Here are my top 10 back-to-school activities that might be a nice alternative to a usual what-did-you-do-this-summer Q&A session (which, if you teach teenagers, quite often ends up with ‘not much’).





 Сlick here to see it in .pdf format.

What’s you favourite activity? Please share in the comments below.

Happy new academic year!

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Looking for more alternative back-to-school activities? Check out these ideas and resources:

Activities for first lessons by Clare Lavery at

Alternatives to “What I did on my Summer Vacation” by Tara Benwell

BACK TO SCHOOL IDEAS! by Maria Theologidou



“In crafting there are no mistakes, just unique creations.”

This is yet another post in my DIY or how-to-turn-a-carrot-into-a-clarinet series (See CREATIVE LOW-COST TEACHING/LEARNING AIDS to learn how to make low-cost flip cards, small books, vocabulary organizers, puppets and game fields out of a sheet of paper).

Today we will try to make a flexagon.

What is a flexagon?

A New Design (2)

Flexagons are mathematical puzzles that are folded paper figures. There are many types of flexagons with a different number of faces. As you flex the flexagon, you should find all the possible combinations/faces. Your learners might enjoy the story of the creation of the first flexagon (read more about flexagons here).

Today we’ll try to make a square flexagon with 6 faces  (or sides of the paper) in total. This flexagon may become another efficient low-cost DIY learning tool in your students’ pocket. It is

super easy to make (no glue, no tape, no complicated patterns or folds)

low-cost (you’ll just need an A4 sheet of paper per student), and

learning rich (i.e. apart from “creative fun”, it provides for extensive recycling of language).

Materials required: an A4 sheet of paper, a pair of scissors, crayons (you can keep it black and white – this will significantly reduce its visual appeal but will help save time and keep your learners’ hands clean – learning might be a dirty business at times)

How to make:

1. Hand out a sheet of paper (either an A4 format or a square sheet of paper, either will do) to each student and ask them to fold it in half 4 times to make 16 squares (a 4 by 4 grid). Get them to crease all the fold lines back and forth before folding the model. This will significantly improve its flexibility.

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2. Fold the grid in half and cut out the two middle squares.


3. Now you have 12 squares on one side, and 12 on the other. You may colour the squares, or put letters, words, numbers, or leave them blank to add words later. If you want particular words, phrases, images to be featured on one particular side together, follow the pattern below.

Once folded, you’ll have sides A, B, C, D, E and F.


Now fold the grid, fold the top first, and then fold the other sides going clockwise. In the end, one top square (the yellow square in the picture below) will need to be changed. Pull the down square up and place it on top.


Now your flexagon is ready. Keep folding and opening it till you find all the faces.

How can we use it for ELT?

1. Vocabulary review

Have your students put down phrases/words.

Squares A –  4 names of animals

Squares B – 4 names of birds

Squares C – 4 names of ______

These can be irregular verbs, phrasal verbs, idioms, etc. Ask your students to flex the flexagon and make sentences that are true about them using the words in the squares.

(Check this post  VOCABULARY REVIEW- FORTUNE TELLERS by Pete from ELT-Planning for more ideas)

2. Vocabulary organizer

Have your students pick 6 words and put the information about each word (e.g. translation, transcription, use in a sentence, synonyms, etc.) in the squares of the flexagon – one word per face. Their task is to flex the flexagon to fill in all the squares.

(Looking for more ideas? Check this post ALL IN ONE: VOCABULARY ORGANIZER/FLASH CARD MAKER)

3. Storymaking tool

Get your students to think about the stories/texts they’ve recently read (you can focus on one text or several texts) and write the key words, e.g. 4 verbs, 4 nouns, 4 images, 4 adjectives, 4 phrasal verbs and 4 adverbs, in the grid (before the fold it into the flexagon) in random order or following the pattern to make sure they’re featured on one side (see the image in section 3 above). When the flexagon is ready, the task is to flex the flexagon and tell a story using the words in the squares. They should keep telling their story until they’ve opened all the sides. (For lower level students, you may want to simplify the task a bit and get them to make up short stories – one or two sides only).

