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Impromptu Lessons: Not Such a Nightmare

Impromptu Lessons: Not Such A Nightmare

Impromptu lessons – possibly the worst nightmare of any teacher. And yet, such a reality…

Have you ever been “kindly” asked for a last minute cover and confronted with the annoying task of planning a lesson in practically no time? If your answer is yes, then you have stumbled on the right article.

All of us have been asked to cover for a colleague and then slightly panicked upon realising we had no lessons suitable for that group of learners. So, we wasted our little (but precious!) time photocopying some tedious activity from an old textbook and delivered a less-than-average lesson. If that sounds like something familiar to you, maybe it’s time to change your perspective.

The best thing to do is having a convenient set of activities that can come in handy when most needed. Although it seems obvious, many think they will never have the right activity for the right class at the right time. Is that true? Yes and no. Although it is true that good teachers have the great skill of tailoring each lesson to their learners, there is a decent amount of things that can be adapted (up or down) to different levels. It is simply a matter of knowing them and appreciating their usefulness.

Pictionary – great to review vocabulary, fun, and it doesn’t require any preparation…can you want more from a single activity?

  1. Just cut up some slips of paper and ask each learner to write a word they have learned in previous lessons – these will be your playing cards (make sure there are no doubles and spelling is correct!).
  2. Next, split the class in two teams and, in turns, ask a member of each team to randomly pick a card, read the word and start drawing on the board for their team to guess. For every correct word, the teams score one point, and so on.

Backs to the board – yes, lessons can be fun, too!

  1. First, divide the class in two teams and put two chairs in front of the whiteboard for a member of each team to sit with their backs to the board. (These learners should never turn around or look over their shoulders at the board).
  2. Then, write a word on the board (it can be as easy or as hard as you want, depending on the level of the group).
  3. Now each team should shout clues, which can be verbal or mimed, and the first player to guess correctly wins a point for their team.

Name-Place-Animal-Thing – maybe a little old school, but always very effective.

  1. First, write each letter of the alphabet on separate slips of paper and fold them. Put the slips in a hat or bowl.
  2. Next, divide the class in groups of three or four and give each group a blank sheet to divide in five columns with the headings Name, Place, Animal, Thing, Total (you can add as many categories as you like, depending on the level of your learners).
  3. Finally, draw a letter of the alphabet and give groups about 60 seconds to write in each category a word starting with the letter drawn. You can check the words as a class, making sure spelling is correct. Groups score ten points for every correct word, 5 points for any doubles and 15 points for every correct word if any of the other groups hasn’t got a word.

Running dictation – dictations have never been this fun. Plus, students get to practise reading, writing, speaking and listening in one go.

  1. Prior to the lesson, choose a short text which is suitable to the level of your students and make a slightly enlarged copy to facilitate reading. Cut the text in three or four paragraphs and stick them around the classroom.
  2. Next, divide the class in groups of three or four, each with its designated writer. The others run around the classroom, read and memorise as much as possible. Then, they go back to their seats and quietly dictate what they can remember to the designated writer. The first group to finish with a fairly accurate text is the winner.

All these activities should give you enough materials to cover a good three or four-hour-class However, if you are still looking for something a little more level-specific, here are a couple of ideas that can be used with, respectively, lower and higher level students.

Speed date – interesting way to review questions.

  1. Prior to the activity itself, review how wh- and yes/no questions are formed in English. Then write “speed dating” on the board and have the students brainstorm guesses about what this is and if it’s something common in their cultures.
  2. Next have each students create a fictitious character (they should create a name, nationality, occupation, hobbies, likes and dislikes, etc.). Then, divide the class into two groups (normally, boys and girls – but different groupings are allowed, too) and ask them to come up with a list of questions they would like to ask their speed-dates.
  3. Lastly, organize the seats in two rows, with boys on one side and girls on the other. Learners have three minutes to get to know their partners and ask as many questions as possible. After that time, one group move along one seat and the learners “meet” someone else. At the end of the activity, each learner could choose their best match (because they are based on fictitious characters, nobody’s feelings should get hurt).

Alibi – good revision of past continuous, with a suspect.

  1. Before the activity starts, make a good revision of past continuous as a class. When everybody is confident with the use of past continuous, write “alibi” on the board and check the students’ understanding.
  2. Now divide the class into two groups (if you’ve got a big class, think about making four groups instead), with one group being criminals and the other detectives. Explain that criminals are suspected of having robbed a bank the day before and have to invent an alibi of what they were doing from midday to 10 pm. They have to pretend they were together at all times. On the other hand, detectives need to come up with a list of possible questions to ask the suspects – the secret is to ask for small details.
  3. Next arrange the seats in two rows so that criminals sit on one side and detectives on the other. Give about three minutes for detectives to interview the suspects (one-to-one). After this time, have the detectives move along one seat in order to interview another suspect. They should ask exactly the same questions to all suspects to see if there are any discrepancies in their stories.
  4. Eventually, when all suspects have been interviewed by all detectives, ask the latter whether they found any differences in the stories. If they did, the criminals are guilty.

These are only a few examples of how interesting, fun and lively lessons can be planned in a blink of an eye. Hopefully, after this reading, last minute classes will become less of a nightmare and more of a smooth and sweet reality.

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