Halloween Activities for Adults


I guess it’s fairly obvious when thinking about Halloween lessons to think of teaching kids and teens. However, why should they get all the fun?!

Oxford University Press has a variety of different Halloween-based activities for adult students, including a cloze activity at two different levels (pre-intermediate to low intermediate and high intermediate and above). If you’re teaching relatively high level students they also have some language-based worksheets, one focusing on idioms (with a scary theme), one on collocations which could then lead into a writing/story-telling exercise, and another on word formation. All of these provide a nice nod to the season, without feeling like you’re sacrificing education for the sake of doing something fun!

Five Minute English has a reading activity with true/false questions about the origins of Halloween.

The Guardian has an infographic – ‘Halloween in Numbers’ which could be useful for students studying for FCE or similar exams where they have to write about charts and statistics.

For a fun improv/roleplay activity, I like the idea of ‘Horrifying Interruptions’ from the sound book site. I suspect this would be likely to work best with strong intermediate level students and higher, but it’s a nice activity and reminds me of my improv comedy days at university.

Students could compare photos or text about how Halloween (or indeed Day of the Dead festivals) are celebrated around the world before discussing how these are similar/different to their own country. Could make for a really interesting discussion, particularly in mixed nationality groups.

Halloween could also be extended to the theme of ‘scary things’ in general. I’m a huge fan of onestopenglish.com’s ‘Live from London’ series and have used several different ones in class before. Especially if you’re teaching abroad, it’s a great way to get a little bit of a different culture into the classroom – and also exposes students to lots of different accents! They’ve just produced a Halloween episode – authentic video interviews with people in London about what scares them. There are worksheets and a transcript to accompany the video, and it provides a good lead in to a really interesting topic. What are you afraid of?



Halloween Activities for Tween/Teen Classes


In my last post I looked at Halloween activities that can be used with kids in the EFL classroom. Today it’s the tweens/teens turn! When teaching young children, it’s often a better idea to focus on the Trick or Treat/dressing up/fun side of Halloween – and make sure your monsters aren’t too scary. With 12 year olds and older, you can go to town on the scary elements a little bit more (although still proceed with caution, not everyone has the same ‘scare tolerance’)!

If you’re teaching low-level teens, you can still use some of the activities in the kids post – the writing the daily routine of a vampire, ghost or witch for example. I’d be inclined to steer clear of anything that focuses too much on Halloween costumes though – whilst the teens I’ve taught have still loved sweets, they’ve all been far too cool for the idea of dressing up, and  have found the idea of ‘real’ monsters, whether they exist or not, far more intriguing.

If you want to create any activities based around a text, the British Council’s Learn English Teens site has a nice text about various Halloween traditions, which also includes some online exercises and printable worksheets.

I also like the British Council’s video on How to Make Halloween Cupcakes. Although it might not be practical to actually make/decorate cupcakes in class (depending on where you teach – I’ve taught in some contexts where it would have been possible) this would fit in nicely with a unit on food and would give it a little Halloween twist.  Students could answer comprehension questions based on the video, and then design food with a spooky theme for an imaginary Halloween party.

I’ve yet to meet a teen class which doesn’t love competition, and so if you’ve got access to technology (be it computers, students’ phones, or ipads) a webquest can be great fun, especially for a change. There’s a nice Halloween one available here. If you’ve never done one before, a webquest is effectively an extended reading comprehension exercise, where the students are given questions, but instead of being given a text are given a website to go to and find the answers. To up the competition element, I’d put them in pairs or small groups, give them a time limit, and offer a small prize to the group with the most correct answers in that space of time. You can also up the challenge a bit by insisting that they have to write answers using their own words, rather than simply copying swathes of text from the website. One small word of warning: check the weblinks given in advance to make sure they work properly.

Teen magazines (and for that matter coursebooks) often incorporate quizzes (along the lines of ‘Are you a good friend?’ etc) and it can be fun to give this idea a Halloween twist. One of my favourite Halloween lessons in the past has been using these Halloween quizzes from Lanternfish – ‘Are you a witch?’ and ‘Are you a werewolf?’. There is an ‘easy’ and a ‘difficult’ version which means that the activity can be adapted to various different levels, although I think I used the ‘difficult’ one with my intermediate teens. As a warmer, I asked my students to list all the Halloween ‘creatures’ they could think of, then to brainstorm all the information they could think of about witches and werewolves. They then read the quiz to find out which of their ideas were included in the text, before asking their partner the questions, which was met with howls of laughter! Finally they worked in pairs to write their own quiz along the same lines – there are templates on the same webpage for a witch, werewolf or vampire quiz, although I think I let my students choose their own creature so that they could use ghosts, monsters and zombies as well.

