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Brain Breaks

Brain breaks are a great way to re-energize tired students. They are very easy and simple, and there are hundreds of variations found on the web for free. They are great for breaking up class stages and keeping the class interested and focused.They are particularly popular with young learners and a great opportunity to practice Total Physical Response.

Here are a few that I use in class.

Figure of 8

Tell your students to do the following actions:

  • Draw a figure eight in the air with your writing hand. Repeat this five times.
  • Now do the same with the opposite hand.
  • Now try with both hands at the same time.
Elbow 8’s
  • As above try the same with your elbows.
Alphabet brain work out
  •  Have the alphabet written around the room with letters L, R or T under each letter.
  •  This can be done on cards or on an electronic whiteboard.
  •  You then say a word to do with your subject and read it a letter at a time.
  •  Students then have to look at the chart and move their arms or / and legs according to the letter next to the alphabet letter.
Total physical repsonse Brain breaks for the ESL class room. Alphabet brain work out chart

1. Read through A to Z and then Z to A getting students to move arms and legs as directed on the grid.

2. When starting with keywords read out keywords with few letters increasing to longer words and get
them to move arms and legs as directed on the grid. For example – car, science etc

You can vary the grid above with different actions to make the activity more physical and active. Another example of how you can change the task is shown below which involves clapping, jumping and hopping.

If you found this post interesting you may be interested in “creating curiosity in the classroom” and “boredom busters”

Boredom buster

Fun and easy ESL gameThis activity is always a great way to give ESL students a break from the book and liven them up if they are falling asleep or even bored! There are many different five minute games you can use with a ball. Here I’ll be talking about one in particular that is a great activity for practicing lexical sets of vocabulary.

Activity Time:  2-5 minutes a round
Materials required: A soft ball
Number of students: More than two
Skills practiced: Listening, speaking and Vocabulary.
Level: All levels


A simple game I play is “Bomb”. When introducing this game for the first time I usually show the class the ball and ask them “what is it?” they of course respond that it is a ball and then I tell them “No it is a bomb!” I divide the class into two groups or more depending on the class size. I put 2 minutes or more on a timer. Then I give them a category such as animals for young learners and when they get the ball they have to say an animal and pass the ball to the other team. No words can be repeated. So they have to keep the ball until they answer. They have to keep the ball away from their team because when the timer runs out, whatever team is holding the bomb loses the point.

Category suggestions:  

Young learners:
Items in the classroom
Buildings (i.e Bank, Cinema etc)
Jobs (Teacher, policeman etc)
Fruit Etc

Things small enough to fit in a matchbox
Things you would find in a car
Things you would find in the newspaper
Adjectives, verbs and nouns asked randomly by the teacher.
Things you would find in a sports centre etc

With this game you can cover any area of the ESL course book or any random things to make them think. This game is always enjoyed by all ages and a great way to develop quick thinking in English.

5 First Day Activities

5 First Day ESL Activities

The first day of term is probably the most difficult day for any teacher but especially so for new teachers. Having been there myself, I decided I would put together a post of some easy first class Ice breakers and activities. This post is for kids and young learners  but also includes activities for teens and adults.

Question Me

Activity Time:  10 minutes +
Materials required: White board and marker.
Skills practiced: Listening, Speaking, question forming and Vocabulary.

Level: Young Learners, Teens

This first activity is simple to set up and take very little preparation time. Its a great way for the students to get to know you.

1. On the board, draw a stick man/woman to represent yourself (Those more artistically gifted can of course make a more interesting creation!)

2. Draw lines coming from your figure. At the ends of these lines, you write numbers, nouns etc that have significance to you.

A rough example of what you should have.

3. The students now take turns in asking questions that these words and numbers may be the answer to. i.e Student: “Have you two brothers or sisters?
Teacher: “Yes, very good. I have two brothers.”

4. Next student asks a question. Only answer if they have guessed the correct question.*

5. Follow up by students doing the same exercise in pairs etc.

*If the question is formed incorrectly, ask the other students to help form it correctly.

Class survey

This can be a great mixer activity and can be used in conjunction with the activity above.

Activity Time:  10 minutes +

Activity type: Group work
Materials required: White board and marker, paper and pencils for each student .
Skills practiced: Listening, Speaking, question forming and Vocabulary.
Level: Young Learners, Teens
1. On the board draw up the following grid with information you would like the class to find out about each other.


 You can add as many questions as you like. Review last years topics etc.
2. The class copy the grid into their notebooks and begin by filling in the information about themselves.
3. They then go around the class and ask each other the questions and find who in the class has the same information as they do. To extend this activity further, you can get the class to tell you who shares the same information.
This is a great way for the class to get to know each other and for you to get to know the students as well.

This summer I ……

Activity Time:  10 minutes +
Materials required: White board and marker, pictures(optional)
Skills practiced: Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary.
Level: Young Learners, Very Young Learners.
This is a great activity for young learners and very young learners on the first day of term. It gives you a great way to practice, refresh the past tense and the students’ vocabulary. It’s particularly good for young learners because it allows the use of pictures as their vocabulary may be lacking.
1. On the board, either draw six to eight pictures or print pictures that represent your summer. Look at the picture below.
2. Illicit the vocabulary from the class. In this example, it would be pizza, beach etc.
3. Then write a model for the young learners. i.e “This summer I went to the beach.
4. Go though each of your own examples with the class and then have the students create their own summer chart with sentences to go with them.

Hot seat 

Activity Time:  10 minutes +
Activity type: Group work
Materials required: A seat facing the class.
Skills practiced: Listening, Speaking, question forming and Vocabulary.
Level: Teen, Adults
1. Each member of the class gets one minute in the hot seat.
2. The other students ask the person any questions they want for one minute.
*This activity depends on the country that you’re teaching in and the type of class you have. Don’t force anyone to do it if they don’t want to and avoid this activity with very low levels. Otherwise, it can be a fun way to get to know each other. I would also suggest that you, as the teacher, go first. Be careful with teens – they often ask awkward questions!

5 Questions


Activity Time:  10 minutes +
Activity type: Group work
Skills practiced: Listening, Speaking, question forming and Vocabulary.
Level: Teen, Adults

1. Ask the class to collectively write five questions that they would like to ask you as the teacher.

2. When the students have decided on and written five questions, select one student who is going to pretend that they are you.

3. A student volunteers to take a turn of going to the board and writing a question. As a class, the students decide if the question is correctly formed using the correct verbs, spelling etc.

4. The students then ask the student playing the role of the teacher the question.

5. If the student answers correctly then the teacher writes the answer beside the question.

That concludes this post. If you would like more suggestions or posts on this topic or any topic, please get in contact either through the comments form below, via Twitter or on Facebook.

Don’t forget to check out the Kids and Teens sections for even more ideas.