mannequin challenge

I guess I should spare you from explaining what a mannequin challenge is. Whether you love it or loathe it; whether you have ever been lured into posing for one or not, it might still be a fun thing to try in the classroom. “A mannequin challenge?”, I hear you say.

Write “mannequin challenge” on the board and ask your students to generate questions they may think of using these two words (if they can’t think of any or a few, you can write the questions yourself. For low level classes, it’s ok for the students to give you their questions in their L1 language, then you can simply translate and write on the board).

  • What is a mannequin challenge?
  • Have you ever taken part in one?
  • If not, would you like to?
  • What is the title of the song that is usually played with mannequin challenges?
  • Do you like mannequin challenges? Why? / Why not?

Play the video below and then ask the students to write down as many different actions as they remember from it by using the present/past continuous (whichever verb tense you would like them to practice).

If you are ok with recording a video of your students, they can pose “performing an action” and then you can record a video and then play for them to tell you what everyone is doing. If you can’t or won’t record a video you can still tell half your class to pose for a minute or so for the rest of the students to tell each other what everyone is doing and then they can switch roles. You may narrow this down and give them a topic, such as sports and then they have to “perform” playing a sport. Or house chores (ironing, doing the dishes, hoovering, dusting, etc.). Or jobs (a mechanic, a teacher, a bus driver, a hairdresser, etc.). What other suitable topics can you think of? Do you see yourself trying this out in your lessons? Are you up to the challenge?


I am a big fan of lists and ordering things. I think they offer lots of opportunities for discussion, interaction and critical thinking in the language classroom. Today I would like to focus on ranking sets of items. The ideal platform for this procedure is an interactive whiteboard, if you have one, but there are other round around ways in which you can engage your learners in physically ranking words and expressions or images.

The best fruit. I learned this activity from Andrew Wright’s Pictures for Language Learning, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Moving with the -digital- times and far from being an accomplished artist, I just resort to copying and pasting images from the Internet.


After reviewing these words with the students and working on accurate pronunciation, open a blank page on the board and ask them to write down as many fruits that they saw on the board as they remember.

And now comes the ranking bit. Show the fruits again. If you are using interactive whiteboard software and you have copied and pasted the images as separate items, you should be able to drag them separately. Tell the students to arrange the fruits:

by roundness / the five most expensive fruits / the five cheapest fruits / the five biggest fruits / the five smallest fruits / the five heaviest fruits / the five sweetest fruits / five fruits that grow in your region / the five most exotic fruits / the most difficult to spell / the most difficult to pronounce / the most difficult to learn / five fruits you like the best / the ones you would take on a school trip

You don’t have to cover all these criteria, just choose four or five. Invite the students to come up to the board and drag the images in order.

You may simply decide to type the words for the fruits on the board instead of using images if you want to set up the activity in about a minute.

You may want to set up groups of students and distribute blank cards or pieces of papers for them to write the words on them and then shift the cards around on the desks as they rank them. Dictate the words prior to that. It makes a perfect dictation.

Other possible lexical sets that present themselves well for this type of ranking might be: jobs, school subjects, food, sports, body parts, hobbies, types of TV programmes, films, books, music, colours, clothes, new technologies, furniture, places in town, social networking sites, things to spend money on. What kind of criteria would you establish for them? Better still, once the students get acquainted with this way of drilling vocabulary, supply a couple of criteria and let them figure out other ways in which those words might be ranked. It all boils down to drilling vocabulary when you think about it. However, that’s not the message we want to send the students. They don’t need to know. Drilling might be done in mind-numbing ways or in “invisible” engaging ways.

In addition to providing vocabulary consolidation, ranking can also be used to prompt interesting discussions.


Possible criteria: your favourite type of holiday / the most relaxing / the most tiring / the most expensive / the ones you have never experienced / the ones you have experienced / the ones with lesser ecological footprint / the most popular in your country / the most romantic.

In addition to providing criteria, use the photos as a springboard for conversation by asking relevant questions, such as:  Why do you think staying in a caravan is more romantic than staying at a bed and breakfast? So you went camping last summer, how did it go? Did you have a good time? Was there anything that you didn’t like about sleeping in a tent? etc.

This last idea is an adaptation from my book From Whiteboards to Web 2.0, Helbling Languages, 2015.

smartphones 1

There are many ways in which smartphones can be used in the language classroom -if they are allowed at all! Here I will focus on how we can take advantage of the camera tool to take photos in the classroom in order to be able to see things more clearly or more in detail or to move at different paces or simply for time efficiency purposes or to save paper.

