Most recent top of each section
New teaching materials pages
New TEFL articles
List of useful language for EFL teachers and learners
New TEFL pdfs
Past, Present and Future Listening (especially useful for TOEIC Listening)
Most recent top of each section
New teaching materials pages
New TEFL articles
List of useful language for EFL teachers and learners
New TEFL pdfs
Past, Present and Future Listening (especially useful for TOEIC Listening)
Am still working on an article on the topic, but have already made a new page for worksheets on “some”, “a few”, “too many”, etc, with mutual links to and from my related pages like countable/ uncountable, there is/ there are, numbers and determiners:
Quantifiers PDFs – NEW PAGE
I’ve written a lot about pelmanism/ pairs/ the memory game before. However in the second half of the latest of my ETP articles that started with dominoes, I managed to come up with even more uses and variations and my new favourite, personalised pelmanism. Links to photocopiable versions and other articles/ blog posts on the different kinds of pelmanism below. But first a brief explanation of the original card game that the EFL version was taken from:
Pelmanism/ pairs/ memory game with normal playing cards
In the original version of pelmanism, a pack of normal playing cards is spread face down across the table. Between two and four players take turns trying to find two cards with the same number (e.g. the seven of diamonds and the seven of hearts), putting the two cards back face down in the same places if they don’t match. Play passes to the next person either after each try or whenever the last person turns over two cards which don’t match, with the latter variation being more exciting but sometimes leading to one player dominating the game.
There are other ways of doing it, but I generally make TEFL pelmanism cards which are in groups which are similar in some way, in the same way as the seven of diamonds is similar to the seven of clubs. For example, if you want to practise prepositions, then you can make a pack of cards with missing prepositions like “___ Monday” and “___ New Year’s Day”, and then ask the students to find pairs which have the same word missing, as in these worksheets:
It’s generally best if there are the same number of each kind of card and an even number of each group, e.g. eight with “at” missing, eight with “on” missing and eight with “in” missing. However, having fewer of some kinds of cards and/or “orphan” cards left at the end of the game because there was an odd number in the pack is fine and can be a good way to make the game more challenging. You can play with as few as two categories (e.g. just different words meaning “go up” like “rocket” and words meaning “go down” like “crash”) or as many as ten categories (e.g. expressions with ten different missing dependent prepositions). However, you need to make sure that there are several possible matches for each card (as is true with the non-TEFL version). I find that it works best with between three and five groups of words, e.g. words which go with the negative prefixes “un-“, “in-“, “im-“ and “ir-“, with eight to 12 cards of each kind.
This kind of pelmanism works with the matches being:
The other possibility is to make cards that actually have to match each other in some way, e.g. prepositions cards and cards with prepositions missing. This can work, especially if you make the two different kinds of cards different colours and/ or sizes so they don’t take two prepositions, etc. However, matching cards that are the same in some way is easier to set up and probably more closely matches how we store such things in our brains.
It is also possible to play a personalised version of pelmanism. If you have a pack of cards with topics like “food” or vocabulary like “unicycle” on them, the students can ask each other yes/no questions about the two cards that they turn over and can keep the cards if they get the same answer to both questions. For example, if one student gets the “salt” and “paper” cards, asks “Is there any salt in your bedroom?” and “Is there any paper in your garden (now)?” and get “No” answers to both, they can keep both cards. Personalised pelmanism works for:
Other ways of making pelmanism personalised is to ask the students to combine both cards in one true statement or to combine both cards in one question that their partner answers “Yes” to. For example, they could try to make true conditional sentences like “If we hadn’t invented cars, trains would be more popular” with the “cars” and “trains” cards, or they could try to get “Yes” answers to questions like “If you had wings, would you save people jumping off bridges?” if they took the “wings” and “bridge” cards.
