Number one for English language teachers

Minimal resources: Lesson sequences

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

One of the tricks of teaching with minimal resources is devising ways of making one activity evolve into another, and even another, so that you have a chain of linked activities, none of which involves the use of materials. Scott Thornbury suggests a few simple sequences that you can use in most classrooms, however big or whatever the level.

Sequence 1:

  • The teacher dictates or writes up some jumbled sentences, e.g. film/last/was/”Lord of the Rings”/saw/I/the – students then have to order the words into sentences (The last film I saw was “Lord of the Rings”).
  • They then transform the sentences into questions (What was the last film you saw?).
  • In pairs or groups of three, they ask each other the questions and report the answers to the class.

Sequence 2:

  • The teacher dictates some sentences (e.g. 1. did you like it? 2. what was the last film you saw? etc.).
  • Students then order the sentences into a dialogue.
  • Students practise reading the dialogue aloud in pairs.
  • They then have a similar dialogue with another student, but one that is true for them.

Sequence 3:

  • The teacher reads out some questions, e.g. Where were you born? When did you start school?; and students individually write the answers that are true for themselves (NOT the questions).
  • The students then work in pairs to reconstruct the questions from memory, and then ask each other (and the teacher)
  • Students report their answers to the class and/or write a short text about the person they have been talking to.

Sequence 4:

  • Read the class a very short poem or joke (there are some examples in Uncovering Grammar, task Sheet 5); working in pairs or small groups the students try to reconstruct the story from memory – you may need to read it more than once.
  • Choose a student to write the text on to the board, with the help of the rest of the class. Read the text one more time, and make any necessary changes to the text on the board.
  • Then ask the class to suggest a word, or a sequence of up to three words, that could be removed from the text; the student at the board rubs the words out. Continue doing this until there is only one word left on the board. (This “Disappearing story” idea comes from Mario Rinvolucri).

Sequence 5:

  • The teacher writes up the first letter of six to ten theme-related words that have come up in previous lessons (e.g. a____, c_____, etc. ), and reads out definitions, e.g. “The space at the top of a house where you keep old things” (attic); “The part of as room that is above your head” (ceiling): students complete as many of the words as they can, check in pairs, and then the teacher checks with the whole class.
  • They use as many of the completed words as possible to write a short text, e.g. a description of a house.
  • They write four or five “comprehension questions” for their texts, then exchange them with another student, who reads the text and writes the answers to the comprehension questions, which their partner then checks.

Sequence 6:

  • The teacher asks individual students some “chat” questions around a theme, such as “What have you been doing recently? Did you watch X programme on TV last night? etc” Or, if it is the first time with a new class, these can be personal information questions, such as “Where do you work? What did you study?” etc.
  • Then, the students are told that they will ask the teacher the same questions, but first they have to prepare the questions, working in pairs. The questions are put on the board, and corrected if necessary
  • The students ask the teacher the questions, taking notes.
  • Working together, they write a short text about the teacher, based on the teacher’s answers. The teacher monitors and corrects the texts where necessary.
  • They then ask each other the same questions, in pairs, and write short texts about each other.

Sequence 7:

  • The teacher draws four or five pictures on the board – they don’t have to be artistic – in fact, the rougher the better! The students have to work out what the pictures represent by asking questions: “Is the first picture a cat?” etc.
  • The teacher tells the class that the pictures form a story (or joke). By asking only yes/no questions, the class has to work out what the story was “Did the cat belong to you?” etc.
  • Working together, they then write the story.
  • If they have similar stories of their own, they can be invited to tell the class.
  • Note: Ghost stories, urban legends, or “quirky” stories form the internet are good for this. For example, have a look at and follow the "quirkies" link.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Thanks Betty, let us know how you get on!

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  • very useful. thanks for sharing

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