3 no-prep ideas for outdoor classes

3 no-prep ideas

I love outdoor classes in May and June –  if you look at your students, it is really difficult for them to stay in when every muscle is calling them outside. I’m not overly fond of hot summer days myself, but I’m even less fond of classrooms with no air-conditioning, so here are my top three ideas for outdoor classes, they worked brilliantly for me and I can only hope you’ll have at least as much fun as my students did.

As you’ll probably notice, my ideas are virtually no-prep classes. It’s somehow connected with the feeling of summertime laziness that rubs off on me!

I spy with my little eye… (A1 and above)

If you think elementary students can’t have fun outdoors because they get easily distracted without coursebooks, you couldn’t be more wrong. You only need to give them stimuli and have fun watching them play and use their English. You probably know the game I spy. One person, the Spy, silently selects an object that is visible to all the players but doesn’t tell what the object is. Then the Spy says, I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter…, and players have to guess what the object is.

Now, it sounds really easy, even for elementary students, so you may play an alternative version, substituting the initial letter for an adjective such as a colour of an object or a sound (that one is fun: I spy with my little eye something that sounds like a bomb). Yet another variation to encourage using English is giving various descriptive clues, such as describing a watch as something made of metal and glass that makes a quiet noise.

Believe me, not only kids love this game, add a hint of competition (like two teams) and adult learners will have wild ideas! Why is it a great game outdoors? Because you have far more objects than in a classroom, you can play it walking, change places and literally do nothing to prepare.

Tourists attractions (A2-B1 and above)

It’s a little project that takes around two classes, with a lot of fun for students and literally nothing you have to do beforehand apart from bringing a map of the school’s whereabouts.

On the first lessons students pick some interesting places around the school and make up interesting stories about them in secret – on lower levels they may work in pairs to feel more comfortable. They should write the stories down and optionally give you to proofread (I skipped this step hoping to be surprised and indeed I was, so in case you prefer to have some control over these  particularly controversial stories – go for proofreading).

On the second lesson just go for a walk, stop in front of each landmark and let the person who made up a story about it, tell it the way tourist guides do.

Where’s the fun? First of all, stories. I listened to various tales of cannibalism in an old asylum (you’d never think of it, looking at an ordinary kebab place), a series of unexplained disappearances and eerie cults (obviously, a church), haunted graveyard (in a park, not in an actual graveyard as that would be too obvious) etc.

See the point of proofreading now?

Secondly, make your students behave like real tourists. You know, baseball caps, socks&sandals (if they’re brave enough), cameras etc. Make them listen to their “guides” attentively and enjoy the interest of the unsuspecting public. I believe my students had a lot of fun not only with their work, but also with people’s reactions. Suddenly speaking English was the easiest thing to do!

Treasure hunt (A2 and above)

Be aware: you need to prepare a few pieces of paper for this class. In each you should have 5-10 challenges for a treasure hunt. Also, this is an activity appropriate for more mature students who can behave in a safe manner when walking around unsupervised.

Divide your class into 3 groups, each gets a sheet of paper with challenges and off they go, to complete the task. The first team to return receives an award (a souvenir, good mark or an opportunity to choose the next lesson’s topic). Meanwhile you spend an hour drinking coffee and, naturally, pining after your students.

When it comes to challenges, I decided to pick similar instructions for each group, but give them varying details, for example:

  1. Go to *various cafés* and ask for *vegan muffins/vegan ice-cream/gluten-free cakes* in English
  2. Go to *McDonald’s etc.* order a coke and a straw for each person in team (in English) and take a selfie. Send it to me.
  3. Go to the nearest *fountain* and ask a stranger in English to take a photo of you mid-jump.
  4. In English, ask a stranger *ginger bearded man/a mother with three kids/ a couple in love* to take a photo with your team.
  5. In English, ask someone for directions to *theatre/school/tourist information”. Ask if you can record them as you keep forgetting directions.

The obvious question is, how did I make sure my students were speaking English? Simple – the person speaking was recorded by another team member. After the hunt, obviously, recordings were deleted. The best thing about this hunt is that students have an opportunity to practice real-life skills and still have a lot of fun!

I hope my ideas sound interesting, so do not hesitate to adjust them to your need and enjoy your outdoor classes! Remember about parental consent if your students are minors, especially when it comes to the treasure hunt!

What do games offer in EFL classes? (guest podcast in PL)


Today there is no blog post! Today you can actually hear me rambling on games in education.

Karolina Lubas, my fellow teacher and blogger kindly invited me for a chat about games and you can listen to the podcast on her channel here:

The recording is in Polish, but if you’re interested in an English version, let me know!

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 15)

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest!

It’s time for the next Role-Playing Teaching article! We’re done with theory. Today, I have a really nice post for all of you who want to try Role-Playing Games with their nearest and dearest. Bumbleberry Forest, a mini RPG game created by Kamila Zalewska-Firus, is a perfect start to the world of RPGs, designed to be family entertainment – starting from three year old children!

Imagine a relatively safe world of wood sprites or pixies (it’s not totally safe, there has to be some space for adventures, after all). Main characters are pixies, living in a small village deep in the heart of the woods, far from humans (they are huge and scary creatures!) and enjoying their everyday life. Helpful and friendly, they happily help one another by foraging for herbs (you need to be careful as there is a family of foxes nearby!), exploring the unknown (e.g. wreck of a car, maybe there is something pixies may find useful) or helping a baby bird get to its nest (and trees are really high for such a small folk as pixies).

