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By Ryan Schreck – Beijing Normal University, China

Here are some ideas that worked for me (they are not all original):

This worked well because I have large classes which makes full class discussions difficult. I wrote six or seven “debate cards” and then split the class into groups of four or six. Each group gets a different card and has about fifteen minutes to choose sides, formulate arguments, and debate. Then the groups switch cards. There is (usually) not enough time for the topics to get boring, and by the end of class they are very aware of the time limit so they try to say as much as they can in that time frame, which is good. Some topic ideas: – is true love possible on the internet – is it better to live in the country or the city – who is more important to a family, mother or father – should Chinese marry foreigners – which is better, married or single – obey your parents or follow own ideas.

Eternal Mingle
I found this somewhere on the net and it worked very well. Each student writes down one question. Any kind of question at all. Then they get up and mingle, asking their questions and each time exchanging questions. So they are constantly asking different people different questions. I thought this would be a 10 or 15 minute warm up, but they liked it so much, and the room was so full of English, that I let it go the whole period.

Alibi for Murder
The rules for this game can be found at Dave’s ESL Cafe. It really is a lot of fun, especially if you urge them to ham it up and really get into character. If you introduce it well it should work even with lower level students.

Rocket Ship (I’m looking for a better name for this one)
The earth is going to explode but there is a rocket ship that can take ten people to the moon where they will start a new civilization. It is up to them to choose the best assortment of people. If you want, allow them to take people living or dead, but I always stress the importance of teachers! (and don’t be surprised if somebody chooses Hitler or bin Laden – they usually have some pretty creative reasons.)

A warm up activity that works well is competitive brainstorming. Get them into groups and announce a topic (things that are round, things that fly, etc.) and let them go for about three or four minutes, with one person acting as secretary. Do two or three of these at the beginning of early morning classes or after lunch and it will wake them right up.

And finally, I just found a good website. It is Weekly Web Poll I’m not sure exactly how I am going to use these, but there are plenty of possibilities. And the variety of polls is very wide, from superficial stuff about friendship and birthday celebrations to cloning and time travel. I think a few of these can be put together to make an interesting and fun two hour lesson.

So, hopefully some of these ideas will come in handy as the term winds to a close. And I especially hope that many, many more of you will take the time to share just one lesson plan with the rest of us, be it oral, reading, writing, listening, or other. We (or at least I) can always use the help.

(Photo: College students in Guangzhou, China, by Dave Kees)



  1. >This “mingle” thing is wonderful. It really makes my students talk and they have so much fun doing it. Thanks a lot for this idea.

  2. >A little extension to the “eternal mingle”… a time limit. I know this takes away the “eternal” element but bear with me. I tell students that they are going to get 30 seconds only to speak to one fellow student, and then they’ll have to move on to another fellow student. I mention that at the end of the class, we are all going to come together and share all the information we have managed to gather about individual students in our 30 second slots. This means that it’s useless for them all to ask the same basic questions (name, age, etc) and so they need to be creative. This also serves as a good way to get them to practise reported speech (when they tell the rest of the class what they have found out). It always works well in my classes, and there are often over 25 people! Try it.. you might like it! 🙂

  3. >Thanks for this post, I’m planning on using Rocket Ship and the investigation type activity. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  4. I’m trying to make “eternal mingle” work in my college freshmen classes. So far they just go to their normal circle of friends, they show their question to their friends, and start talking Chinese almost immediately, they don’t mingle, they don’t switch cards with anyone (unless I’m standing right next to them ensuring they are doing it). I have had to constantly go around encouraging them over and over to do the activity. — The follow-up activity of reporting back at the end of the “mingling” seems useful, it would prompt them to do the mingling and talking, HOW would you have time for the follow-up activity to “share the information they have learned”? With 30 students there is not enough time at the end of class for all 30 to share, except with the most brief of comments. (while the others sit in their chairs looking at their mobile phones). — I’m still at a loss of how to make “eternal mingle” work, but am trying it since so many teachers say that it is so great. HELP. —

    • Jeffrey, it sounds like you have several problems here but there are tactics to deal with each one.

      1. They go to their normal circle of friends. I tell them to not talk to the people sitting next to them or behind them to propel them away from their “buddies”. Another thing you can do is to tell them for their first partner to find someone wearing the same color shirt they are wearing or to find someone born the same month.

      2. Show their question to their friends. That is not too big of a problem although I try to discourage it.

      3. They speak Chinese. Appoint one or two English police. Their job is to go around and catch people speaking Chinese and remind them to speak only English. An interesting variant on this is to give every student two peanuts and tell them not to eat them. When they are doing the activity, if they speak Chinese to their partner, they have to give the partner a peanut. This causes everybody to be a policeman. Loss aversion causes everyone to try to not lose their peanut. If any student loses all of their peanuts they must see you. You give them two more but also put their name on a list. At the end of the activity let them eat their peanuts while the students whose names were on the list sing a song for everyone.

      4. Not enough time for everyone to report back. Don’t have everyone report back but choose some volunteers in a random fashion. I take four very narrow slips of paper and write on one of them “Winner!” and on the other three “Loser!” Holding the slips in my hand in a way that they can’t see the writing, I go to the first four students and let them choose one slip. The “Winner” gets to come to the front of the class and give their report while the “Losers” cannot report to the class. We make it sound like a big TV game show. “OK! Do you feel lucky? Are you going to be a winner today?!!!” I have never seen so many people be excited about being losers and so many unhappy winners.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Hi Dave

    Thanks for the suggestions, I will reconsider the structure and consider your suggestions and will try “eternal mingle” some time again this Fall Term. I’ll write back about what happens.

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