One of the challenges of a beginning ESL class is the amount
of vocabulary in each subject area or lifeskill needed to engage
the students in collaborative activities. Each text or workbook
you use adds extra vocabulary, often with unfamiliar structures
as well. However, you will increase practice and success if you
use only one main text and develop introductory and reinforcement
materials to complement that text. These materials can be developed
as templates and saved for future use. Following is a list of
materials and activities that can be used with any lesson. The
examples follow a "classroom words" theme. They can
be used the first few weeks of a beginning ESL/EFL class.
Type a list of words. Type a list of sentences. Use a medium
font and double spacing for both.
Enlarge the words to flashcard size. Try Helvetica 72 Bold.
Using copies of the flashcard templates, cut and paste the words
(literally) or write them out to make new subject-specific flashcard
templates. Make matching flashcard templates with sentences or
pictures. Copy onto card stock for a class set and keep the templates
Make Student Flashcards
Use a student flashcard template for each student on regular
paper. You can make the template on a computer with a 2x6 table
with minimal margins and thick borders. Each card should be the
size of one of the boxes below. You can also copy the boxes below
for a twelve-card template. The list of words can be added by
hand, by computer, or by the students themselves. (Check for
accuracy and readability if the students write their own.) Keep
your originals safe. This are not properly
formatted on the web. Use download.
Make Sentence Strips
Cut the sentences into strips and put each set into a paper bag.
Prepare one bag per group. Print and cut new strips for each
new lesson. Keep the templates safe. Make one bag for the class
or enough bags for small groups. Download.
Make Reinforcement Worksheets
You can make a worksheet to accompany almost any collaborative
activity or to provide extra individual practice. See Community
Spirit for ideas. Adapt the worksheets to the new subject
areas by cutting and pasting the new words (on the computer)
or retyping. Look for new pictures if applicable. See Practical
Vocabulary Builder and Look Again Pictures for ideas.
Make Labels and Room Posters
Make labels for classroom (and other) words. Post the current
list of words and/or sentences on a classroom poster using a
Store All Material in Notebooks
Try one-inch three-ring notebooks, one per subject. You will
fill them little by little. Use plastic sheets for templates
and originals. Include copies of word lists, worksheets, overheads
(punch holes in them), any applicable reproducible sheets, and
lists of activities.
Make a Flashcard Pocket Chart
Try 4 pockets by 6 pockets. You can make it out of cardboard
and tag board, but Carson-Dellosa has a good vinyl one. Use this
for the presentation of materials, matching & memory games,
etc. Try Holcolm's, (800) 362-9907, for the Classroom Management
We will use this theme for demonstration purposes. It can
be started with beginners in the first class. Abbreviations:
WG Whole Group, SG Small Group, Ind. Individual, M Mixed
Vocabulary for "Classroom Words" Unit
board, book, chair, clock, closet, coat, door, floor, lights,
name, paper, pen, pencil, table, wall, window, light switch,
pencil sharpener, room, classroom, close, open, pick up, put,
read, sharpen, sit, stand, say, turn off, turn on, walk, write,
down, on, to, up, your, in, into, the, "to be" (Added
later) he, she, it, they, his, her, front, back, student, teacher,
look at, look for, next to, now, "Where is/are" "I'm
sorry!" "I forgot!" "I'm ready!" "Oh!"
Flashcards and Sentence Bags for Classroom Words
||Introduce the nouns
through realia and flashcards, or divide nouns into two sets
and repeat #1-9 with the second set.
||Introduce the sentences
through realia, flashcards, and demonstration or divide and repeat
||Ask the students
to follow the commands through demonstration and TPR. Involve
a few individuals at first, then all.
||Teach present progressive
vs. command form (with pronouns in contracted form).
||Reinforce with charades:
"What am I doing?" "You're _________________."
(Use different "teachers".)
||Choose a sentence
strip from a bag, read it silently,
then do what the strip "commands" you to do. As you
do what it says, ask the class, "What am I doing?"
The class replies, "You are _______." After demonstrating
this with the whole class, ask individuals to model as well.
Later, add the question and answer sequence, "Am I ___?"
"Yes, you are," or "No, you're __."
||7. 7. 7.
||Use the sentence-strip
bags at tables or in groups. Students take turns around the table,
one at a time. They pick a sentence from sentence from the bag,
read it to themselves, do what it commands, then ask their group,
"What am I doing?" The group replies,
"You are _____________________." The next student picks
another from the bag and repeats the process.
||When they are finished,
the students can copy the sentence from the strips into their
notebooks. They can write one down and
pass it to their neighbor until all are finished.
||Have students make
flashcards for home practice. Use the template. Draw or glue
on pictures if appropriate.