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4. Pocket study tool

If you use the four square organizer (see GOING GRAPHIC: 4 SQUARES FOR BETTER SPEAKING), have your students put notes in the flexagon (a topic per side). They may use it in class, or keep it in their pockets to go through their notes whenever they have an odd bit of time. Just flex it.

Happy crafty teaching:)



‘If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.’

A ‘maze’ principle has been widely used in ELT material design, in particular for reading assignments, where students are given different options and a variety of different outcomes. There isn’t one correct answer, so different teams find themselves taking different paths while practising the language in a genuinely communicative activity. If you have never tried them with your students, check these reading mazes on the British Council website – Spending Maze or Holiday Maze. They’re sure to be a hit with your students.

The a-Maze-ing Game is based on a ‘board maze’ principle (it looks like a maze, and it works like a maze). This game can be used as a learning tool for grammar or vocabulary and help revise prepositions of place and direction.

It’s a very simple game, where the player is placed in a maze and has to find a treasure chest and find a way out. This game is designed for playing in pairs.

Materials needed: 1 A4 sheet of paper per student.

Before the game:

Each player will need two 4×4 grids – one with ‘walls’, and one blank grid. You can either prepare them in advance or have your learners make their own mazes (low cost and more learning value).

Step 1.

Hand out two halves of an A4 sheet to each student. They have to fold each sheet in half 4 times to get a 4 by 4 grid and label them along the sides with letters (A-D) and numbers (1-4). Ask them to mark an entrance and exit to the maze on the outer walls of the maze (e.g.A1 and C4).


Step 2.

Now have them put 9 walls in the maze (a wall – a square border) and hide their treasure chest (T).


Step 3.

Have students mark 4 squares with “Hint” (H).


Step 4.

Get students to choose and fill in the grid with 10 words (These could be any language items – 10 irregular verbs, 10 phrasal verbs, 10 letters, 10 phonemes, etc.). 


How to play:

The players take turns to move in the maze by calling out the coordinates of a square. A player is allowed to move one square up, down, left or right. Players cannot go through walls. Before the game, players may agree on the entrance to the maze, e.g. A1. The aim of the game is to find the treasure chest and exit the maze.

When the player lands on the square with the word, they explain what the word means (or make up a sentence with it, which is true about them or their friends). If the player fails to define the word/make up a sentence with it, they skip their turn. If they move to the same square again, they have to make a new sentence. When the player lands on the “Hint”square, the opponent should give away the location of the nearest wall.

During the play, players should record their moves on the blank grid drawing the walls and noting down the words.

Whoever manages to find the treasure chest and exit the maze first wins the game.

One square in the maze remains blank (usually the square with the exit) – let your students decide on the final challenge.

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Happy holidays!

Image: Brett Davis,, Creative Commons



The creative life is simple: get up, get dressed, get on with it.

Chuck Sandy.

Creativity is the new Holy Grail of today’s life. The quest for creativity seems to have reached the proportion of global mass hysteria: schools are blamed for “killing it” and called for “teaching it as a matter of urgency” (Do it now, do it fast); CEOs have set it as a number one priority for their employees; academia, educators, psychology gurus (and just random people who “are creative and they know it”) are offering “new and creative” ways to “awaken”, “unleash,” “unblock”, “unlock” or “set it free” at home, at school, or at work to secure global peace and happiness (and return on investment).

Can we really teach creativity?

10 posters, 6 presentations, 3 videos and 5 poems – this makes a great yearly creative output, no? We need to measure creativity somehow, so we measure it by the stuff made or ideas produced. (Their quality is again measured according to public opinion. Did you know that Walt Disney was fired from his job because the editor thought Walt “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”?)

Creativity is a way of life. If you’re really creative and imaginative, you don’t have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think and feel. We cannot teach it, but we can encourage individuality by focusing on abilities essential for living a creative life. Resilience or the ability to bounce back after encountering problems or adverse situations while looking on the bright side of life is one of them.

Lead-in. Show this video to your students. Pause the video (0:51) and have students guess what the grandpa said. Get them to think what he meant by the “beautiful glass”.

They say Thomas Edison made about 10,000 attempts at creating his first lightbulb.

