Teaching Tips Tuesday: 4 Adaptable Activities for the English Classroom

Teaching Tips Tuesday: 4 Adaptable Activities for the English Classroom

It’s no doubt gaining a TEFL certification helps boost confidence before entering a classroom, but it also helps having a little insider insight on effective, adaptable lesson activities for the English classroom – whether you’re just about to get your teaching feet wet, or you’re a seasoned educator.

Several of us Greenheart Travel staffers have taught English in various countries abroad, and we’ve been there to see lessons go anything other than according to plan. We’ve also experienced moments of complete teaching bliss when all goes better than anticipated, thanks to effective lesson planning. To help you in your own lessons, we’re sharing four activities we’ve found successful that you can adapt to your classroom while teaching overseas.

4 Adaptable Activities for the English Classroom

Regardless if you’re in a school without access to technology in the classroom, or you’re just looking for a way to give students a break from always staring at a screen, below is a list of adaptable games and activities that are sure to win your classes over. Each can be tailored and used for all ages and levels, as well as lesson objectives. Get creative and find new ways to make them more suitable for your specific learning environment!

“Talking Towers”


There are so many ways to incorporate wooden block towers such as Jenga into English lessons. Students young and old love this classic game, especially when it’s done as a friendly competition to see which group can build the tallest tower within a certain amount of time.

‘Talking Towers’ work well when students need to produce language learned during a lesson, as an engaging review, or even as a conversational starter. It can be played one-on-one, in small groups, or even as a whole class. Write key vocabulary and/or expressions to practice on the blocks ahead of time, or have students take turns asking or answering questions before removing a block.

Once your students are familiar with how to play this game, try doing it in reverse order for a fun twist. Remove some blocks ahead of time, and have students put them back in the tower. If a group’s tower falls before the set time limit is up, have them stack it again and start over.

Suggested Time: 10-15 minutes

English Skills: Speaking, listening, reading and writing

Notes: Variations of Jenga are available worldwide, and come in large or small sizes.

Recommendations: Pack at least one (if not a few) wooden tower sets in your luggage! You won’t be sorry you took up space to do so.

“English UNO”


The card game of UNO is a worldwide favorite. Don’t know how to play this international hit? Here are instructions to get you started. Now adapt the original game to fit your English lesson by developing English speaking and listening ‘challenges’ for each of the UNO symbols.


  • The student who plays the ‘reverse card’ has to ask the student it reverses to a question that relates to whatever topic or expression you’re focusing on.
  • When the ‘+2 card’ is played, the student who lays it down must ask the students to his or her left and right questions.
  • Someone who gets skipped when the ‘skip card’ is used needs to incorporate three new vocabulary words in a sentence or two.

Suggested Time: 12-15 minutes

English Skills: Speaking and listening

Notes: ‘English UNO’ seems best in groups of four to six students, so using multiple decks is suggested. UNO cards can be found in various countries, or try making your own version with flashcards!

Recommendations: Using a deck of cards such as UNO is also a great way to randomly select students when you’re in need of a volunteer to participate during a lesson.

“Language Target”


A ‘language target’ is perfect for the practice or production portions of a lesson in which students should start using learned “target language” to build on previous knowledge. Draw a big bullseye on a board. Label each section with conversational prompts, key expressions, questions (as seen above), or even vocabulary words. Make sure to include points in each ring of the bullseye as well for added motivation.

How to Play:

  • Split the class into two teams or several small groups.
  • Have individual students take turns throwing something such as a soft ball, crumpled up piece of paper, or a paper airplane at the target – aiming for certain points for their team(s) alongside what they’re to do or say in English.

Suggested Time: 10 minutes

English Skills: Speaking, listening and reading

Recommendations: Students will likely get a hoot out of being allowed to throw objects during class. Be sure to closely monitor this activity so it doesn’t get out of control.

 “Elbows Up, Hands Down”

This is ‘hands down’ (pun quite possibly intended) one of the best ways to begin or end a lesson. It works well as a warmer or for a review because it gets the entire class involved at the same time.

How to Play:

  • Choose one student to come to the front of the room to be the “guesser”. Have him or her close their eyes or turn to face a wall so they can’t see their peers.
  • The rest of the students should put their hands on their laps to pass something like a vocabulary word, a question/answer, or a key phrase on a small piece of paper around the room, under the table.
  • Allow the item to be passed, quickly and quietly, for about 20-30 seconds before having the student at the front shout, “Elbows up!”
  • Make sure all students make fists with their hands before they put their elbows on desks or tables.
  • At this point, the ‘guesser’ should turn around or open his or her eyes before saying, “Hands down.”
  • Every student needs to put his or her fists down before the guessing student can point to who they think has the piece of paper (as seen in the video above).
  • If the guessing student chooses correctly, he or she must practice what’s on the piece of paper. If they don’t guess correctly, the student who’s hiding it gets to practice.

Video music source: bensound

Be sure to give several students a chance to be the ‘guesser’, and vary the number of guesses based off how many pieces of paper are being passed at a time. For example: If only one piece of paper is in play, the student guessing could have three chances. If three pieces are being used, perhaps the student at the front should only get one guess.

Suggested Time: 5-7 minutes

English Skills: Speaking, listening and reading

Notes: This activity is a fantastic, productive quieter – when a class gets too noisy to handle. Try playing music or sing a song as the class passes!

Recommendations: As an extra incentive, pass a piece of candy or a sticker instead of paper. This works particularly well when you’re going over certain questions in class.

  • If the ‘guesser’ chooses the correct hand, he or she needs to ask the student with the object a question.
  • The student who has the object in his or her fist must answer and then give the prize to the ‘guesser’.
  • If the guessing student doesn’t pick correctly, the student who’s hiding something asks a question and the ‘guesser’ answers.
  • The student who has the small prize gets to keep it.

Do you have any other adaptable lesson plan activities for the English classroom? Please share your tips and tricks below!

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