t assume that the students in your class do not have first-hand experience of the subject matter you are teaching.

There is no such thing as an objective topic.

Teachers often make the mistake of assuming that because a talking point is to them little more than that, it is the same for the students too. The ESL classroom is an amalgamation of people from all sorts of walks of life and it is an extension of wider society. So chances are at least some of the students in the class will have first-hand experience with the subject at hand.

This is an especially important consideration for teachers working with refugees and who plan on covering topics related to war, conflict, global disasters or racist and imperialist governmental policies.

We are responsible for our students’ wellbeing and the last thing we would want is for a student to leave our class feeling emotionally triggered, anxious, or re-traumatised. This is not to say these topics can’t be addressed in the classroom, but they need to be done in a sensitive and conscientious way.

Which leads me on to the next tip…

4. Avoid tackling controversial topics with students you don’t know.

If you plan on using controversial topics in your classroom, it’s a good idea to have gotten to know your students beforehand and found out a little about their personal backgrounds and experiences. Doing the groundwork in creating a safer space within the classroom will do wonders in making students feel comfortable about potentially talking about topics that may be very personal.

Of course this will also have the benefit of you having a good idea of which topics your students are interested in and can get passionate about.

5. Give ample time for the topic.

Controversial topics should not be brought into the classroom simply as a 10-minute warmer exercise. Give students ample time to prepare for the task, to learn the appropriate vocabulary and phrases and then finally to express their opinions with their classmates.

6. Use case studies.

Make sure your lesson has a clear focus and avoid simple “for/against” debates. Using case studies (like, for example, news articles, opinion pieces or blog posts) to introduce the topic to the class means students get to learn the associated vocabulary, grammar and phrases within a real life context.

There’s also less chance that the discussion will veer off into a debate about something else entirely.

7. Keep debates to smaller groups.

Rather than arranging a large “for/against” classroom debate, keep discussions to smaller groups (or even pairs), depending on the confidence-levels in the class. We know what it’s like when bigger personalities dominate a discussion; so smaller groups give the less-confident students a chance to contribute too.

Try to go around the class and facilitate as much as possible, helping the quieter or less able students where possible.

If you do decide to go for a traditional debate with the entire class, establish some clear ground rules first regarding respectful communication.

8. Express your opinion/position where appropriate.

This is a controversial one, but it is my belief that a teacher doesn’t always necessarily have to remain impartial in these types of lessons. Students will inevitably be curious about what you think about a topic and expressing your opinion will allow you to model the language (and respectful communication style) that you want the class to use. In my experience it also helps build a relationship of trust with your students.

HOWEVER – and this is a really important point one – this is not your moment to shine! Your job is to facilitate the students’ learning and to develop their skills and confidence, not to persuade them of your opinions. Maximise student talking time by being curious about students’ opinions, asking them questions and inviting them to elaborate on their views.

9. Be sensitive to how students are feeling.

Being conscious of how students may be feeling is always a good idea when teaching topics that may be contentious. Keep an eye out for students who look disengaged, and be encouraging without being forceful.

10. Be strict about students sticking to English.

This is where the real challenge comes in for a lot of students. It’s natural for them to want – if the opportunity is there – to revert back to a language they feel more comfortable in when talking about topics that they feel really passionate about. But this is also the crucial point where students can really challenge themselves and take their language skills to the next level.

This is also where being strict about this in general (and encouraging students to speak to each other in English during the break, too) will come in handy!

11. Have fun!

Don’t forget to enjoy it. If done right, you might just produce your best lesson yet!

By Alice from Hot Take English

Hot Take English provides free English learning resources for students and teachers who are interested in activism, politics and social justice. Learn English with topics that you care about!

Posted in Alternative teaching techniques, Lesson planning, Speaking | Tagged | Leave a comment

New be used to and get used to page

New article and worksheets up on this brand new page on how to talk about being and becoming accustomed to things:

Be and get used to games/ worksheets – NEW

Stuff on that plus the past form “I used to” coming there soon too.

