«Oops! I’ve left all my books at home». Emergency Activites For Teachers (No Preparation Required)

studentsThat’s  just what happened to me the other day.  On my way to an in-company class with a new group of intermediate students it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t carrying the bag with all the stuff I’d carefully prepared: board games, copies of textbook pages, the listening CD , etc.   Of course, teaching in-company means you have no access to your school’s resource library. It’s whatever you bring with you, which in my case was nothing.

All of us teachers probably have our own «bags of tricks» for such situations: class activities which can be set up with hardly any preparation time and are also interesting and useful for the students.   I’d like to share with you some of what I use (and not only in «emergency» situations).

Word Chains

Vocabulary Bingo



Word Chains

A simple game aimed to refresh the students’ vocabulary. Suitable for groups of 2-10 students, all levels starting elementary. Takes 10-15 minutes.

Give the students a topic, e.g. food, sports, hobbies,etc.  It could be something they’ve learned recently, to test and refresh their new vocabulary, or the game could work as a lead-in to a new topic ( you assume they already know some words on the topic).  The students take turns to name words related to the topic. For example, if it’s food they may say : « Bread»,  or: «Spoon», or: «Coffee», etc.  You decide how broad the topic should be: in ths case, are you allowed to name drinks, words like «restaurant» or «tablecloth», or is it strictly food.   The main rule is that a word can only be used once- -if you accidentally repeat somebody else’s word or can’t think of anything to say, you’re out. The last person to stay in the game is the winner.  The students have to listen carefully and stay focused  in order to remember what was already said. After the game I usually ask if any of the words were new to somebody or if anyone forgot what  a certain word meant.

One possible downside is that shy and less confident students may feel a bit intimidated when it’s their turn to speak.  Another is that sometimes the game can go on for too long. (You may want to set a time limit, e.g. 5 seconds in which a student has to come up with a word.)   If they are really good at this, sometimes I stop the game before there’s a winner and declare all the  remaining  students winners.

Vocabulary Bingo

A longer game for levels pre-intermediate and higher. There should be at least 3 students in your class.  You’ll need to pick an area of vocabulary to practice; I usually use this game for adjectives of personality and/or appearance. The students will have to define words during this activity.

You’ll need some blank paper and scissors to cut it into small pieces.

Put the students into groups of 3-4. Give each group lots of blank pieces of paper. Set a time limit, usually something like 5 min. The students in their groups fill their blank cards with words on the chosen topic — one word per card. When this is done, congratulate the team who’s got most words and tell them it’s only the first part of the game.

The teams  (in my classes there’re usually 2 teams) in turns read out their words.  If there are any words which are the same for both teams, we take them out of the game. After that, we put all the remaining word cards face-up in the middle of the desk, where everybody can see them.   (At this point, you make whatever changes you want-  remove the easiest words, add more interesting ones from those that had been taken out earlier, so that there ‘s a total of 15-20 words . The number  really depends on how long you want the game to last.)   I go over the cards with the students to make sure all the words are familiar to them.

The next step is to ask each student to draw a 6-square bingo grid and fill it with the words from the cards on the desk — one word per square. When they’re ready, we turn all the cards over and shuffle them. After that, the students work in their separate teams again. The first player in the team picks a card and, without naming the word, explains to the others its meaning. The rest of the team’s players try to guess the word. Once somebody guessed it, he or she gets the card as a trick. At the same time, if anybody has this word in their bingo squares, they cross it out.Then it’s the next student’s turn to pick another card, explain the word, etc.  In the end there are 2 winners per team:  the player with the most tricks and the player who crosses out all the words and says «Bingo!» first. You can stop the game once somebody says «bingo» or go on until all the cards are used.

That game usually goes well, I can’t really think of any downsides except may be the weaker students tend to think too long about how to explain their words. You can avoid that by letting everyone pick their cards first and take turns explaining words when the’re ready.

(I first heard of the two games above at one of the teachers’ seminars at BKC, Moscow, but unfortunately, I don’t remember who invented them in the first place. Anyway, my thanks to him or her for many fun lessons I’ve had with these.)


This activity which requires no preparation comes straight from Reward resource book although of course you modify it according to the target language and the students’ level.  The aim of the game is really the same as with the previous ones — have students brainstorm vocabulary on specific topics.

You’ll need to divide the class into 2-3 groups. (It’s always more fun when I suggest that the  students invent names for their teams.  It’s usually something like «Winners» or «Stars» but sometimes it gets stranger, like «Submarines» or «Cucumbers»).    Give each group a different set of categories: I recommend from 3 to 5, depending on how much time you have.  They could be  absolutely anything you want to revise, from elementary topics like food, drink, clothes, furniture, animals, jobs, objects you find in a classroom or in a kitchen,  to something a bit harder like positive or negative emotions, objects made of various materials, things that annoy you or make you happy…  really, anything.  (Students from the other team shouldn’t know what their opponents’ categories are) Tell the students to make a list of 5 words for each of their categories. It shouldn’t be something obscure they’ve just picked from the Internet or a dictionary — the words should be something they all are probably familiar with, but, ideally, not the simplest, most obvious things.

When all the students are ready, the players of the first team, e.g. «Butterflies»,  reveal their first category.  You set the time limit of 1-2 minutes for the opposing team to brainstorm and call out all the words they can think of in this category. When time’s up, «Butterflies» say how many words from their list their opponents have guessed.  That’s how many points they win in this round. Then it’s another team’s turn, and so on. In the end, they (or you) add up the score and  see who’s got the most points.

What I like about all these activities is that students can learn from one another.  There’s strong motivation to understand and remember a word you don’t know if your classmates bring it up and expect you to use it while you work together.

Using games in the classroom is in itself a fascinating topic, and I’m working on a post on that —  to come soon.

Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to your comments!


2 комментария к записи “«Oops! I’ve left all my books at home». Emergency Activites For Teachers (No Preparation Required)”

  1. Tatiana:

    Dear Elena,

    I’ve just read two of your articles. I had a wonderful feeling which an English teacher may have when they read a beautifully composed piece of writing without mistakes. It’s real joy, as living in Russia, where English is not spoken, it’s just more than natural that not many teachers can boast spoken and written English. (I can’t either. Those who can have had an experience of living/studying/working abroad). I want to thank you for your blog and for the articles you’re writing, for the ideas you’re sharing with your colleagues.

    You mentioned you have two daughters. I also have two daughters (and two sons, by the way) and the «problems» of teaching one’s own children English in Russia interest me now. Are you discussing this issue in your blog?


    Лена Reply:

    Thanks Tatiana,
    it’s so nice to hear all that about my writing=)) Yes, I do try to teach my kids English, and you just gave me an idea to write more about it. I only have 1 article here at the moment https://dobrygnomik.ru/angliisky-dlya-detei/
    If you’re an English teacher, may be we could share our experiences in Russia and write an article together? Feel free to contact me))


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