Revision games – prepositions of place and movement (40 minutes)

Levels: strong elementary to pre-intermediate.
Scope: kids; teens; adults.
Type: drawing; TPR; basketball.
Skills: listening; speaking.
Language focus: prepositions of place and movement; linking words/phrases.

Note: this is a splice of an activity I found in Trouble with Prepositions, Articles, Nouns and Word Order? and another I found on the British Council’s teaching English website, here. The vocabulary revised relates to household furniture.

Preparation: one copy of these worksheets for each pair of students (page one is where they work things out for themselves), if you don’t have a SMARTboard interactive whiteboard. Or download this SMARTboard file if you do!

Materials: whiteboard or interactive whiteboard; pens; a rucksack or bag; some objects (e.g., pens, tapes – the usual equipment you might carry with you to class).


  1. If you have a SMARTboard interactive whiteboard, please download the file for the lesson (see above). If you don’t, please use the worksheets above. Pair students and ask them to match the preposition with the diagram. Ask students to shout “stop!” when they have finished. Go through the answers (on page two of the worksheet/ IWB lesson) as a class, awarding points for correct answers.
  2. Board round, into, over, under, onto, around, from, to, out of. Then board a picture of a cat’s journey through a room, going round, jumping onto and off, going under and around, etc., various objects (chairs, books, tables, vases, etc.) and out of the window.
  3. Encourage students to tell you the cat’s journey.
  4. Optional: Ask them to draw their own rooms and imagine a cat’s journey through that. Monitor and help with vocabulary. Then pair the students and ask them to recount the journey to each other.
  5. Or: with younger learners, play Simon Says (wherein players can only do the action you say when it starts with the words “Simon says” – e.g., no-one should move when you say “go behind your chairs!”, but all players should do the action when you say “Simon says ‘go behind your chairs!'”). Do this a few times with you calling the instructions, then ask different students to lead instead.
  6. Or: with younger learners and teenagers, create a treasure hunt using bits of card stuck in various places around your classroom or (better) your school – perhaps with a sweet for the student who finds the treasure first. Give out instructions (which should use as many of the prepositions in the worksheet as possible) and ask them to find the treasure. When the treasure’s been found, the class can be split into teams and asked to hide some treasure of their own (this could be another bit of card, again perhaps with sweets as prizes). They then write accurate instructions for the other team (the punishment for inaccurate instructions could be that they lose any sweets they’ve won!), who have to go and find the treasure themselves. Give teams a point for each correct use of a different preposition from the worksheet.
  7. To follow up, you can play a game of preposition basketball: screw up a piece of paper into a ball, and open your bag or rucksack; place the bag in the corner of the room furthest from the students; and throw a few objects (books, tapes, pens, etc.) around the outside of the bag. Stand at the other end of the room with the paper ball and ask students if 3 or 5 points should be awarded to anyone who can throw the ball into the bag from here. When the students answer, explain that they can also get 1 point for each correct preposition that they use to say where the ball is. Tell them that they will have 1 minute to use as many correct prepositions as they can. Demonstrate this activity: throw the ball (aim to miss), then use prepositions to describe where it is (e.g., “it’s by the door, it’s between the tape and the folder, it’s opposite the window, it’s under the ceiling,” etc.). Retrieve the ball and throw it towards one of the students, who starts the game by standing at the opposite end of the room from the bag and throwing the ball at it. NB: if any student gets the ball into the bag, give them 3 or 5 points (whichever the class has decided), then tip the ball out onto the floor and allow them a minute to accumulate even more points.

12 minute Relative Clauses Revision Activity

Level: pre-intermediate to intermediate.
Ages: older teens; adults.
Type: conversational; revision of relative clauses in an informal context; practising attentive listening and polite turn-taking in informal conversations.
Skills: listening; speaking.
Language focus: grammar – relative clauses; vocab – introducing topics, giving opinions, deferring, agreeing and disagreeing, expressing doubts.

Note: I came up with this simple activity today. It should take about 12 minutes or so, and leads naturally into an interview-style lesson.

Materials: Whiteboard and pens.

Preparation: None.