At what point would you stop trying? At what point would the society label you as “uncreative”, and would it make you stop trying?

Did he feel frustrated? I bet that happened many times, but he would keep trying because it was never a failure but 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb.

Think positive

I’ve made this Think Positive Game to cultivate an optimistic outlook, develop a habit of positive self-talk and learn phrases to encourage someone to put more effort or to not stop trying to do something.

The game has two versions:


Just print out the cards and cut them out before the class (click the cards to download them). One set is for a group of 3-4 students.


How to Play

The aim of the game is to score maximum points as a team. Challenge them to score more than 30 points. Students simply go around in a circle drawing one card on their turn. Depending on the card they pull, they perform the task given and score a point for the team. Each card represents a different task.

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Phrase cards1 point – if they pick a phrase card, and there’s no matching card, they put it next to the pile. Once they see  a matching pair, they put them together and score a point.

Smiley card1 point per word – if they pick a smiley card, they must give a one-word compliment (each player). The same word cannot be repeated twice.

Negative self-talk card1 point – if they pick a negative self-talk card, they need to change it into a positive statement. They get 1 point per idea.

When they earn points, they mark them down on their point card.

* * *

DIY or have them do it 

Try to engage your students in the game preparation (and make it more learning rich). You’ll need minimum resources to make it – 2 or 3 sheets of A4 paper (fold them in half 4 times to get 16 squares) and a pair of scissors to cut them out.



  1. Give it | a try
  2. Go | for it
  3. It’s worth | a shot
  4. Keep up | the good work
  5. Keep it | up
  6. Follow | your dreams
  7. Reach | for the stars
  8. The sky is | the limit
  9. I have | faith in you
  10. You make | a difference
  11. That’s coming | along nicely
  12. Look how far | you’ve come
  13. Way | to go!
  14. Good | for you!
  15. Good | thinking
  16. I’m so | proud of you

Smiley cards (4-6 cards)

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Negative self-talk cards (10-12 cards):

What we say to ourselves determines our feelings, behaviour and future life. Have students look through some examples of negative self-talk. Ask them to provide any other examples. Have students change these negative statements into constructive thoughts. Pair them up and get them to compare their ideas.

I made a mistake

I can’t do it, it’s too much for me

I am not good enough





I made a mistake This is an opportunity for me to learn

FYI: read about the strategies to tackle negative self-talk here and here.

Negative self-talk cards:

  • I made a mistake
  • I’ve never done it before
  • I am a failure
  • I can’t do it, it’s too much for me
  • I am not good enough
  • No one bothers to talk to me
  • I am stupid
  • There’s no way it’ll work
  • I hate it
  • It’s too complicated
  • This is too hard
  • I’m not going to get any better at this
  • I don’t have the resources
  • I’m too lazy to get this done
  • I’ve messed up the exam, I’m a loser
  • I’m not good at speaking

Have them cut out and shuffle the cards.

Ready to play?

(Image: wewiorka_wagner,, Creative Commons)



I got a ‘friendship book’ from Sandy Millin on Saturday. I’m returning it today.

* * *

When I was in school, we had special friendship books to be filled in by our friends. The questions posed there varied (a typical set would include about 10-15 personal questions). Some books would also include challenges, e.g. ‘draw a flower’ or ‘spit a piece of gum and measure the distance’ (boys’ books always had more elaborate challenges). Every book would also have a secret question the answer to which would be folded and hidden from the public eye and could be read only by the book’s owner (needless to say, it was always the question the answers to which you’d read first). These books meant a lot to us. The very fact that you were asked to fill in someone’s book would mean that you were friends, while the number of the ‘respondents’ would show your popularity among classmates. I still keep a whole book filled up in that way.

Friendship books ceased to exist long ago, yet it might be worthwhile to revive them for learning purposes.

1. In-class activity: Hand out a sheet of paper to each student. Ask them to write down one question they’d like to ask their groupmates. Get them to rotate the questions until everyone gets their questions back. Additionally, ask students to vote for the answers they like (+1) before they give their own answer. Have students present a summary of the answers given with the ‘most popular’ answer.

