What to do with dice and a spinner – low tech possibilities

Sometimes we don’t need or don’t have access to much in the way of sophisticated aids, materials, back-up in our classrooms. But what we do have is the most sophisticated tool ever created – the imagination to help us!

Equip students either with dice or get them to make spinners (you can also make dice) and away we go…

Board games

can be student-made and that’s all the better as students will get involved in making and shaping their own materials and get to practise even more language.

Below is a board game I made to practise animal vocabulary. Children throw their dice in turn and when they land on a picture, they have to say what it is. It can be used for more complex language, too, e.g. when a child lands on an animal she can say ‘I like / I don’t like elephants’, practising the use of the plural; ‘Elephants are big and grey’, practising descriptions etc.

Children can create their own board games by drawing pictures of vocabulary items they have learnt in English and challenging each other. If you laminate the board games and keep them in a box, they are great for fast finishers or as a filler in lessons.

Older students can create board games with questions in spaces to be answered when landed on e.g. What’s your greatest ambition? What sport would you like to be able to play but can’t?


Secret Questions

If producing a board game seems too fiddly or time-consuming, students can work in pairs (or individually) and write 6 questions (based on a previously taught unit in the course book e.g. if they are practising the vocabulary of jobs a question could be – What do you call a person who takes care of our teeth? / dentist). They mingle around the class and when they meet another pair/student, they have to roll or spin and get asked the question which they have landed on.


A fun game which revises lots of vocabulary and is great for older children and adults is practising how many syllables words have. In groups one student at a time rolls the dice or spins the spinner. When it lands on a number that student has to say a word which has that number of syllables in it e.g. 4 = photographer. If they are correct they win a point. At the end of the game, points are counted up and a winner declared. This game is great for recalling vocabulary and hearing it inside our head.


Students work in pairs and take it in turns to throw the dice / spin the spinner and have to produce an utterance with as many words as they have thrown. They have to conduct a whole conversation! You can assign topics beforehand. If you can record them it’s fun or have pairs doing their dialogues in front of the rest of the class, if they feel comfortable. This is great fun and encourages students to be very creative and meaningful, while producing often very short utterances.

Whose turn is it?

Choosing who gets to answer questions or dealing with lots of hands up in the air can lead to accusations of unfairness. I group students in the class so that there are five or eleven groups, each group assigned a number. (I get a number, too) With the bigger class I use 2 dice or spinners. When it’s time for someone to answer a question I roll the dice / spin the spinner(s) and that group – or I – answer the question. Trust me – it’s fun and students never complain if they have to answer more or fewer questions than others as it’s just the luck of the draw.

Points lottery

Normally whenever we play a game with students they win a point for a correct answer, but let’s bring an element of chance. For example they could be playing Hangman. Before they guess a letter they roll the dice or spin the spinner, whatever number they land on will be the amount of points they get if they are right. This adds that element of chance and daftness to the game. It is also great practise to add up points at the end together in English.

Grammar Game

Another great game for teens / adults. Bring in an interesting picture with a lot happening in it or show a video clip from a film with lots of action but with the sound turned down. Assign each number a tense e.g. 1=simple present, 2=present continuous, 3=simple past etc. As students take turns rolling the dice they have to create a sentence about what they are seeing in that particular tense. Again students can work alone or in pairs. It’s challenging and yet very meaningful as the rest of the class must accept or reject the offerings.

Making questions

Allocate each number to a question word – 1=who, 2=why, 3=where, 4=when, 5=what, 6=how. Decide on a topic – this is usually one studied recently. Students work in pairs or small groups. One at a time students roll or spin and as they land they have to make a question for their partner(s) on that topic using that question word. For example if they land on 4 and they topic is sport a question could be – When do you usually watch sport on TV? Making questions in English is tricky and it’s great to practise as well as to review language from earlier lessons.

Just use your imagination and you can no doubt think of lots more activities to practise English with these very simple tools.


The Balloon Game

The Balloon Game

(suitable for children over 8, teens and adults)

Just played this game with a group of 120 adult trainers in South Africa and thought I’d share it with you all.

Have your class divided into groups and get one balloon per group. Before your lesson stuff the balloons (which is easier than it sounds if you roll the paper up first) with bits of paper, which when put together in the correct order make a word, a sentence, a question, a line of a song etc as appropriate. More on that later. Blow up the balloons and secure them. Don’t blow them up too much, as they are more difficult to burst if not fully inflated. (devious, eh?)

Ask each group to nominate a runner.

Line up the runners at the front of the class in front of the balloons.
On your signal they must run and grab one balloon each and take it back to their group.
It must then be burst without using hands or a foreign object like a pen.

(Not sure how these two thought they would burst the balloon, but what a fun strategy!)
  When they manage to burst it, they must gather up the pieces of paper and reconstruct the word or sentence per your instructions.

For younger students a word or short sentence may be challenging enough. Beware with younger students who may find the loud bursts upsetting! With older / higher level students I may put in a sentence (doesn’t have to be the same in each balloon) where they have been having problems with word order; it could be a question which they must then discuss as a group and later feedback to the whole class on e.g. before writing an essay on that topic; they may also get a line of a famous song which they must then sing to the rest of the class.  The choice is limitless.

Why the balloons? It’s a great way to energise the group. It’s fun and slightly daft. Some lessons are going to be by their nature not as exciting as others, so why not start with a laugh and some movement?


Creative Writing Ideas

Creative Writing – for teens and adults

Using famous paintings

You can find images of all famous (and not so famous) paintings online

You can choose just one painting (or a few) and display them on screen or make photocopies of a wide selection of paintings, which you can pin up on the board and invite students (in pairs or threes) to choose one that appeals to them.