Photocopiable examples of personalised pelmanism include:
As shown in the names of some of the activities above, the personalised games above are variations on “random pelmanism”, in which the teacher hasn’t decided the correct matches when setting up the game, and therefore any matches that the students can think of and which make sense are allowed. If you have a set of random words that need revising, this also works without any personalisation by asking the students to make comparisons such as finding similarities between the two cards that they turn over. For example, if they turn over the words “ladder” and “fuse”, they could say “A ladder is more dangerous than a fuse” or “They are both made of metal” to practise comparing/contrasting, or “They are both safe” for simpler practice of adjectives. To expand the range of language used, it’s best to tell the students that they must make sentences that are at least slightly different each time.
Random pelmanism works with almost any vocabulary, but I have used it most often with animals, classroom objects, places, body parts and academic vocabulary. For additional language practice, you can also put some additional information about the vocabulary on the cards (e.g. both the British and American forms, or the plurals of countable nouns). You can then test the students on their memory of that aspect of the vocabulary after the game.
Another blog post, a video and lots of example worksheets of random pelmanism here:
Inventions random pelmanism (the one in the video)
Comparing places random pelmanism (comparatives with places names and adjectives, including nationalities)
The problem with random pelmanism can occasionally be that almost all the cards match easily, therefore taking away the challenge. To avoid that problem, you can make the game into “reverse pelmanism”, where the challenge is to find cards that their partner can’t match in any way. Example here:
Another popular variation for younger students is “3D pelmanism”, in which they choose things such as plastic fruit from just feeling in a bag and then get points if they can say “They are red”, “They are big (in real life)”, etc. Blog post on the topic here:
With students who find reading difficult and sets which are very tricky to match, you can also play pelmanism with the cards face up.
Before and after pelmanism
Before or after playing pelmanism, I often get my students to put the matching cards in columns, sometimes as a race. Snap can also often be played with the same cards, and is a faster paced game that makes students think of the language more quickly.
Other articles and blog posts on using pelmanism in EFL classes:
Pelmanism and Snap in EFL classes blog post (with links to all the worksheets arranged by language point)
I had a real TEFL-free summer holiday this year for once, but not a bad haul before and after that. Newest ones that I haven’t mentioned before top of each section.
Lists of useful language
Present or future? simplest responses game (including present and future time expressions and present and future meanings on Present Continuous) – NEW
And should be many more this autumn.
New article, many new worksheets and flashcards, plus new links to songs and stories here:
I start far too many of my articles with suggestions to teach more of this and less of that, but this time I really really really really really really mean it!
Perhaps the most shocking weakness I have found in how English is usually taught is the number of students who know the intricacies of Present Perfect Continuous but not the expression “the day before yesterday”, know all about the differences between predictions with and without present evidence but not the difference between “in two weeks” and “two weeks later”, etc. Therefore nowadays when the book says I should be teaching present, past or future tenses, I actually spend far more time teaching present, past and future time expressions like “almost always”, “in the last two weeks” and “some time”. And in a nice accidental benefit, that is often the best way of teaching the differences like Present Perfect/ Past Simple and Present Continuous/ Present Simple, as well as a vocabulary rich way of introducing prepositions of time.
To help make this simple, effective and important shift in how grammar is taught, over the last few months I have added three articles with loads of game ideas and 15 photocopiable worksheets on teaching past, present and future time expressions, along with links to loads more new stuff on more specific time expressions like days of the week and dates, all here:
Part One of the most recent of my articles in ETP magazine. Updated with extra worksheets on 20 July 2018.
Readers who saw the number of variations in my article on jigsaw games might be surprised to find that those are just part of the even more varied and useful category of ‘matching games’, along with dominoes, pelmanism and snap, the first of which is dealt with here.
The most similar of those three games to a jigsaw is dominoes, especially the ‘jigsaw dominoes’ variation explained below. Many of my students are only aware of dominoes from YouTube videos showing people standing them up in lines and then knocking them over dramatically, so I occasionally start by demonstrating an actual game of dominoes. There are many variations, but I tend to demonstrate a simplified version that has the same rules as the ELT version that I will then get them to play.
