Quick learning tasks with no materials

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We are collecting together here a selection of shorter learning tasks that could be used as a lesson warmer, to energise learners, when you have extra time or to break up longer learning tasks:

Picture Dictation

Take any simple picture (for example a picture you or students have drawn) and 'dictate' the picture by describing what's in it and where. Learners draw what they understand, then compare.

You can then move on to pairwork: every learner draws a simple picture, but doesn't show it to anyone. They then, in pairs, 'dictate' their picture to another learner, then compare and discuss. You can then swap partners and they repeat, as many times as you like.


Group story creation

This works best if the whole group can sit in a circle so everyone can see and hear everyone else. Start by agreeing on the rules: each person, in turn, has to continue the story by adding 2 (or 1, or up to 5? - you can vary this) words. You can start the story (eg. ' Last week ....') and point to the next student to continue. Don't interrupt to correct errors, as this might put learners off. You can collect errors to look at afterwards, record the story and play it back, or get learners to write the story (in pairs or groups) afterwards and guide them to correct some errors in their writing.

Reflect ESOL tools

These participatory learning tools come from 'Reflect ESOL' (http://www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol):

- learners, in groups, draw a large tree (with roots and branches) on a large sheet of paper. You (or they) then decide on a topic/problem eg. crime, good health, or racism, and they then have to discuss and decide on causes (which they write on the roots of their tree) and effects (which they write on the branches of their tree) of this topic. Groups can then look at the other groups' trees and discuss, and the teacher can feed in and/or guide learners to correct language.

- see: http://www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol for more Reflect ESOL tools eg. the river, the body and the 'chapatti-diagram'

Making objects real:

Bring, or get learners to bring, some real objects to class eg. coloured pencils of different colours, a pen, a book, a cup, a knife, an earring, a comb. Learners, in pairs or small groups, write a short life story (including the future) of one of the objects, then read each others'. They can then write dialogues between two of the objects, role-play the objects talking to each other about their past, present and future lives or imagine what would happen if the objects or complained about their lives or went on strike.

Total Physical Response

A method developed in the 1970s to help children learn other languages as they learnt their own. It can be very enjoyable for both groups of children and adults as they are physically engaged, which can help memory. The teacher gives a series of commands, while doing the action herself eg. stand up, walk, stop, turn, point to the window, point to the floor, pick up the pen, sit on the table. Learners simply follow the commands, and when they are ready, the teacher can stop doing the actions herself, choose students to follow commands individually, get learners to repeat the language as they do the action, and finally, give commands themselves. For more information: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/total-physical-response-tpr

It begins with ...

Get small groups of learners to create a table with the following headings:

  • Animals * Food * Countries * Clothes * Colours * Sports

You then give a letter, and the team that writes a correct word in each column beginning with that letter gets a point. You can do an example together first to check they all understand how it works.

for example: T: tiger, toast, Thailand, trousers, turquoise, tennis

Check answers are correct and feed in correct spelling. Continue to give different letters for as long as is useful!

For higher-level groups, column headings can be:

Something in the * kitchen * living-room * bathroom * bedroom * office * garden


Something made of * metal * glass * plastic * wood * material


Many typical games can be used or adapted for the English classroom eg. I-Spy, Hangman, Noughts and Crosses (instead of a blank square, have a word which teams of learners have to use correctly to get their x or o; or a grammar structure they need to use.

Telling stories

Pairs decide on a story - maybe one their heard as a child - and decide (and practise) how they are going to tell it. As each pair tell their story, the others draw each story they listen to. After all the stories, each pair decides on one of the stories to write together. Finally, they compare their stories to the originals.