If you’re teaching adult classes in Russia, you’re catering to an audience with a generally dry sense of humour and high expectations, so select activities with this in mind.
Also remember that adults have jobs and are usually tired by the time they get to their English classes, and let’s face it, language learning is fairly dull for most people in itself.
The idea is to entertain your class AND make them feel they’re getting quality lessons. I found it best to choose activities that had an obvious purpose and to lay on the wit with a trowel. The following examples are for upper-intermediate to advanced classes and collectively form a review of (almost) all the tenses.
Successful Ideas are the Following:
This one is, obviously, for practising future tenses. The exact organisation will vary according to your class and personal preferences but generally it goes like this:
Divide the class into small groups of three or four. Ask each person to write their star sign at the top of a piece of paper – students might not know the spelling in English so clippings of horoscopes from one daily newspaper or another make useful introductory props. The satirical online newspaper The Onion has some utterly ridiculous ones, but their language level is somewhat advanced and might not suit lower levels.
Collect the papers. You might find that some of the star signs in each group are the same, but this doesn’t really matter. Pass each group’s sheaf of papers onto another group and ask them to write horoscopes – i.e. a series of predictions – for each one. Each student writes a horoscope for one other person but they remain in their groups and, ideally, share ideas and help each other.
Write examples of the structures to be practiced on the board. These will be future tenses and perhaps a selection of modals (you should….). Make the examples reasonably humorous.
After everybody has finished or nearly finished, hand the papers back to the original group. Once everybody has read their own horoscopes and been suitable appalled, the next task is for the whole group to correct any grammatical mistakes they find. At this point you go around checking the corrections and adding any others before passing the papers to the group that wrote them. Finally pick out several of the most prevalent errors to work through with the whole class.
This practices past tenses and requires a bit of preparation. Find several pictures, preferably exceedingly ambiguous and/or humorous ones, illustrating recent news stories. Search online, since you won’t get much choice in the very thin English language newspapers available in Russia. Note that local news stories from another country, perhaps your own, would work best here, since it is better if students don’t already know the story.
Once you’ve found some, copy them into another document and enlarge the pictures so each one fills a sheet of A4. Print them off together with the accompanying stories. If you don’t have access to a computer with printer, do the best you can with newspapers and the school photocopier.
The caption competition is merely the introduction. Stick one picture at a time on the board and ask for suggestions as to what the caption might be, providing a few words or parts of words if you wish to elicit particular structures. Then look for suggestions on the story. Repeat with a couple of the pictures, not all.
Pair or group students and give each pair/group one picture. The task is simply to start writing the news story using the appropriate structures. Write a selection of incomplete example sentences on the board to help out. After a few minutes, each story, along with picture, is passed onto the next group. Repeat until each story reaches the original group, who should write the final sentences.
Ask the groups to correct any errors in their story, which will be a mixture of their own and other groups’ work. Move around the groups helping out. At this point, time permitting, you can ask each group to present a brief summary of their story to the class – which doesn’t mean reading out the whole thing. If you like, also ask them to do this with the real stories as well; otherwise allocate just a couple of minutes for passing the originals around. The real stories can be chopped up and used for further activities in the next class.
This one is for present tenses, and could include some past. Brainstorm a list of well-known people with the class and add a few of your own, preferably including some regular targets of satirists. Unpleasant billionaires, controversial politicians (be careful with that one – I’d avoid Russian ones), dim-witted reality TV stars (if using non-Russian ones, check their fame extends this far) and tactless sports stars make good choices.
Adding a selection of artists, musicians and novelists, not to mention deceased historical figures, may or may not add some depth to this activity – it tends to depend on how imaginative the students are. If in doubt, stick to figures of fun and tabloid favourites.
Allocate each student a celebrity, let them choose their own or write the names on pieces of paper and deal one to each student. Divide the class into pairs and ask them to interview each other about their imaginary lifestyle as this celebrity. Provide a list of example questions on the board to get people going. This can be continued with the entire class by selecting one of the more confident students and bringing him/her up to the front to answer questions from everybody. With new or shyer classes, pick a celebrity of your own, preferably a ridiculous one, and take on this role yourself.
Finally, ask students to write a short piece about their own celebrity’s life, written in the first person, or that of the person they interviewed, written in the third person. If time is short, this would be best set as homework, something that applies to all individual writing exercises, which, unless they are very brief, you should get students to work on in groups/pairs or outside class.