Top 10 Classroom Activities for Adults

Top 10 Classroom Activities for Adults

And lastly in this blog’s miniseries dedicated to classroom activities through the ages (see the previous posts related to children and teenagers) are adults. An adult’s motivation for learning a language can stem from a wide variety of reasons: work, family, having to take an exam or simply as a hobby in retirement. And one big advantage that they have is a lifetime of experience to call upon and bring to the classroom, as well as their opinions and more often than not, a willingness to share them - they just need the language to do so. Now, here are some of our favourite activities to put to use with adults in the classroom.

1. Questionnaires

What they can be used for: This activity works really well as a warmer, especially to kickstart a discussion, or to revise any recently seen language.

How to do it: Without a doubt a familiar task for many, it simply involves asking and answering questions. The questionnaire itself could be authentic, come from the teacher (incorporating target language) or students can even create their own. Once completed, answers/results should be compared in small groups to encourage further discussion of any similarities and differences, thereby expanding the activity beyond mere completion.

2. Use the chunk

What it can be used for: This activity is perfect for revision of vocabulary and grammatical structures.

How to do it: The name says it all, students need to use a group of words while speaking. At the start of the lesson or speaking activity, students write down five (more for higher levels) recently learnt chunks, each on a separate card. Fixed expressions, idioms or grammar starters like If I were you… work particularly well here. These cards remain visible in front of the student, but once one has been said, the student should turn the relevant card face down. The aim is for students to have said all of their chunks by the end of the lesson/activity.  To extend the language use, the chunk needs to be said again to turn it back over, as a bonus this will also test their recall too!

3. Dictogloss (aka grammar dictation)

What it can be used for: Though the name may be daunting, this activity is great for vocabulary and grammatical structures revision as well as a way of slyly introducing any upcoming target language.

How to do it: Students listen to a short text being read at normal speed by the teacher. Upon a signal, they start writing down everything they can remember: words, chunks, anything - it does not need to be cohesive yet. Then working in pairs or small groups, students share what they have and note down anything which they don’t. This process is repeated once more, but afterwards they collaborate to reconstruct the text in full as best they can, trying to ensure grammatical accuracy. A slight variation during the listening part is to assign students specific word classes to note down, such as nouns or verbs, rather than everything. This way, the group can be sure of having a variety of words to help complete the activity.

4. Call my bluff

What it can be used for: This activity is useful for practising defining words, using the language of deduction and also for learning some interesting vocabulary.

How to do it: In small groups, students find a word from the dictionary that is unlikely to be known by the class like gobbledygook or ragamuffin. Alternatively, the teacher can give each group a different list of preselected words. Each group then writes three definitions for each word, two false and one correct. All the possible definitions are then said aloud and the other groups need to choose which one they think is correct. If they guess correctly, they win a point, but if they choose one of the made-up definitions then that team gets a point. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

5. Debates

What they can be used for: This works well for freer speaking practice, particularly of persuasive language and is easily linked to whatever topic is going. It’s also useful as an entertaining way to end the class, with animated enthusiasm often flowing out the door!

How to do it: The typical format is to have two opposing stances (for and against) on a motion such as Dogs make the best pets.  At its most basic level this could consist of individuals debating each other, to small groups (3v3) right up to splitting the whole class in two and having a full class debate. Prep time beforehand is beneficial for generating ideas, though don’t be scared of making students truly think on their feet! Speakers should have a time limit when putting their case forward and remember that they not only have to expound their ideas but also to listen carefully and try to rebut their opponents. An amusing ‘teamless’ alternative is where one student opens the debate and then the next person starts their answer with “Yes, but…” (or similar) and so on until everyone has had their say. This way, students are likely to have to consider both sides, especially if the debate goes around twice.

6. Survival

What it can be used for: This activity can be used as a freer speaking activity to foster language for negotiation and agreeing/disagreeing.

How to do it: This is actually based on a NASA ‘survive on the moon’ thought experiment but has since been adapted to many an EFL class. Explain to students that their space rocket is about to crash on the moon but before ejecting in an escape pod they have a short amount of time to choose various items to take with them to help with their survival. These items can either be elicited on the board or given as a readymade list. Students now prioritise the items and must be prepared to justify their choices. This activity works well when using a pyramid decision-making system whereby first the individual student makes their list, then they discuss it with a partner to generate a new list before progressing to a small group, and finally, the whole class. This activity can easily be adapted to different contexts such as the North Pole, the desert, the jungle, or even the middle of the ocean where your ship is sinking. Hint: a captivating story or images at the start can really grab students’ attention!

7. Agony Aunt advice

What it can be used for: This works well for letter writing and/or speaking when giving advice.

How to do it: A classic problem-solution activity. A personal problem is described, traditionally in letter form but verbal works just as well, then the Agony Aunt(s) offer advice to the unfortunate soul who doesn’t know what to do. To get started, the teacher can either hand out or describe a problem for students to discuss in pairs and decide on the best advice before sharing it with the class, and lastly voting on the best advice. The beauty of this activity is that it can easily be flipped around to have students create problems for each other and choose the best advice from their peers, plus the issues don’t even have to be invented, they could come from the students’ own day-to-day lives!

8. Don’t say yes or no

What it can be used for: This activity primarily focuses on question forms in an amusing and quick-thinking fashion. It promotes creativity and is a great way to end a class.

How to do it: One student sits or stands at the front of the class and answers questions from the rest of the class. The catch is that they are not allowed to use the words yes or no when answering - and a word of warning – it is much harder than it seems! A winner can be declared as whoever lasts the longest or to see if they can survive two minutes before bowing out as a victor. If the class isn’t too big, have students call out questions as fast as they can to encourage rapid fire responses. This activity is easy to set up, easy to play and laughter is sure to ensue.

9. Exploit authentic articles

What it can be used for: Using articles is a great way to prompt discussion on real world, current events. They can be used as a lead-in or as the main feature of the lesson and offer new vocabulary and discussion points.

How to do it: Adults are generally aware of the bigger picture so real-world content in another language often provides genuine engagement. And while this is not a precisely defined activity per se, there are a multitude of possibilities to run with. Authentic articles are a rich source of language typically based around lexical sets; including frequently used collocations and often a play on words in the headline, all just waiting to be analysed. Pictures (and headlines) provide information to help predict the content - a good activity in itself - as well as encouraging students to ask themselves what would they like to find out from the article. Moreover, the content should provide plenty of fodder for discussion, though questions may need to be prepared beforehand. The trick really is to work it all into a cohesive, logical lesson that flows as well as achieving the lesson’s aims.

10. Alibi

What it can be used for: This role-playing activity emphasises oral fluency, particularly of narrative tenses and question formation.

How to play it: The teacher sets the scene of a crime that has recently been committed, for example, the bank around the corner from the academy was robbed between 2-3pm yesterday. Two students are then chosen to be the ‘suspects’ and sent outside the class to prepare their alibi for where they were at the time of the crime. It helps for them to be as detailed as possible and for each student to know the same information. The rest of the class (the detectives) now come up with questions to ask (grill!) the suspects about their whereabouts during that time. After enough time has passed, one suspect is called back into class to answer their questions, and once answered, the second student is then called in to answer the same questions. After that, the suspects can discuss their answers with each other while the class detectives talk together to discover any inconsistencies and hence find the suspects guilty or not guilty of the crime!

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