Celebrating 4 years of blogging – 40 activities on the 4 skills!

It’s the year of 4s! Not only is this my 4th year blogging, I also realized yesterday that today’s post is the 40th post on my blog. As a way of celebrating it, I’ve decided to collect 40 creative activities on the 4 skills that you could experiment with in your classes. As you will notice, I’ve tried to keep the instructions/explanation part of each activity as simple-brief as possible. It’s still my longest post ever, but hopefully you will find the ideas/activities useful for your classes!

Reading

  1. Scavenger Hunt -Story in Parts: Photocopy the story you’re working on, cut it in parts and hide the pieces in different parts of the classroom. Use post-it notes for clues and ask your students to find the parts of the text and arrange them in the correct order.
  2. Sketchnoting & Mindmapping: Instead of answering comprehension questions, students can create their own sketchnotes or mindmaps on the story.
  3. Twist it – Fix it – Trade it: This is a set of 3 cards that stand for the following: Twist it!: Change the story’s ending, Fix it!: Make the story more interesting, Trade it!: Choose another story from the book or bring your own story to class next time. Preferably, you can also have your own stock of stories and ask students to choose from them.
  4. Expand on the book: Ask them to add their own questions or even better create their own comprehension tasks.
  5. The Untold story: There are always untold details in the stories we read. Ask students to imagine what the story would be by seeing it from the perspective of different characters. After they’ve written their new stories, you can read them in class or act them out.
  6. Narrator of the Day: Ask students to record the text on their mobile phones, so that the whole class can listen to their classmate-narrator reading the text instead of the book’s audio.
  7. Visualization: A favorite activity to use especially with poems. Students choose their favorite verse and draw what they see in their minds when reading it (aka their own mental images). You can then use their drawings to create a (animated) film version of the poem.
  8. Interview: Ask them to write questions to interview the characters in the story. This could also turn into a speaking activity if you split your class to interviewers and interviewees.
  9. Reading & Writing Combo: Using the same character, ask your students to write another day in the life of the story’s hero. For more variety, you could also find two stories on the same theme (e.g. a trip around the world). Your students could then create a new story on the same topic by choosing details from the two stories you’ve given them.
  10. Different resolutions debate: Hid the story’s ending and present your class with two different courses of action the hero could choose. Ask them to choose Option A or B and then divide your class in two groups. Ask them to come up with reasons to support their choice and then hold a class debate on which solution is the best.

Writing

  1. A day in the life of class objects: I love the idea of using class objects and encouraging my kids to give new life to them. An easy writing activity to do then is to invite your class to imagine and write a day in the life of their books, erasers, pencil cases etc. For more creative uses on class objects, you can also check out my Class Objects Revisited series.
  2. Writing chain stories or poems: An old yet foolproof recipe for writing, even for the most reluctant students.
  3. What if … – mobile picture prompts: Students can create their own prompts by taking pictures with their mobile phones and bringing them in class. Then, they can exchange pictures and write what they would do in the place/environment/situation where the photo was taken.
  4. Create lapbooks: Inspired by Despoina Karamitsou, lapbooks combine the best of both worlds; that is Writing and Craft-making.
  5. Surrealsim inspired -Automatic Writing activity: Use music in the background, give a story or poem opener (one of my favorites is the first line of “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams) and ask your students to expand on it.Tell them to write without overthinking what they’ll say and tell them they’ll have time to edit their writing once they’re done. The emphasis is not on accuracy, but on building your students’ writing voice.
  6. Dress it up!: If you have to deal with tasks your students have been exposed to in the past, “dress them up”, as I say. That is keep the task, but change the people/places etc involved. Why have John write an email to Mary when you can have Batman write an email to Robin?
  7. Be like me – Students write their own tutorials: All our students are masters of their own craft as I often say. We all have talented pianists, dancers, athletes etc. in our classes, so why not ask them to write tutorials or how-to texts giving others advice on how they can become better at a sport/musical instrument etc.
  8. Rewriting stories/fairy tales: Apart from practicing their reading skills, students also have the chance to add their own touches to the story and act them out in class, too.
  9. Words/Story prompts in the bag – It’s as simple as it sounds! Students choose words/prompts from the bag and spend 5 minutes writing a short text with all of them.
  10. Writing mission – If your students are really reluctant to write, you can organize writing missions. You only need a notification board and some envelopes. Tell them that every week/month etc. there will be missions waiting for them in their envelopes. Then, at the end of the school year you can create a class book filled with students’ articles, stories, comic strips etc.

