Mark Beales

Longer classroom activities

Here is a selection of tried and trusted longer activities that are much than just lesson-fillers and warmers.

Here is a selection of tried and trusted longer activities that are more than just lesson-fillers and warmers.

Story telling 

Divide the board into nouns and verbs. Ask students for five nouns and five verbs. Then get them to write a short story using all ten words. Point out the stories must make sense, otherwise students will create any old mess just to include the target words. Be sure to use words students have recently learned.

Running dictation 

Write ten numbered sentences on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere outside the classroom. Students work in teams. One student from each team runs outside without pen or paper and memorises the first sentence. He/she comes back and tells his friends. They all write the sentence down. The next student shows the teacher the first correct sentence and can then run outside to read the second sentence. The first team to correctly write down all the sentences wins. If learning a grammar point, leave some target words out and make the team complete them. This is an energetic game that tests all kinds of skills (memory, spelling, teamwork). It also brings out the devious side in every student so watch out for those looking to smuggle pens outside or those who want to nip out without showing you the last correctly-written sentence.


Tell a story to students using plenty of adjectives and nouns. Students make notes in small groups. Students then draw the story on large coloured paper. This is a good game for younger learners.

Describing – Pairs

Students draw a bizarre-looking monster but don’t show it to anyone. Students then use ‘have got’ to tell their friend what it looks like, and their friend draws what they are told. For example, ‘it has got three heads’. At the end they check to see if the pictures look alike. Use this when you’re teaching ‘have got/haven’t got’ or the third person singular equivalent.

A Day in the Life of…

A good way to get students using their imagination. Base this on a character they’ve been studying, or use interesting examples such as an astronaut, Mr Bean, a policeman. Set a word and time limit. With advanced group, ask students to imagine they are the character and get them to write in that person’s tone. This is called an empathic response.


Visit and write a message in sms speech. Then get students to translate it back into proper English.


It’s useful if students have time to write down their own thoughts at least once a week. Set aside 10 minutes for your class to jot down what they have done this week or what they have learned. Encourage them to express their feelings too, rather than simply create a diary-type list. 

Picture this

Show different groups pictures of a situation and ask them to write a story based on the picture. At the end get each group presents its results. Another way to use pictures is to show an image or a still from a movie (Mr Bean is perfect) and ask students to say what is happening. 

Grammar Gun

Write a text with several mistakes in (with the errors preferably focused on a point they’re learning). Students work together to circle all the errors. Once finished, a student reads out one paragraph at the front. If he/she misses the mistakes they are ‘shot’ by another student with a toy gun. Naturally, if you’re teaching English in a war-torn country, you may want to skip the gun element and get students to fervently shout out ‘no!’ each time a mistake is made.


White-out the text from a popular cartoon strip and make some copies. Then ask students to come up with new dialogue and a storyline. They can then act this out in groups at the end.


Propose an idea to the class, say ‘school uniform is pointless’. Split the class in two; one half agrees and one half disagrees. Working in groups, students formulate opinions and then present their arguments. The class ends with a vote. Check out for some thought-provoking topics.

Spelling it out  

Give a mock spelling test with ten words. Go through the words to check spelling and comprehension. Next, ask students to make up a story using these words, in any order. Make sure you use words that you have covered already, and preferably include some that students have difficulties with.


Hand out cards to pairs of students explaining various situations. For example, students have to make a complaint in a shop, apologise for stepping on someone’s toes or ask permission to go home early. This is a great way to practice function phrases, which are a crucial part of spoken English. Give students time to prepare (unless they’re elementary, don’t let them write anything), then act out each scenario in front of the class. 

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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Some of these are ok. Many are really worn.

This stuff is just so random. None of it's really attached to any serious learning objective. Kinda just killing time.

Teaching something about descriptive writing and then showing pictures that really generate emotion and provoke thought is good.

Debates can work but they need to be well structured, simple, fast and involve the entire class.

Drawing in pairs. Here's a better one. Get the students in two lines their partner is sitting across with the paper in the middle. One student holds a simple picture easily drawn and the other student is the artist. One student has to describe and the other student needs to draw give the students a few minutes and then swap. I've only done one or two camps in my life but I did this activity and it worked really well even with extremely clever M four kids.

I've known teachers that have done cartoons. Usually they direct the kids to a website and then the students make their own cartoons give them a little more creativity. Some of them have worked out pretty well and been fairly creative.

Journals. Low stakes writing. Never done it. You see the class once and maybe twice a week and you want to devote 10 or 15 minutes to informal and unguided writing??

Write an SMS message? That's a big NOPE. Dear God.

As a rule I don't do anything that involves art. I'm an English teacher and value the time doing and working with just that. Even mind maps the students get distracted and whip out their pens and before you know it they want to spend three periods on the bloody thing. Some of them immediately even view the thing as an art project rather than an organizational tool.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (21st December 2021)

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