Have you ever spent hours looking for something specific to use in a lesson?


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A teacher just asked me for a picture of a zoo after spending hours looking for one online. She wanted to do an activity where pupils placed toy people around the zoo. She would work on people, prepositions and revise animals.

Rather than use up your evening searching the internet, do something fun with your free time.  Children are always ready to use their imaginations. They can transform a pencil into a magic wand in an instant so you don’t need the perfect ready-made prop.

Here are some ideas on creating a zoo for teachers who can’t draw.

  1. Make a zoo in the classroom from pieces of paper.  Each piece of paper is an enclosure.  Kids draw fences around the edge of the paper and stick an animal picture in the middle.  With my stories resources flashcards are included and there are lots of cool animal pictures to use from there.
  2. Have kids decorate the enclosures by colouring them, drawing trees or sticking on pictures from magazines. Spread those about and they are the zoo. Kids can then “put the small yellow person near the elephants”.
  3. If you have a space in the classroom this could become a class project or craft activity.  Use artist’s paper and start by drawing the entrance.  Kids stick animal pictures on the paper, draw circles for the enclosures and add paths between them.  Add a kiosk to buy drinks (you can draw a rectangle, colour it in and stick a coca-cola bottle on it cut out from a magazine (homework for the kids).  The zoo art project could evolve over one lesson or several.  “Fabrice please draw a tree in the lion park.”  If your zoo doesn’t look like the annoyingly brilliant ones from Blue Peter don’t worry, the kids enjoy this sort of thing and it’ll be their creation.
  4. Have some children be the animals and put them around the classroom, standing next to their enclosure if you have stuck those on the walls.  These kids mime being the animal.  Give instructions to other pupils such as « Jaime go over to the elephant/s ».  They could feed them, or move them from one enclosure to another.  They could have a small conversation such as “I’m hungry” and the feeder says, “Here are some bananas”.Let me know what you think.  There’s nearly always a way to invent what you need from very little rather than spending your free evening looking for it.  Feel free to ask me for ideas !

    All the best


Find more resources here. 

New ideas for plays, skits or theatre for teens.


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Since teens are often preoccupied with being cool in front of their peers it can be tricky presenting them with ready-made theatre skits.  It can be more productive and creative to have your teen students make up their own short skit or play to keep them interested.  At least that way if it is uncool and boring they only have themselves to blame !  Few students are natural play-wrights, especially in a foreign language, so give guidelines or a framework where pupils can easily fill in the blanks.  Here are two light-hearted ways of producing short plays or skits. 

Students work in groups of three or four. Spread better students about rather than having them work together since this helps weaker students. It also means the more advanced pupils will be group leaders and take bigger roles in the skit they create together.

Skit creation option one:

Provide a short opening dialogue. Think of something dramatic and ambiguous for the opening dialogue that stimulates the imagination and will be more likely to give rise to varied outcomes, for example : « Listen, what’s that ? » « Wow, what is it ? » « It sounds like… » then pupils decide how the dialogue will continue.  The whole skit, including opening dialogue, must not take more than 75 seconds when performed. Allow five minutes for students to work in groups while you circulate, listening in and ensuring groups are on target with the task. After three minutes tell the class they have two more minutes to prepare. Let them know when they have one minute left. Watch the skits.

3760099 - three young girls jazz dancing

Skit creation option two:

Tell students that their skit can be about anything, but it has to be one minute long minimum and has to contain these words: pokemon, pasta, phone, message and sock.  (Change the words as you like).

Alternatively say the skit must contain a certain sentence, such as « Johnny Depp (insert person’s name) would never have done that. »  Allow five minutes.  Circulate and observe. Warn students at each minute how much time they have left.  This type of activity gets better as students practise it.  They gradually get more creative and less inhibited.

See my book ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults here for more great ideas like these.

Introducing my new book!

I’ve been a very busy bee over the summer holidays and have written, created and published an entirely new ESL book for children aged 4 to 6 years old! How exciting!

To get your copy on Amazon click here.

About the book:

49 Colourful, attractive worksheets for Shelley Ann Vernon’s preschool stories 1-10. These worksheets are suitable for children aged 4 to 6. The worksheets are a mix of colouring, tracing over letters, copying words, counting, labyrinths, listening and following instructions. There are also two join the dots and a puzzle. There are: 5 worksheets to trace over the alphabet letters. 4 worksheets per story making a total of 40. 4 pages of verbs.

If you have any questions, please contact me – Shelley games (AT) teachingenglishgames.com (obviously you take out the brackets and the AT and replace those with the @ sign !). Find out more here.

First lesson of the year!

Here is an idea for the first lesson of the year, (for when you find your students again after the long summer holiday).

Do a big revision quiz in teams. Make three or four teams. Ask Team A a question (or have the best student in the class take that role). Allow five seconds for the reply to earn two points if the answer is correct. If there is no reply, on your signal the floor is open to teams B, C and D to jump in with the answer and earn one (not two) points. Then it’s Team B’s turn and so on.

For the questions use a mixture of:
– Naming vocabulary items – such as clothing the children are wearing, items in the classroom or in their pencil cases and use vocabulary flashcards.
– Questions like “What’s your name?” “Do you have a dog?”
– Actions like “touch a pen, show me a book, touch the wall, touch something blue”.
– For higher levels, tailor the questions accordingly.

Doing activities like that needs no prep (just taking in vocab pictures) and you can use it over and over for revision throughout the year.

