Eat, Teach, Sleep, Repeat: 8 Activities for Time-Strapped Language Assistants

This time last year, I’d just started my job as a lectrice in Lyon. I had a mere seven months’ teaching experience under my belt (courtesy of my year abroad as a language assistant in Colmar) and zero TEFL, TESOL or CELTA qualifications to my name. Over the course of those two stints abroad teaching English, I filled my hard drive with resources, activities and PowerPoints; I still have hard copies of all my lesson plans and annotated printouts, as I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. Since coming up with exciting activities can seem like a round-the-clock job, I’ve compiled a few of my tried-and-tested favourites. Many of these can be adapted for use with students of different levels; I taught students with a very basic command of the language, and also students who were extremely proficient. As long as you take your students’ abilities into account when planning and carrying out the activity in question, there shouldn’t be any major hiccups.

1 | Round Table: Discussions and Debates

At the end of the first semester, my postgrads expressed an interest in doing more debates. Keen to keep things as topical as possible, I chose Brexit as the theme and assigned each of them a role as either an EU or a British politician; their task was to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. I spread this activity over two lessons: the first was spent covering the referendum results and key issues for voters; the second on the negotiations. (It was also a great opportunity to introduce them to some idioms and Cockney rhyming slang used in the campaign, such as “Don’t Swallow Dave’s Pork Pies”.) Allocating more time to this activity meant they had a better understanding of the issue and were able to develop their arguments further, resulting in a more interesting debate. This activity works best with more advanced learners of English, but depending on the topic you choose it could work for smaller groups of intermediate students. There are plenty of topics to choose from for this (e.g. climate change, decriminalising cannabis, unpaid internships), and it can be as serious or as silly as you like – the point is to get your students talking.


2 | Crosswords

I love doing crosswords, so I couldn’t resist trying them out on my students as a way of revising vocabulary. I made a list of some key vocabulary covered in a previous class, used definitions for clues and chucked it all into this site, which then converted it into a ready-to-use crossword. I found it worked particularly well at the start of a class, but you could use it at the end of a lesson as a plenary. These can be adapted to any topic, and you could either use definitions as clues or the French translation of the word.

3 | April Fool’s

This is a very seasonal activity, but one of my absolute favourites. I liked to introduce the topic by showing my students this famous hoax video (students’ reactions are always priceless) before moving on to the activity itself, where they have a go at producing their own April Fool’s news bulletin. Often, students aren’t aware that over here the big broadcasters and newspapers love to come up with their own little spoofs, so you can also show them a few of the best before you let their imaginations run wild. I’ve done this activity with secondary school students, undergrads and postgrads, and it’s gone down a treat every time. Without a shadow of a doubt, the most entertaining production was by my terminals, at the lycée in Colmar, who announced that Alsace had been sold to Germany for €3m.

1-April Fool's Day
Source: i News

4 | Room 101

I daresay most Anglophones are familiar with this one, but – technology permitting – I found it was usually worth introducing this task with a short clip from the BBC show. There are tons of clips on YouTube, but do take some time to watch a few and choose the one that will resonate with your students. Once they’ve viewed the clip, give them some time to come up with ideas of their own, individually or in small groups. I’ve used this as both an assessment and a fun in-class activity; topics chosen included ‘mosquitoes’, ‘selfie sticks’ and ‘noisy eaters’.

5 | Taboo

An absolute classic, and one which can be used with both beginners and advanced students alike; for lower-level students, I gave them fewer restricted words and allowed them to work in pairs. You’ll find plenty of cards available to download for free online, or you can make your own. It’s a handy end-of-lesson filler, and a good one to have up your sleeve for those times when technology fails you.

6 | Press Conferences

In this day and age, there’s no shortage of juicy tabloid headlines to choose from for this activity. I came up with this activity with my postgrads in mind, as they were very proficient and able to sustain discussions without much intervention from me; for this one, you really need students who are able to think on their feet and are happy to be interrogated by their classmates. With a PowerPoint of sensational scandals to hand, we were off: three students played the role of company representatives, who had to salvage their company’s reputation, while the rest of the class posed as journalists, who had to force the company to admit fault. To get you started, here are a few of the headlines I used:

  • ‘In 2016, RBS made a loss of £8bn. However, the bank awarded bonuses in shares to nine top executives worth almost £16m.’
  • ‘Tesco mistakenly paid 140,000 employees less than the minimum wage.’
  • ‘Dead mice and flies found at Asda’s delivery depot.’

I was seriously impressed by how my students tried to wangle their way out of these situations, as their classmates didn’t give them an easy ride!

Week 8

7 | Idioms in Pictures

This is an easy one to put together, and one that will (hopefully) make idioms memorable for your students. It’s better suited to advanced students, though it’s accessible to intermediate students too, depending on the idioms you pick. I simply pasted images from this site into a blank Word document and scrolled through them one at a time. Once students had correctly guessed the idiom, we went through what it meant and I asked them to come up with some example sentences before we moved on.

Storm in a Teacup

8 | Songs

Whatever topic you’re teaching, chances are high that there’s a song out there that you can make use of to liven things up. Students love them, and they’re incredibly versatile. You can do the classic gap fill, translate them or print the lyrics in the wrong order and ask them to put them in the right order as they listen to the song. When I was teaching Irish history, I found absolutely tons of songs covering everything from the Irish Famine (‘Famine’ by Sinéad O’Connor) to The Troubles (‘Sunrise’ by The Divine Comedy). I loved the songs I used so much I still listen to them from time to time; I can almost feel another post in the pipeline, just on songs . . .


7 thoughts on “Eat, Teach, Sleep, Repeat: 8 Activities for Time-Strapped Language Assistants

    1. Thanks for pointing out some of the faulty links – not sure what happened there, but they should be working now! I wish I’d had more activities that didn’t involve textbooks when I was learning French at school 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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