  1. Board the following, in two columns:
  2. The place

    The person

    The food

    The country

    The animal

    I’d most like to visit

    where I feel happiest

    which I’d most like to have as a pet

    I love the most

    I feel closest to

  3. Divide the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to match the first with the second columns (e.g., “the place –> where I feel happiest”); explain that each sentence half should be used only once. Allow two or three minutes for this, then feedback with the class and draw lines connecting the “correct” sentence halves (the others are, “the food –> I love the most,” “the animal –> which I’d most like to have as a pet,” “the person –> I feel closest to,” and “the country –> I’d most like to visit”).
  4. Divide the students into small groups or pairs and ask them to talk about these topics (saying which country they’d most like to visit, etc.), giving reasons for their choices. Allow between five and ten minutes for this.
  5. Feedback with the class, asking individual students to share with the class one or two interesting pieces of information about another person in their group.

Adverb placement practise (1hr 30 minutes)

Levels: upper-intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Aims: to revise adverbial placement in written and spoken English discourse via a competitive game; to practise attentive listening; to focus on English sentence coherence and discourse markers; to focus on how different vocal qualities affect an audience’s perception of a spoken text; to practise producing these different vocal qualities; to learn how easy it can be to be creative in the classroom.
Skills: listening; speaking; pronunciation (sentence stress, intonation, emphasis).
Language focus: grammar – adverb placement; any vocab as arises.

Notes: This is adverb placement revision and practise. It makes use of instinct in deciding what sounds good; I’ve found that it’s good to encourage students’ language awareness in this way.

for every student:

A copy of the teaching notes below for you.
Enough blank sheets of paper for each student twice over.
Whiteboard and pens.

Part 1 – competition

  • Divide the class into pairs and explain that they are going to play a quick game. Tell them that they are now in teams and ask each pair to choose an animal to represent their teams. Board the names of the animals, or a quick drawing if you’re feeling brave.
  • Board “They chose immediately a rabbit as their team animal.” Underline “immediately” and elicit that it’s an adverb. Ask the class if there’s anything odd about this sentence. If anyone says the adverb’s in the wrong position, give their team one point; otherwise, explain that this is the problem. Ask where the adverb can go (NB, it can go either at the start of the sentence, before “chose”, or at the end of the sentence). Give a point to any team whose member gives a correct option.
  • Explain that you have another 11 sentences where the adverb might or might not be in the correct position. Tell them that, if the sentence seems strange, there’s probably a mistake with the adverb position. Ask them to tick all the sentences which seem OK (tell them to use their instincts to decide this) and to correct any mistakes they find. Use the example on the board to show them there may be more than one possible correction; but tell them they only have to find one correct option.
  • Hand out exercise 1, below, and set a time limit (e.g., 8 minutes).
  • After 8 minutes or so, stop the students and ask them to write the name of their team animal at the top of the exercise sheet. Ask them to pass their sheet to the team on their left and give out the adverb rulesheet. Allow them 5 minutes or so to use this rulesheet to mark the paper in front of them – one point for each correct sentence; then check as a class and award points as appropriate. The winning team gets to name their animal.

Part 2 – individual work – gap fill

  • Give out exercise 2 and ask the students to look at the phrases in the box. Ask them when they might use these phrases (in formal or business letters, when writing academic essays, etc.).
  • Ask the students to match the adverbial phrases with the gaps in the sentences on their own. Allow them just 4 minutes for this. Ask them to compare with their partner; then go through them as a class. Elicit answers from different students and discuss these answers.

Part 3 – interlude/ preparation for listening

  • Ask the students to close their eyes. In a calm voice, explain that you would like them to really focus on the sounds they can hear around them for one minute. Tell them to focus first on the biggest sound, and then to notice what other, smaller sounds there are beyond that; tell them to listen to these sounds instead now, and then to find any other, even smaller sounds in the background. After one minute, ask them to open their eyes. If they were working with the person on their left, ask them to discuss what they heard with the person on their right (or vice versa). Allow 2 minutes for this, and then get some feedback – were there any strange sounds which the students couldn’t account for? What were the sounds they heard?