  • Instead of printing copies of answer sheets for textbook or workbook grammar activities, show the students the page with the answers from the teacher’s book and they can simply take of photo of it (in most cases it will be a portion of a page).
  • If you write questions on the board (or display them) for a listening passage that you are about to play, tell the students to take a photo of the board and they can look at their phone while they answer the questions. It saves time and makes the students be on task right away. However, if there aren’t many questions, it might be a better idea altogether to simply read out the questions for the students to take them down. This implies spending more time but it also engages the students in an extra listening/dictation activity.
  • If you are displaying a photo on the board for group discussion, there might be a glare or the data projector might have seen better days and then some students might not be able to get a proper view of things (specially those sitting at the back or on the sides). Invite them to come up to the front, take a photo and go back to their seats. That way they will be able to zoom in and notice details.
  • Homework assignments. Tell the students to take of photo of the homework assignments that you have on the board for them. You may also create a qr code for them. Here is a video with 11 ideas for using qr codes in the classroom.
  • If you have conversation questions on the board, again let the students take a photo. That way you will be making room for board annotations or to display something else. The students can simply read the questions from the phone screen.

.I will be posting more ideas on how to use the phone as a camera tool shortly. I hope these ones make sense.


word challenge 2

Another word challenge actitivy that requires zero preparation from the teacher. You may also want to check out “word challenge 1“. Here the teacher will ask the students in the class to anticipate useful words and expressions on a new topic that will be discussed in class the following day. Let’s suppose that you are ready to introduce this topic: “work”. Then the students must look for 4 or 5 useful words and expressions each on the given topic. A good probing question might be this: “I wonder how you say “x” in English”. Ask the students to write down their words on a piece of paper at home and bring it to class next day.

Then elicit words from your students. They can call out the word/s in English or in their own native language and challenge their classmates. Write what you judge to be the most relevant words and expressions for the language level on the board (about 10-15 would should be enough). Elaborate on use of language. For example, you may want to highlight whether a verb is typically followed by a certain preposition or focus on common collocations and colligations (watch the short video below for a clear explanation of what collocations and colligations are from Sam McCarter).

Now ask the students to think of interesting conversation questions using those key words and expressions and come up to the board and write them (make any necessary corrections). At a Pre-Intermediate level, this is a possible language selection: to take time off, to apply for a job, to quit a job, flight attendant, volunteer, unemployed, a resume. It is not essential (and not always easy) that all students contribute. Give extra credit to the ones that do. You may also want to think of and add a couple of good questions yourself. For the language above, these might be good enough conversation questions for the language level:

  • Do you know how to write a good resume? Tell me about it.
  • What is good and not so good about being a flight attendant?
  • Do you know anyone who does volunteer work? Do you think you will do volunteer work one day? Why do people do volunteer work?

Can you think of good conversation questions for the remaining items?

Hopefully by looking up those words in dictionaries, having students challenge each other and finally doing something with the language through question writing and having conversations around those words, the language will stick to memory.

grouping students

There are times in every lesson when we want the students to work in pairs or small groups. For practical reasons we tend to ask the students to pair off with someone sitting to their right or left. For an uneven number of students in the class, the teacher may pair off with a student or you may allow a group of three. When it comes to groups of three or more students, there are many ways in which those groups can be set up. It is a good thing that the students get to work and interact with different peers each time, as this will contribute to building positive group dynamics.

This is how you can easily set up groups the KIS way:  I typically assign a number to each student because that’s the quickest way I know to get the students work in groups and because I don’t want to waste precious class time in the procedure. Let’s say, I have a class of 25 students and I want to set up groups of three, four or five students to a group.

  • Groups of 3: 25 divided by 3 is 8 (and a spare student). Each student receives a number from one to eight (Juan, you are number one; Elisa, you are number two; Carlos, you are number four; Pedro, you are number five; Sara, you are number six; Yolanda, you are number seven; Antonio, you are number eight; then start counting from number one again, thus obtaining seven groups of three students and a group of four.
  • Groups of four: 25 divided by 4 is 6 (and a spare student). Five groups of four and a group of five.
  • Groups of five: 25 divided by 5 is 5. Five groups of five.

However, there are times when I might decide to attach a task to set up those groups. The reasons might be to change the pace of a lesson or, if the students are shifting about in their chairs, it might be time  for them to stretch their legs a bit, move around and send the brain oxygen.

