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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 5; Issue 4; July 03

Lesson outlines

28 Exercises for primary

Henk van Oort, Netherlands

( some of these activities could be of interest beyond Primary)

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  1. BACK UP Ages 9 - 12

    Divide the class into groups of five pupils. Each group sits on the floor in a row, the one behind the other. The front pupils have pen and paper in hand. You give each last pupil a piece of paper with a word, e.g. "kitchen". These last pupils start writing the first letter of the word on the back of the kid in front They write with their finger!. This one writes the letter that is felt on the back of the following pupil. When the pupil at the front has felt the letter, h/she writes the letter down. All letters are passed on in this way until the word "kitchen" has been written down correctly by the pupil at the front. You can decide to give e.g. six words in total. Who has passed on and written down correctly the most words after four minutes? Concentration. Sense of feeling. Spelling. Vocabulary.

  2. MEMORY DICTATION Ages 9 - 12

    Prepare a list of appr. 20 words that are already known to your pupils. Use these words for this dictation. Pupils have pen and paper. When you say the first word, e.g. "picture" nobody is allowed to write down anything. When you say the second word e.g. "village", all pupils write down the first word "picture". And so on. Concentration. Memory skills. Working independently. Listening skills.

  3. LOGBOOK Ages 11-12

    Introduce a logbook in your class that will be used every English lesson for a certain period of time. Ask a pupil before the lesson starts if h/she wants to write a short text about the English lesson that is about to begin in English. The report is not written during the lesson but afterwards. Two elements should be paid attention to: the general contents of the lesson and a personal opinion of the author related to the lesson as a whole. At the beginning of the next lesson this report is read aloud to the whole class either by you or by the author. Ask somebody else to be the next author. Writing skills. The whole process of your teaching comes to light after a series of reports. After e.g. seven reports you may conclude this activity by having seven different pupils read the whole sequence.

  4. ALL TOO OBVIOUS Ages 8 - 12

    Prepare a series of all too simple questions e.g. "How many legs has a dog?" Select four to six pupils from your class that need some extra attention for one reason or other. At the end of the lesson you tell your class that you are going to ask some pupils a silly question to which the answers are very clear. However, nobody is allowed to give the answers straightaway. Only in the next English lesson do they give the answers. Mind you: only the answers are given, the questions should not be repeated. The first pupil only says: "Four". All other pupils should be able to remember the question. Who does? Memory skills. Concentration.

  5. BOOK TITLES Ages 10 - 12

    All pupils have pen and paper. Ask every one to invent a good title for a book. When finished all pupils swap their titles with a neighbour. Then everyone writes the first sentence that would appear in that particular book. All titles and all first sentences are read aloud by all pupils. Variation: If you think this activity too difficult then you can write down six book titles on the board and the pupils, in six groups, invent the first sentence. Fantasy. Fun. Writing skills.


    Take the first sentence of the book you are going to read with your class. This first sentence is going to be used for your recitation lesson. All pupils are standing behind their desks. All general rules and exercises for choral speaking are applied. Pronunciation skills. Memory skills. A good introduction to a new book. Have the pupils say this sentence as if a complete show is about to start. If the first sentence happens to be very short, just take two or even three.

  7. MORE RIDDLES Ages 9 - 12

    Ask a pupil in private to look for a riddle. At the end of a lesson the pupil tells the riddle by heart in front of the class. Only in the next lesson is the answer revealed. Repeat this with three more pupils in three consecutive lessons.


    Especially useful when teaching the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet. Say together with the class the whole alphabet in chorus by way of rehearsal. Switch to individual work. Ask one pupil to say the whole alphabet, but now one letter after his/her own choice must be left out, e.g. the K .Ask a second pupil to recite the whole alphabet, leaving out the K and a second letter of his/her choice, e.g. R. Ask a third pupil to recite the whole alphabet, but the K and the R must be left out and a third letter, etc. Any pupil that makes a mistake is out, another one takes over. Write the letters that are chosen to be left out on the board as a memory aid if the activity appears to be too difficult to be done by heart. If you start working on the alphabet from zero level you could write the whole alphabet on the board and mark the chosen letters with a temporary red dot. Finish the activity with chorus speaking: recite the whole alphabet leaving out six letters.


    To begin with: Recite the whole alphabet in chorus to practise pronunciation. Explain the difference between vowels and consonants. Generally speaking we can say that vowels give human speech sound quality, consonants indicate the limits between which the actual sounds are heard, but do not have big sonorous quality themselves. Ask one pupil to say the alphabet without mentioning the vowels. If h/she makes a mistake, h/she is out and another pupil has a go. You could clock up for the time needed to say the whole consonantal alphabet if you want to introduce a competitive element. To finish the activity you may have prepared a poem or a song text that is not known by the pupils which you can say without consonantal sounds at all. It will cause a good laugh when you say such a funny poem in which only vowel sounds are pronounced. Then ask what your strange utterances will mean. The text could be recited in chorus in the normal way or with the vowel sounds only. Write the complete text of the poem or song in the notebooks.