Part 4 – listening – gap dictation

  • Tell the students to have a pen and paper ready. Explain that you’re going to tell them a very short story, and ask them to write down what you say. Tell them to leave a large space after every line they write.
  • Read out the following, in a natural voice: “He woke. He opened his eyes. He looked around him. He got to his feet and walked to the door. He opened it and looked outside.”
  • Ask the students to check what they have written with their new partner. Read the above again and ask your students to check again, then to read what they have written back to you, a different student for each sentence. Correct any mistakes.
  • Ask the students what they think of this story, and ask them what kind of story it might be (e.g., horror, mystery, romance, etc); ask them why they think this. Ask them how the story might be improved and, if necessary, tell them you think it is a little bit boring at the moment and could be improved with some adverbs. Put the students into groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to work together to choose the most interesting adverbs and where to put them. Allow about 6 minutes for this, and monitor carefully.

Part 5 – speaking/ intonation practise

  • When the students have finished, ask them what kind of stories they have written. Board their responses, and ask what kind of voice they would like to hear their stories read in. Choose one group and read out the first sentence in a variety of different ways (e.g., high-pitched and fast; slow and sad; in a “neutral” way, as though you are a newsreader). Ask them which voice they preferred for this kind of story, and what it was about this voice that they thought was good. Board their answers.
  • Explain that you would like the students to recite their own stories for the class. Ask the groups to divide up their stories equally between themselves, so that everyone has a chance to speak, and to decide on a voice for their story. Tell them you will give them 6 minutes for this, including practice time.
  • Monitor the groups and invite them to give feedback to each other about the way they are saying the story. Ask them to exaggerate their story’s voice. If necessary, give them some feedback and help with intonation, etc., yourself.
  • After the students have practiced, ask each group in turn to read their stories aloud. Ask the listening groups to give each student a mark out of 5 for delivery, and to write down the most interesting adverb they heard. Make notes yourself for each student.
  • When all the stories have been read, get and give whole class feedback, and maybe have a vote for the class’ favourite story.

Part 6 – writing practise – circle story writing

  • Ask the students what their favourite story is in whatever genre(s) they have chosen for the exercise above. Ask them to tell the person on their left (or right) what this story is about and why they like it so much. Allow about 4 minutes for this.
  • Ask the students how they think the story above might continue. How might it end?
  • Put the students back into groups of 4 and give them each a blank sheet of paper. Explain that you will ask them to carry on the story and ask one member of each group to dictate the last sentence given to the rest of the group, who should each write down what they hear. Allow about 3 minutes for them to do this.
  • Explain that you will ask the students 2 minutes to write the next sentence in the story. Monitor and encourage early finishers to add more adverbs or adjectives to their sentence, or an extra clause.
  • Ask the students to pass their sheets of paper to the person on their left. Ask them to read what they have in front of them and give them 2 minutes to write the next sentence.
  • Ask the students to fold their paper over, so that only the last sentence can be seen. Ask the students to pass their folded sheets over to the student on their left, who should not look at any other sentences other than the one they can see. Again, give students 2 minutes to write the next sentence.
  • Ask the students to fold the paper again, so only one sentence can be seen. They pass the paper to their left and then have 2 minutes to write the next sentence in the story.
  • Finally, ask the students to fold their sheets for the last time, and to pass the paper to their left. The person who started the story now has the responsibility to end it; however, they cannot see anything other than the last sentence written. Tell them that, this time, you will give them 6 minutes to complete their story. Monitor and encourage embellishments to the writing as necessary.
  • After 6 minutes, ask the students to finish the sentence they are writing, as it is the last one in the story. Give an extra minute for this if necessary. Ask the students now to pass their finished story to their left, to unfold what is in front of them and to read it silently. Ask them to think about the best voice to recite this story in and, in their groups, ask them to read out their stories to each other.
  • Ask each group to choose its favourite story, collect these and put them in different places around the classroom. Invite all the students to stand and, as a group, read the different stories. Ask them to give a mark out of 5 for use of language and a mark out of 5 for interest (where 5 is the most interesting story). Which is their favourite?