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New Teaching IELTS Writing e-book

My latest magnus opus provides over 300 pages of stimulating intensive practice of IELTS Academic Writing language, planning techniques and editing of typical mistakes:

Teaching IELTS Writing: Interactive Classroom Activities– NEW

As usual, buying a copy not only gives you stacks of thoroughly classroom tested and polished up materials at just a penny a page, but also makes my wife slightly more understanding about me spending my time on writing and so makes the next stack of materials much more likely. If I can sell enough of this and my other e-books to be able to turn down some cover lessons, will get back to work on half-finished ones on negotiations, tenses, grammar, functional language, technical English, etc, etc. Votes for which one next below please.

Posted in IELTS Writing, Photocopiable worksheets, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, TEFL e books, Writing games | Leave a comment

New teaching a and an page

Am presently writing lots of new articles and worksheets on a, an, the, some, any, much, etc, but realised that I already had enough on indefinite articles to make it worth them having a page of their own:

A and an games/ worksheets– NEW PAGE

That also leaves my articles page and determiners page much more manageable in size and with a couple of links to things I just discovered that I forgot to mention before.

Many updates on all three of those pages coming soon.

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Two nice new British and American English activities

It had been well over a year since I’d posted anything new on my worksheets page on UK and US English, but made up for lost time with this double whammy.

The first idea was one I came up with when I was working on the 46 trivia quizzes in my last post. Students are given a pair of sentences with one about the UK and one about the USA, with each sentence containing both something famous related to that place and vocabulary that is different in the other country, as in:

  • Where are Gap jeans, chinos and other pants from?
  • Where are Marks and Spencer briefs, boxers and other pants from?

for words with different meanings in the two places, or:

  • Where can I buy Bud Light at Louisville’s Liquor Barn and Party Mart liquor stores?
  • Where can I buy London Pride bitter in an Oddbins off license?

for different words in the two countries.

One student reads out one sentence for their partner to guess “UK” or “USA”. They get two points if they guess the country correctly, one point if they choose to hear the second sentence of the pair and then guess which one is which, and no points if they guess wrongly at any point. The famous brands, people, places etc hopefully both help students who don’t know the vocab guess and teach some useful cultural info for when they go to, meet people from or come across arts and media from those places. Examples:

British or American food and drink trivia quiz (British and American food vocabulary)

British or American fashion trivia quiz (British and American clothes vocabulary)

British or American transport trivia quiz (British and American English and transport vocabulary) – NEW

British or American trivia quiz (US and UK vocabulary and cultural knowledge) – NEW

These are a bit time consuming to make your own, but I found that with Google and my big list of British and American English I could knock out one on the chosen vocab topic in just over an hour.


The second idea is more of a straight quiz on British and American English, almost of the kind which I slag off in my articles on teaching this topic. This version partly makes up for that by being mainly Yes/ No and allowing up to six guesses for other questions. It’s main focus is anyway on the checking/ clarifying language like “What does… mean?” and “How do you spell…?” that are in the quiz questions. After doing the quiz and perhaps trying to remember the UK and US vocab, students try to construct checking/ clarifying phrases like “Does… mean the same as…?” and “How do you pronounce…?” and then use them to make their own quiz questions on topics of their choice.  Examples:

British and American household vocabulary quiz checking/ clarifying practice – NEW

Again, you can easily make a similar one on almost any topic in my big list of UK and USA vocab (this time without the time consuming but possibly fun time researching on Google). Note that which checking/ clarifying questions you can cover in each worksheet will depend on what students are likely to want to ask about those particular words.

More on checking/ clarifying here, and on my new British and American English articles page here.

