Three…two…one…is your blood pumping yet?
There’s just something about a countdown, about knowing the buzzer can crack the silence at any second. If you don’t believe me, think about the television show Twenty-Four. You have probably experienced the heart racing rhythm that matches that of the ticking countdown before each commercial. And while this tick, tick, ticking may get our anxiety up a bit, we love it. There’s just something about knowing a great big buzz can erupt any second. And that’s why using a simple timer in your ESL class can get your students’ blood pumping through their veins at top speed and get them learning English just as quickly. Setting the timer puts pressure on your students in a good way. They want to win the game and avoid the buzz. Have I convinced you that a little kitchen timer can make a big difference in your classroom? Read on for some practical ways to put that beautiful buzzer to good use.
4 Activities that will Get Your Students Learning at Top Speed
Hot Potato Vocabulary
Did you play hot potato when you were a kid? I remember it as a staple at birthday parties in my very young years. The game is simple. Players sit in a circle and pass an item, often a potato - go figure, around the circle. The person holding the potato when the timer goes off or the music stops is eliminated. Play continues until only one person remains.
To give this game a language twist, simply require students to shout out a word before they can pass the item to the next person. Use a simple kitchen timer that tick, tick, ticks as you play the game for added impact and drama build up. Give your students an item to pass around the circle. Then start the timer and give them a word. Whatever letter your word ends in, the next person must come up with a word that starts with that letter. For example, if you said coffee, which ends with the letter e, the next person in the circle would have to come up with a word that starts with the letter e before he could pass the potato to the next person. He might say elephant, which would leave the next person to think up a word starting with t. Play continues as usual until the timer goes off, and that person is eliminated from the game. Your students will never have a more fun time coming up with new vocabulary and testing their spelling skills.
If you have a group of advanced students, you might even try playing the game catch phrase, which is a more complex version of Hot Potato Vocabulary. For around $15 at any department store, you can purchase a digital game with vocabulary and a timer build in. The first person presses go on the disk, and a word will pop up on the small screen. The player must get someone to say that word before passing the disk to the next person. If the disk buzzes while you are holding it, well, bad luck for you. You can either play like above by eliminating students, or you can designate teams by having students count off by two. Then if the buzzer goes off on your turn, the other team scores a point.
I Spy Vocabulary
This is one of my go-to games for teaching new vocabulary. You’ll need a complex picture with lots of objects in it such as those from an I Spy book or the ones here. Have students take out a piece of paper and write the letters a through z down the left hand side of the paper. Then project the image and set your timer for anything between three and five minutes. The more advanced your class, the less time you should give them. The challenge is to find an object in the picture that starts with each of the letters of the alphabet before the timer goes off. Odds are very unlikely that anyone will come up with twenty-six words, even you, but that’s not the point. The point is to think about different ways to say the same word. So someone might list ball, sphere, and toy referring to the same object, and that’s fine. When time is up, have everyone read through their words and cross off any duplicates. Whoever has the most words left wins the round. This is a great time to introduce or reintroduce your students to a thesaurus, too.
How good are your students at asking questions? They are a key part of mastering the English language, and this simple game will give them lots of practice. Start by announcing a location such as a grocery store, the library, a police station, or any other place. If you can tie your location into a unit you have studied recently, all the better. Students must ask a question that someone in that location might ask before passing the play to the next person. Have students pass around a stuffed animal, book, or other object you have handy in your classroom. Just like in hot potato, if the buzzer goes off while you are holding the object, you are eliminated or the opposite team scores a point. You can have students sit in a circle while they play or form two lines and two teams with the first person in each line giving a question before moving to the end of the line. So if you defined the location as a restaurant, students might ask questions such as the following: Can I take your order? What is the soup today? How much should we tip? Can I have some more napkins?
Putting on the pressure might normally be stressful, but in these games it just increases the potential for fun.
Try setting a ticking timer in your classroom for one of these games or another your students already love. It will increase the challenge and give you an idea of how good your students can use English when under a little bit of pressure.