For those with projectors/interactive whiteboards in their classroom, there is a nice Jeopardy-style quiz game all about Halloween here.

As a final idea, ghost stories are always a great idea with teens. Again, Lanternfish has a nice activity (Haunted House Reading and Writing), but you could also use process writing to get your students to provide their own ideas, provide visual prompts or show or tell students part of a ghost story and ask them  what happens next. It’s especially important to provide YL with an audience for writing tasks (not just the teacher) so I’d suggest either putting the stories around the room for the whole class to read, or having a ghost story telling session at the end of the lesson, where you dim the lights, play some scary background music, and the students read their stories aloud. The students could vote on the scariest story, and a prize be offered for the best one.

Check out the blog on Friday for my final post in this series – Halloween activities for adult EFL classes!


Halloween Activities for Kids


One thing I’ve always really loved about teaching is being able to incorporate festivals/holidays into whatever I’m teaching . Talking about festivals that are celebrated back at home often has a powerful way of making you feel a bit less like an alien when living and working abroad, and it adds an interesting extra cultural element for your students. Halloween is fast approaching, and this week I’m going to provide a roundup of some of my favourite Halloween resources for teaching kids, teens and adults. In today’s post, it’s all about the kids. 

If you’re teaching older kids and looking for a simple description of the history and background of Halloween, I really like some of the texts on the CBBC website (British children’s TV channel). Although they’re aimed at native speakers, it wouldn’t take too long to simplify a few words and create some comprehension questions. You can find the history of Halloween here, a short text about pumpkins/jack o’lanterns here, and a text about trick or treating here.

There’s also a simple cloze activity about Halloween and how it is celebrated at Enchanted Learning.

For those with access to an interactive whiteboard, the British Council Kids’ website has lots of games themed around Halloween, covering topics such as Halloween vocabulary  and parts of the body. There are also craft activities and flashcards to download: http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/category/topics/halloween

There are a wide range of different activities over at Lanternfish. I particularly like ‘Haunted House Drawing’, which practises both Halloween vocabulary (especially if you add a flashcard activity to pre-teach the vocab) and prepositions of place. I’ve done variants of this activity several times before, but as a drawing dictation rather than handing out a written list of instructions.


If you’ve decided to have a Halloween party with your class, there are lots of ideas for games here: http://www.eslkidstuff.com/HalloweenGames.htm. You can also find some ideas for simple craft activities (which would work well with VYLs) at the bottom of the page.

onestopenglish.com is another of my favourite resource sites, and as expected it has some helpful Halloween resources for a variety of different age groups. I like some elements of Foka Eline’s Halloween lesson (plan can be found here) – my young learners would love saying the vocabulary ‘as a witch’, ‘as a monster’ etc, and moving around the classroom like different Halloween ‘creatures’. I’ve taught Jessica Watson’s ‘Daily Routine’ lesson before, and it’s a nice way to both include elements of Halloween and to still feel as if you and your students are getting some work done! Lisa Dold’s ‘Make a Monster’ lesson sounds fun (students are sure to love the plasticine element of it!) and will also give students good practice of describing body parts. For a longer lesson this could be combined with some of the British Council Kids material on Halloween/body parts.

Will you be celebrating Halloween with your students this year? What will you be doing?


How to Beat Observation Nerves


I remember my TP during my teacher training quite vividly – not least because I was so nervous before every lesson I taught that I would feel physically sick. If you lose sleep before observations, your palms start to sweat and your stomach just won’t settle, you’re not alone. This is what I wish I’d known about observation nerves, and how not to let them win. 

Before your observation:

Look after yourself.

Image: cdn.psychologytoday.com

When you’re really strung out on something, it’s only natural to feel as if it’s absorbing all your time and mental energy. It’s important in the lead up to your observation to make sure you’re looking after yourself.