Ask students to work in small groups and share a piece of paper and pencil. Ask students to choose one person in the picture they have chosen (or the one you are displaying)

Give instructions one at a time allowing students to discuss and decide

·         Give them a name

·         What did they have for breakfast

·         What do they like doing in their spare time

·         Who matters most to them

·         What matters most to them

·         Which adjective best describes them

·         What hopes / dreams do they have

·         What are they most frightened of


You can elicit further prompts from your students


·         What happened before the events shown in the picture


·         What happened after the events shown in the picture


After doing this they could some of the following activities:

§  Join another group and share their information about the person they chose in their picture

§  Add 2 more pieces of information they want about this person

§  Write a diary entry for this person

§  Write a facebook post for this person

§  Working with another group tweet messages or send texts between their characters

§  Write ‘a day in the life’ for this character

§  Write the character’s obituary

§  Write a lonely heart’s posting for this character


Or students can choose what they want to write about the character


Handouts for Bulgaria - April 2014

Homework – is it a waste of time?


When students lack the support to do it well.

If we don’t plan for success, we’ll have a lot of correction to do.

When students are so overwhelmed with studies, they are too tired to do it well.

When it’s learning by rote.



When it’s just easier to copy off your friend tomorrow..

Or when mummy will do it..

When the work benefits from collaboration

When we haven’t actually planned how it links with what is done in class or considered its value.



When students are well prepared in class to do it on their own.

Writing a composition - Have you?

brainstormed  vocabulary

pretaught  useful vocabulary

reviewed  grammar to be used

presented ideas

discussed ideas

drawn up plans together


When they see a point in doing it...


Letters to teacher

Preparing input for next lesson e.g doing research, collecting materials, rehearsing dialogues for taping

Part of an ongoing scheme of work e.g. extensive reading, a project, portfolio work


When the medium is appealing

When homework tasks can be chosen

When parents can help and encourage their children at home

When parents are trained/advised how to help their children

When it’s a pleasure to do


Checklist: does the homework:

maximize use of time?

provide pre or post lesson support

encourage independence?

allow for personalisation?




Teaching Exam Classes


Why do we learn a new language?


ü  To be able to express our ideas in it

ü  To be able to understand others

ü  To have access to language arts through it – songs, literature, film etc.

ü  To increase our ‘knowledge capital’

ü  To study abroad

ü  For pleasure

ü  To pass an exam in it


Washback effect - the extent to which a test influences teachers and learners to do things they would not otherwise necessarily do


Dangers of exam driven classes:

Practice tests ad nauseum

Lots of individually done exercises

No learning taking place

Rote learning

Sense of failure


Idea of ‘finishing English’


WE have to:


 Continue to develop skills and language as well as examination techniques

Challenge and engage students

Keep students motivated – in the short and long-term

Ensure students see connections between class work and exams

Plan exam preparation lessons accordingly


Exam skills


Recognise question types

Understand rubric

Know what is required to do well

Avoid common pitfalls

Ability to study on their own

Make an ‘educated guess’

Be confident and prepared!


Writing – assessment criteria


Organisation and cohesion

Appropriacy of register and format



Target reader


Register task-

         Once upon a time……….

         I regret to inform you……………

         In conclusion, it must be stated that………….

         She grabbed the gun and pointed it at Dillon.

         The windows are large and look down onto a flower-filled garden

         All this can be yours for only $999, if you call this number…………

         Add two tablespoons of sugar and stir………

         I look forward to your prompt reply…


Predict – before listening

You hear a woman talking to her son.

Why is she talking to him?

A  to give him a warning

B  to give him permission

C to make a suggestion



Don’t listen


What feature of the cable car makes it particularly good for seeing wildlife in the rainforest?

a.    the speed at which it moves

b.    the height at which it travels

c.    the distance that it covers


What is the main aim of the cable car project?

a.    to educate local people

b.    to persuade people to save the rainforest

c.    to raise money for other conservation projects


What is the advantage of the project for the local people?

a.    They can use the land if they want

b.    They can sell forest products to visitors

c.    More work is available to them



Problems speaking in exams:


Not used to speaking in English

Worried about making mistakes

Don’t understand examiner

Don’t have sufficient vocabulary for task

Make lots of grammar mistakes

Make one word responses


Students need:

English-rich environment

Speaking integrated with other skills

Speaking planned in the lesson

Regular varied speaking tasks

Lots of opportunities to speak together

Pair and group work

Focus on fluency not just accuracy

Focus on phonology



To prepare for exams effectively:

Make clear to students what skills / strategies are needed to do well

Break down and practise individual skills

Reduce the stress

Make it success-oriented

Make it fun – why not?





Face to face with the five language skills


Pronunciation impacts on:

Speaking:      comprehensibility & confidence

Listening:      e.g. Who hasn’t finished? / Festival …

                        overloaded by extensive listening

Writing:          sound spelling relationship e.g. I slept under a ‘shit’

Reading:        sub-vocalization leads to poor processing of input /bad memory of what is read

Robin Walker, English Teaching Professional, January 2014


Sound plays an important role in recalling a word from its meaning…we often have a feeling about the sound on the word… the left pre-frontal cortex is activated when subjects correctly retrieve a word

The Learning Brain, Blakemore & Frith, Blackwell



Before reading:


Share / brainstorm ideas (spidergrams)

Set a research task for homework

Ask students to interview each other on the topic

Show a relevant clip from youtube

Tell students something about the topic

Ask students to predict the text from title/pictures

Ask students to set own questions