Part 7 – Class story and feedback

  • Sit the students in a circle and join the circle yourself. Explain that you will give the first sentence of a story, then call out a student’s name and ask them to continue the story. Say that, normally, you think people try too hard to be creative, and that you don’t want them to be creative at all. Ask the students to just relax and say the first thing that comes into their heads, and only then to try and fit it into the story. Explain that, when they have finished their sentence, they should call out another student’s name, and ask them to continue the story. When everyone has had a turn, they should call your name again and you will try to end it for them; tell them to give you feedback on your ending, and what they did and didn’t like about it.
  • Give the students your first sentence. It should be the first thing you think of – relax and be obvious. For example, “It was a cold day in Spring and the tigers were restless.” “One bright evening in March, I walked to the department store.” etc., etc. Then call out a student’s name and ask them to continue the story. Remind them to call out another student’s name, if necessary, and if they are really stuck, ask anyone for an idea and then continue from there. Don’t panic, as sometimes these stories take time (for the students to warm up) before they start to flow. Monitor and make notes on students’ language use.
  • When the story starts to sag and everyone has had a turn, either signal that you would like your name to be called out, or quietly ask a student to say your name, and finish the story. Get feedback from the students on your ending – encourage both positive and negative comments, and keep the atmosphere light-hearted.
  • Finally, write up a few sentences you heard on the board, some correct and some problematic. Tell the students how many sentences need correcting, but not which ones; put them into pairs and ask them to choose the problem sentences and to correct them. After a few minutes, feedback with the class on the sentences to be corrected and what those corrections should be. Collect the group stories, as these may be useful for further feedback later on.

Exercises (to be cut up individually):
1. Correct the sentences if necessary. Tick any which are already correct!
1. We go frequently for a ramble through the woods.
2. Always the teacher gives the students a lot of homework.
3. The rhinoceros suddenly charged out of the undergrowth, straight towards us!
4. She turned to him with a disarming smile.
5. He slammed suddenly the book down on the table.
6. She stamped out angrily of the classroom, cursing English adverb structures.
7. I make sure I do every day my homework.
8. They yesterday got quite tipsy at the pub.
9. Tomorrow I always put things off until.
10. She likes very much watching DVDs with her friends.
11. I went to the Principal’s office immediately.
2. Some common adverbial phrases are:

with hindsight / in retrospect; in the wake of; by no means;
by x%; in monthly installments; without further ado;
with reference to; at the expense of.

Please complete the sentences with the phrases from the study box above.
______________________, he realised he should not have resigned.
The army was sent to the region, _____________ popular unrest there.
They are paying for their new car ____________________.
_______________________________, he put on his coat and left the room.
He was an extremely prolific writer, but his huge output was achieved _________________________ his health.
_____________________ your letter of 15 February, please note that I shall be consulting my legal advisers forthwith.
No, I’m afraid he’s __________________ the sort of friend I would have chosen for you.
NB the answers to these two exercises are here.

Newspaper Headlines lesson (50 minutes to 1 hour)

Level: intermediate.
Ages: older teens; adults.
Type: introducing and uncovering the grammar of newspaper headlines; summarising information.
Skills: reading (gist and detail), speaking, listening.
Language focus: grammar – newspaper headlines; all vocab as arises from the lesson.

3 overlong newspaper headlines of your own creation – one about a past event, one in the passive voice about a current event, and one about an expected future event – you will be boarding these, so there is no need to make photocopies for your students; enough copies for all your students of the first paragraphs of 3 interesting news stories, and the stories’ headlines, in a different order, on a second page.

Materials: Whiteboard and pens; paper.