  • Eat properly – maybe even treat yourself to a meal out or take the trouble to cook yourself something more special than you would normally make.
  • Don’t spend your whole time rehashing your lesson plan and thinking about teaching – do something completely different, and again, make it something you enjoy. Maybe get the things together that you’ll need for your lesson (especially if you’ve got lots of photocopies prepared or are taking in realia), maybe decide what you’re going to wear (choose something professional, but most importantly that you’re comfortable in!), but then put everything aside and think about something else as best you can.
  • Finally, get to sleep at a decent time! Don’t go to bed far earlier than usual for the sake of it (lying there tossing and turning won’t help anyone), but equally don’t stay up really late either.


It sounds a little kooky, but this is one of the most helpful things I’ve found for reducing my observation nerves. Before teaching your observed lesson, practise! You don’t need to teach the whole lesson you’ve got planned to the same (or a different class), simply teaching the lesson to a chair/a collection of inanimate objects/a willing flatmate works just as well. If you don’t want to get up and actually run through the whole thing you could equally just visualise yourself teaching the lesson. This gives you the opportunity to see if there are any obvious flaws in your plan (for example an explanation that doesn’t quite make sense), and allows you to anticipate any problems that might occur – and think how you will deal with them.

Think positively!

One of the problems with observation nerves is that they tend to lead you down the path of envisaging everything that could possibly go wrong, which then makes you worry about how you’ll respond to those problems, which then makes you worry about what will happen if you respond to them badly, which then makes you worry… you can see where this is going. The only way to break this cycle is to think positively. Yes, things might go wrong during your observation, but you’ve doubtless dealt with things going wrong in your lessons before, and you know what – you’ve survived.

You know what you’re doing, you’ve prepared well, so believe in yourself.


Image: http://www.rich20something.com

During your Observation:

Remember that it’s not all about pass or fail.

The most helpful thing I’ve found in beating my own observation nerves has been working as a senior teacher and observing other teachers myself. Obviously this isn’t necessarily something you can easily put into practice, especially if you’ve only just started teaching and this is your first observation in a new job. However, I can pass on what I’ve learnt from observing other people:

  • Your observer is not looking to fail you. Overall, they are looking for two things – things you’re already doing that are good, and things that you could improve on. Even if you taught the worst lesson ever seen, whoever is observing you is still required to say something positive. They will be looking out for positive things, not only focusing on the negatives.
  • Even if you will be given a grade (above standard/to standard/below standard), observations are intended to help the teacher. Although the actual observation part is the most nerve-wracking, the most important part of the observation process is feedback. What the observer tells you is designed to help you improve. I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: notice the phrasing there. things you could improve on does not mean ‘things that are terrible, you’re a terrible teacher and by the way you’re in the wrong career’, they are suggestions for how you can become a better teacher. If you care about your students and you care about doing your job, then becoming a better teacher can only be a positive thing. Observations are there to help you do that.
  • The chances are that your observer may well be learning something from youMost experienced teachers are aware (but most new teachers aren’t) that over time, you do ‘forget’ how to teach properly. Bad habits become ingrained – and often it’s really interesting to observe someone else (especially someone recently qualified) as it reminds you of all the things you’ve forgotten! Even observing experienced teachers it’s interesting to see approaches that they try that you may not have thought of, or techniques, that they use that you also favour.

Connect with your students.

Remember that first and foremost, you are teaching your students – not an observer who may be sitting in the back of the room. Being observed doesn’t mean that you need to act like a robot. Smile at your students, ask them how they are, don’t be afraid to have a laugh with them. It’ll do wonders for your rapport with the students (which your observer will be looking out for), but it’ll also put your mind at ease slightly if you remember that you’re just doing what you normally do.

Expect your students to act differently.

Image: http://www.gymlion.com/why-you-cant-stop-worrying

Students freak out about observations too! It’s a matter of personal preference how you approach telling (or not telling) your students about the observation. I’ve worked with colleagues who have attempted to bribe their class into being well-behaved, and this is something I’d caution against (especially as your teens idea of “well-behaved” might be quite different to yours), but it can be a good idea to let the students know that the observer is watching you, not them, and that it’s ok for them to behave as they would do normally. I’ve had normally really talkative classes completely clam up during an observation, and equally quite boisterous classes suddenly become impeccably behaved – so don’t be too alarmed if your students all seem to have suddenly had a personality transplant. Your observer knows that students sometimes have observation nerves as well!

