I was excited to be teaching at Junior High School when I arrived in Japan a year and a half ago, but more than a little anxious about Elementary School. It turned out that all my worst fears were true: I would get no supplies, no help, no plan and no ideas from the Elementary school teachers. Even worse, the students came into the desk-free English classroom without even so much as a pencil. What was I going to do for an hour with nothing but a blackboard and some chalk? And how was I going to do this week after week?
It took awhile, but I now have a repertoire of games and ideas needing little to no pre-planning. Without further ado, here are some of my most successful ones:
1) Drawing Relay Race
Split the kids into two relatively equal lines. The first kid in each line gets a piece of chalk. They have to race to draw whatever you call out. This can vary from an intricate drawing similar to Pictionary, or it can be as easy as having them write 1 when you yell out January (2 for February etc.). The fastest kid gets a point for their team. They move to the back and the second kid in line gets the chalk. Repeat through entire line. Letters, numbers, months etc. can all be tackled this way.
Variation 1: Draw in the blanks relay race
Similar to 1), the students have to run to the blackboard and draw something. The difference is that you’ve started it for them. I use this for teaching body parts where I draw the main body and they have to draw in arms, legs etc. It also works for adding Christmas decorations on to a tree.
Variation 2: Whisper Drawing Relay Race
Instead of starting with the first kids, you start with the last. You whisper something to them (or with minimal preparation show them a card) and they have to report it to the second last kid in their line. It has to be whispered all the way up the line to the first kids who then race to the board to draw it.
Variation 3: Run and Touch Relay Race
This works best when you have minimal vocabulary to teach that day. Draw
two identical item sets on the board and the kids have to race to touch the item you call out. The fastest child gets a point. I like to use two sets instead of one so the students don’t crash into each other, but it’s your call.
2) Down the Row Conversation Race
Teach the kids a question/answer pattern dialogue (Hello, how are you? I’m fine.) Have them make two equal lines. If the lines are unequal, have the homeroom teacher join the shorter line. The two teams have to compete to see who can complete the dialogue down the line the fastest. The first kid asks the question to the second kid. The second kid answers, and then asks the question to third kid. The third kid answers the question then asks the fourth kid etc. At the end of the line, either they can all sit down to signal they are finished or run and touch something.
If you feel they are cheating and can’t tell because they are too loud or crazy, time them using your cell phone stopwatch feature instead and have one team do it first, then the other. This second method also works for encouraging them to want to improve their time and you might be able to get them to play it twice.
Finishing the line only gives them one point. Have the first kid go to the back and start again. Make them repeat this many times.
Ladder Game. Make this into an obstacle course by having the two rows sit facing each other with their legs outstretched and their feet touching, resembling a ladder. When the conversation has reached the end of the line, the last student must jump up, run to the front, then run between the ‘rungs’ of the ladder back to his or her seat.
3) Back and Forth Game
Have the kids make pairs and stand facing each other. (If one kid is left out, ask the homeroom teacher to join in.) The pairs have to alternate saying a series of vocabulary words that follow a pattern. For example, they can count up to 20, say all the days of the week, say all the months of the year, etc. When they finish the set, they sit down. Fastest pair to sit wins. You can also make the last pair do a penalty of some kind.
4) Duck Duck Goose Modified into Keyword Game
This only works for the super young kids. Instead of ‘goose’ the keyword can be anything from within a vocabulary set. Also, instead of saying ‘duck, duck’, they say different words from within the set each time. For example, if they are learning fruit that day, the keyword can be ‘apple.’ The student who is ‘it’ goes around calling out different fruits (peach, pear, cherry etc.) as they touch the head of each kid in the circle. When ‘it’ says ‘apple’, the student who was touched has to get up and run around the circle and back to his or her spot before ‘it’ touches him or her. If ‘it’ touches the student, that student becomes the new ‘it’. If ‘it’ doesn’t touch the student, ‘it’ remains ‘it.’
5) What Time is it Mr. Wolf?
This one is obviously for teaching time. I start the game by being ‘it’ for the first round. All the students have to go to the back of the classroom while I hide my eyes against the blackboard. In a loud voice, they have to ask “What time is it?” (I take off the Mr. Wolf because it might become too engrained). If I say “It’s one o’clock”, they have to take one step, “Two o’clock”, two steps etc. When it sounds like the student’s voices are close-by, I change my answer to “It’s lunch time!” and turn around and try to catch one of the students. If I succeed, that student becomes the new ‘it’. If I can’t tag a student I remain ‘it.’
As a slight variation, I taught the students “day”, “morning”, “noon”, “afternoon”, “evening” and “night” the same lesson, so I used “It’s noon!” as my key-phrase instead of “It’s lunch time!”
All of these games have proven quite popular with the students at my elementary school. I hope they prove useful to you too!