Try as you might, careful as you are with your planning, sometimes what you plan to cover in class does not work with the clock.
When you are ready for the bell but the bell is not quite ready for you, try one of the following time fillers to keep your class busy until it is time to dismiss. Warmers and fillers are usually short – about 5-10 minutes. They should be fun, energizing and encourage students to interact in a positive way.
Try These Top 10 Time Fillers With Your Class
Do you remember car trips as a child playing twenty questions in the back seat? You think of a person or object and your siblings have twenty opportunities to ask yes/no questions to determine what object you are thinking of. To begin with, you can use items in the classroom. This is an easy and short activity for you to do with your ESL class when you have a few minutes to spare. The first time you play, your students will need specific direction as to the types of questions to ask. You should help them understand how to ask strategic questions and for hints to help identify the object. The more practice you give your students with this activity, the better they will get at it, and before long they will be begging you to play!
No matter what you are currently studying in class, you most likely have a list of vocabulary your students need to learn. When that is the case, a few minutes at the end of class is a great opportunity for either of these two vocabulary revision activities. Have your current vocabulary list written on index cards that you can use at a moment’s notice.
Then, when you have a few minutes, have one student come up to the board and select one of the vocabulary words. Set a timer for between one and three minutes, depending on how difficult you want to make the activity, and allow him to draw pictures to try to get the class to guess the word. His classmates can call out their guesses while he draws. He is not allowed to use any letters, numbers or symbols as he draws. If his classmates correctly guess the word, you can either give another person a turn or have him select a second word. As you study more vocabulary throughout the year, add those words to your collection. By the end of the year, you will have all your vocabulary words collected ready for a review.
The second vocabulary revision activity is similar. You can play a few rounds of charades with your students in a similar manner to the Pictionary activity. Use the same vocabulary cards, but this time have your student or students act out the vocabulary word rather than draw it. Either you can have one person act out the word for the entire class or have two people act out the word for one half of the class. As is traditional with charades, the actor cannot say anything. The first group to guess the word wins a point. If you like, keep a running score for the two teams for a month at a time and then award prizes at the end of the month. Then you can switch up your teams and seating arrangement for the next month’s competition.
Write a Communal story
With a few extra minutes, you can also have your class work together to write a communal story. Start with one sentence on the board. Have your students take turns coming up to the board and adding one sentence to the story. Each person will be able to use his or her creativity to further the story, and the whole class can make sure the grammar is correct with each addition. The more often you do this, the more creative your students will become in their additions. It will be fun for your class to see just how crazy they can get and still keep a logical plot.
This silly little game has the potential for some laughs with your students. Give each person two index cards or two small scraps of paper. On one card, each person should write a question that begins with the word ‘why’. Then on the second piece of paper, each person should answer his or her question starting with the word ‘because’. Then collect all the why’s in one pile and all the becauses in another. Mix up each pile and then read one why card with one because card. The combinations can be very funny, and then after reading all the random match ups you can have your students match the correct answers with the correct questions.
Would You Rather
This activity is a good one for getting to know your students better. Keep a list of questions for your students starting with “Would you rather…” For example, you may ask:
- Would you rather be a leader or a follower?
- Would you rather eat ice cream or cake?
- Would you rather have a cat or a dog?
You can be straightforward with your questions or be creative and out of the box. Ask your class a question and have your students move to one side of the room if they answer one way, the other side of the room if they answer the other way. Then ask random students on each side to explain why they chose the answer that they did. You can do as many or as few questions as you have time for. You may learn some interesting facts about your students and their preferences with this activity.
This old-fashioned game can get new life in the ESL classroom. Have your students arrange themselves in a circle around the room. Come up with a long sentence yourself or have one of your students do it (check to make sure it is grammatical) and whisper it in the ear of the first student in the circle.
The listening student then has one opportunity to whisper it in the ear of the next student. The process continues around the circle until it reaches the last person. That person then says the sentence aloud to the class. You should then tell the class what the original sentence was. Your class will be surprised at how much the sentence changed as it travelled around the circle. If you like, challenge your students to be as careful as they can when speaking and listening and see if the sentence can make it around the circle with minimal change.
White Board Slam
This activity will increase your students’ vocabulary as well as fill time at the end of class. Start by writing a word on the board that contains four letters. You can start with anything. Then, challenge your students to come up and change only one letter of the word to make a new word. If someone has an answer, have him come up and make the change. Then have another student come up and change the word again. See how many different combinations your students can come up with by changing one letter at a time with no word repeats. Also, give them the opportunity to ask for a definition of any of the words that they may not know throughout the activity. Here are a few other ideas for What You Can Do With a Whiteboard.
Open Question Session
Sometimes just a simple opportunity to ask questions can benefit your class. If you have a few minutes, open the floor for your students to ask you questions. They can be about material you have covered in class, situations they have encountered that may be unfamiliar culturally, new vocabulary words, or any of many other possibilities. Likely, the question that one student asks will lead to another from a second student. Everyone will benefit from hearing the answers, and some students may even be able to answer questions of their fellow students. If so, let them share from their knowledge and experience. If no one has the answer but you, share it with your class and be glad that the question opened the chance to share.
Read Aloud Comprehension
If you have a newspaper or magazine with short articles handy, you can also use this to fill a few minutes in your class. Read aloud a short passage and ask your students to relate back what they heard or answer comprehension questions. You can never give your students too many opportunities to practice their listening skills, so the next time you have a few minutes, read a paragraph or two from the paper and ask your student what the article is about, what they know about the situation from what they heard, what they think the rest of the article is about, and what else they would like to know from the rest of the article.
Place at least 15 different objects on a classroom table and let students study them for a certain amount of time. Cover the objects and ask students one at a time to recall certain details about one of the objects, then ask them to give and explain what purpose it fills.
Students can have fun creating their own verion for the end of a sentence. You give them the first half of a sentence as an example. Ask a student to complete it. You can use this example: Fortunately / Unfortunately Warmer. Give a second example, if necessary. Then, let one learner begin a sentence and another complete it. Let their imaginations run wild creating fantastic scenarios and how much they’ll laugh and engage in their creative responses.
Having some unplanned time at the end of class is not necessarily a bad thing for your students.
Make the most of the minutes by using one of these engaging and entertaining time filling techniques. You will be surprised at how quickly the time passes.
See our ‘Warmers, Time Fillers and Ice-Breakers’ category for more short 5-minute lesson activities!
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