TAPIF: My favorite ESL games and lessons

I receive a lot of inquiries about teaching English in France. My most popular post to date is on preparing for TAPIF, followed by Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France. Currently I’m seeing a lot of visitors from English-speaking countries around the world, and I’m guessing that a lot of you are future TAPIF language assistants. I don’t write a lot about TAPIF because there is already so much great information out there, but know that you’re welcome to contact me with questions or requests for a blog post. I had a ton of questions before I was an assistant and someone was nice enough to help me out (thanks Shannon!) so I’m happy to pay that forward. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite games and lessons that I’ve used many times in my three years of teaching English in France. I hope this will show you the kinds of things you might teach as an assistant, and maybe give you ideas for lesson plans you can cook up on your own.

Scattergories

This was my go-to game when I was an assistant. It can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes depending on how many rounds you play, the kids love it, and you just need to print off a grid with categories. I did mine like this:

Pictionary, La Vie En C Rose
The more creative your students are, the more you will laugh.

This game is called “le petit bac” in French. The students will know what it is and how to play. I usually put them in teams of two or three to save paper and put less confident students at ease. If the class has a low level, pick an easy letter like B or E. (Originally I had the idea to pull a letter out of a hat, but I find that it’s easier if you just pick one and write it on the board.) I would give them one or two minutes to fill out as many as they could, we would tally up how many correct answers each team had, the winners would gloat, and then we would play another round. I loved seeing how creative and funny they got with their answers. You’ll notice a lot of them making the same mistakes, so in between rounds you can correct common errors like how to spell “carrot” and “Denmark”.

Taboo

Taboo is a little tricky, and you should really only play it with groups that have a very good level of English (high B2 or C1). For lower levels, Taboo can be frustrating because their vocabulary isn’t big enough and it’s stressful to have to speak in front of the class. Even with high-level groups, I never force a student to play if they really don’t want to. (If you’re not familiar with this game, there is a deck of card with words on it, and the person has to describe the main word without saying any of the forbidden words on the card, and their team has to guess as many words as they can in under a minute. For example, if the word to guess is “strawberry,” forbidden words might be “red,” “fruit,” “jam,” “shortcake.”) Think about bringing Taboo cards with you from home if you can, as it’s not so easy to make them from scratch. You can also find them online, usually for a small fee.

Pictionary

Okay, Pictionary is not the greatest ESL game because it doesn’t require the students to use any language, but it can be good for lower level groups if you have some extra time at the end of a lesson. All you need is two markers and a white board. Try using vocabulary words you’ve recently learned in class. Once, I had two students up at the board and their teams were confused because they were drawing completely different things. One was drawing “dessert” and the other was drawing “desert”!

Humans of New York

I created a Humans of New York lesson plan this year for a second year class on cultural themes, but you could easily adapt it for a lycée or collège class. I started by showing my class examples of HONY photos and captions, and then we watched a short video clip on Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind HONY, which I paired with a comprehension exercise. We also read an article on the fundraiser for Mott Hall Bridges Academy, which was going on at the time, and then worked with new vocabulary from the article. At the end, I had them interview each other with typical HONY questions (“What is your happiest memory,” “What’s the best part about [your job/your field of study],” “What piece of advice would you give to a large group of people,” etc. Obviously, keep the questions appropriate for class to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.) You can’t do all of this in an hour, so cut it down or break it up into multiple lessons. If you don’t know about Humans of New York OMG WHAT? Go look at it right now. If you enjoy the portraits and the stories, I recommend you follow HONY on Facebook or Instagram for regular updates.

Weird foods

I found a short article on strange foods from countries around the world (live octopus, durian fruit, pigeon, snake venom wine, grasshoppers, etc.) easy enough for the lower levels to read but interesting enough for the higher levels to discuss in more depth, and I found it worked well with most of my classes when I was an assistant. After we read about each dish, I asked them if they would try it or not, or if they had already tried it and what it was like. At the end we voted on which food they would be most likely and least likely to eat. If you google “weird foods from around the world” you’ll find lots of articles like this one. I recommend you edit it down to about ten items. This one is good if you don’t have access to technology in the classroom.

