Published on April 7th, 2013


EFL Teaching Tips ‘n Tricks

EFLTipsandTricksSlider680x413g-knows I still have TONS to learn when it comes to teaching EFL. But I must say, after the EXCELLENT training I received in my month-long, intensive CELTA course, plus teaching verily all ages and levels in HCMC (at ILA, as well as at my chum Hang’s English Cutting Edge school) and now here in Dalat at the American Academy – slowly but surely I’ve managed to assemble quite the handy little “tool box” of various ‘n sundry EFL games and activities that now serve me well in my lesson planning.


Oh yeah – oh so cute (but naughty too!

When I first landed here in Vietnam of course, I had absolutely zip experience teaching EFL. And while my CELTA course provided me with an excellent foundation in the methods and mechanics of teaching EFL (far different from teaching folks that speak your native English), nothing could prepare me for facing a roomful of eager (albeit often naughty) 6 yr. olds, or hormone-hyped teens, or even (often tired from a full day’s work) adults.  Indeed, suddenly it became crystal clear that “just ‘cuz you can SPEAK English, in NO WAY means you can TEACH ENGLISH well.

Furthermore, it used to take me hours ‘n HOURS to create a lesson plan filled with a variety of activities to meet the educational goals of any particular lesson.  Most schools will have some sort of curriculum you must follow, along with a book for each English level.  But often the book provided offers little or no help in devising activities for teaching the grammar point, vocabulary, speaking and/or writing practice, etc.  It is up to you to cobble together a variety of activities that both cover the language points for a lesson, as well as keep your students engaged and – ideally having FUN while they coincidentally learn ENGLISH!

Indeed, I found that the challenge of creating highly educational, yet fun lessons is both the bane and the most interesting aspect of teaching EFL.


Only after gleaning tips and teaching tricks from my fellow foreign collegues at ILA, along with MANY hours of clicking on seemingly every EFL lesson/games/activities site on the WWW (and trust me, there are GAZILLIONS!), was I slowly able to begin building my own little EFL teaching “tool kit” and speed up lesson planning.  Often I would try a new activity or game, only to find it was far too easy, or too hard for my students to grasp, else was simply impossible to implement with a largish class of nearly 20 rambunctious teens.

Nonetheless, through trial and error, and continually tweaking activities to meet a variety of language goals, have I been able to fill up my EFL tool kit.  Thus, while I’m not about to turn TravelnLass into yet another EFL portal resource, I thought I’d at least periodically add a game or activity here that I’ve found particularly versatile and successful in my day-to-day EFL teaching.  I mean, arguably, that’s what the “EFL” sliding pic up there in my TL masthead was meant for, yes? 😉

My favorite “tools” in my tool kit are those that meet a trifecta of criteria – the activity/game must be: A. Easy-peasy to implement (i.e. little or no teacher prep, doesn’t require special tools, and required instruction/demo is minimalistic); B. Adaptable: can be used with both small and large classes, as well as across various English levels (Elementary to Advanced)   and C. Versatile: can be tweaked for use with multiple language points.

Not all my little “tools” are equally strong in all three criteria, nonetheless, over time, I shall post a few here, that continue to work well in most all classroom situations.

Speaking Activity

Preparation: Zip

Materials:  A simple ball, or stuffed animal, or some other small unbreakable object – could even be a student’s pencil eraser in a pinch.   You’ll also need a timer (30 seconds to 2 minutes); most any smartphone generally has such on its factory-loaded clock app.

English Level:  Elementary – Advanced.

Language Point:  Speaking practice of course, but could use any variety of talking subjects.

Class Size: As few as 4, up to… could work with as many as 18 (using 3 competing teams)

Activity Duration:  20 – 30+ minutes

Instructions:  Draw the above circles willy-nilly on the WB (hereafter, the abbreviation for “White Board”).  The topics within each circle can be different of course, but generally choose simple topics that most Ss (hereafter the abbreviation for “Student/s”) can speak about for up to 2 minutes.  You might even elicit topics from advanced Ss.

Divide the class into 2 -3 teams (depending on class size).

Draw a line with magic marker on the floor about 4 – 6 ft. from the WB – this will be the “toss-line”.  The distance can be closer or farther from the WB depending on how big you made the circles, and the dexterity level of your Ss.

Explain to the class that each Ss will have a turn tossing the ball (or whatever) at any of the circles of their choosing.  Whichever circle they hit will determine how long and on what subject they must speak, as well as how many points they can earn for their team.

The smallest circles require the longest speaking time (2 full minutes), but will earn 20 points for their team.  The largest circle requires just 30 seconds speaking time, but only earns 5 points for their team.