Ignore the observer.

I know this is far easier said than done, but as much as possible, try to forget that the observer is there. If you’re constantly glancing at them to try to judge their facial expressions/see if they’re taking notes, you’re only going to add to how nervous you feel. The more attention you pay to the observer, the less attention you’re going to pay to your students – and they are still the most important people in the room.

Don’t feel like you have to teach from your plan.

In my first few observations, I always took my multiple page, CELTA-style lesson plan into the classroom with me, and then tried to teach the lesson from it. It didn’t work. Although you generally need a detailed plan for an observed lesson, having all of that information to hand during the lesson itself isn’t likely to help. Firstly, it’s going to stand out as something very different to what you normally do, which won’t help your nerves. Secondly, CELTA-style lesson plans are terrible if you want to simply glance at it quickly and check what you’re intending to do next.

Although you in all probability need to write the plan, and give a copy of it to your observer (check first as different schools have different policies), there’s nothing to say that you can’t submit the plan – then transfer the main points of it to your notebook or wherever you normally write your lesson plans. Then take that notebook into the classroom and use it to teach from.

Be prepared to alter your plan if necessary.

I’ve had a couple of observation near disasters – we all have. However I can identify one consistent feature in all of them: they have all been occasions where something didn’t work as intended, and I moved onto the next stage anyway. If your students don’t understand something, or struggle to complete an activity correctly, it’s ok to take a step back and re-explain, or to spend some more time on that area. This is particularly important if that knowledge or the result of that activity will be necessary to then complete subsequent stages of the lesson. You won’t be penalised for altering your plan, provided you can justify why you made that decision.

Post observation:

Make some brief notes.

During your observation feedback, you’re almost guaranteed to be asked how you felt the lesson went, and about any changes you made to your plan. If you’re able to have your observation feedback immediately after the lesson, then no need to do this – but it’s not unlikely that you might need to wait a day or two until there’s a convenient gap in both your timetable and that of whoever observed you. Rather than sitting there umming and aahing (because by the time you’ve taught a couple more lessons, your observed one is likely to have become a distant memory) it’s helpful if you just make a few quick notes you can then refer to.

And then… forget about it!

Once you’ve taught your lesson, there is absolutely nothing that worrying about it will do – expect make you stressed out. You can’t change anything that either you or your students did, you can’t change any of the observer’s thoughts or opinions: so until you have your feedback, try to put it to the back of your mind completely. Resist the temptation to hash over how it went with colleagues (that won’t help), focus on your next classes, and when you’ve finished teaching, go and do something completely different. As with pre-observation, the time post-observation is a time to treat yourself. You survived! Go and celebrate it.

How to Pass your Observation (with flying colours!)


‘Elly, problem!’. It was the middle of my first observation at a new teaching job, and one of my grade one students sidled up to me holding her freshly detached tooth. I’ve also had an adult student proclaim loudly mid-observation ‘I don’t understand anything!’ (in L1, during an advanced class). There was also the lesson when the cupboard door fell off, landing on one of my seated students. The list goes on.

As teachers, we have the dubious privilege of periodically having someone come and stand and watch over our shoulder, and then provide us with feedback on how well (or not) we are doing our job. If you’re in your first year of teaching, the whole process probably feels a bit like an additional CELTA teaching practice, although with the added terror factor that a ‘to standard’ lesson might be required in order to pass your probationary period. Even if you’ve been teaching for several years and know that you’re unlikely to be fired, it doesn’t necessarily make observations any more pleasant.

Benjamin Franklin said ‘By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail’, and at least in my experience, many new TEFL teachers who fail their observations do because of their planning.


Enough of preparing to fail: how can you prepare to pass your observation?

Prepare well. 

It should hopefully go without saying, but an observed lesson is not one where you should decide to just ‘wing it’. Your school should give you at least 24 hours notice of an observation, giving you plenty of time to plan and prepare.

Check the format required beforehand.

