ESL 4word

I’d like to begin this blog with a few activities which have helped me become more competent in the classroom.  Activities which you can pull out of the bag at short notice.    If you are new to this game of ESL teaching, then you will find this will happen more often than not.

Being prepared is always important, but you don’t need me to tell you that, do you?

First and foremost, you want the learners to speak in as much natural English as possible, but when it comes to explaining the rules of activities and games, you really should use the simplest of English.

I firmly believe you can explain most games with as little as 4 words per point,  including a LOT of gestures and demonstration.   Doing this will avoid all use of complex expressions and phrases.   I know it’s important to speak naturally, but keep in mind,  it’s the activity that teaches the important key sentence, grammar point or vocabulary,  so don’t get so hung up about how you explain the rules of the game.  If you find you struggle with this,  take a note of what you want to say before you enter the class.

Remember, keep it simple.   That way, you can move “4word” faster. (sorry, I couldn’t resist using that there 😀 )

Here’s an example of what not to do,  It may seem simple to you, but your students wont think so.

“OK every one, I’d like to show you a new game, which is a lot of fun.  It’s called the ‘English Ping Pong’ game.  First of all, you must make 2 lines, making two teams.  Now, the students at the front of each line must look at me with their hands in the air as if they are about to press a buzzer on a game show.  Those students have to quickly shout, “PING PONG” When they know the word of the picture flash card I show. The student to name the card correctly gains a point for their team.  Those two students run to the back of the line and the game continues like this until every one has had a chance to name 3 or 4 cards each.” OK everyone, do you understand? …Let’s get started, are you ready? GO! “

Can you see the obvious problems here?

If  you are teaching low learners they won’t understand a word of what you have said.  They will switch off after your first 4 words.

Try this instead, (this may look wordy, but you’ll find that when you are in the class, it’s not.

  • gesture splitting the class into 2 teams, saying “team 1”, then moving to the other side of the class saying, “team 2”. (already I am using limited directions, using only two words at a time).
  • using a gesture and saying to the class “stand up”. (two words)

Next, gesture, to team 1, saying, “make a line, here” (4 words)

  • Do the same with team 2 on the other half of the class
  • Next, looking at the students at the front of each row, using gestures, moving yourself into the students place,  say, “look at me.” (I gesture with both hands, my fingers pointed at my eyes, for “LOOK AT…”, then of course pointing at my face when I say “…ME”)
  • Now gesture for them to raise their hands as though they are about to press a buzzer on a TV show.
  • Demonstrate this saying “PING PONG” (ss love sound effects)
  • Also explain that if they say “HAI” the can’t answer (again using gestures, an obvious one is making an X with your arms). then say, ” Not, Hai, but, PING PONG” (4 words)
  • Say, “Are you ready?” then show your first card (3 words)

Teacher – (flash card)

Student 1 (Nana) – “Ping Pong!”

Teacher – “Nana, go”

Nana – “It’s a penguin”

Teacher – “That’s right!”

  • Have the JTE take note of the points, then after a round or 2 assign the flash card role to the JTE and you take note of the points.
  • The object of this game is to keep it fast and exciting whilst speaking English.
  • If you have a large class, simply split the class into 4 teams, with the JTE taking 2 teams and You taking 2 teams.
  • The students who win the point can add their point to their team before running to the back of the line.


I love this game, but I always keep it fresh by adding some twists and variations now an again. The joy of this game is you can adapt it to a lot of levels of English from revision of  various tenses to practicing various categories of vocabulary.

What also adds a little extra fun to this particular game is the use of an actual buzzer or bell, however, to warn you, there might be tears and sore hands.  So the buzzer, adding a little excitement, may actually be too risky in lager classes.   I have used the bell once, but the kids to enjoy the “PING PONG” part.

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