Be sure to note that Ss must speak CONTINUOUSLY for the entire time, with little hesitation.  You, the Teach will decide if a Ss has stalled in their speaking too long, and you can eliminate that Ss – thus no points at all will be earned for their team.

After each Ss has thrown the object and determined the subject and time they must speak, I allow them about 15 seconds to compose their thoughts before they begin.  The Ss may also confer with their team as to what they might talk about within the chosen topic.

Then it’s just a matter of the Teach calling “GO!”, timing the speaker, and keeping a point tally for each team on the side of the WB.

I generally point my iPhone at the speaker, so they can see just how many seconds until their misery will be over. 😉  But actually, it’s surprising how engaged even the most shy Ss become with this activity.  It’s also most interesting to see just how brave some will become – choosing a 2 minute circle (vs. an easy 30 second one) so as to boost their team’s score.

With large classes, this activity can take as much as 30+ minutes with each Ss getting only one chance to speak.  With smaller classes I usually give each Ss at least 2 turns, as it’s surprising how quickly they learn to speak fluently even for 2 full minutes on a second go, which…

Try it yourself, even in your native English, 2 minutes of spontaneous speaking can seem a verrrry looooong time! 😉

What about you?  Got a favorite EFL activity to share?
Do send it to me privately (TravelnLass at g-youknowwhat dot com)
and if it meets my “trifecta” (i.e. easy-peasy, adaptable, versatile) I’ll post it here.

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

10 Responses to EFL Teaching Tips ‘n Tricks

  1. ESL in Korea says:

    Very useful teaching tips, I am teaching ESL in Korea and I can follow your tips to teach it.

  2. Mary Moss says:

    Nice post, Dyanne. One I’m sure I can use. Meanwhile, I’ve just completed month #1 of teaching in Vung Tau, Vietnam. And I’ve received my first paycheck (too bad I don’t have the ATM card to withdraw my VND though:-). And teaching is starting to “pull together”. I’m enjoying the entire weekend off (my first day off in 11 days) and have even started negotiations on a motorbike. Life is good in Asia:-)

    • TravelnLass says:

      Glad that the teaching is more manageable now Mary, I so remember those first few weeks of frenetic lesson planning and settling in.

      It’s coincidental that you should come up for air here at TL just now ‘cuz I… just a moment ago published your (bountiful) comments in the new TL “Great Leap” interview series. Thanks so much for taking part. I’m sure a lot of TL readers will be heartened by your success as a new EFL Teach here in Asia.

      And yes, I emphatically agree – life IS awfully good here in Asia! 😉

  3. Glenys says:

    Thanks so much for your tip! I’ve been (& soon to be again) an ESL “teacher” in a furrin’ land. China twice, & if I decide to do it, Vietnam this time, so I’m always on the lookout for good tips and this one’s a doozie, ta.

    I emailed you (from my yahoo.au account) last weekend at what I hope is your email address. Did it arrive? If not, I’m guessing I misinterpreted your cryptic email address 🙁

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes, yes – I did receive your sweet “g’day…bless your little cotton socks!” private email Glenys – just haven’t had a chance to wade that far down my inbox yet. Stay tuned…

      Especially delighted to “meet” a fellow lass of “a certain age” crazy/crazed enough to be doing what I’m doing. And yes, yes – dip your dainty toes into the Vietnam waters my dear – teaching English here is mighty fine!

  4. I’ve not come across a game like that before. Such a good idea to have different time lengths and points for each topic so each student can choose sometime they feel comfortable doing (provided they have the aim to get that topic), and conferring with teammates beforehand to build confidence too.

    I will keep this game in mind. Thanks!

    • TravelnLass says:

      Glad you like it Ruth – coming from you (my original HCMC/CELTA mentor) that means a lot. Yes, I think giving students choices (of both time and topic) keeps them all more engaged. And more often than not, they will surprise us with how brave they can be.

      And yes, I’ve found it best to keep the toss line fairly close, as hitting their target seems to be the toughest part of the activity. Nonetheless, I think it adds a bit of random luck should they hit a topic/time they weren’t aiming for. Oh well. 😉

  5. I often used a similar game as a review activity. I’d just draw a standard bulls-eye on the board with higher point values in the center circles and lower outside. Each student would toss a paper airplane (or ball, etc) and the number they hit indicated the points they could potentially earn if they answered their question correctly.

    Then I’d just ask them a question pertaining to whatever we happened to be studying–it could be a comprehension question for a text they read or a review question for an upcoming exam or I’d ask them to give me a complete sentence using the day’s grammar point…anything really. For more advanced classes, I’d even each team think up questions for the other teams.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes Daniel, I’ve heard of that variation that can be used for lots of language points. I especially like the notion of having advanced classes make up questions for their opponents – good idea!

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