We’ve all had classes at some point where there is time to fill, or some sort of pacing schedule which limits the amount of ‘book material’ we can cover in any given lesson. For me, teaching became a lot easier when I figured out a few more ways to fill time!
In an ideal world we plan everything well, everything goes exactly as expected, and all the time in our lessons is filled with carefully thought out, educational activities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world! Every teacher at some point finds that they just need something to pull out on the spur of the moment, no planning required, and that will take a good 10-20 minutes of the lesson. Here are two of my favourite ‘pull out of the bag’ fillers – they can be used:
- To make feedback for an activity/homework fun
- To motivate students to do grammar/vocabulary exercises
- To liven up a lesson by adding in a team game
- To provide you with a game which requires minimal prep, but will provide a good while of classroom fun!
(or ‘Toilets’ as it was christened by one of my groups of Russian tweens)
There are other, more complex versions of this, but I have to admit that they are too complicated for me to keep track of. This version has just enough complexity to make it interesting, while also making it perfectly manageable. It works well with students 9 and upwards, although is particularly good for tweens and teens. A small amount of prep required for this one: before the game you need to draw a secret ‘crib sheet’ like the one shown below. You can even be uber-prepared and keep one with your lesson plans just in case – just be careful not to use the same crib sheet twice with the same class!
- Ask the students to work in teams (around 4 students tends to work well). Give them a minute to decide on a team name, and while they are doing this draw your blank chart on the board. You can make for a longer or shorter game by using a larger or smaller number of squares – I normally opt for either 3×3 or 3×4.
- Explain the rules: the teams will take it in turns to answer a question. Here you have several options – the questions can be: a standard exercise you want the students to complete (or that they have already completed if you’re using this to check homework, for example), questions the students have written for each other in advance (great if you want to make this activity into a review lesson), or simply questions that you make up on the spot to ask the students (great if it’s a completely spur of the moment ‘help, I need an activity!’ decision). If a team answers a question correctly, they get to choose a square. You will then reveal what is in that square. In the squares there are four different options: it might be one point, two points (self explanatory), a tornado, or a house. If either team selects a square containing a tornado, both teams lose all their points. The one exception to this rule is if either team has a house. Houses keep points safe – a tornado will destroy the house, but not the points inside it.
- Once you’ve explained the rules, you’re ready to play! If my students are clamouring for a longer game (which at the end of it they often are) I sometimes incorporate a ‘bonus’ set of boxes which have one house, one tornado, and then higher numbers of points – up to 8 points per box.
- The winning team is the one with the highest number of points after all the boxes have been revealed.
I find this activity tends to work particularly well in classes where you have one student who is much stronger – in this situation I’ve often found students are reluctant to play team games as they automatically expect that whichever team has the stronger student will win. The element of chance here means that this isn’t necessarily the case! If a team does not answer a question correctly, however, they do not get to choose a square and so have no chance of gaining points; thus there is some skill required.
Give or Take
I originally heard about this game in a traning seminar at IH Moscow some time ago – unfortunately I’ve forgotten which teacher showed it to me. It has a very similar format to Typhoon, in that it entails the teacher having a hidden crib sheet, a parallel set of boxes being drawn on the board, and teams needing to answer a question correctly in order to choose a square. In terms of the content of the squares, however, it’s a very different game. I’d recommend caution with using this one with anyone younger than teenagers – it can get quite vicious.
Here is an example crib sheet for Give or Take. As you can see the squares contain numbers of points – 50, 100 and 200, and also small pluses and minuses. Once the students have answered a question correctly and chosen their square, the procedure as follows:
- Teacher reveals the number of points in the square, writing it on the board. Do not reveal if this number is positive or negative.
- Teacher asks the team ‘Give or take?’ The students must decide among themselves if they wish to give these points to another team, or whether to take the points for their own team. It’s wise to give a time limit for this as I think some of my teens would happily spend half the lesson deliberating!
- Teacher then reveals if the points are positive or negative, and subtracts or adds the appropriate number to the chosen team’s points accordingly.
- The winning team is the team with the highest number of points at the end of the game (once all the boxes have been revealed).
I hope one or both of these are useful to you! Do you have any favourite filler activities?