July 2022

Vien Cao, Escuela Superior de Economía y Negocios, San Salvador, El Salvador

At the beginning of May 2022, I got back to my brick-and-mortar classroom after two years teaching online. I was reluctant to stick to my usual online teaching tricks and was eager to try new activities with my university students. When I learned about 101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students by Hall Houston, I could not wait to dig into the book.

101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students is a resource for EFL teachers based on the author´s many years of experience teaching university classes. It provides numerous activities and tips to teach English to college students for different stages of the semester.

The book consists of three chapters corresponding to the three main stages of a semester: the beginning, the mid-period, and the end.

Chapter 1, ‘Getting off to a good start’ offers an assortment of activities for learning names, getting to know the teacher, learning about other students, becoming more familiar with the university campus, and understanding more about the course and the syllabus.

Chapter 2, ‘Maintaining motivation and interest in the interim weeks’ is aimed at keeping the course enjoyable and students motivated. The chapter contains fun and meaningful listening, reading, music, and video activities. Some activities in this chapter incorporate an element of surprise and encourage students to talk about their life as a student. The chapter also includes activities that allow students to review previously seen language and enable teachers to collect formative feedback.

Chapter 3, ‘Ending the semester gracefully’ is intended for the last few weeks of the semester, featuring activities for reviewing the entire course, reflecting on the semester, looking forward, and ending the semester in an enjoyable way.

Each activity has a catchy but informative name and comes with helpful and precise information such as the activity rationale/purpose, time, skills, preparation, procedure, and variations. Some activities come with a photocopiable handout to save preparation time, though even more would be appreciated. Each chapter ends with Teacher Development Tips, containing short and doable exercises designed to help EFL teachers reflect on their own college student teaching for improvement. Some tips are not new and seem obvious, for example, sharing lesson plans with a colleague. However, it can be worth revisiting those tips once in a while to stay motivated. I particularly enjoyed reading the acknowledgement which comes with some activities and recommended readings at the end of the book. These sections shed light on where the author got the inspiration for his activities, and teachers can explore those resources if they are interested.

Some activities can be classified as common icebreakers and fillers, such as Activity 2, Saying names in a circle and Activity 18, Beach ball icebreakers. However, many activities will lighten students´ mood and simultaneously promote active learning and reflection. They allow students to review languages they have learned in fun ways (Activity 73, a dictation race; Activity 78, a mini-book; Activity 79, an interview; Activity 85, a story; Activity 92, a talk show) and to reflect on how they have grown (Activity 86, Memories board games and Activity 101, Postcards). Carrying out certain activities will help teachers get feedback on how their course has been going (Activity 74, Three things we like, one suggestion, Activity 76, Sentence starters for feedback, and Activity 98, Letter to next year students).

Don´t let the book title fool you. The activities are not only for university students; they can also be easily adapted to fit younger students or adults. The activities can also be used in other subjects since they do not merely cover English language skills, but also deal with the social and psychological aspects of life: getting to know each other, staying motivated, and obtaining constructive feedback.

For a vast majority of activities, the preparation and procedure steps explained are aimed at face-to-face classes. However, you can modify the activities to fit your online classes easily. Instead of bringing colorful stationery to class, create a digital template and have your students work digitally in breakout rooms. Instead of asking students to prepare an end-of-semester one-pager (Activity 83), have them use any presentation tool to make an e-poster.

Even though the activities can get you hooked, I would not recommend reading many activities in one sitting. There are way too many activities to remember, for example, there are nine activities in the Learning Names section of Chapter 1, ‘Getting off to a good start’. Instead, depending on the stage of your semester and the purpose of the activities (learning about the teacher or looking toward the future, for instance), select a few activities you want to try. Next time, when you grow tired of pulling the same old tricks in all courses, take out this book and you will find an activity that interests you.

101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students by Hall Houston, published by iTDi TESOL, is available on Amazon.com as an ebook for 7.95 or in paperback for $14.95.


Houston, H. (2022). 101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students. iTDi TESOL.

Vien earned her Ph.D. in learning systems design and technology and an M.A. in TESOL from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Vien is currently a professor of English as well as the coordinator for the English Program at Escuela Superior de Economía y Negocios, a private university in El Salvador. Vien is also a co-founder and the president of the Fulbright Alumni Research Group, an organization devoted to research, training, evaluation, and coaching.