Reinforcement Ideas and Accompanying Materials
SG 1. I'm Sorry Game This is a variety of the
above charades game. This time add "bad" sentences
to the bag (taken from both lists of words). If students pick
an impossible sentence from the bag, they shrug their shoulders
and say, "I'm sorry!" Then they pick another sentence.
Examples of impossible sentences are: Close the wall. Open the
board. Put the closet on the table. Sharpen the book. Then there
are some sentences they may or may not consider crazy or may
not want to perform like: Sit on the floor. Stand on the chair.
Sit on the table.
Ind. 2. Writing Worksheets These are for beginning
writers. Create a worksheet by typing the individual words or
sentences in a medium font and long blanks so the students can
practice writing the words. I always have these on hand.
M 3. Dictation (Use this after the students have
had a lot of practice with the sentences.) Write the following
sentences on the board minus the underlined words. Ask students
to copy them, leaving enough space at the blanks (what below
are the underlined words). Then read the full sentences to them.
They will have to fill in the missing words. Whether you use
this activity will depend on whether they have been writing the
words a lot and have practiced their spelling.
Open your book to page 5. Write your
name in the notebook with a pencil. Please
walk to the door and turn off the
lights. Stand on the floor. Sit in
the chair. Walk to the window. Please open
It may be more appropriate to take out the function words
(to, the, up, on) instead of the content words (example follows).
They can make flashcards of the function words first to practice.
This can be followed by a cloze worksheet or flashcard
practice (see #4). With this activity, you can use unfamiliar
words in the dictation. Just write them into the sentence for
the students (see below*).
Open your book to page 5. Write your
name in the notebook with a pencil.
Please walk to the door and turn off
the lights. Stand on the floor. Sit in
the chair. Walk to the window. Please open
it. *Read the book.
M 4. Flashcard Activities Flashcards can be used
for paired identification practice, the way flashcards are normally
used, or for one of the following activities. Call out a word
and have the students lay down that card. Do the above in pairs.
Instead of word-level practice, questions can be asked and the
answers set down (as in Classroom Drawing, #6 below), or cloze
sentences can be read and the missing word set down (as in Dictation,
#3). Again, this can be done in pairs. Pairs of students can
use one set of flashcards with all the words. One student selects
and places the appropriate cards to make a sentence. The second
student writes that sentence down, then selects a new one for
the other partner (an unscrambled version of Scrambled Sentences,
#7). Here's another activity often called "Find Your
Partner". Make a new set of flashcards with present-progressive
sentences minus the noun. (Write your name on the ______.) Pass
these out to half the students in random order. Pass out the
matching noun flashcards to the other half of your class. Ask
them to stand and "find your partner". They have to
then find a student whose card makes a possible sentence combination
with theirs. There are more than one way to put most of the sentences
together, but it is possible that the last two students will
not be able to match. Ask all the students to stand around the
edge of the room with their partners as they finish. Then they
can take turns reading their sentences to the class. Follow up
with a matching page for oral practice.
SG 5. Chain of Command Team students into groups
of four. Each student needs paper and pencil. Each student writes
a command (a possible one with classroom words---such as
"Walk to the window."). Then they pass the paper to
the right and receive one from
the left. Ask the students to read the command on the paper to
themselves, add another one, and pass it to the right. After
the paper has gone around once or twice, the original "owners"
take turns reading their paper and doing all the commands listedin
WG 6. Classroom Drawing Students fold a piece of
paper into eight squares and number their eight boxes. The teacher
gives them instructions on what object to draw in each box, and
the students draw it. Then the students work in pairs, asking
and answering the questions. Put the questions on the board or
give the students a copy. See Flashcard Activities, #4 for more
|What are you sitting
in? Draw it.
||What are you picking
up? Draw it.
|What are you reading?
||What are you sharpening?
|What are you opening?
||What are you putting
on the desk? Draw it.
|What are you turning
off? Draw it.
||What are you writing
with? Draw it.
M 7. Scrambled Sentences This helps the students
observe word order, but they need to be familiar with the sentences
first. Choose flashcards that combine to form a sentence. Give
the cards out to students and have them organize themselves into
the appropriate word order. This can also be done with pairs
using student flashcards. One partner can collect the appropriate
words and scramble them, the other can unscramble them. Then
they can both write the sentence. You can also give the students
a worksheet of scrambled sentences and lines to write the correct
version. See Flashcard Activities, #4 for more ideas.
Ind. 8. Worksheets with Pictures Use
pictures of objects or actions, such as is in Practical Vocabulary
Builder, to make worksheets that match pictures to a list of
words, sentences, cloze sentences (see #2), conversations, etc.