Each domino is a rectangle divided into two, with between zero dots and six dots on each half. Each domino in the set has a unique combination of dots, and every possible combination of those numbers is included in a set of dominoes: from a domino with no dots on both halves to a domino with six dots on both halves. Two to four players take seven dominoes each and look at them, without showing them to anyone else. One domino is then placed face up in the middle of the table. The first player tries to match a number on one of their dominoes to one of the halves of the domino on the table, e.g. putting a domino that has five dots on one half next to a matching domino with five dots that is already on the table. If that person can’t go and there are still dominoes which haven’t been dealt out to any of the players, they take one more. Play then passes to the next person. The person who first successfully places all their dominoes down or has the fewest left at the end of the game wins.
Very young and low-level learners could benefit from moving from one quick game of regular dominoes to another game using a set of dominoes with written numbers on the left-hand side of each one and dots or figures on the right, so they have to match “six” to “6”, etc. They could also do similar things with pictures, e.g. matching “red” on the right of one domino to a patch of that colour on the left of another domino, or matching the written word “cow” to a picture of a cow. It is very easy to make your own paper dominoes with a two-column table in a Word document, making sure that each end matches at least one other domino and that you leave the two columns together on each domino when you cut them out. There are also many commercial versions of picture dominoes, with animal vocabulary, etc, but they usually have problems, such as words with very tricky spellings that aren’t easy to pronounce.
Picture dominoes are often also more like a jigsaw than an actual set of dominoes, with only one possible match for each half of each domino. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if that is the case, it is often better to get the students to work together to match all the cards to make a big circle (or rectangle) instead of, or before, trying to play an actual game of dominoes. It is easier and more satisfying if the final order makes some kind of sense, e.g. if a set of opinions phrases are alternatively positive and negative or if the finished days of the week are in order when the students have put all the “jigsaw dominoes” together in the right way.
Matching half of a domino to the same or a similar thing on another domino also works for:
Especially in higher-level classes, it is perhaps more common and useful to get the students to match up beginnings and endings of words, phrases, sentences, etc. This works well for negative prefixes and the words they go with, collocations such as “play” and “go” with sports, or beginnings and endings of useful telephoning phrases. Other possibilities include:
As well as matching similar things and beginnings and endings, you could also match opposites, e.g. “I support …” and “I oppose …” for opinions phrases or “generous” and “mean” for character words.
Photocopiable dominoes pdfs
CPE collocations dominoes (Use of English Part One and Part Two) – NEW
More dominoes pdfs coming very soon. In the meantime, there are another 35 infinitely adaptable TEFL activities here.
Simplicity itself, and almost infinitely adaptable – students try to come to agreement with the words, phrases, gapped sentences, sentence stems, etc that you give them, making it like an opinions version of Things in Common. Then they try to remember and/ or analyse the language that they just used. Photocopiable examples:
Others coming up (soon or eventually):
And can be used for loads of other points.
34 more classic TEFL activities with 100s of pdf versions here.
Another of my articles for ETP on basic TEFL games and their many uses and variations. Not many photocopiables possible for this one, but one example included below.
Although I would put the blocks that I wrote about here at the top of my list of things to buy for a new teacher’s room, a ball would be a clear number two. As well as being useable with lots of different language points, a ball adds a good balance of energy and focus to classes in a way that very few other things can.
Choosing a ball
The ball should be soft enough not to injure anyone or break anything, and easy enough to catch and possibly bounce. For most situations, a beach ball is the number one choice, the only negatives being the chance of getting a puncture, the possibility of spreading germs if many people blow it up, and the amount of bouncing causing too much fun in some classes. The second choice is a soft foam ball. Balls should preferably be about 30 centimetres in diameter, as smaller ones can mean wasted time looking for them under desks, etc, and bigger ones just tend to bounce around without being caught.