2. Out-of-class activity:  Ask your learners to make a friendship book (at the beginning of the year) , write a set of ‘get-to-know you’ questions and get their friends (classmates) to answer them.

* * *

And here goes my ‘friendship book’ or 11 things challenge.

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger

Super-Adventurous-Nice-Dedicated-Your energy never ceases to amaze us Sandy Millin.

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself. 

  • I do my best under pressure (this probably explains why I’m writing this blog post with deadlines for reports looming).
  • Blue is beautiful.
  • My peers used to call me a walking encyclopaedia. Google changed that.
  • I’m happy and I know it.
  • I talk too fast when I get super excited.
  • I like the feeling of being up early in the morning.
  • I never smoked a cigarette.
  • Whenever I have writer’s block, I read random stuff – reading Five Challenges Scientists Working on Mars will Face now.
  • I was born to be a teacher. I’m an entertainer at heart.
  • I’m bad at counting.

3. Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you

1. What’s your favourite thing you’ve written (ELT or otherwise)?

My most favourite thing is yet to be written. My second favourite thing is the course book A Good Start (business English).

2. Do you have a favourite recipe you want to share?

No. I’m physically incapable of following a recipe without tweaking. This refers to anything else, including my own course books and materials.

3. What’s the last photo you took?

Stumbled upon this awesome mural while walking around Podgorica. Nikola Tesla.



4. What’s the last piece of music you listened to?

5. What was the last film or TV show you watched? Would you recommend it?

Hmm, Scamalot (, not exactly a TV show though. Would definitely recommend. 

6. Do you ever listen to podcasts? Any favourites? If you don’t, can I persuade you?:)

Yes, but not often. Favourites? TEFL Commute.

7. What tip would you offer to a new blogger?

Lower your expectations and enjoy the ride.

8. What’s your memory of the best lesson you’ve taught?

I ran a series of workshops for teachers this year. There was one on how learners learn languages with a bit of Stephen Krashen-ing (Natural Approach). In 5 minutes my teachers were engaged in a conversation in the language they’d never heard before. A great lesson is the one that gets people to experience the wonder of learning.

9. Have you ever made a mistake or been in a bad situation which felt huge at the time, but now you’re really glad it happened?

Many times. I try to follow the approach that life is 10 percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. It helps. When the situation still feels huge, I repeat the hey-it’s-just-10-percent mantra till I feel somewhat better.

10. Where are you based and would you recommend it to others?

I’m based in Montenegro, a small country often referred to as the pearl of the Mediterranean. The world is my oyster:) I love the place, and I’d surely recommend it.

11. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and what’s the answer?

What’s your favourite question?

– Why?


4. List 11 bloggers

I’ll nominate:

Tekhnologic –

Pete – (already done)

Zhenya –

Natalia –

Joanna – (already done?)

Hana –

Cristina –

Russie –

Lisa –

Anna –

Zorka –

5. Post 11 questions for bloggers.

1. What’s your favourite thing you’ve written (ELT or otherwise)?

2. Do you have a favourite recipe you want to share?

3. What’s the last photo you took?

4.What tip would you offer to a new blogger?

5. What’s your memory of the best lesson you’ve taught?

6. What sound do you love?

7. If you could paint a picture of any scenery you’ve seen before, what would you paint?

8. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

9. If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?

10. If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be?

11. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and what’s the answer?


Image: sunshinecity,, Creative commons.



There are two kinds of teachers on this planet: those who have Wi-Fi in the classroom and those who don’t.

This is the second part of my post on Google-based activities. In the first part, I described a few Google-based games to play in the classroom (see JUST GOOGLE IT). The activities in my today’s post are also connected with Google but, unlike those in the first post, they might be used regardless of whether you have Wi-Fi in the classroom or not.

A few years ago, Google launched its Search Story Tool (*no longer available; don’t get discouraged, keep reading this post) to create and publish personalized search stories. Though the tool itself is no longer available, we could use the idea behind it to practise storytelling in the classroom and help students tell their stories in a fun and creative way.

