Our collection of 50 warm-up activities for adult ESL learners continues with critical thinking activities.
Adult learners can easily get bored of the materials used in language classes, particularly beginner level ones. They have the patience to apply themselves to a challenging task and enjoy the change of pace. Also, stimulating the brain with activities, even if they aren’t language-based, can wake up a sleepy classroom in the morning or after lunch. These generally need more prep, but are worth the time invested.
One of these things is not like the other: Ss identify and explain the outlier
Before class, prepare a worksheet with level-appropriate vocabulary for your students. Include short (4 item) lists of similar words with one slightly different item. Give students a few minutes to identify which word does not match the category and write an explanation for their choice. Then, ask students to compare their answers with a partner and complete questions that they could not answer.
Cards into Categories: Ss sort words according to grammatical categories.
Before class, prepare small cards with words that belong to distinct grammar categories. (Examples: word and phrases that take gerunds or infinitives after them; count or non-count nouns; suffixes for adjectives, noun, or verbs; adjectives that use more/most or -er/-est.) Write the categories as headers on the board and break the class into teams. One student from each team draws a card from the bag and decides which category to write the word under. If correct, the team keeps the card. If incorrect, the teacher erases the word and returns the card to the draw bag. Continue until all cards have been sorted into the correct categories. The team with the most cards wins.
After the activity, reinforce the target grammar by doing a “flow” activity. Ask students to repeat after the instructor for a quick rhythmic drill of the words, like keep doing, enjoy doing, avoid doing, finish doing … hope to do, learn to do, plan to do …
Tweet Tweet: Ss dictate to a partner, within 140 characters
Ask students to explain how twitter works and why it is different from other social media sites. Elicit the number of characters in a tweet and highlight the number 140 on the board. Ask an easy question, such as What did you do last weekend? Write a student’s response on the board and demonstrate how to count the number of characters, including spaces and punctuation. Elicit ways to increase the number of characters with additional information (on Saturday/ with my friends/ until 9 o’clock/because I was tired). If the answer goes over 140 characters, warn students that they have to take away words or use contractions.
Put students in pairs for teams and ask a new question. Ask Student A to answer the question while Student B writes the answer. Working together, they can edit the answer. After a set time (2-3 minutes), the teacher confirms teams’ final character counts and gives points for each character, but 0 points for teams that went over 140. Repeat with students switching roles.
Sentence Cut-up: Ss reorder words into a sentence
Before class, write the words of a sentence on separate slips of paper, without punctuation or capitalization. You can prepare 3 or 4 different sentences, but do not mix the cards from each sentence. (You may prefer to use different colored paper for each sentence.) Make enough copies for each group or pair to have a set. In class, give groups a set of cards – you can give them all different sentences to keep groups from listening in on each other. When the group has reassembled the sentence, they write it with correct punctuation and capitalization and the teacher checks. The first group to finish all the sentences wins.
Murder Mysteries: Ss practice reading with short stories
Before class, rewrite simple mysteries for your students’ reading level. Donald J. Sobol’s Two-Minute Mysteries is a good resource. In class, allow students to read silently or read out loud as they follow along. Many of these mysteries are logic puzzles, so help students find inconsistencies in the suspect’s stories. If students can’t find the answer, tell them…the next day!
Dictogloss: Ss collaborate to recreate a listening script
Before class, find a short (1 minute) listening sample appropriate for your students. Commercials and short video promotionals can be a good place to start. Play the audio or video once for students and ask them to take notes on what they hear. Then, put them in pairs and ask them to write the sentences that they heard. After 2-3 minutes, play the audio again and put pairs together to try to write the script. Finally, play the audio again and ask the class to write the full audio.
Unfortunately, the dictogloss lost popularity in the rush toward communicative learning because of its similarity to dictation activities. But the real benefit of a dictogloss is students working together to decode the sounds and reconstruct the grammar from their notes.
Spelling Chunks: Ss vary word beginnings and endings to explore new vocabulary
Before class, print copies of the Spelling Chunks Beginnings for each pair or group and cut the columns apart (do not cut rows). Print a copy of the Spelling Chunks Endings worksheet for each student. Divide the Spelling Chunks Beginnings cards between the pairs or groups. (In pairs, each student gets two cards, while in groups of 4 each student gets one card.) Demonstrate how to hold the card in the gray square on the Endings worksheet and slide it up and down to create different words. Use one of the endings as an example to show how some beginning sounds create real words while others don’t. Allow students 3-4 minutes and use of a dictionary to make a list of all the English words they can find for their card. Then, ask students to share their words with their pair or group. (You may want to print sets of the Beginning cards in different colors.) Monitor for correct pronunciation of the target sounds and ask each student to explain the meaning of one of the new words that they have found.
Activity ideas and Beginning cards were adapted for adult use from the materials at SecondStoryWindow.net. Read Emily’s original post for excellent tips on differentiating spelling instruction.
Trivia Treasure Hunt: Ss search the web for answers
Before class, prepare a worksheet with several trivia questions that students will likely not know the answers to. You can focus on target grammar (most/-est, passive voice, or simple past) or mix up various interesting facts. Allow students to pull out their computers or smartphones and give them a set time to find the best answer to each question. Check answers with the class or in small groups.
Word Puzzles: Ss play with language
Look for other fun word-based puzzles online. In A-Z, the teacher gives the students a category and they students try to think of a related English word for each letter of the alphabet. In Recycled Words, the teacher gives students a word and students make new words from the letters inside it. Vocabulary lists can be turned into cross-word puzzles, word searches, or double-puzzles at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker. Students may also enjoy Logic Grid puzzles, where the reader gets a series of clues to deduce correct orders or characteristics.
Visual Puzzles: SS use spatial abilities to solve puzzles
There are several language-based visual exercises online, such as Spot the Differences, vocabulary Memory games, and idiom Rebus pictures. But students will also enjoy breaking out of the classroom structure by assembling tanagrams, comparing ambiguous art, I Spy pictures, creating origami, or finding patterns. If you enjoy it, your students probably will, too!
Download a PDF with the full list below.