Some schools (my current place of work, as an example) require only the most basic lesson plan before an observation – simply a spoken outline of the lesson will do. For other schools (some branches of IH, for example) you will need to produce a full ‘CELTA-style’ lesson plan. Find out what your school’s policy is beforehand to save yourself either missing something you were meant to do, or doing a lot of unnecessary work! If you’re unfamiliar with the ‘CELTA format’ – for example if you were previously a mainstream school teacher but now find yourself teaching TEFL, check with colleagues who have done CELTA or Trinity to find out what is expected – it’s quite a different way of teaching. There’s also some great advice online, check out ELTplanning’s blog post on how to write a CELTA lesson plan.

Consider the problems you’re likely to have – both with the class and with whatever you’re teaching.

‘Potential Problems’ is often included as a section of lesson plan forms. However, it isn’t just a box on a form. Rather than simply encouraging you to be pessimistic and think of all the things that could possibly go wrong, the purpose of this activity is to help you pre-empt those problems, and then have a shot at solving them before they occur. For example, if you know that two particular YL students are often silly and disruptive when working together, you might plan to organise your pair/group work in a different way, so that those students are separated. If you are teaching something that you think your students are likely to find really difficult, you might plan ways to stage the activities more carefully and provide more support.

Check your aims. 

Lesson aims/stage aims were something I found really hard to get my head around when I first started teaching. Why is ‘Students will practise reading for gist’ an acceptable stage aim, but ‘Students will read’ not?! What I have found helpful is rephrasing the idea of an ‘aim’ as ‘What will the students be able to do after this activity that they couldn’t do before?’ – and then answering that question. Again, lesson aims can seem like another pointless ‘box to fill’, but strong aims (‘Students will be able to understand and produce vocabulary to describe clothing’ as opposed to ‘Students will talk about clothes’) can be the difference between a well-structured lesson where the students have a real sense of achievement, and one where they don’t.

Don’t try something new.

I’m well aware that this might seem like strange advice – after all, you want to impress the observer with your new and exciting ideas! However, (unless  this is a developmental observation with the intention of you experimenting) an observation really isn’t the best time to try something completely new and unpredictable. Don’t repeat something you’ve already done word-for-word – that’s unlikely to be beneficial for your students – but consider the activities and tasks you’re asking students to do, and choose tasks types that will be familiar rather than unknown. By choosing familiar activities it allows you to concentrate on your instructions, your classroom management, your explanations and the atmosphere in the classroom; and it means that you can better anticipate problems in advance.

Variety, variety, variety.

One huge advantage of writing a full lesson plan is that it allows you to see all of the activities you’re going to do in relation to each other. This can also highlight if you need to make some changes. Ideally, you’re aiming for a variety of different activities (so no gap-fill, followed by a gap-fill, followed by a gap-fill), and a variety of interaction patterns. This means that you need to alternate between individual work, pair work, and  perhaps group work, so that the students are communicating in a variety of different ways and with different people.

Don’t forget the detail!

Even as an experienced teacher, it’s easy to fall foul of this one. If your school requires a full CELTA-style lesson plan, the ideal is that you should be able to give that plan to someone else and they will then be able to teach your lesson. Assume that it is someone who has absolutely no initiative whatsoever – they need to be told every little thing, otherwise they won’t do it. If you are going to ask the students to check their answers in pairs after an activity, write it on your plan, even if it feels like you are simply covering pages with ‘students check in pairs’ repeatedly. Don’t leave things out because they’re ‘obvious’.


Before submitting your plan (sometimes you’ll be required to hand/email it to your senior teacher/ADOS 24 hours in advance, sometimes it’ll be fine just to hand it to them before the lesson (again, check!) make sure you proofread it. Run it through spell-check, make sure there aren’t any glaring errors. It should be second-nature, but it’s also very easy to forget!


Far easier said than done, but before your observation try to make the time and the space to switch off and relax. Staying up late the night before worrying won’t make your teaching any better – if anything it’s more likely to have a negative effect. Constantly revising your plan isn’t likely to improve it, so set yourself a deadline for it. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s only one lesson, and you will survive it.



What if I don’t have time to plan?


One of the most common problems new teachers face is not having enough time to plan. It’s one thing to be able to spend several hours planning a class for one of your CELTA/Trinity teaching practices, and quite another to realise that you’ve got four or five classes to plan for tomorrow. There simply isn’t enough time to spend hours planning each class you teach.

I know exactly how you feel. Add to that more experienced colleagues telling you ‘it gets quicker’ and those who proudly tell you that they don’t bother to plan at all, and it’s enough to make you want to quit before you’ve even started.

