The body knows things about which the mind is ignorant.
- Jacques Lecoq
Our minds and bodies are in constant communication with each other and the world. Think of the butterflies you feel before public speaking, or how you can recognize confidence in your friend’s posture. Often you can tell when someone is about to give you bad news simply by the sound of their voice or the look in their eyes. These are physical signs of a mental state. Even drawing can get us in touch with a part of the brain that constructs meaning.
Now imagine students sitting in rows in the classroom, their bodies still, their hands only moving pencils across the desk. How many opportunities are they missing to embody language in their voice, hands, ears, and eyes? Language is so much more than words, and that is what this book is about.
When we stand up, form a circle, get in a line according to height, frown, smile, draw a picture, use our voice to express alarm, or pretend to break an egg into a bowl, we are connecting language in our head to our arms and legs, eyes and ears. When we ask students to perform these actions, we spark curiosity, create community, and often elicit laughter. Students return to their desks energized and perhaps glad they came to class.
The activities in this book are kinesthetic insofar as they all involve some sort of physical experience which might variously be a grammar game, a role-play, a mimed scene, or even a vocal exercise. We have also included suggestions for setting up the activities with a quick review or drill, as well as variations to adjust for students at different proficiency levels. Finally, there are expansions for further practice of skills through writing and speaking activities.
Best of all, we are proud to say that the vast majority of these activities are easy to use and ready-to-go. The grammar structures are in alphabetical order for conveniently locating them when you need something on the fly, and most require little to zero prep—yes, we are working teachers! For many activities, we’ve included word banks and lists of cues to help get things started. Most will work in a standard classroom. Some require extra room, so don’t be afraid to come up with alternative versions that take up less space.
Ultimately, we’ve tried to create a book that we would want to have while lesson planning, and we very much hope you enjoy using it with your students.
— Alice & Colin
Tips for Success
Between us, we have over 50 years of experience in the language classroom, and we want to share a few things we’ve learned while testing these activities with different groups of learners.
1. Expand vocabulary. When introducing a structure, consider new vocabulary that fits with the grammar. Try some words that are not in the textbook if you are using one. For example, if you are working on past participles, your book might have excited, interested, surprised. Try adding some that are a little less common, for example, impressed, annoyed, injured, beloved, or even spaced out. Students may be reviewing a grammar structure they’ve seen before, but in this way, the activity will feel fresh, and acting out these words will add to the fun.
2. Recognize students’ state of mind. Student energy levels can vary across a week and within a day. Some students just aren’t ready to jump up and start speaking English first thing on a Monday morning. They may need a little passive input before launching into a discussion or game. On the other hand, students who are restless may have trouble following complicated sets of instructions. For this reason, you may want to stage the activity. Start by setting context, introducing vocabulary, or creating suspense with visuals. By introducing language elements first and the activity second, you are also creating cognitive connections to the aim of the lesson.
3. Model activities. Many of the activities require acting or using specific vocal inflections, or movements. Avoid explaining an activity to a whole class and then having to go around to each group and explain it again by carefully staging instructions and modeling what you expect. Perform an activity yourself or partner with a strong volunteer. If students see that you are not afraid to mime riding a motorcycle or playing tennis, they will feel more comfortable doing it themselves. You can also check students’ understanding by eliciting the directions back, or even by having a couple of sets of volunteers do it in front of the class prior to small group work. That way you can clarify grammar if you notice anything salient in the volunteers’ performance.
4. Attend to pronunciation. The English sound system can influence students’ sense of grammar. English speakers reduce grammar words and emphasize content words, so the phrase I have done it can sound like I done it. Not hearing the have in spoken English can lead students to omitting it in writing. In the statement, I’ll get a pen, students may hear get and pen, but the schwa [ə] sound is reduced and linked to get, so learners may not recognize it.
Likewise, students’ pronunciation challenges may affect their accuracy. For example, a student might want to say, I enjoyed it, but it comes out, I enjoy it. They have not linked it to enjoyed as a native speaker would as in enjoy_dit. In fact, reductions and linking in spoken English can make it hard to know where an error comes from, so identifying and highlighting missing sounds can be a great service for your students who want to speak more accurately.
5. Consider how you want to give feedback. Students will make errors while they are engaged in these activities. It is important to decide how you will deal with error and to tell students. Will you interrupt the activity to help the students self-correct in the moment? Or, will you take note of errors to display and discuss after the activity. There are merits to both approaches.
In-the-moment correction: You can give a quick correction, or you can stop the activity. In the latter case, you have choices. Ask the student to rephrase or say the line up to the error and get the student to complete it. You can give hints such as “verb tense” or “word order.” You can give choices, e.g. “Do you want to say excited or exciting?” This support helps the learner self-correct. When they do or even if you supply the correction, a good rule of thumb is to have the student repeat the corrected form once or twice so the correction ends in success.