For throwing at things, it can also be good to have a sticky ball (also known as a sucker ball), which is a ball with little plastic cups on it that make it stick to smooth surfaces such as a whiteboard or window.
Alternatives to balls
If you want to add even more excitement and/or give the students more time to think and get ready to catch, it is sometimes good to use a balloon instead of a ball. In contrast, a beanbag or something similar, like a pair of rolled-up socks, can take away the bounce factor if bouncing balls might make your students go wild. Screwed-up pieces of paper can also work, with the benefit that the students can make one each and all throw them at the same time if you wish, and for older students it can seem less childish to use a piece of screwed-up paper than it would be to use a beach ball. Particularly if you want to add language related to the thing being thrown, you could also use toys such as soft plastic animals, plastic fruit, and hand or finger puppets.
How to use a ball
As in actual ball sports, the most obvious things for students to do with a ball in class are to throw it (at a target or to each other), catch it, bounce it, pass it, and roll it (across the floor or table top). These different actions can be done individually or together with other people. For example, one student could recite the months of the year as they bounce the ball against the wall on their own, with the other students chanting along or checking for mistakes. In pairs, the students could ask and answer basic personal questions as they throw the ball back and forth between them (either cooperating or competing). In teams, the students could bounce the ball back and forth between two sides of the classroom in a kind of volleyball match, as they test each other on adjective opposites.
Rules for who starts the next round, the scoring of points, when a game finishes, etc can be borrowed from sports such as volleyball, tennis, badminton, table tennis and squash. However, I usually find that using a ball is enough fun on its own, so I generally just get my students to take turns or change the person who “serves” whenever the previous server loses a round, without any actual scoring of points. In the same way, when I tell my students that we are playing “volleyball” and that the ball therefore can’t be caught, I’m rarely strict about how many bounces are allowed, what counts as a proper bounce, etc.
For games where the students throw the ball at something in the classroom, on the board, etc (as they would at a basket or goal in real sports), more fun can be added by having them close their eyes and/or adding a goalkeeper who tries to stop the ball going where it should.
There are also some games which are based specifically on passing the ball from hand to hand, with more relation to party games or sports training than to actual sports. Smaller classes can just pass the ball around the class as they drill the language as quickly as possible, eg saying “What’s this?” “It’s a ball” or “How” “many” “chairs” “are” “there?” “There” “are” “ten” word by word, as the ball goes round the class. A nice variation is to have two or more balls going from desk to desk or around a circle of students at the same time. With larger classes, you can get the students lined up in teams and ask them to pass the ball along the line as they drill the language, perhaps with the person at the end of the line running to the front with the ball to show that they have finished and are ready for the next round. Although it can be time consuming, for extra challenge and/ or fun you can also add variations like the students having to pass the ball only with their little fingers, pass it under their legs, or get to the front of their line by crawling under the other students’ legs or by winding in and out through the other people.
There are also two ball action games described at the end of this article that can involve heading or kicking the ball, but these can have the disadvantage of putting the focus too much on sporting skill and not enough on language.
Starting to use a ball in class
With young learner classes, I often stand at the door of the classroom with the ball and shout out “Are you ready?” to show them that something fun is coming from the very first moment of the class. When they have entered the class and are settled down, we then roll or throw and catch the ball as we ask and answer basic personal questions like “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” This then naturally leads on to the drilling games, brainstorming games or target practice games outlined below. I often use those games to move smoothly from revision to the new language point of the day, e.g. using the same game to revise “Do you like…?” and then introduce “Do you have…?”
With older classes, the appearance of a ball can have the exact opposite effect, causing the students to doubt that they will be doing something either age-appropriate or useful. Therefore, you need to set up the activity very carefully before you introduce the idea of using a ball. For example, if you put some short answers on the board and get the students to pick ones like “Yes, I do” and “No, I haven’t” and then try to get those answers from their partner by asking questions, this can quickly become too easy and a little dull, so teenagers and even adults might be ready to throw a piece of screwed up paper at the board in order to choose which response they will try to obtain.
