Being able to prepare, setup and run an efficient activity in the ESL classroom is a basic but also vital skill for any teacher to possess. Activities can take many shapes and forms but they all have one thing in common; they are somehow helping you teach your content and they provide a platform for the students to practice and use what you have just taught them.
Most coursebooks and online materials will have clear instructions for doing simple or even advanced activities as part of your lesson and will often clearly outline the steps you need to take. However, activities planned by others may not always be suitable for the students that you are teaching due to difference in age, proficiency or even the number of students in your class. Therefore, being able to plan your own activities or at least make adjustments to activities found online to suit your class, is a very necessary skill.
In my person opinion, teachers should also keep in mind that there can be a clear difference between doing an activity in class, and playing a game. And i think it is important to understand that activities and games serve different purposes. A game, is a way to pass time. If you have finished your lesson plan and the students have absorbed your material you can spend the last 5 minutes of your class to play a game as a kind of reward. Your game doesn’t have to focus on any skill or any particular language and it is a more or less free activity that is just for fun.
An activity, on the other hand, is to practice target language. After you have taught the material, you use activities to reinforce the learning and to give the students a way to practice what they have just learnt. A platform to use it in their own way to solve a task or a problem. This doesn’t mean that an activity cannot be a game, but the difference is that the activity is relevant to what you are teaching, it is a way to practice the material, where as a game is “just for fun”.
The Lead In
Before starting the activity itself, it is a good idea to do a short “micro-activity” to get the students interested in what you want them to do, as well as to make the start thinking along the lines of what you hope for them to do or practice. In my own classes, usually an activity will follow some content that I have taught the students, and so I will tell my students that we are going to do an activity or play a game and I will start setting up a story or a situation that is relevant for the activity that I am doing.
Set Up the Activity
After you get the students thinking and ready, it is time to demonstrate what it is, you want them to do. It can be a catastrophe to expect that students know what you are thinking if you haven’t yet told them and it is always better to explain what you want to do, model it for the students, and then even ask the students to relay back to you, what they are going to do. Avoid handing out tools, toys or papers before you are ready to start. If you start handing out things to the students, they will be too busy playing with those things and not listening to you. Make sure everyone knows what they are about to do, and then you can get ready to start.
Run the Activity
Once you have explained the activity to your students, you should be able to ask them to start the activity and, if everything goes well, the activity will pretty much run itself at this point. It is probably never going to be perfect, but if the students understand what they are supposed to be doing, hopefully they will go right ahead and do it, and maybe even be excited about it. As a teacher, your job now is to give them time and space to do the activity by themselves, this is also a process for them to try and do, make mistakes and correct themselves. Stay around, monitor the students and help when necessary.
Close the Activity and do a Post Activity session
Make sure that the students know when and why an activity is going to end. Either a team can win by finishing first, maybe the time will run out or all the teams has reached a certain goal. If your activity is done individually or in groups, expect that some will finish before others. These students can either help you monitor or you can give them an extra assignment to work on while they wait for the others to finish. You cannot always wait for the whole class to finish your activity though, and I personally aim for about 75% to have finished before moving on. There will always be someone who is slower than the rest and that is fine. For the next activity try and group some of the slower students with the faster ones to try and even out their levels a bit.
When your activity is finished, sit the students down and talk about what they just did. What did they do? Why did they do it? What did they learn and how can it be used in their daily life?
Congratulations, you have finished a successful activity.