English Teaching Activities

These are mostly inspired by "improv" stuff. I have done all of them with Chinese university level english students.


Make pairs. Take one of each pair into the hall (they like that), and make a big show of how secret it is. Tell them who they are. Go inside, tell the other person who they are. Then, bring them in and have them interact. Afterwards, try to get volunteers to demonstrate with me or with each other.

Possible situations:

A: A chinese tourist in the airport, needs money for a taxi, only has RMB, all the banks are closed. B: a tired businessman who just wants to go home

A: You forgot your keys, so you go home and climb in the window to get them. B: A cop, sees a thief climbing in someone's window

A: You are the parent of B. You have decided they will start studying piano all day saturdays. B: You're a little kid, you love to play outside on the weekends

A: You are roommates with B. B: You're a slob

A: You are roommates with B. You buy a wonderful little puppy for the dorm. B: You hate dogs

etc. etc.

Usually they are resolved with some kind of compromise.

Alien Gift

Tell a story about a UFO coming down, with drawings on the board of the ship and aliens. Their message to earth: We will give all of humanity one gift. Choose from these:

A: Everyone can fly

B: We will create a medicine which will remove all sickness

C: Everyone's skin turns green and they can get energy from the sun

D: Don't need to sleep

E: Don't need air, never get hot or cold

F: Can read minds at close range

Make groups, hand out slips. 5 minutes to prepare. Then match up groups with each other, and have them form PAIRS, one from A, one from B etc. They'll want to do 3 on 3, but don't let them. PAIRS. They introduce their ideas to each other, argue, ask questions.

Bring them back, match them one on one with another group.

After this, give them 5 minutes to prepare questions for the other groups. groups go up front one by one, quickly explain their idea, and the audience asks pointed questions. This is one of my favorite activities, but it almost always runs long.


6 scenarios to fix overpopulation in china. Organize as in "alien gift"

A: Build a new capital city

B: Build a man-made island

C: Underground Cities

D: Buy land from another country

E: Everyone must spend one year every few years in the countryside

F: All schools and senior citizens homes are moved to the countryside


make groups of 3. Each group has 10$ to split among 3 people, but only 2 can get any money. Once any two agree on a division of money, it's done. lots of "stop, I'll give you six if I get four"!

Structured Conversation

write this one the board:


B: Yes


B: I don't think so


B: Seven


B: at midnight


B: Never!


B: With my friends

Everyone has to come up with lines for A. B must answer as shown. Practice in pairs. Then everyone stand up, do rock paper scissors with anyone around you. The Winner plays A, loser B. Lots of "how many children do you have?", "do you ever wash?"

Can also do a hard version of this with B having complicated responses.

VC questions

Bring one person outside, saying you're going to tell them a secret story. Their partners inside can ask any yes/no question to find out what the story is. When they get outside, tell them "there is no story". Any question ending with a vowel gets answered yes, consonant no, and y maybe. Helps to put example questions on the board first, or play a bit with the class in full. They really have a hard time making up enough questions. This only works once.

Sell me on it

give each group a household item. They have 10 minutes to prepare an infomercial. The rest of the class can buy or not. Better not to mention the price.

2 people as one

Groups of 3. Two of the people count as one person. When "he" speaks, the two must alternate words. Situations for it:

A: Teacher B: late student making up an excuse

A: Rich guy B: wants money to make a movie (who's in it, what's the story, etc)

A: Policeman B: complainant

etc. this one is absolutely fun, but intimidating at first. Helps to have a couple of volunteers and do a scene in front of the class first.

Make up a story

Make a story, each person contributing one sentence at a time. First do whole-class version. Usually involves a beautiful woman, a few men who love her, and some violent animals attacking them. Then in groups.


1. First sentence must start with A, second with B etc.

2. Every sentence must have exactly 7 words.

Split the class questions

Everyone must make up a question. Teacher will ask the whole class and take a vote. The goal is to create a question to which exactly half the class will answer yes, half no. Use the most obvious ones as examples so they are forced to get more creative: who's a boy, who's wearing glasses, who's from north china.

sensitive questions (do you have a bf/gf) asked with heads down, one finger for yes, two for no.

