Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Lessons from My Handbag

Sometimes we all have to wing it!
This morning, a series of unfortunate events meant that I was running slightly late for my first lesson of the day at local Chinese restaurant, The Great Wall, with my pre-intermediate class. As I slid my way down the unevenly gritted street I realised that I had forgotten to pack my planned lesson. Not having time to turn back, I spent the next five minutes composing a mental inventory of what I knew to be in my handbag and planning some resource lite activities. Here they are...

Mobile Phone

The possibilities here are endless, and your learners can join in the fun with their own phones!

Today I asked my learners to talk about a typical day in their lives. We brainstormed lexis for a few moments, and then a volunteer spoke on this subject for a few moments. This was recorded onto her (and my) phone using the voice recorder facility. We listened to the recording together, pausing it at intervals to reformulate some utterances, and asking other learners for their feedback and suggestions. Then the learner spoke again on the same subject, having taken this advice on board.

I think that asking learners to listen critically to themselves can be an extremely beneficial way of developing learners' lexical and phonological awareness, although it is important to set up an encouraging and positive atmosphere to neutralise any nerves.

Pack of playing cards

I am never without my pack of playing cards.  They are an excellent addition to any teacher's portable tool kit. One of my all time favourite activities is Lindsay Clandfield's The Deck of Conversations. http://www.onestopenglish.com/skills/speaking/lesson-plans/pdf-content/speaking-skills-lesson-plans-the-deck-of-conversations-worksheet/teachers-notes-pre-in

This excellent lesson can be moderated and adapted on the spot to suit most contexts and levels.

I remove cards two to eight from each suit of the deck. With a lower intermediate class I might write the following, depending on what language areas we've covered recently. It  works best with small groups!

Hearts = Ask someone in your group a question.
Spades=  Tell the class a fact about your country.
Clubs = Tell the class about something you like doing.
Diamonds= Tell the class about somewhere interesting you have been.

 Learners then take turns to pick cards from the deck, talking about whatever subject matches the card they have selected. This makes for a really nice speaking activity and can be as long or as short as you wish it to be.

Post it notes

Mm, dontcha just love the post-it note?  Great for:

  • Practising question forms (the post it note on the forehead is possibly one of the first EFL games I ever played...)
  • Conducting spontaneous and secret ballots. For example, check understanding of a recently covered language points by asking questions and getting learners to display their answers on post it notes on the count of three.
  • Testing learners' lexcial knowledge of their environment by asking them to label as many objects as they can around them in a set time limit.

Assorted handbag/pocket lint

How rich a resource this is will really depend on how disorganised and untidy you are. I am incredibly messy and therefore my handbag is usually a veritable treasure trove of crumpled receipts, snacks, sea shells and partially decomposing fruit.

If you have enough handbag/pocket lint to share around there is a fun and challenging activity you can do with upper intermediate levels which practises lexis related to describing size and textures.

  • Ask a volunteer to put their hands behind their back and give them an item. Do not let them or the rest of the class see the item.

  • Learners must describe the feel of the item they are holding. However, if the learner has guessed the identity of the object they still must only describe the feel of it. They are not allowed to say what they know about the item. Therefore someone describing a banana might say "This feels soft and flexible and is pointed at the ends" but they would not be allowed to say "This is a fruit which grows in hot countries. " The rest of the class listens and guess at the identity of the mystery object.

 Contents of purse/wallet

You can use photographs in your wallet to teach appearance and family vocabulary. If learners don't have photos in their wallets, they are likely to have some on their phones: perfect for generating discussion. 

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/3616617104/">AlicePopkorn</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>


  1. Great ideas! Can I also add a personal favourite..get students to guess what is in your handbag, giving their reasons, and then show them. This works best with classes that don't know you very well, as a way of getting to see the real you (I also tend to have half eaten apple cores etc!)

  2. Thanks, Rachael!

    I love your "Guess What's In My Handbag" idea, although I might have to give mine a bit of a spring clean before I feel brave enough to go ahead with it!

    Anyway, it's good to know I'm not the only one with half eaten apples lurking at the bottom of my bag... :)
    Thanks again, Genny

  3. Lindsay Clandfield's "Deck of Conversations" is one of my all time favourites too! A really useful activity particularly when getting to know new learners or groups.

    Nice list of activities!


  4. Hi Carol,

    Nice to hear from you - thanks for your feedback. :)

    Have you ever seen this article on minimal resource lessons by Scott Thornbury?


    It's a great way of making resource lite activities link together.

    Hope all well with you!


    1. I have seen that article, but it's perfect timing to be reminded of it. Thanks!

      Things are going well. New learners and new challenges await me next week. Hope things are going well for you.

    2. That sounds exciting! Good luck with both your new challenges and new learners...