Superbowl commercials

This is a great lesson in a pinch because all you need is a video projector. I recommend you convert a YouTube video into a video file so that you’re not reliant on the internet. (Finicky internet has definitely screwed over a few of my classes!) We start off by talking about what the superbowl is, why superbowl advertising is a big deal, and tactics advertisers use to attract their target audience. Then we watch several different commercials, depending on how much time we have, and work on describing what they saw, who they think the commercial was aimed at, if it was effective or not, etc. Keep in mind the level of your group when choosing which commercials to show them. Of course you could do this with other funny commercials – they don’t have to be American and they don’t have to be from the Superbowl. But a search for “funniest superbowl commercials” will give you a lot of compilations to choose from, so it does make things efficient.

The Post-it Game

I also call this “Celebrity guessing game.” Each student has the name of a famous person taped to their forehead, and they have to ask their classmates yes-or-no questions to figure out who they are. My students loved this game, but it was a challenge to stop them from slipping into French. Make sure the famous people are well-known in France. The majority of my students didn’t know who Oprah was, and they didn’t have a clue about Ellen DeGeneres.

Travel guide

I did this lesson with almost all my classes when I was an assistant, and some of the results were hilarious. The kids worked in pairs to write a travel guide of Lyon, or their hometown if they weren’t from Lyon. They had to pick a theme and a specific audience, and they could get as creative as they wanted. Some of them busted out the colored pencils and went to town. It’s a good idea to print out a couple different examples in case they need some inspiration. I got guides written on “A romantic weekend in Lyon,” “The best places to see live music in Lyon” (broken down by genre), “The best viewpoints in Lyon,” “Water-themed activities in Lyon,” and “How to find love in Lyon.” The last one should probably have been called, “Sketchy ways to pick up girls in Lyon,” and was mildly alarming coming from two fourteen-year-old boys, but hey, they did it all in English! TAPIF lesson plans La Vie En C Rose Allow a good chunk of time for this lesson – it took at lot longer than I thought it would.

Your hometown

It is a great idea to bring photos of your hometown. You can do a lesson on your home country as well, but I found that most of my students were much more interested in my specific region than the United States as a whole. They had already had several American assistants and were really bored of learning about the U.S. (They requested lessons about New Zealand and Australia instead… a bit of a challenge since I’ve never been there.) Are there more assistants coming from the U.S. than other English-speaking countries? Where are you guys from?

I hope this list gave you some ideas, whether you’re teaching English in France or another country.

You can find lots more on ielanguages.com and astoldbydana.com

Have you taught abroad? What are your favorite games and lessons?

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14 thoughts on “TAPIF: My favorite ESL games and lessons

  1. Reblogged this on masteringtutoring and commented:
    These ideas are absolutely great! Although these are mainly aimed towards teaching a whole class of students English, some of the activities are really great and I think I could definitely use for tutoring on a smaller scale! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. I loved doing it because I got to look at lots of HONY portraits and call it “lesson planning.” When I was in a lycée it seemed like their lessons on American culture were all about obesity and gun control, and I like that HONY embraces positive and negative things about the U.S. and tells the stories of all kinds of people, instead of just teaching them that Americans are fat with guns.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! I loved doing lessons on HONY, and some students liked it so much that they actually requested it. This year I made a lesson around the portraits he did in U.S. prisons, which was interesting.

      1. Oh, I’ll definitely have to look into that. I wanted to use HONY and PostSecret. I’m so nervous/excited for TAPIF! I’m in a really small town, Phalsbourg, and your blog has been really useful.

      2. Not gonna lie, I had to GoogleMap Phalsbourg! I bet it will be awesome to be in the Alsace region. Everyone is always raving about how beautiful it is. I’m so glad my blog has been helpful! If there’s anything that would be helpful that I haven’t written about, feel free to let me know – I notice a lot of future assistants looking at my blog this time of year and I’d love to produce useful content as well as my usual babbling 🙂

  2. I second all of the above comments! Thank you so much for posting this! I’ll be working in the Toulouse region – SO LOOKING FORWARD TO IT!! x

  3. Amazing post and still so incredibly useful! I’m an assistant for TAPIF now and even though it’s been a few months, it’s wonderful to get new ideas. I’m excited to try Travel Guide in particular and so is my friend – I have a feeling that our students will come up with some interesting things 🙂

    1. Thanks, I’m glad it’s helpful! The travel guide is a fun one! It was a little too creative for some of them (“Madame! How are we supposed to write it?” “Make it your own!” *confused stares*) but some of them got really into it and even got out their art supplies. I saved them all until I moved. I hope it works well with your classes too!

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