Drilling games with balls
A ball is perfect for making the drilling of lists of things like days of the week and months fun, either with one student trying on their own or with different students continuing the list as they throw a ball back and forth. This also works for:
To make it more like real competitive ball games, such as tennis, the students can also test each other with an infinitive that their partner should “return” with the past simple form, or an adjective which their partner should return with the comparative and/or superlative form. This also works for:
Another possibility for something to do after asking questions back and forth is to split the questions and answers up into individual words as the ball goes back and forth: e.g. “How” “many” “windows” “are” “there?” “There” “are” “three”, as the ball is passed eight times. This is more fun if the students have to think carefully about and/or react to the answer, for example running and touching the object that the last student says at the end of a sequence like “What” “is” “it?” “It” “is” “a” “table”.
All these games work well with some version of volleyball, meaning that the students can’t catch the ball, but have to continue bouncing it until they think of the next word or response, perhaps using a balloon if it is too challenging with a ball. Passing games are also good for both drilling and the brainstorming ideas below.
Brainstorming with a ball
A slight variation on the drilling games above is for the students to brainstorm examples of a category as the ball is caught, or bounced, e.g. “Apple” “Banana” “Orange” etc if the category is “fruit”, or “Wanted” “Needed” etc if the category is “Past Simple with -id”. A student who says something that doesn’t match the category, repeats what someone said before or drops the ball loses that round. Then you can try again with the same or another category.
The easiest things for the students to throw balls at are words written on the board, and that is also often the place where a sticky ball sticks best. In that way, the students can select:
Parts of the classroom can also be used in the same way. For example, for minimal pairs practice you can tell the students that the wall at one end of the classroom represents the first sound of “yet” and the other wall represents the first sound of “jet”, and get them to throw screwed-up pieces of paper at the correct wall for the sound they think they have heard or have seen silently mouthed. However, I more often get my students to aim at actual things in the classroom. After practising common questions at the beginning of the class ending with “What’s this?” “It’s a (sticky) ball”, I then move smoothly from that to getting the students asking each other and me “What’s this?” “It’s a whiteboard eraser” etc as they throw the ball at those things around the class. They could also ask additional questions about those things, such as “How many windows are there?” “What colour is the book?” and “Where is the sticky ball?” The last question can then lead smoothly on to a game in which the students use cards to make sentences challenging each other to put the ball somewhere in class, such as “Throw the ball under the window” or “Balance the ball on your head”. There is a link to further instructions for this game and a photocopiable set of cards for classroom vocabulary, body vocabulary and prepositions of place below.
You can also play a game in which one person throws the ball, and the other students compete to be first to shout out correctly where it has ended up, in order to win the right to be the next person to throw it. All of these can also work with pictures of the inside of a house drawn on or attached to the board. Another variation is for the students to aim at one particular thing on the picture or in the classroom and to say where it actually ended up, in order to be able to try again.
A very specific variation on throwing at things is for the teacher or a student to show the angle at which they are planning to throw a ball and getting the other students to predict where it will end up, with sentences like “(I think) it will land under the table” and “(I guess that) it will land next to the door”. They could also listen carefully with their eyes closed while someone throws the ball somewhere in the classroom and try to guess where it is with sentences like “It is under the whiteboard” and “It is near the door”.
Ball action games
You can also do a “listening with eyes closed” game with the students guessing things like “You are kicking the ball (against the door)” and “You are bouncing the ball (on the teacher’s desk)”. To practise can for ability, they can also outbid each other for things that they can do with the ball (“I can head the ball 12 times”, etc). Just the top bidder tries and then wins or loses points depending on whether they can actually do what they said.
Using Ball Games to Teach English on UsingEnglish.com
Newest of each kind top of each section. Link to Part One here.
New ELT articles
New EFL photocopiables