Ideas for my high school classes

Hi, I teach at a high school. The students are generally motivated and the classes are big (~30-40). The students all get grammar, vocab, and reading etc. classes with highly qualified Taiwanese instructors here at school. My class is intended to be a conversation class. What I notice in my students is that some of them, but not all, are like walking dictionaries; they can spew off many definitions of difficult words, yet they often have problems using them in context or in many cases, forming complete comprehensible sentences. I know this is a common problem among EFL students (maybe especially in Taiwan) and I know there is no quick fix. However, I would like to use activities that will increase my students’ ability to communicate. Each class only sees me once a week so I often try to maximize the student talk-time in each class. They generally do very well in small groups and there are virtually no behavioral issues (it’s senior high) so I am able to do many kinds of activities. Classes are 40 minutes and students are very keen to participate.

I would really appreciate if anyone is willing to offer me any ideas or variations on some of the things that I do (or could do) with my students. I should say that I don’t usually introduce much new vocab or sentence structure in class; I prefer to get them to use what they already know and to encourage more spontaneous language use. I guess I am looking for activities that focus more specifically on communication and comprehension. I have done lots of drama activities with them, and they often love stuff like that, but unless its improv, its still relying heavily on memory. I have also done debates and class discussions but I prefer to get as many students involved at once as possible.

Here are some basic examples of some things that I do in class, I would appreciate if anyone can offer any other ideas of what to do, or suggest how I can improve the ones that I already use.

  1. Students work in pairs A+B. I give A+B a different short story (that I wrote). Students have several minutes to read the story. When they are finished, they have to try to explain the story, using their own words, to the other student (sometimes they get into larger groups to do this in case one student did not understand the story very well). Then I hand out simple question sheets (sometimes this is done orally in a game format) but the students are asked questions based on the story that they did not read, rather, they are asked questions about the story they heard the explanation of. I don’t grade them on their answers per se, what I want is for them to be engaged in listening and speaking during the activity.

  2. I write some passages with a difficult vocab word in each. The passages are written in a way that makes it (sort of) easy to guess the meaning of the difficult word.
    An elderly woman was riding a bus. She was standing because there were no seats for her. A young man stood up and asked the elderly woman if she wanted to sit down. “I am young.” the man said, “You may have my seat”. The elderly woman smiled and sat down.


Student A gets a sheet with many of such passages. Student A reads the passage to student B. Student B gets a chance to guess the meaning of elderly based on the contextual clues. Since A also has the definition, A can also offer clues if B cannot guess properly. Students can keep give each other ‘points’ if they guess correctly (or close enough). In this activity, it is not so much that I want to teach vocab words, but practice the skill of inferring meaning. Students can pretty much manage themselves with this activity.

  1. Students are in groups. Each student has a short list of simple words. Each student must describe each word in their list so that the others can guess what word it is. Sometimes there are special instructions like they must draw the word, or act it out. Sometimes the other students must ask ‘yes or no’ questions to guess the words.

These are just a few examples of the types of activities I do with them but what I really want are some more ideas on what I could be doing with them (or why I should or should not do the above) to help them develop their communicative abilities. Like I say, they already get lots of instruction time, just not a lot of authentic opportunities to communicate.


Your ideas are excellent. It sounds like you don’t need much help.

Here are a few simple activities that work well for me and my students:

  1. Put students in groups of 8-10. Tell each group to sit in a circle, and put one empty chair in the middle. One student sits in the middle, and the others ask questions for 2 minutes. If the student in the middle doesn’t want to answer, he can say “Pass”. Each student takes turn sitting in the center.

  2. Get each student to write down some personal statements. These could be opinions, experiences, or just basic personal information. Put students in pairs, and have them ask each other questions based on the statements on their partner’s page.

  3. Stand in front of the class, and ask students to ask you questions. Remain silent for 2 minutes. Then answer any of the questions you remember or you would like to answer. Put students in groups of 3 or 4, and have them continue the activity.

  4. Give students an interesting news article or story to read. Then divide the class into 2 groups and have each group prepare as many questions as there are students in the group. Then have both groups stand up and face each other. The teams must ask each other their questions. Give teams points for properly formed questions and properly formed answers.

  5. Have students write out questions they want to ask their classmates on slips of paper. Pick these up and give each student a question. (Ask students to tell you if they get their own question, so you can give them another one.) Then have them stand up and mingle. Each student needs to find another student, ask his question, and answer the other’s question. When they’re finished, they trade questions, and go off to talk to another student. Keep it going for about 10 minutes.

I would also recommend you go to the One Stop English website. This section has some great ideas: … cid=152809