DIY Survey

Each pair makes up a question and also what they expect the result to be, then walks around asking everyone else and writing down the responses. At the end, each group quickly reports their results.


Make 8 groups. Tell them they are all old, just sit around playing Mah Jong all day. Each group gets a card describing their son or daughter, age, job, personality, height etc and have to remember the info. Everyone in a group gets a number, 1, 2, 3, or 4. Then all the 1s to one corner, 2s to another etc. Introduce your son or daughter to the other people in your group, decide if they'd be a good match or not. This game is extremely fun.

Replacement Teacher

Tell them you're leaving the uni, and they have applications to replace you. Give them a sheet with 8 or 10 descriptions of possible new teachers. Should have all kinds - inexperienced people, completely unrelated people, drama coach, dancers, professor types etc. Then each group chooses one or two. Then possibly make new groups based on their choice and have each one present reasons, get asked questions.

Give up an invention

When your parents were your age, what things did not exist? cell phones, internet. How about grandparents? GGGGG Grandparents? Write 8 things on the board, and each pair has to agree on a list from most important to least. Cars, bikes, eyeglasses, lights, heaters, AC, hair dryers, scissors etc. 10 min. or so to make a list. Then vote and scratch off items, from least to most important. Gradually describe their life - after losing scissors, everyone's hair is long now, and wet, and you are very strong from walking everywhere etc. Can be funny.

New National Sport

Get a list of sports. They vote to find the top 6. Assign one to each group, they must imagine that is the new national sport that the country will focus on. Soccer would require huge fields to be built, swimming would take up too much water etc. Match pairs from different groups together, discuss.

Basic Improv

Group of 5 or so comes to the side of the stage. One person will go first, gets a job card. He goes alone and acts as if he's working, talking to himself. 2nd person gets a job card, joins him, introduces some problem. They talk til it gets boring, then another person enters and makes something up. New people keep entering whenever it's boring.

If this is explained carefully, they get this remarkably well, although the stories tend to be pretty boring. Sometimes the teacher should jump in and bring things to a close. Introducing policemen livens things up but usually forces skits to go a certain way.

The audience finds this absolutely hilarious even if the story is boring.

You can also give them personality cards to force them not to just play students.


Make 4 or 5 groups. Tell one they are the president of "unlucky island", which has earthquakes, volcanos, typhoons, fires every year. Draw it on the board. Tell the presidents they have to think about how to protect their people, and then send them outside. While they're gone, tell each other group they are the president of a company.

A: Underground home company

B: Emergency food and water company

C: Rescue training company

D: Satellites, Radar company

They will get a chance to sell the pres on their product. Then make new groups with one member of each type. They talk, pres chooses one or two. Finally the pres talks to the whole class telling them what they chose. It's hard to make them think rationally about disaster. They tend to always choose doctors if you put it, even if it's a disaster such as a flood where most people are either completely killed or completely unharmed. They also like to say that they will buy computers if you give that option, to predict earthquakes and floods.


One person anonymously writes down a dream. Take the paper and give it to someone else, who writes down the meaning. Then let them come up and pick out their own dream. They seemed to get into this although I am not sure. They really like giving advice to one another.

BF/GF Questions

Make pairs. One is A, the other B. A is parent of B. B has a new bf/gf, and has come home to tell their parent about them. What sort of questions will B ask? How old, how tall, what do his parents do etc etc. write some as examples. Explain how later A will ask B the questions. If B has no answer prepared for A's question, A gets a point. After all the questions have been asked, if B has some answers prepared which A didn't ask about, then B gets a point for each one. They should ask the person next to them, and when finished stand up and find another appropriate person to ask. Go ahead. This is pretty fun.


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3/22/2013 6:52:13 PM
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