As I write the world is starting to open up again. Hopefully, this continues and we can put the last two years behind us. This blog focuses on examples of common exercises, activities and games that can form part of a communication English lesson without the need for close contact between participants. We have drawn on the experience we have gained during the pandemic. Although we cannot cover every situation or contextual variation, we hope that it will provide you with an overview of some of the kinds of communicative activities you can use to adapt in your own classroom practice and allow you to modify lessons creatively as we continue to live with Covid-19.

Classroom Activities That Require Little or No Adaption

It is worth noting that there are many types of activities or stages of activities that can already be delivered with minimal close contact. These are generally either whole-class activities where the students remain in their places or activities where students are required to work on their own. Below are a few examples of what we mean:

Whole-Class Activities

  • Class brainstorming with the teacher acting as scribe
  • Creative dictations
  • Whole class discussions
  • Creative drills
  • Some Total Physical Response (TPR) activities
  • Rapid Q&A around the class

Individual Activities

  • Reading and annotating a short text
  • Listing ideas, thoughts, feelings, or language examples
  • Doing a short course book activity such as a gap fill or matching exercise
  • Answering a question from the teacher
  • Individual project work

Classroom Activities Requiring Adaptation

Other types of activities are simply not practical in certain situations. These are generally activities that require students to move around the class, have physical contact with each other, touch surfaces repeatedly, or communicate with each other closely face to face. This includes most kinds of pair work or group work. However, with some creative thinking, most of these activities can be adapted if required. We have provided some examples of how this can be done.

Lesson Introductions

  • Write numbers 1-30 on the board (or however many students you have in your class). Then write an ordering criterion on the board at either end of the number sequence. Each member of the class must call out where they think they go in the sequence. The class can then vote on whether they agree. Once every student has agreed, write the name of the student on the board.
  • Students have their own photocopied questions that are distributed at the start of class. The sentence order of the questions is incorrect. The students should work out the correct order and ask the questions to the person sitting nearest to them, or the whole class. 
  • Students stand at their desks, but make sure they can see most other members of the class. The activity is done with an imaginary ball. The student with the ‘ball’ makes eye contact with the person they have chosen and then the two of them mime, respectively, throwing and catching the ball when giving their information.
  • Elicit question forms on board and ask students to practise saying a word both with and without a question mark at the end. Focus on intonation. Write a question on the board and ask students to read it out. Ask students to cover their eyes and remove two words from the sentence on the board. Students must guess the words that are missing. Repeat this activity with unfamiliar questions. 
  • Students stand up in their places and say a fact about themselves. Write ‘Similar’ and ‘Different’ on the board. Ask students a series of questions (depending on their level) and then ask them to stand up or raise their hand if the statement applies to them. When most of the class stands up, put a cross in the ‘Similar’ column. If hardly anyone stands up, put a cross in the ‘Differences’ column.

Information-Finding and Surveys

  • Tell the class you are thinking of a job. The class have twenty questions to guess the job.  Students to come up with the best interview questions. As the students read them out, write them on the board. Students can nominate a classmate to answer a question of their choice.
  • Brainstorm questions on the board. Each student completes the survey and answers the questions in order of importance. This may vary from student to student.
  • Tell the class you are going to play a game of virtual tennis with them – that you will ‘serve’ a question. They can return your serve by miming hitting the ball and calling out their answer. Do this with several students. Choose a student to serve, repeat until all students have asked a question.

Group Work with Assigned Tasks

  • List different holiday options and alternatives on the board. Students should then debate as a class which option they would choose and why. Students should subsequently create their ‘dream’ holiday, either by themselves or as a group. With each student/students taking charge of a different component of the trip.

Pair Work

  • Draw two columns on the board. On one side write a word such as ‘Saturday’ and on the other side write another part of the question/sentence such as ‘play football.’ Split the class into two groups. One group will make the questions and the other group will create the answers. Call out the name of a student, point to a word at the side of the column and shout out ‘question’ or ‘answer.’ Students from the group must ask the student a question or state an answer.
  • Give each pair one copy of some flashcards/word cards with the target language on them. Each student takes it in turns to read out a description for their partner to identify and jot down in their workbook.

Hot Seat Activities

  • Everyone in the class stands up. Ask questions to different members of the class. When a student answers a question; they can sit down. Continue until all students are sitting.
  • Ask all students to stand up in their spaces. Ask questions that require a yes/no response. The students must shout out their answer before sitting down. The last student to sit down is out of the game and assumes the role of teacher, asking a question to the class. Repeat the activity until everyone is out. You could ask students to hold up their hands (or a piece of paper) instead of standing up/sitting down.

Vocabulary Games

  • Draw the outlines of four pictures on the board e.g., tree, house, car, bag. Divide the students into four groups in their spaces. Give them a set time to name as many words associated with the images on the board as they can. As they say them, you write them on the board. 
  • Ask students to name six things The Queen might carry in her handbag. 
  • Ask each learning pair or group to draw a bag at the back of their workbook. Tell them that they are going on holiday but only have five minutes to pack. Ask them to write or draw all the objects they think they will need.
  • Call out a part of the body such as the head. In their pre-arranged groups or learning bubbles, students should call out pieces of vocabulary relating to the head.

Board Work

  • Elicit types of clothing and then write them down on the board. Number the students from one to four. There will be several students who are number one, several who are number two etc.  They will be in the same team but spread about the classroom. Erase some or all the words from the board (ensure you have a copy somewhere). Give the students a time limit and then ask them to read out as many words as they can remember. If one member of the team reads out their words, the other member of their team does not need to repeat them; only to add the extra words they may have.

Role-Play

  • Draw a six-part grid on the board. Draw a rough sketch in each box from a scene, scenario, or perhaps a famous location. Ensure there is enough room to draw speech bubbles next to the stick figures. Ask students to imagine what would be in each speech bubble and then give students time to write their own. At the end, ask students to volunteer what would be in each speech bubble on the board. Ask students to imagine different scenarios.
  • Variation: students could also role-play long-distance phone conversations asking for information.

Running Dictation

  • Have students listen to a few famous quotes or write them on the board. Discuss any quotes that the students may know and like. Ask students to call out famous people and write a list on the board, then do the same with a target topic/subject such as ‘the environment’ or ‘journeys.’ Randomly draw a line from one famous person to a topic and ask the students to make up a quote as if they are the famous person.
  • Read a text out as a group then give students time to jot down the text and remove it from the board (the shorter the time limit, the harder the activity will be). Have a student read the start of the text from memory and either nominate a student or have a student volunteer to continue with the text until it is completed. You could award points for accuracy.

In conclusion, these activities can help contribute to and encourage a communicative English learning environment even when restrictions might mean that your usual activities are unsuitable. As always, if you have anything to add then please leave us a comment.

Have fun and stay safe!

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