  10. HOT ICE Ages 11 - 12

    Creative writing. Invite your class to sit in pairs and write a simple but exceptional travel story. This travel story must contain as many opposites as could be thought of. E.g. a sentence like: "I like ice-cream", should be written down as: "I hate ice-cream". Other good examples are: " The sky was green and the grass was blue in that country." " I didn't drink anything at all because I was so thirsty." "I drove my car at the dazzling speed of one mile per hour." "That tiger ate lots of walnuts." "It was too expensive for us then because we had lots of money." etc. The pupils start writing a list of mere opposites: long-short; hot-cold; dear-cheap; beautiful-ugly; poor-rich, etc. You may have to be a walking dictionary for a couple of minutes. From these opposites the story may be born. At the end the stories are written in the notebooks. A couple of them are read in front of the class by the authors.

  11. WORDS FROM A JAR 9 - 12

    All pupils sit at their desks. Divide the class into two groups: one left, one right. Each group assigns one scribe who takes his/her place in front of the board which is divided into two spaces: left and right. Two more pupils, one from each group, come forward and take a small jar in their hands. The jar contains two dice and is firmly closed. The pupils in their benches have a couple of dictionaries handy nearby. The contest can begin now. The pupils with the jars toss the dice well and read the number of dots on the two dice in the jar aloud e.g. 'seven!!' The group concerned has to think of an English word of seven letters. When found, the number of letters and the word are written on the board by the scribe and checked by you. The other pupils write the words in their note books. Which of the two groups has most words after eight minutes?

  12. ABBREVIATIONS Ages 10 - 12

    After having given the following examples in the manner of a riddle, ask your class to think of some more. All must contain a number and an abbreviation.

    365 d.o.t.y.(days of the year) ; 366 d.o.a.l.y. (days of a leap year); 100 p.i.t.p.(100 pence in the pound); 24 h.i.a.d.(24 hours in a day); 11 p.i.a.s.t.(11 players in a soccer team); 12 s.i.t.z.(12 signs in the zodiac); 9 p.i.t.s.s.(9 planets in the solar system); 5 f.o.a.h.(5 fingers on a hand) etc.

  13. LETTER DUMB SHOW Ages 10 - 12

    Decide which word you are going to use for this game. E.g. : w-i-n-d-o-w. For each letter you need one pupil, in this case six pupils. Write down the word on the back of the board or somewhere else where the pupils in class cannot see it. Ask the six pupils to come to the front and have a good look at the word. The first pupil starts acting out an activity or a subject whose name starts with the first letter of the first word e.g. 'waves' in this case. From the gestures the pupil makes, the class should be able to guess the word and so the first letter. The second letter is acted out, e.g. the pupil points at him/herself: I. The third letter: e.g. shaking head: no, so the letter is n. The fourth letter: point at the door: letter: d. Fifth letter: o. make a gesture of surprise. Sixth letter: w. point at the window. From the dumb show the pupils in class guess the right word. The pupils in class are allowed to make notes. A good activity to finish a lesson.


    Make two sets of cards or have them made by the pupils. One with names of countries, one with the names of their capitals. Use the English versions of all names. Share them out. One pupil, one card. Ask everyone to stand up and look for the other matching half. All pupils go back to their desks. One half of the class now has two cards each. The others have none. Ask one of the latter group to come to the front where you have displayed the map of the world. In turn each pupil of the first group calls out the name of the country and the name of the capital. The pupil in front points at the map. When he/she makes a mistake another pupil from his/her own group takes over. Etc. There are many variations possible here.

  15. WORDLIST Ages 11 - 12

    Each pupil writes down on a piece of paper ten 'interesting' English words. Work in pairs now. Exchange lists in these pairs. One pupil starts talking about a word in his/her own list which is closely studied by the other. The other guesses the word about which the talking is done. Then the other takes over. Etc.


    Make a mind map with your whole class. You write on the board, your pupils write in their note books or on a piece of paper. You can start with any word: 'weather' , 'house' , 'clothing', 'food' , etc. When finished, create on the board, and the pupils on their papers, five categories: smell, see, hear, taste, touch. Group as many words that are appropriate from the mind map in these five categories. There are many follow-ups possible . E.g. divide the class into five groups according to the five senses and ask them to write a little poem using the words from their category.

