Before exam time schools often ask their resident ESL instructor to teach a review lesson. Going over previously taught content and structure can be a little dull. I’ve done more than one review lesson which were nothing more than a series of simplistic writing drills echoing the structure found in many traditional written tests. This might work fine for students who learn well through writing, but what of the more kinaesthetic types who learn better by doing? And what of fun? And engagement? All those wonderful qualities a foreign teacher can bring to their lessons with an ESL activity or game.
An Envelope Filled With Fun
As hinted at in the title of this post this ESL activity requires a set of envelopes. The number of envelopes is dependant on the class size. Each envelope should be assigned a letter; A, B, C, and so on.
Within each envelope should be placed a cut up sentence based on the structures or topics being reviewed. It’s important to be mindful of readability as this is a team game and all members will need to be able to see the words.
PRO TIP: If you’re short on time and worried about being able to cut up all of the sentences then just arrange the sentence in a jumbled up manner on your print out. When I do this each sentence only takes up half an A4 sheet; so there only needs to be one snip and the job’s done.
This is the core of this ESL activity; teams race to construct all of the sentences in the envelopes. A grid can be drawn on the board to help teams keep track of how many sentences they have left to complete.
I used to have students in groups of six, defined by their Lunch Groups in Junior High School, but I have come to find groups of four to be far more effective as there is less room for students to coast along on the effort of their fellows.
Squeezing All The Juice From That Precious Learning Lemon
Simply constructing the sentences is just one part of the potential this ESL activity holds. What other skills can utilised here? The way I operate is I give each student a small scrap of paper with lines for each of the sentences. One rule is that every team member must write down the sentence they construct. By giving them each paper to write on as opposed to giving them a single piece or a wipeable white board it forces them all to write rather than leaving it to one person.
When initially planning this activity I came across a conundrum:
How can I check that each team have made the sentence correctly and actually written it down?
It would take far too long to run around and check each individual’s work and having one team member come up to the front and show me their answer does not guarantee that the whole team has done it.
The solution I came upon was that once the whole team finish writing a sentence they should gain my attention; then when I go over to their grouped desks the whole team reads the sentence aloud and I confirm or deny their attempt.
These two extra twists add both writing and speaking into the mix, making it a more rounded review activity.
Kick It Up A Notch
Another great thing about this activity is how easily the difficulty level can be adjusted. Simply by cutting sentences into more or less pieces makes reassembly harder or easier. In addition, replacing certain key words, such as verbs, with blank space lines gives the students another puzzle to solve.
There can also be adjustments made based on recently taught grammar. For example, if the day’s lesson was on comparatives and superlatives stick a hint into the blank space and tell students they must change it to match the pattern:
Where? There! Teach. is the (good) blog there is.
A Well-Tested ESL Activity
I use the Envelope game regularly, with junior high and high school students of all levels, and it never fails to lift the energy levels of everyone involved. I love it for its simplicity, I love it for its effectiveness, but most of all I love it because it’s fun.
Have you ever used the Envelope Game? What do you like about it?
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