It’s happened, you’re a few weeks into the semester and your enthusiasm has dried up, and thankfully so has your jet lag. Now you’re faced with a nightmare, 30 energetic Korean students and only 20 minutes of a textbook lesson plan to work with. How you got here is irrelevant, you slacked off in your preparation, you thought the book would take longer, your classes were switched around and no one told you, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you have a roomful of kids to teach and not enough teaching material to do it. Sooner or later, despite best laid plans, you will face this dreaded moment. It seems to be a common experience among native English teachers ( or N.E.Ts) that we’re the last to know about schedule changes in school. This leads to surprise classes when you didn’t have one before or surprise cancellations. Either way, you might need to have a few no prep activities that can be changed to suit your students on a dime. Here are some activities that have saved my toosh more times than I care to count.

Feel free to comment with your own favorite time “saver” activities or house rules that you use.

1) Four Corners

A classic that is easy to explain. You can’t always count on having a coteacher to explain the rules to your games, so it’s good to have ones that are easily explained through miming and repetition. Four Corners is simple, requires no preparation (unless you want to), and gets the students moving.

How to play:

  • Each corner of the room gets a name. I take the names from our vocab words or expressions for that lesson. Go over them a few times, have the students chant them quickly then slowly to make sure they know them well (and that you do too).
  • One student is “it”, s/he stands with their back to the class and their eyes closed at the front of the room. After counting to 10 they shout the name of a corner.
  • Students in the corner that the “it” student are out.
  • Play until one student left, that student is it.

House Rules:

  • Students must perform an action or complete the dialogue that matches their corner.
  • For example: The students are learning the key expression “do you have…?” the corners are named after school supplies. The “it” student asks the question “do you have…?” and finishes with the name of a corner instead of just shouting “pencil!”
    • “it” Student: Do you have an eraser?
    • Students in Eraser Corner: Yes, I do.
    • Students in Pencil, Notebook, and Ruler Corners: No, I don’t.
  • I count to 10 with the “it” student.
  • When there are 2 students left, the “it” Student has 1 chance to get them out. Otherwise, the last 2 students play rock-paper-scissors over who is it. This saves a lot of time and frustration for everyone.

2) Save Mario Rock-Scissor-Paper Speaking Game

I have a PowerPoint that I use for this game but it can also be done without it. In the case that you don’t have enough time to change the template to suit your class, just draw the castle and key expressions on the board. This game is tons of fun and great for speaking practice. Wander around to keep an ear out for students who aren’t speaking and encourage them to do so. Also warning: this game gets loud. Credit to the waygook site where I first found the template for being helpful springboard for activities and lesson motivations. Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of the original post so I can’t thank the author.

How to play:

  • Students are all level 1 playing as Princess Peach to save Mario from Bowser. They need to reach level 10 and beat the Bowser in order to save Mario.
  • To gain levels, students practice dialogues with other students of the same level in class. First they talk, then play rock scissor paper. The winner gains a level and practices the next dialogue. The loser tries again with another student of the same level.
    • For example: Students are practicing the key expression “What do you want to do?”
      • S1 (level 1): “What do you want to do?”
      • S2 (level 1): “I want to play a board game.”
      • S1 and S2 play rock-paper-scissors, S2 wins.
      • S1 = level 1, finds another student at level 1 to play with.
      • S2 = level 2, finds another student at level 2 to play with.
    • The first however many students (I’ve done 10 for round 1 and then 5 for round 2) to beat the Bowser save Mario.
    • If students lose to the Bowser then they go back to level 1 and begin again.

House Rules:

  • The teacher plays the role of Bowser, as students who beat Bowser, become Bowser until beaten. Makes it more fun and keeps the kids who have won invested in the game.
  • If there are two teachers, students must beat a mini-boss (the coteacher) and then the main boss (myself), before they are declared one of the winners.
  • I love to play in two rounds, with round one ending with a slide that says that Mario is in another castle. Round 1 takes 10 students to win before it ends, Round 2 takes 5 students to win before it ends. As a general rule, Round 1 has more prompted answers. Round 2 has more open ended questions for students to create answers.


3) Hangman

Never underestimate hangman. It’s a really useful way to check in on your students’ spelling and grammar. I like to start off giving them a few to do as a class, picking students randomly or by volunteer, and then move them into groups to create longer, challenging hangmans.

How to play:

  • Draw the alphabet on the board and as many blanks as your word or phrase needs.
  • Each student/volunteer chooses a letter, if the letter exists in the word or phrase then write it in. If it doesn’t draw a part of a stick figure on the gallows.

House rule:

  • To keep the game from ending too quickly, students can only guess when they are ready to guess the whole word or phrase. If they guess wrong then they miss their next turn to guess a letter.


4) Reading Duels

I haven’t gotten the chance to do this one yet, but like Save Mario, it can be done with or without a PowerPoint. I imagine it would be especially fun with a class that has a few “performer” type students. There is a bit of room for change in this game. For instance, “correctly” means whatever you as the teacher want it to mean. Maybe you want to focus on practicing reading aloud so you let some pronunciation mistakes slide, or maybe you don’t. Just keep an eye out for your super shy students and come up with a strategy to help them out, this game will likely be hard for them. For instance, kids could play in pairs.

How to play:

  • Split the class into 2 teams. Optional: let them name their teams.
  • Review the words or phrases you will use for the game.
  • Number the students and have them line up to square off against the other team.
  • Two students stand at the front of the room. Let them do the whole stand back to back and then take three paces out. Make sure they don’t look at the board and the class is quiet.
  • Write a word or phrase on the board.
  • Tell students to face the board and read, first to read correctly wins


5) Noonchi Game

This is a game that my students taught me and one that I use to fill small bits of time at the end of a lesson. My 3rd grade teachers seem more than happy for class to end early, but 4th and 5th grade don’t end until that bell rings. So when I have 5 or so minutes left, which is rare, we play noonchi and practice the English alphabet or numbers.

How to play:

  • Give the students a category i.e. the letters of the alphabet, count by 1s, 2s, 5s, months, days of the week, etc.
  • Students must stand and say the letters of numbers in order.
  • If two students say the same word then the class must start over again.
  • The last student to stand and speak loses.
  • If a student messes the class up 3 times then they are out for the next game.

House Rules:

  • My coteacher who taught me this game has students who are out put on a show for the rest of the class. The students must show off a talent or complete a silly challenge like writing their name in the air with their butt. I’m at once perplexed by this and amused. The students seem to enjoy it, he is always kind to shy students that get 3 strikes, but I know I would have been mortified as a kid.