  17. PICTURE POSTCARDS Ages 11 - 12

    Ask every pupil to bring a used picture postcard to the next lesson. (Have some spare cards ready for the pupils who forget to bring one).Pupils sit in pairs, and, without showing their partner their card, describe it. The listener has to guess about what the other is talking about. Many follow-ups are possible. E.g. exchange sets of cards with other pairs and start again. Or ask one pupil to come to the front and have him/her tell about the card without showing it to the class. Or start the lesson with the whole collection of cards cut into halves (or four parts). Share these out in class. Everybody starts searching for the other half (or quarters). Ask three pairs (or one foursome)to come to the front and tell about the picture without showing it. Etc.

  18. LETTERBOX Ages 8 - 9

    Put up a letter box somewhere in your classroom. A shoebox e.g. Invite your pupils to write short letters to classmates. Start your lesson by emptying the letterbox and have the addressees read their letters aloud. Put in one or two letters yourself.

  19. WHISPERING GALLERY Ages ( 8 - 12)

    Invite ten pupils to stand in line in front of the class. Facing the class. Whisper a message (in accordance with their level of English)into the ear of the first who passes it on to the second etc. What will the message sound when the tenth pupil says it aloud?

  20. DO NOT LOOK ! Ages 10 - 12

    Ask a pupil: 'Who is sitting behind you?' The pupil must give the name and an exact description of the outward appearance of the pupil sitting behind without looking around.
    Variation: 'Who is sitting behind you in the third row in the last desk?' etc.

    Another question could be: 'Are there figures or dots or little stripes on the dial of your watch?' You ask this question, the pupil is not allowed to look.

    Again another question could be (only ask a pupil with appropriate shoes): 'How many little holes are there in your shoe through which the laces go?'

  21. MINI BOOKS Ages 8 - 10

    Make a mini book about an interesting subject. This could be a simple autobiography entitled: 'That's Me'. Give your pupils some strips of paper from which a mini book can easily be made by simply folding and stapling. On every page we find a little drawing and a one liner in English. When finished have one or two pupils present their booklet to the whole class.


    If you want to repeat or introduce the following parts of speech: nouns, adjectives and verbs, you may link up these three categories with respectively 'thinking', 'feeling' , and 'willing'. The nouns identify objects, the adjectives express our attitude towards the objects and the verbs describe our actions related to these objects. Divide your class in pairs. Ask each pair to produce three sentences: one with relatively many nouns, one with many adjectives and one with many verbs. From this creative writing exercise it becomes clear in what way the three categories give colour to a text.

  23. BIRTHDAY CALENDAR Ages: 6 - 8

    Make a birthday calendar using 12 A4 sheets of paper. Clearly write down the name of the months on each paper. Add numbers 1 - 31. Invite your pupils to write down their name on the appropriate place. Put it up somewhere on the wall of your classroom. Practice the names of the months and practice questions like: 'When is your birthday?' Or: 'When is John's birthday?' ( a pupil goes to see on the calendar when that particular birthday is). Many variations possible here.

  24. WHERE IS MARY? Ages: 5 - 6

    Ask a pupil to hide somewhere in the classroom. Ask a doll that happens to be in your class to look for the hidden child. A pupil takes the role of the doll, gives it voice, and starts searching. You could do this once yourself by way of example first and then invite a pupil to be the doll. Sentences like 'Where is Mary?', 'Where has she gone to?', 'I don't see Mary', 'I think she is behind that plant' are good examples of the talking that will be done. Finish this activity by asking all children to hide under their desks. The doll might even start crying because everyone has disappeared. Many varieties possible.

  25. BODY LANGUAGE Ages 5 - 7

    You may repeat the names of the parts of the body in the following way. Say to your class: 'Put your left little finger in your right ear', 'Put your right thumb on your right foot', 'Put your left ring finger on your right thumb' , etc. Take your time and check carefully!

  26. DESCRIBE A CLASSMATE Ages: 10 - 12

    Ask one of your pupils to describe a classmate. The first to guess the right person is the winner.

  27. CLEVER MACHINES Ages: 11 -12

    Divide your class into pairs. You need some dictionaries. Give each pair a piece of paper on which you have written the name of an unusual machine. E.g. a sandwich filler, a shoe polisher, an automatic nail clipper, a school bag packing machine, an automatic hair washer, a bed maker, etc. Some pairs may have the same text. Ask each pair to write in English the instructions for using the machine. Drawings may clarify the text. All results will find a place on the pin board.

  28. WHERE AM I? Ages: 11 - 12

    Make some cards with the name of a particular spot in London. E.g. 'You are at Buckingham Palace', (or in an underground station, on top of Tower Bridge, in Harrods, in a rowing boat on the Serpentine in Hyde Park ,etc.) Invite a pupil to come to the front, give them a card and ask them to give a description of that spot. The one in class who guesses first which spot is meant is the winner. And may take the next turn.