My first piece of advice is not to skip planning – however tempting it may be, and no matter how confident you are that you can ‘just wing it’, your lesson will be worse as a result.

Planning isn’t just something to do ‘because you have to’, it will genuinely allow you to anticipate problems, explain things better, and teach a more interesting and better organised lesson.

The colleagues telling you are quite right – planning does get quicker. Here’s how.

Your standard lesson plan that you use every day doesn’t need to have a CELTA-type level of detail.

Yes, you can think about anticipated problems, you can think about how long each activity will last, and you can think about interaction patterns, but you don’t need to write them all down! To give you an idea of the difference, a CELTA-style lesson plan may run to four or five A4 pages. My average lesson plan on a daily basis is around half an A5 sheet. You can already start to see the difference in time this requires.

Your lesson plan does not need to be 100% perfect.

Many teachers are perfectionists – it seems to go with the territory, and if you’ve just started a new job it’s only natural to want to do well. However, teaching itself requires you to be flexible, and things will very rarely go exactly as you intend them. I’m not advocating taking a completely laissez-faire approach and abandoning planning completely, but know that there is a limit to how much you can plan everything.


There are also some questions questions you can ask yourself which will help you to plan efficiently.

  1. What do I want the end result to be?

    I always struggled with writing lesson aims until I read ‘How to be an Outstanding Primary School Teacher’ by David DunnAlthough aimed at primary school teachers, some of the advice can be easily applied to any kind of teaching, including EFL. At the start of every lesson plan, sit down and ask yourself what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the lesson (something they won’t be able to do at the start!). This could be completing an activity in the coursebook, or carrying out a communicative task, or producing something, like a presentation or a piece of writing. What you do in your lesson should lead up to your students being able to achieve the end result.

    For example: if you want your young learners to write a horror story using past simple, your lesson plan might need to include: a model example of a horror story (this could be a reading or listening activity), an activity to review the past simple, an activity to teach some ‘horror’ vocabulary, and perhaps an activity to review story structure/using paragraphs etc. With those elements, even quite weak students should be able to produce the end product.

  2. Can I use the coursebook, or do I need to adapt it or supplement it in some way?

    Once you’ve figured out what elements you need to include in your lesson, it’s time to relate that to the coursebook. Are those pages you’re meant to be covering a relevant/interesting topic? Is it appropriate for your class (in terms of both level and topic)? Can you use the coursebook as is, or do you need to adapt or supplement it in some way?

    No coursebook is perfect, so it’s far more likely to be the latter. See my post on adapting the coursebook for more hints and tips here.

    3. Can I use something I’ve already used/can I reuse this in the future?

    If you’re going to supplement or create anything, it’s worth pausing to think for a moment here. As we discussed in my teacher toolkit post, it’s always helpful to have a selection of resources you can turn to in a hurry. If there’s potential to reuse something, make an extra copy, depending on what it is laminate it, and then save it for the future.

4. What do I need to plan more/less?

One of the reasons why CELTA lesson plans are so damn long is that they require pretty much the same level of detail, regardless of what the activity is – what the students will be doing, what the teacher will be doing, instructions, interaction patterns, etc. When you’re writing a functional lesson plan for your normal classes, you don’t need to.

Some things – such as presenting a new grammatical structure – will require more planning, and it’s still worth writing down how you want your boardwork to look, grammar rules and examples. When it comes to a listening activity, however, you might just want to write down ‘Exercise 2b’.

5. What is the minimum level of detail I am comfortable working with?

When teaching a full 20-30 hour timetable, there is a limit to how much time you’re going to be able to spend planning if you value your sanity and/or social life. The reason all those experienced teachers tell you that planning gets quicker? A lot of the time it’s down to this: that they’ve figured out the minimum level of detail they are comfortable working with.

Over time, as you become more confident with your teaching, your plan becomes a way of organising your thoughts pre-lesson more than a document you refer to whilst teaching. This means that most of the meat of the plan will eventually be in your head. If you understand whatever abbreviations, shorthand, diagrams or whatever else you want to use, the only person you have to answer to is yourself.

I hope these tips help you to feel more comfortable with lesson planning. For some more planning advice check out my post Lesson Planning 101, which is aimed specifically at summer school teachers (but works for other new teachers as well!).