Posted in British and American English, Teaching English as a Foreign Language | 1 Comment

48 trivia quizzes for EFL students (TEFLtastic Classics Part 44)

Updated 1 June 2021

When I was posting my list of the best of 2020, I noticed that a couple of the top ones were trivia quizzes and thought I should make sure that I had linked to them from my TEFLtastic Classics post on the topic. Then I realised that there never had been a TEFLtastic blog post on using trivia quizzes to teach English, even though the worksheet pages are stuffed with them. Especially with Zoom quizzes being such a big thing recently, perhaps it is about time…

The secrets to success with trivia in the English language classroom are to have one clear language point in mind and to make sure that students have a fair crack at getting the factual answer correct. The former could be grammar, vocabulary, numbers, or just cultural knowledge that they need to go abroad or be more open minded.

To make sure that they get a decent number of the actual trivia answers right, the best options are probably:

  • True/ False or Yes/ No questions
  • Multiple-choice questions (usually with one right and two wrong options)
  • Hints if their first answer is wrong (in my classes usually a kind of warmer cooler game where they get hints like “much more”, “a little less” etc until they get exactly the right number, but also hints like some of the letters in the words)

In all of these cases, it’s best if the other students are the ones helping the person who has to answer the question (by making some of the statements false, making up the false multiple-choice options, giving each other the warmer and cooler hints, etc).

Here are some I prepared earlier (many only very slightly earlier), most of which follow those tips:

Trivia quizzes for grammar practice

Past numbers trivia board game narrative tenses review – NEW

Passive voice numbers quiz

Used to trivia quiz

How many did…? trivia quiz irregular Past Simple practice

How often trivia quiz (Present Simple and frequency expressions)

How many… does… have? simple numbers trivia quiz

How many times…? Past Simple and Present Perfect trivia quiz

How many with irregular plurals trivia quiz

How long had…? Past Perfect trivia quiz

What were people doing? Past Continuous trivia quiz

Which had happened first? Past Perfect trivia quiz

What places used to be called trivia quiz (used to and names of places)

Is there/Are there…? trivia quiz

Time of day trivia quiz

Where is…? I don’t know game (personal and trivia questions to practise prepositions and names of places)

Subject questions trivia quizzes

How many are there? trivia quiz

How much and how many trivia quiz (countable and uncountable, pronouncing numbers and comparing/ contrasting)

Passive tenses environmental quiz

Superlatives numbers trivia

There is/ There are numbers guessing game

Transport in the UK trivia quiz (modals of obligation etc)

Business tense review trivia quiz

Active and passive true/ false quiz

Active and passive true/ false quiz version 2

Technical English measurements and superlatives

and see the next section for some comparative adjectives and related adverbs practice.

Trivia quizzes for vocabulary practice and cultural knowledge

British or American transport trivia quiz (British and American English and transport vocabulary)

British or American trivia quiz (US and UK vocabulary and cultural knowledge)

British or American food and drink trivia quiz (British and American food vocabulary)

British or American fashion trivia quiz (British and American clothes vocabulary)

Trivia quizzes to practice numbers, vocabulary, and comparing/ contrasting

Ordinal numbers trivia quiz

Metals industry pairwork numbers guessing game

Insurance trivia numbers pairwork

Business and financial trivia numbers review

Financial English numbers pairwork guessing game (fun game with numbers pronunciation practice, financial vocabulary collocations, and comparative adjective + adverb practice)

Social issues numbers pairwork

Legal trivia numbers pairwork

Olympics statistics pairwork guessing game

Numbers review for computer engineers

Numbers for architects guessing game

Medical numbers trivia (on onestopenglish, so subscription needed)

Best of Japan number trivia

Japan numbers trivia pairwork low level version

Engineering dimensions and comparing games

Architecture dimensions guessing game

Christmas trivia numbers pairwork version 2

Christman trivia numbers pairwork version 1

Other vocabulary practice through trivia quizzes

Family members trivia quiz

43 more timeless and infinitely adaptable TEFL activities here.

Posted in Grammar games, TEFL games, Vocabulary games | Tagged | 4 Comments