Activity 1. Tell a Story

This activity is similar to the one based on images or sounds (see my post SOUNDS LIKE A STORY). You can use a YOU-TUBE video [e.g. Parisian Love, Fear of Speaking, etc.], 

Or make your own video (see my video TELL ME A STORY, GOOGLE in Activity 2 below) using any screen recorder (if you haven’t used a screen recorder for teaching yet, read Cristina Cabal’s post 15 Ways a Screen Recorder can Help you in your English Classes).

Or use a screenshot of your Google search history and get students to make a story based on the search history.


Activity 2. Guess the Story

1. Ask your students when they searched for something last.

*You may teach them some tricks of Google search.

1.Use quote marks around a phrase to search for those exact words in that exact order. E.g. “pie recipes”.

2. Exclude certain words using the minus symbol. E.g. pie recipes – meat pies.

3. Use OR to search for one or another term, not just all the terms.

4. Use the tilde to search both for the specific word and it’s synonyms.

5. Use the asterisk in place of a missing word or part of a word, which is useful for completing phrases, but also when you’re trying to search for a less definite article.

6. Use DEFINE: to learn the meaning of words.

See more here.

2. Split students into small teams and ask them to choose any famous story (e.g. Red Riding Hood, Romeo and Juliet, etc.) (alternatively, you may use some texts from their course book). Ask them to tell this story using Google search queries.


Red Riding Hood:

pie recipes

how to navigate in the forest

how to communicate with wolves

how to do voices



3. Ask the teams to read their “search story” and get other teams to guess it (or reconstruct the story if they can’t guess it).

This activity may be used with students of any level. It will generate much laughter and help them focus on the key events of the story, key words, meaning and collocations.

Happy teaching!



It’s said that once one player got so excited that he’d won, he cried “Bingo” instead of “Beano”. The name stuck.


No, I have not invented this game. The game goes back to the year 1530. That’s when a state-run lotto started in Italy. Then the French picked up the lotto ‘virus’ in the late 1700s. Then it spread all over the planet.

No, (here goes any name of a Dumbledore in ELT you’d kindly suggest), they have not been the first to use this game as an educational tool. Nearly every course book or blog for teachers/learners has a bingo version for speaking/vocabulary/grammar practice, etc (see some links below). In 19 century Germany the game was widely used to teach children their times tables, animals names, spelling, language and history.

And no, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’ve just blended it with the pass-it-round technique to reduce my lesson preparation time, get them more involved, and make it more dynamic and learning rich.

Before the game: make a list of 15 questions that you’d ask your students. It all depends on their level (it could be used for students of any level) and a learning focus (you could focus on grammar revision/vocabulary/skills, etc.).

E.g. if you’d like to focus on tense review, these tense review questions could be handy

Alternatively, get your students to come up with questions they would ask someone they meet for the first time/haven’t seen for ages/ at the interview/ etc. – Specify there should be no ‘yes-no’ questions. Hand out slips of paper and get them to write down their questions. Have some extra slips for fast finishers.

Step 1.

Hand out a sheet of A4 paper to each student. They have to fold it in half 4 times to get a 4 by 4 bingo grid. (This significantly reduces the chance of your students asking for another sheet of paper to redraw the grid because ‘they can’t draw straight lines’).

Step 2.

Ask your students to write down an answer to the first question in any square. Get the students to rotate their grids, and answer the second question, and so on, until all the grids have been filled in with answers. I usually keep the last remaining square for a smiley – what’s you mood right now? (May be used as a free space)


Step 3. 

Students mingle as a whole class and ask each other questions (decide on the number of questions they may ask – e.g. ‘one question per person only’) and cross out the square in the grid if the answer is the same. To win, they must cross off a horizontal/ vertical/ diagonal line of four and shout bingo.

Note: to make sure they do not take an easy way out, specify that they get disqualified if they read out the answers they have to other students. In many cases they should make sure they ask the right questions to elicit the answers they need. You may also introduce a ban on the use of ‘yes-no’ questions. 

Happy teaching! 

* * *

Check out these excellent Bingo versions:

Back-Channel Bingo from Teflwaffle to practise showing interest

Human Bingo from Blog de Cristina to revise irregular verbs


Image: Daniel Simpson,, Creative Commons, modified.