5 Games for Advanced Students


We’re all familiar with the games teachers habitually play in the EFL classroom: hangman, 20 questions and so-on. When your students have a high level of English, though, it gets a bit tricky – those games may be fun, but they present little to no linguistic challenge for your students and as such don’t have much value.

Just because your students are upper-intermediate or advanced, it doesn’t mean they don’t want some fun every now and then (especially if they’re kids or teens!). So, what can they play?

1. Challenge

Also known as Stop the Bus (although I’ve never figured out why!). The aim of this game is to be the last player remaining by correctly spelling words under pressure.

Nominate a student to begin the game. The student must say a letter. The turn then passes around the classroom, with each student saying a letter to continue spelling a word.

For example:

Student 1: C

Student 2: A

Student 3: T

The student who completes a word then begins a new word. However, if a student thinks that the person before them has made a mistake, or has given an impossible letter combination (eg. C-A-L-T) they must question the student by saying ‘Challenge!’. If the challenged student fails to produce a correct word, they are out. If they can answer correctly, then the challenging student is out (and the subsequent rounds skip that player). The last player remaining in the game wins. The teacher monitors, provides a countdown time limit if students hesitate too much before providing an answer, and optionally can provide additional support by writing the letters on the board (if desired).

2. Word Squares

Put the students in pairs, or ask them to play on their own if you think they fancy a challenge!

blank_grid-2ewi9kvDraw a grid on the board, 3×3, and ask the students to copy it down (one grid per pair).


Then elicit a 3 letter word from the students, and write it diagonally in the grid, one letter per square, starting from the top left hand corner and finishing in the bottom right hand corner. Explain to the students that they must race to complete the square with words that read left to right.

If for example you start off with:


The students’ end result might be:


When the first group finishes, stop all the pairs and collect feedback. I normally play three rounds of this game (the fastest pair to complete the square correctly getting a point each time), using a different variant for each round.

Possible variants include:

Using a bigger square – 4×4, 5×5 and 6×6 all work

Students may only write verbs (although any form is acceptable)

Students may not use the letter ‘e’ (or another commonly used letter)

3. Word Tennis

This can be played as a team game, or with each student playing individually. The teacher selects a topic (eg. vegetables, sports, the environment). The turn moves around the class (or alternates between the two teams) with each student (or team) saying a word connected to the topic. The last student (team) to be able to say a word each time wins a point.

4. Scattergories

I’ve played this game with students at pre-intermediate level or above, but it still works well for upper-intermediate or advanced levels – just make the categories harder (and perhaps include things more relevant to topics they have studied).

Teacher (and students!) select 4 or 5 categories and writes them on the board.

Eg. Place         Food         Personality Adjective         Outdoor Hobby            Job

Put the students into pairs or small groups. Each group needs a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.

The teacher says the alphabet in their head/randomly draws a scrabble tile/any other way of choosing a random letter. The students must then think of (and write down) one word for each category beginning with that letter. When they have one word for each category they must shout ‘stop!’ and the scoring for that round begins.

There are plenty of different ways to score this, but usually I award:

0 points for no word/ a word that does not begin with the correct letter

5 points for a correct word that is the same as another team’s word

10 points for a correct word that is different to other team’s words

20 points for a correct word if no other team has a correct word

Repeat for  3/4 rounds and tally up the scores at the end.

5. Hangmanagrams


No, that isn’t a typo. For students who love hangman (but who honestly find it too easy) here is an extra challenge (which also gets them thinking about letter patterns). Hangmanagrams is played in almost the same way as hangman – a word is chosen, dashes drawn for each letter, students guess the letters, a new part of the drawing is added for each incorrect answer etc (less bloodthirsty versions can be substituted). Why almost? Well, that’s where the ‘anagrams’ part comes in.

Correct letters are written up on the board – but they can be written in any order. For example, if the chosen word is ‘APPLE’, and ‘P’ and ‘E’ have been guessed, the student/teacher writing the word may choose to write ‘P P E _ _ ‘, ‘_ P _ E P’ or any other variant. As well as guessing the letters correctly, the students must guess the (unscrambled) word – even if they’ve guessed all the letters, each incorrect word guess counts as another life.

What games do you play with your high level students?