If I want the students to work in pairs I may give each student a card or piece or paper with a word or expression in either English or their L1 counterpart (“estar harto de…” /”to be sick and tired of”). The students have to find their matching pair. You can also do this with proverbs, if there is a similar counterpart in the students’ L1, (“Dios los cría y ellos se juntan”/”Birds of a feather flock together”), or with word collocations (“to break”/”the law”).

If I want to set up groups of 3 or more students per group, these are some fun ways.

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, how much do you like broccoli? All the zeros, get together, all the 1s get together, and so on. If some groups are considerably larger than others, then move some students to other groups. What other “on a scale of 0 to 10, how much do you like…” can you think of?
  • Tell the students to arrange themselves by the amount of hair.
  • Tell the students to pick a member of a 5 piece rock band: drummer, lead singer, keyboards, electric guitar, bass player. They must close their eyes and start mimicking their chosen musicians. A few seconds later they can open their eyes, see what everyone is doing and arrange themselves into groups accordingly (all the lead singers get together, all the bass players get together, and so on).

Try out the last one and see how it goes!

what’s the best way to…?

Ideal stuff for the first time you meet a group of students or if you have to cover someone else’s lesson. Write down these items on the board or display them on the screen.  Give the students three or four minutes to think of possible full questions for what they see. It is not essential that they write them down but they can, if they feel more comfortable doing so. Some possible full sentences might be:

– Tell me the best three things about…yourself/myself/our teacher/England/our town/the Internet

– Have you ever… been to an English-speaking country/found a sizeable amount of money in the street/cheated in an exam?

– Who was your worst… teacher/boss/enemy/mistake?

– What’s the best way to… learn English/cook chicken/travel to Madrid/find good deals on the Internet?

– What are your top three… skills/songs of all time/favorite movies/priorities in life?

Can you suggest any other interesting questions?

Then have the students mill around and strike up conversations. Involve yourself and stay tuned. Take good note of interesting words and possible mistakes so that, at a later stage, you can feed in some new language or highlight good use of it. Have a general discussion and elicit from the students the questions they could think of.

An interesting –and fun- variation is to have a look at how Google autocomplete prompts the last strings of words. Can the students guess what Google will come up with?


You may also decide to narrow down these items to a given topic (more adequate for higher language levels). On the topic of “health”…

– Tell me the best three things about doing sport.

– Have you ever been on a diet?

– Who was your worst doctor?

– What’s the best way to lose weight?

– When was the last time you saw a doctor?

– What’s the most amazing medical breakthrough?

– What are your top three pieces of advice for a healthy lifestyle?

Can you autocomplete questions for the topics of work, family or traveling, for instance? Would that work for your group of students?

skeleton questions

There are a handful of websites where you can get conversation questions arranged by topic. These seem to be the most popular ones, prompted by an “esl conversation questions” search query on Google.

Conversation questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom

ESL Conversation questions

ESL Discussions


English Current

ESL Gold

Basically these sites (or sections within the sites) provide a menu of arranged categories by topic and lists of questions for each of the topics. You will have to sieve through the questions, as some might not be very engaging or conducive to discussion. Conversation questions for the ESL/EFL classroom features close to 200 questions for the topic of money and shopping but I wonder whether the students will have much to say about this:

– Do banks pay a higher percent of interest here or in your country?

– Do you have a credit card? If so, do you have more than one?

– How much does it cost to get a haircut in your country? Here?

And, quite frankly, I would personally steer away from the million dollar question:

– If someone gave you a million dollars, what would you do with it?

At any rate, these sites can be useful to pick and choose questions that might work for your students, if you want them to have discussions around those topics.

And here is the tweak. Once you have chosen a handful of questions, instead of reading them out for the students to copy or writing them down on the board or displaying on a screen, simply provide the key words (mostly nouns and verbs) for the students to figure out the full questions. Here are some skeleton questions from the same source. Can you figure out the questions in full? (check at the bottom of the post)

– ever/find/money/if so,/what/do

– something/want/buy/never/will

– most expensive/ever/buy

– different/taxes/country


Allow some time for the students to work individually first and then they can stand up and compare their full questions with their classmates. It’s not essential that their questions match exactly the original ones. For instance, for the third skeleton question, they may generate questions such as “What’s the most expensive thing/gift/gadget that you have ever bought/that you may ever buy? Have a look at their questions as the students pair with each other and point at possible question making mistakes. Finally elicit the full questions and write them (or have a student come to the front to do the job) on the board.

– Have you ever found any money? If so, what did you do?

– What is something you want to buy but you never will?

– What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought?

– What are some of the different taxes in your country?

– What is the next “big” thing you are going to buy?