Miles Craven provides some fun and valuable ideas for teaching starter- and elementary-level students with minimal resources.

1. Word tennis (vocabulary)

This is a good activity to review key vocabulary for a variety of starter-level word groups.

  • Put students into pairs and tell them to turn their chairs to face each other.
  • Choose a word group (e.g. colours or furniture) and write it on the board.
  • Explain that students should take turns to say one word they can think of that belongs to the word group.
  • They should continue, like a game of tennis, with the ‘rally’ lasting as long as either of them can think of an appropriate word.
  • The winner is therefore the last student to say a word!
  • You may wish to follow this up by telling students to write down all the words they thought of.
  • Tell the pair with the longest list to write it on the board, and then review spelling and pronunciation.

2. Dialogue build (writing and reading)

  • Put students into pairs and give each pair six strips of blank paper.
  • Tell them to write a short dialogue to practise any English they know.
  • Explain that they should write each line of dialogue on a separate strip of paper.
  • Give students time to think of a dialogue and write the six lines of their dialogue on their strips of paper.
  • Monitor and check for accuracy. When students have finished, tell them to mix their strips of paper and exchange them with another pair of students.
  • Explain they should read the strips of paper and try to put the dialogue in the correct order.
  • When students have completed the reordering activity, tell them to practise the dialogue with their partner.
  • Tell students to continue to exchange their strips of paper with their classmates until each pair has reordered and practised each of the dialogues.

3. Category game (vocabulary)

This is one way you might wish to revise key vocabulary.

  • List the following categories in a column on the board: country, sport, meat, vegetable, fruit, animal, job, colour.
  • Divide the class into groups, and write one letter at the top of the board, for example: S. Tell each group to think as quickly as they can of a word for each category that begins with that letter (e.g. Spain, swimming, sausages, etc).
  • The first group to finish should shout: ‘Stop!’
  • Tell them to call out their list of words and write them on the board next to the appropriate category.
  • You may wish to ask groups to spell any difficult words. If all words are correct, award the group five points. If they make a mistake, deduct five points from their total.
  • Then begin the game again by writing a different letter on the board.

4. One minute, please (speaking)

This is a good exercise to try to develop confidence and fluency with students at lower levels.

  • Begin by writing a list of topics on the board, such as football, boys, school, parents, food, holidays, etc.
  • Then divide the class into two teams and ask for a volunteer from one team to come to the front and sit in a chair facing the rest of the class.
  • Explain that students from the opposing team should choose a topic from the board and that the student must try to talk about that topic for no less than one minute.
  • Add that while some pauses are allowed for thinking time, no pause should be longer than five seconds.
  • If the student manages to talk for a full one minute, award five points. Give proportionally fewer points for less than one minute of talking time.
  • Continue the game with students from each team taking turns to come to the ‘hot seat’ and talk about a topic for one minute.
  • The team with the most number of points at the end of the game is the winner.
  • You many wish to note any grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation errors and review these in a later lesson.