You can also cut and paste (or have the students do it) pictures
to make Bingo boards. Make sure they are in random order.
(For regular Bingo, I find it easiest to have the students fold
a piece of paper into squares to make their own board. As they
do that, I can easily make a few for those with special needs.
If the students use penny or paper markers instead of writing
on the boards, they can trade with another student and play the
game again. Vary the game by reading sentences or commands instead
of just words.)
M 9. Descriptive Pictures Find
a very descriptive picture or set of pictures. Action is not
necessary. Make copies for the students with some extra copies
for a memory game. Make an overhead and/or enlarge the picture
(maybe color-copy it). For the memory game, group the
students into threes or fours. Give each group one picture, folded.
Ask them not to look at it yet. Say "go" and let them
look and remember all the items they see (no writing, but they
can talk). Say "stop" and collect all the pictures.
With one recorder (secretary) in each group, the students recall
and write all the objects they saw. This can be timed and rewarded
as a game. Ask the group with the most words to list them on
the board (or dictate them to you). Other groups can add to the
list until all the items have been listed. An overhead of the
picture will provide help in identifying objects together. As
a follow up, once the words are listed on the board, the
nouns can be sorted into singular/plural columns. Prepositions
and some example sentences can be added to the board. Then, using
the overhead, the class can practice "Where's the ___?"
and "Where are the ______?" Give the students a copy
of the picture and ask them to write sentences about it. While
the more advanced write their own, you can help beginning writers
by having them dictate three sentences to you and writing them
for the student to copy. Then, give them the task of copying
sentences from other beginners. The most advanced in the class
can create situations or dialogues as well. Finally, students
can take their copy of the picture and practice "Where's
the _?" "Where are the ____?", "What are
they doing?", or a variety of other speaking tasks in talking
lines. Another activity with a descriptive picture is
for groups of three or four. Give the students a picture and
have them take turns around the group listing words, making up
sentences, and asking and answering questions from the person
on the right. If the levels are diverse, the students can choose
whether to utter a word, a sentence, or a question.
P.,Ind. 10. Crossword Puzzle and Information-Gap
The cloze sentences above can be used to make a crossword puzzle.
For variety, give the students a paper with half the crossword
filled in and clues for the other half. They then finish the
puzzle by making clues and filling in words as needed. For real
beginners, each pair can be given half the clues and the words
for the other clues. Then the pair can practice completing the
sentences orally before filling in the puzzle. Then they can
sit down together and fill in the information. This is especially
good if students are not familiar with crossword puzzles. If
they are familiar with crosswords, they can make their own with
just a list of words and graph paper. Try a crossword with the
following words: (across) clock, chair, light, floor, board,
pen, paper (and down) pencil sharpener, door, table, (and) book.
M 11. Who-Is-Doing-What-Where Chart Make a chart
as follows on the board:
Ask the students to perform a classroom task
from the lesson.
As a class (or in a small group) fill in the
chart to form a new
||in the chair.
||sentence. The students
continue performing and writing out other activities to fill
||is turning on
||in the classroom
||You can prepare
a worksheet with this grid for home study.
WG 12. Jazz Chants Carolyn Graham developed these
chants to show the rhythm of language. Modify them to provide
extra practice, or make your one. For example, there is one called
"Warning" (Graham, 1978). "Watch out! Watch out!
There's a hole in the floor! What? A hole. Where? In the floor.
A hole in the floor?" For classroom words, this can be modified
to a crack in the window, a bee on the wall, etc.
WG 13. Guessing Game Play a guessing game based
on the location of common classroom objects. Add colors if the
students know them. Give hints such as, "It's on the table,
on the notebook."
Bassano, Sharron & Christison, Mary Ann, (1994) Community
spirit: A practical guide to collaborative language learning.
Burlingame, CA: Alta Book Center. Easy-to-understand theory and
practice. This is indispensable for new teachers.
Graham, Carolyn, (1978) Jazz
chants. New York: Oxford University Press. This is the first
of many jazz chant books.
Nunan, David, (1998) Second
language teaching and learning. New York: Heinle and Heinle.
He has written several books, but this is the best for the latest
research and practice.
Liebowitz, Dorothy, (1988)
Practical vocabulary builder. Lincolnwood, IL: National
Textbook. One of many books with vocabulary pictures you can
use for flashcards and reinforcement activities.
Payne, Janet, (1992) Sound
sentences. Freeport, NY: Educational Activities, Inc.
Payne, Janet, (2002) Sound sentences II.
Freeport, NY: Educational Activities, Inc. This is my software
project. The manual contains samples of many of the reinforcement
materials and activities I mention in this handout. The website
is in development.