OK, time to reinvent the wheel!

Every teacher knows what an activity is within a classroom setting, and English Language Teachers are all aware that activities are the bedrock of Communicative Language Teaching. No surprise there. However, though all of you reading this know how to lead an activity, it always behooves us to revisit how we do what we do with an eye to improving our teaching and to get better at helping our students achieve their goals and desires. It is, after all, what we live for, right? So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at activities in the ESL/EFL classroom in terms of procedure and, maybe, we can offer a few new angles.

Setting clear objectives

There are many kinds of ELT activities, often depending on the learning target, the methodology, the student population and so on. So the first step should be knowing why you are doing what you are doing. To simply, for example, playing ‘hangman’ with your class to fill in 10 minutes (something we have all been guilty of) could be a more powerful activity if it were tied-in with another objective or used for review of new target vocabulary or even as a wrap-up or introduction to a grammar point. So, make sure your activity has a linguistic objective that is functional, grammatical, lexical, content-based or task-based. My suggestion is to keep that clear focus while also having fun!

Getting the students’ attention

Once you are about to start the activity, hook your students and this will result in maximum motivation! Plan what you are going to say or do or show that will both set schema and pull them into the moment. Simply scattering dice on the tables or playing a song ‘(We Will Rock You’?) or acting out a scene might create the desired effect. “Class please pay attention” is not, often, very motivating or even very effective. GRAB them. ‘OK class, are you ready to solve a murder mystery?!’ will do it!

Succinctly introduce the activity!

Notice succinctly! I challenge every teacher to use no more that 3-5 sentences to introduce the activity. All of these sentences should be at the level of the student. Many of them can and should be questions. For example: “Who knows what a ‘Find Someone Who’ activity is? Can you tell the class? Follow with short sentences in imperative or simple present. Ending with ‘NOW WATCH ME’….


This is the key to successful ELT in many ways. We can define it as DOING WHAT YOU WANT THE STUDENTS TO DO EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT THEM TO DO IT. The trick, though, is to ‘BE’ a student when doing it. In this way we avoid long complex sentences, difficult grammar and/or vocabulary and meta language of all kinds. Modeling often begins with ‘Watch me. I’m a student.’ Do you want your students to write a skit? Do it. Write a short skit yourself on the document camera then act out both parts. Do you want them to come up with three sentences with gerunds? Do it first. Showing always communicates more than explaining..


To me facilitating an activity is a mixture of assessing and gentle coaching without interfering. Help encourage the students to do the activity in a relaxed, fun and friendly manner and gently answer questions or, better, ask leading questions that help them discover the answer. During the activity, get up! Walk around unobtrusively. Observe, assess student abilities informally. Give them space, even leave the room for a bit if you can. Grab any new vocabulary you hear being used and park it on a board for later review. Encourage but do not engage or add more instructions. Let them do the activity! Don’t interrupt or correct during the activity! All can be done later. Let the students have autonomy but do help them to keep on track. Remind class about time restraints (OK, 3 minutes!) and make sure all students participate in the presentation or activity. Ok! The skit, game, role-play or whatever activity is being run is done, now what?

Wrap up

Students have been creatively and, one hopes, with enjoyment practicing the target language or structure you have assigned and have completed the activity! Is it time to go? No! Don’t let all that wonderful language float away! A wrap up brings the students’ attention back to the targeted language or structure or content in a relaxed but reinforcing manner. If the activity resulted in a written text, have the students underline the key language or structure in the text and tell you what it is, each in turn or group by group. If it was a game or role play, have students orally tell you the targeted grammar or functional language. For example: “You did great ‘restaurant ordering role plays!’ Can you each tell me how you ordered your food? I’m your waiter! This constant reinforcement within a relaxed, fun and authentic situation will help students to acquire the targeted language!

And there you have it! A successful, comprehensible, enjoyable, applicable activity! Most importantly, have fun! We learn and acquire what we find motivating and enjoyable.