Listening

  1. What comes next?: The inspiration for this activity comes from Movieclip’s game “What do they say next?”. What you can do is use clips/extracts from popular films/TV shows with lots of dialogue. Once the video starts playing, you pause the dialogue in parts and ask your students to predict what response comes next.
  2. Students as creators 1!: Split your class in groups and assign a topic-based (e.g. holidays) listening project to each group per week. Students will have to record their own dialogues on the topic as well as create their own listening activities.
  3. What’s that? – Recording & identifying sounds: A really useful activity, especially if you’re teaching sound-related collocations (e.g. trains rattle, wind howls etc), is to record those sounds in nature. Once you’re ready, play a “What’s That?” game in class where students will have to identify the sound, describe it (e.g. the sound of siren -> piercing, annoying, alarming etc) and then you can present the different collocations.
  4. Using Music 1: Desert Island Playlist: Students create a 5 (+) song playlist, choose their favorite lyrics from the songs and then prepare a short presentation on the reasons why they chose the particular songs/lyrics.
  5. Listen to poetry: Listening to poems can help your class appreciate the music in words and also improve their vocabulary skills.Choose poems that have vivid imagery and figurative language, so that you can spark your students’ imagination.
  6. Students as creators 2!: Apart from bringing their own songs/videos or recording their own dialogues, students can also create their own podcasts or TED-ED lessons.
  7. Use Music 2 – Music as background: Instrumental music or songs with powerful lyrics (“Another brick in the world” by Pink Floyd, for instance) can create the perfect background for so many activities. Students can interpret the singer’s feelings or share how a piece of music makes them feel.
  8. Puzzle Activity – Find your matching piece: Photocopy the transcript of the listening task you’re going to work on in class and cut it in parts. Divide your class in groups and hand out the different parts of the listening text. Students should go around the class, asking questions and comparing their part to their peers’ until they find which part comes right after their own. Then, you put the different parts in the correct order and listen to the text to check whether students were right .
  9. Using Music No 3 – Song Writing: Use the instrumental or karaoke version of a song and invite your class to write new lyrics to it. Then, listen to the original song and hold a class discussion on how similar/different the lyrics of the two songs are.
  10. Using Music No 3 – Draw it!: Instead of filling in gaps, students can draw what they listen to. This is a wonderful activity, especially with songs with lots of imagery (like Katie Melua’s “If you were a sailboat”, Jewel’s “Foolish Games” or the old-time favorite “Time” by Pink Floyd etc.)

Speaking

  1. Class favorite 1: Yes, but…game: We all have students who struggle to give long answers or seem unwilling to respond with anything more than “Yes” or “No”. In this game, students are invited to come up with excuses to anything their classmate says until they run out of excuses! 
  2. Class favorite 2: The “Yes” or “No” game: This is one of my favorite games ever (in Greek as well) and I love playing it with my classes. Students work in pairs; Student A asks a question and Student B should answer it anyway they want to as long as they don’t use “yes” or “no” in their response.  
  3. Class favorite  3: Tell the Truth/Tell a Lie/ Tell something in between: This is an extension to a game published in one of Mary Glasgow’s TimeSaver Activities. It originally consists of a board game and two sets of cards (Tell the Truth/Tell a Lie), but I also add a third one which combines the first two. What students do is roll the dice, move their counter to the correct square and then choose one of the cards. They should then start talking about the topic according to what the card has asked them to do.
  4. Play or create board games for Speaking: Cluedo, Guess Who, Monopoly are all games you can adapt and use for your Speaking classes. You can also create your own board games choosing one of the many board games templates available- this way, you can also let students practise their grammar and vocabulary skills through speaking.
  5. Change the topic game adapted: The inspiration for this game comes from a wonderful Speaking activity suggested by Lindsay Clandfield on onestopenglish called “Change the topic”. Although I’ve kept the original worksheet with the different topics students should discuss, I also use two sets of vocabulary flashcards and a stopwatch. What I do is that I ask my students to talk on a topic (e.g. weather), then after 30′ they should pick up a card and change the topic using the word on the card in front of them in the first sentence they say (e.g. banana).
  6. Create video responses/Vlogging: Video responses could be used for any class activity, from describing students’ daily routine to expressing their opinion on a controversial issue. Instead of asking the rest of your class to respond orally to the views their classmates have expressed, invite them to create their own video responses, too. 
  7. Working with silence – Adding dialogue to silent films: Silent films are a great way to practise speaking. Choose silent film extracts and ask your classes to come up with the dialogue they feel fits the scenes. Once they’ve written their parts, they can record them and add their voices to the film.
  8. Silent drawer – Active talker: For this pairwork activity, you need a “Silent Artist” and a “Active Presenter”. The artist gets to draw a short story in frames. He can’t explain or say anything to the presenter. Once he finishes, the presenter looks at the drawing and presents to the rest of the class the story they think their partner drew. The artist can only give 7 words-clues to the presenter when the latter gets something in the story wrong. The winning pair is the one where the presenter has been more accurate in predicting and presenting their partner’s story. 
  9. Post-it- notes – Pick and Speak: Write down statements on post-it notes and ask students to walk around the classroom and choose the topic they feel more comfortable talking about. Make sure your notes are more than your students!
  10. Chinese Whispers/Running dictation: Both of them are class favourites when it comes to vocabulary practice, but how about using them to hone your students’ listening skills, too? Split your classroom to “Speakers” and “Listeners/Writers/Reporters – the list can go on and on.  Take the transcript of your listening activity, cut it in parts, tape it around the classroom and have the students work in teams to write it down on their notebooks and reconstruct it.

 ***For more inspiration on Speaking activities that combine improvisation with creativity, make sure you check out Christine Rebuffet Broadus’ video here from the 24th IATEFL-Hungary annual conference.

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