  1. Board the overlong headlines (e.g., “A lot of Republicans are annoyed by Vice-President Nominee Palin following her recent television debate;” “A man has found a cockroach in the school canteen“; “A new survey says that Gordon Brown will lose the next election“) and divide the students into pairs or groups of three. Ask them to read these headlines silently, and help them with any unknown vocabulary.
  2. Ask the students to get rid of as many unnecessary words as they can – allow between five and eight minutes for this.
  3. Elicit their answers and board the results if possible. Congratulate any pairs or groups who managed to get the headlines down to four or five words each.
  4. Board your own suggestions, which will also serve as example forms in the next stage of the lesson (e.g., “Republicans annoyed by Palin,” “Man finds cockroach in canteen” and “Poll says Brown to lose”.) Elicit that newspaper headlines are often very short, to save space and reading time.
  5. Ask the students which headline is about the past and which about the future. Elicit that we often use the present simple to talk about the past in newspaper headlines (e.g., “Man finds cockroach…”), and the “to” infinitive to talk about future events in headlines (e.g., “Poll says…”) and board the names of the verb forms next to these examples.
  6. Explain that the last headline is about something in the present. Elicit that it’s in the passive, rather than the active voice, and ask what verb is omitted: elicit that the verb “to be” is often omitted from passive headlines (e.g., “Republicans annoyed by…” instead of “Republicans are annoyed by…”). Ask why and elicit that this is to save space and reading time.
  7. Explain that you are going to give the students some interesting news stories; put them into new small groups of three or four; and ask them to write down these two questions, which you will dictate: “what is this story about?” and “what headline could it have?” When you have finished your dictation, ask them to check in pairs, then board the questions (to check everyone has writen the same).
  8. Remind the students to discuss what they think each story is about, and to think of a headline for each one. Hand out the three interesting news stories, without their accompanying headlines, to each group.
  9. Allow about eight minutes for this task, circulating and monitoring with vocabulary help, etc.
  10. Stop the students, elicit the main subjects of the stories and ask them to board their headlines (if there is time) or board their suggestions (if there is not). Invite any feedback in terms of grammar correction, etc – eliciting whether the story talks about the past, the present, or the future – and hold a class vote on which headlines are their favourites.
  11. Finally, distribute the actual headlines, in jumbled order, and ask each group to match them with the story. This will probably take 30 seconds or so maximum.

Phoneme Awareness: Advanced Levels

Level: advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: personalising students’ engagement with English pronunciation; working with Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations phonetic chart.
Skills: pronunciation (individual phonemes and words).
Language focus: any vocab that arises in the lesson.

Note: this is my own idea. It comes from use of Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations phonetic chart and work with J Clifford Turner’s book, Voice and Speech in the Theatre, and is intended to encourage advanced level students to leave pedagogical aids behind to an extent and to personalise their engagement with English pronunciation.

Materials: a copy of the Sound Foundations phonetic chart.


  1. Go through the monophthongs (single sounds) on the standard EFL phonetic chart and invite your students to a game of rhyming tennis.
  2. Elicit the diphthongs (/aʊ/, /aɪ/, etc.) from the chart and ask what the difference is between these sounds and monophthongs (diphthongs involve a quick glide from one “articulator” [a word for the organs of speech – lips, tongue, teeth, etc.] position to a second, whilst monophthongs involve holding the articulator in one position). Ask the students to find as many rhyming words containing these sounds as they can.
  3. Ask the students to stand and call out a word in turn, followed by another student’s name. The student whose name was called has to say a word which rhymes with the first word. If they can’t find a rhyme, they sit down and play continues with another student invited to call out a word, followed by a student’s name, until only one student remains standing (and is the winner).
  4. Board “fire” and “power” and ask how these are pronounced.
  5. Explain that these words contain triphthongs (vowel sounds which glide through three articulator positions) and invite the students to use symbols from the phonetic chart to try and portray all the sounds (e.g., fire = /’faɪə/; power = /’paʊə/).
  6. Give feedback on the students’ work. Which is the most accurate? Ask the students to decide and give feedback on their answers. Can they think of any more triphthongs? (“Flower” is one more example). Why do they think triphthongs were not included on the Sound Foundations chart? Is there any other way we can approximate the sound of triphthongs, using just the symbols on the chart? (I suggest /’faɪjə/ and /’paʊwə/ would be the closest approximations).
  7. Ask the students for homework to listen to English-language conversations or interviews (in the pub, or on TV or the internet) and to see if they can find any more examples of English sounds that aren’t in the phonetic chart (e.g., dark “l” sounds [“dull“, “full“, etc.], tapped or trilled “r”s, etc). Ask them to think of ways they could represent these sounds visually, and to draw a diagram of the vocal organs, showing how we make them.