The main idea is that the role of the Game Master is taken by an adult (parent or teacher) and the children are meant to assume the roles of pixies. Characters are created by rolling casual six-sided dice and when they’re ready, GM generates a quest for them, starting with simple ones and moving on to more dangerous adventures.

You can get the ebook here (it’s a pay what you want option, so you can get it even for 1$). You will find here detailed description of the Bumbleberry Forest and its inhabitants, character descriptions along with a nice character sheet, quest generators and a simple adventure.

I find Bumbleberry Forest simply adorable, not only for kids. If you ever experienced the feeling of homesickness thinking of the Tolkien’s Shire, it may be a good place for you to visit. It’s a simple and yet entertaining way to take your family on a nice adventure. Family… or students! At the cost of repeating myself I’ll say that Role-Playing Games are a great teaching tool.

Naturally, with toddlers (Bumbleberry Forest is designed for children aged 3+) you won’t be able to play the whole game in English. So, how can you incorporate EFL into the quests?

Who are you, stranger?

There’s someone new in a village! A strange pixie from another forest who speaks a foreign language. Maybe he’s trying to learn something about your village, maybe she’s lost – anyway, they cannot communicate in your native tongue. Our players’ pixies will need to  understand the stranger who will speak English, of course. Game Master will need to remember to use simple words and a lot of body language, but this kind of encounter may be really educational – maybe local pixies will ask a stranger to join their village for good?

The quest for magic words

You may organise all your quests as means to find magic words that will be simple words in English – just add a little magic to them! The first magic word may be *please* – it makes everyone you ask for help be more willing to comply. The next ones may include *thank you* (make others more appreciative), *sorry* (others don’t get angry at you), and so on. You will probably experience kids trying to use those magic words in everyday life to coax something, but that’s great, since that’s the main purpose of communication, right? You may create nice cards with the words children find on their quests, it will be really motivational!

If you want to pass the test…

…you need to roll the dice. But, if you want to incorporate English, you may add some linguistic challenges, like “you need to pass the test and tell me three colours in English” or “remember that if you want to talk to an animal (which is easy for pixies), you need to call it by its English name”. Such trivial ideas may be a source of repetition, fun and – first and foremost – creating positive background for vocabulary revision.

I will elaborate the topic of RPGs, EFL and kids soon, but for now I hope you’ll find my ideas helpful and get yourself a copy of the Bumbleberry Forest – take your kids on an adventure and you may discover a new world of fun, education and building positive relationships.


Public speaking for teachers? Why not? (book review)

Why would teachers learn about public speaking_

There is only one excuse for a speaker’s asking the attention of his audience: he must have either truth or entertainment for them.
― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

At the moment I’m writing this very note and watching Kung Fu Panda, which is one of my favourite films about being a teacher. True, it may seem a bit unusual source of inspiration, but this is the way I live – looking for inspiration in various places. There may be ever so many materials designed for teaching English as a foreign language, and yet I still enjoy using alternatives that are not commonly identified with teaching.

Like Role-Playing Games, of course.

The main reason I bought Public Speaking for Success was the fact that I’m doing more and more workshops, and I realise I have quite a vast area to improve. Talk Like TED was really inspiring, so I decided to try the book by Dale Carnegie (famous for How to Win Friends and Influence People). To my surprise, even though the book is targeted at salespeople and presenters, teachers still may find it useful. After all, nowadays we need extraordinary means to engage our students.

This book will show you how to make your students pay attention to what you say, to present even the most boring facts in a manner so interesting your students will never forget them (it’s what my interpretation of kraken and zombies did to Present Perfect). You will also read a lot about how famous public speakers of the days of old used to prepare their speeches. And Abraham Lincoln, you will learn a lot about Lincoln (although it won’t be as exciting as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter which is accidentally quite an interesting book).

Most of the book focuses on speech preparation and its delivery, but each chapter includes some down-to-earth exercises that will help you master public speaking. Following the exercises a reader will be able to practice proper pronunciation, resonance and emphasis (only the reader needs to practice everyday, something yours truly may find quite difficult to do).

The chapter that may be particularly useful for teachers is almost at the end of the book – chapter 14, focused on engaging audience. By the time you get there you will probably think “those ideas are so obvious! I’ve known it all!” – but this chapter sums up everything we really, really need to remember. Concise, surprisingly up-to-date (it’s funny to think, though, that short attention span of an audience was an issue almost 100 years ago…) and useful – something we may read before every lesson to memorise it.

For this reason only, I believe Public Speaking for Success may be also called Public Speaking for Teachers Who Want to Engage Their Students. I’ve mentioned it more than once, every lesson is a story worth telling, and to do so we must be great storytellers not only in choosing a tale, but also its exquisite presentation.

Live an active life among people who are doing worthwhile things, keep eyes and ears and mind and heart open to absorb truth, and then tell of the things you know, as if you know them. The world will listen, for the world loves nothing so much as real life.
― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

Last but not least: you can get this ebook for free! One of the best places on the Internet, Project Gutenberg, offers the ebook version of Public Speaking for Success for free! All you need to do is click here and download your preferable version. Then you may enjoy it as much as I have… only be aware it’s the original version from 1915, not the updated one.

Enjoy and let me know what you think about the book!

Public Speaking for Success: The Complete Program, Revised and Updated
Carnegie, Dale
Publisher: TarcherPerigee; REV and Updated ed. edition (May 4, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-1585424924