How do I improve reading fluency?


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I received this question this morning from an experienced ESL teacher:  ‘I am preparing a lesson on accurately reading words, sentences and phrases out loud.  My pupils are 14 years old. What activities can you recommend for this Shelley?’


Luckily her question isn’t only about reading fluency, it is also about speaking fluency since she would like students to be able to read well out loud. I would recommend reading the passage many times until it becomes fluent.  After all practise makes perfect.  She could also try having the kids read it out in a high pitched voice,, boys and girls.  Then someone else reads it in a very low voice, someone else with sadness, another in a panic.  It’s a bit of fun and is an excuse to review the same passage over and over and have fun with it!


You can also have students repeat the passage (working in pairs) to different rhythms. That is quite challenging and takes some practise, it’s brilliant for fluency. Check the game CHANTS in the Teen/Adult games book for a full description of that idea.

She could also give the students the reading passage. Students are to read out their text with a rhythm in the background. Use a metronome or have the class or a partner clapping rhythmically as the beat. Students are free to fit the text into the beat as best they can. Some students who are musical will do this well naturally and for others it will be much harder. If you try this yourself first you will see that it is excellent for encouraging fluency, as often one is obliged to run many words together quickly to fit into a beat. 

Be sure to do a clear demonstration first using a slow beat and a faster  

The pace of the beat should not be too fast. One beat per second is quite slow, and you could use this for beginners. Here are some examples of how the first words of this game’s explanation can be read. The syllable in bold indicates where the beat falls, which is when the other students clap.




This is one syllable per beat. You don’t want this, as it is dreary and too slow.




This is much better, and students have to say the word ‘dialogues’ quite quickly to fit it into the beat.


Give—stu—dents—short—di-a-logues ly—rics—from—songs


This is far more musical – the student has started on the upbeat with ‘give’.


Remember repetition is the mother of skill so you just need ways to make it fun.


If you are reading this blog and you’d like more ways to liven up your teaching then please visit Teaching English Games or check out my books on Amazon.


Thanks for reading!
All the best
Shelley Ann Vernon

Olympics themed summer course ideas


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Last week, a teacher emailed me to ask, ‘Can you help me prepare a vacation course on the Olympics?’ No problem!
When faced with preparing a five-day course it can be somewhat daunting thinking about “filling” the vast stretches of time between 9 am on the first day and 5pm on the last day.  It’s helpful therefore to think of it not as five days but many hour-long lessons.
I would normally keep the morning for intense language learning and the afternoon for related activities such as crafts, cooking, dressing up, songs with choreography and more active outdoor games.  In this teacher’s case since they were focusing on The Olympics I suggested they could think about inventing an athletics track and running an Olympics competition. Obviously you don’t want the most sporty kid to win everything, so you can diversify your Olympics with gold medals for the best picture, the best actor, the best singer, the best hair, the best dancer- whatever, so every child has a medal at the end of the course.  You could also include making the medals in a craft hour when the kids are tired.  There is loads of scope for miming sports and guessing what they are, playing Simon Says + the sport, playing a sport like rounders but to have the right to bat the child has to name particular vocabulary or repeat a short dialogue.
I suggested breaking the morning down into:
1. Drilling new vocabulary and grammar through games
2. Board games and quizzes
3. Working on words for a skit or a song
In the afternoon after lunch I would work on choreography for a song – why not choose a national anthem to tie in with the Olympics theme!? This can be dance moves or actions and/or acting out the story told in the song.  Let those who enjoy dancing do the dance moves but don’t force it on everyone.  Those self-conscious ones who are too shy can do actions they feel comfortable with instead.
Next I suggested working on putting a skit together using language taught during the morning. This builds gradually over the course so that by the end the skit may be performed, with props, by heart, to parents.  I have a couple of skits on sports in my plays and skits book that would be ideal, you can either download them on your Kindle or smart phone or order from Amazon in paperback – see more information here.

Recommended resource for summer courses.  Kindle, paperback and PDF instant download formats.


Finally, at the end of the afternoon, I would play more language games, but boisterous ones where the children run to the end of the garden (or hall) to collect the correct flashcard, play egg and spoon race (to vocabulary you choose), play Twister (using body parts vocabulary) and so on.  The games always have a language purpose but they are less intense than the morning sessions as children will be tired and in need of some fun and play time.  After all the kids are on holiday and if they don’t enjoy the classes they might not show up the next day!
At the end of the course it’s a good idea to put on a show to parents so they can see what they have been paying for, and feel included in their child’s education. Don’t worry, a show may seem daunting but if you break it down it’s easy!
Here are some ideas for content: 
1. Two skits (like those from my plays and skits book).
2. Two songs that the children choose and they should at least be able to sing the chorus and act out the verse.
3. Show off all the vocabulary and language from the units you have covered through vocabulary games that you perform in front of parents.
4. Stage a quiz where one pupil asks the questions (that you have prepared on cards and the other kids are in teams.)  Make sure each team have a buzzer as you could stage it like a TV show.  All the questions come from the work you have been covering during the week – e.g. hold up a picture and they name the word, or you hold up a picture of a tennis racket and a question mark – that means they make a question such as “do you want to play tennis?”
The kids will be very motivated by the idea of showing off to their parents and being the center of attention in a TV show, plus children focus mainly on the short-term so it gives them a purpose for their lessons that is much closer to reality for them than some future point in their lives when it may be useful for them to speak English.