Delayed correction: Keep a list of errors you hear and write them on the board after the activity has finished. Then have students try to correct them silently before a discussion. That way, everyone can think about it, and the vocal students don’t override the students who may really need the explanation. Another advantage of this technique is that it keeps the errors more or less anonymous.
1. A/an before an adjective + noun
THE GRAMMAR: A or an introduce singular nouns. Plural nouns, noun + -s, and noncount nouns do not need an article when used in a general sense. Articles appear before an adjective + noun and the adjective before a plural noun will not have an -s.
Ø a dangerous giraffe
Ø a silly cow
Ø a pink elephant
Ø cute monkeys
Aim: Students raise their awareness of article rules with adjective + noun combinations
Level: High-beginner (A2)
Preparation: A set of cues on slips of paper with an equal number of zoo animals, adjectives but an uneven number of a/an or -s. (For instance, eight nouns, 8 adjectives, 5 a/an and 4 – s)
Time: 15 – 30 minutes
1. Review the pattern of article + adjective + singular noun, and adjective + noun + -s. One way to do this is by introducing a list of animals and adjectives that could describe them. (see the cues below for ideas). Then have pairs construct their own phrases as a practice. (You can also check students’ understanding of the vocabulary words to adjust your list as necessary).
2. Have three volunteers come up to the front and stand in a row. Give A a slip of paper with a noun, B a slip with an adjective, and C a slip with either a/an or -s. Next, tell them to move around so that they make a phrase that the class can read from left to right. They should then recite the phrase with each student saying their word, e.g., a wild camel or dangerous snakes. Don’t worry if the phrases are silly. That will make them more fun and memorable. Help them with pronunciation as necessary.
Once students understand the process, pass out the slips of paper so that each student has one of the following: a/an or -s, or an adjective, or a noun. Make sure there is an extra -s or a/an card.
3. Tell all the nouns to stand up and go to different parts of the room. Then tell the rest of the students to stand up, walk around, and match themselves to a noun to create a perfect singular or plural noun phrase. The goal is to move quickly and not be the odd one out!
4. When the round is up, have each group say their phrase to check. Consider adding a sentence stem such as We saw . . . so they can say, “We saw tiny elephants,” or “We saw an ugly octopus.”
(Optional) You can also have other students do a choral response, “You saw tiny elephants?” And the originals can say, “Yes, we saw tiny elephants!”
5. Have the odd one out collect all the slips and redistribute for the next round.
2. A/an/some for first mention & the for second mention.
THE GRAMMAR: One feature of a/an is to show that there is one of something and it is being introduced to the conversation for the first time. The is then used to refer to the item the second time.
Ø I brought some sunscreen. I put the sunscreen on my nose.
Ø I found a coconut. I cracked open the coconut and drank the water inside.
Ø I discovered a cave. I went inside the cave. The air was cooler than outside.
Aim: Students use a/n and some to introduce items and the to refer to them later
Level: High-beginner (A2)
Preparation: None. Or you can create “islands” by bunching three desks or chairs together in different parts of the room, creating “an ocean” around the room.
Time: 20-30 minutes
1. Review the patterns for articles. Give some examples such as, “I have a really good knife. I use the knife to cut open coconuts.” Use the examples to point out or remind leaners that the is used for second mention of something.
2. Tell students they are going to sea on a ship. Then elicit or provide a word bank of nouns on the board that that can be found on a ship and an island (see below). Make sure you have examples of singular, plural, and noncount vocabulary (see below).
nouns on a ship
nouns on an island
3. Tell students their ship is sinking. (You can use a picture for clarity and to get everyone “on board” with the imaginary setting.)
4. Tell them they only have time to grab five items from their ship before they fall in the water. (These can come from the word bank on the board or their own ideas.) Have them write their items on slips of paper or cards.
5. Have students stand up with their list and flounder around the room. Mime this by having them wave their arms and pretend to swim. When you clap, they should swim to an “island” formed by desks or tables.
6. On the “island”, have groups share their five things with each other and discuss how they will use the items they have brought. e.g., “We’ll use the rope to climb a tree.” “We’ll use the tools to build a shelter.”
7. Give them paper to draw their island and show how they will survive.
8. Have them share their survival techniques with another group or the class, introducing the items and how they will use them to survive.
Have each group mime some of their sentences together. Have the other teams write one sentence to describe what they think it’s about. When they finish, they can share their sentence. See which team was correct about the situation and note their use of articles.
Have students write sentences about how they will use six of the items. To help students, write the frames below on the board for them to use:
§ We used the … to … e.g. We used the matches to start a fire.
§ We … with the . . . e.g. We climbed the coconut trees with the rope.