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August 2013
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TC Quick Tip: Last to First: Eight 5-Minute Activities
by Tara Arntsen

Audience: Various; beginner to intermediate

Teachers always need to have short activities on hand in case a lesson takes a little bit less time than expected or does not work out exactly as planned. Some activities that work well in one class totally flop in another, so you have to be flexible with your lesson plans and able to adapt when necessary. Here are eight 5-minute activities that might come in handy in such times.

Reading Activities
Reading Race: To start a reading race, have students stand up and tell them that each column or row of students is a team. If the desk arrangement is not conducive to this, simply separate the class into groups. For this activity, provide a passage to each team; the first student should read the first sentence, the second student should read the next one, and so on, until the entire passage is complete. Once the passage is complete, the team should sit down, and the first team to sit down wins.

Slash Reading: To help students make their reading sound more natural, read a passage aloud, pausing when it is natural to do so; students make slashes or breaks in their text based on your pauses. Then read the passage aloud as a class—this can really make a huge difference in how your students read.

Writing Activities
Shiritori: Make teams and give each team space on the board. Write one word on the board and a member from each team should rush to the board to write a word that starts with the last letter of your word. The next team member then has to write a word that starts with the last letter of the word his or her team member wrote. Students continue taking turns writing words on the board until you stop the game to tally the score. For more details and adaptations of this game, take a look at Kent Hatashita's Quick Tip from March 2013.

Boggle: Give each team a piece of scrap paper, draw a Boggle letter grid on the board (usually four-by-four), fill in the grid with letters, and have students find as many words as they can within a time limit by connecting adjacent letters (in any direction, including diagonal). Give students a scoring system, then ask them to score their papers and hand them in. In the next class, you can announce the winning team and longest word.

Speaking Activities
Crisscross: Ask students to stand up and divide them into small groups based on their seating arrangements; often rows or columns work best. Ask the class a question related to recent course content, and the student who answers correctly gets to have his or her group sit down. Continue by asking another question. The game ends when everyone is sitting down.

Fruit Basket: Students sit in a circle with one fewer chair than participants, with the extra student standing in the middle. The goal of the activity is to have students practice target sentence structures. If, for example, you are teaching past tense, the student in the middle should say a past tense sentence aloud. After the student in the middle says the sentence, everyone that the sentence applies to must find a new seat, leaving a new student in the center. Declarative, identifying sentences such as “I am a student” are sure to get many students moving, and sentences may not be repeated.

Listening Activities
Bingo: Use Bingo for numbers, letters, vocabulary words, or minimal pairs. Have students fill in the Bingo grids themselves with the material of your choice, such as the letters A–Z. Once students have filled out their cards, randomly call out letters until a winner is found.

Karuta: Have students sit in groups and spread vocabulary cards face up on the desks. When you say a word aloud, the student who smacks the correct card first gets to read it aloud and keep it. The student with the most cards at the end of the game wins. I recommend a fast pace to avoid lengthy discussions within groups and placing students in groups of four or five, rather than smaller groups, so that groups can self-regulate. Karuta can help students with spelling, listening, and pronunciation.

With these activities, you can be sure to make the most of your classes even once your planned lesson is finished.


Tara Arntsen received her Master's degree in TESOL from the University of Southern California and currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

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TC Homepage
Strategies for Large Classrooms
Lesson Plan: Critical Thinking
Grammar Using Engaging Contexts
Quick Tip: 5-Minute Activities
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