25 Ideas for the EFL classroom


I’ve been teaching English as a Foreign Language since 2010 and prior to that I was a Waldorf teacher (and I even did graduate work in Montessori education). When I was getting my teaching certificate (TESOL) for teaching English in 2009, I knew that my Waldorf background would be beneficial. 

Here’s how. Both types of education emphasize different learning types or styles: kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, visual and the importance of play. So, in the classroom, I try to remember all this and have used some ideas that I’ve adopted from all the schools I have taught at, as well. I hope this is useful, if not at least inspires you do try something new. Enjoy!

1. A beanbag or a small ball is a quick and easy way to make the classroom a little more interesting. I use it primarily for asking questions (toss it to a student) and then they have to ask another question to a different student. You can also use this for checking homework.

2. If you have access to more balls or beanbags, you could have the students toss them between a partner and spell words, count, or come up with all the words they can think of that start with ‘S’ and so forth.

3. In Waldorf we had to be conscious of how long the children were sitting in their seats, and in EFL it’s pretty much the same, especially with the younger ones. Something as simple as changing partners, changing seats, creating groups gets the blood flowing again.

4. One of my Waldorf trainers told us to make the students laugh at least one time a day. I never forgot that. Don’t be too serious.

5. Some students like background music and others don’t, but they generally, they all like it when you play something softly while they are up and mingling and asking questions. It helps them to not feel so self-conscious while talking.

6. Which reminds me, give your students many opportunities to talk, this will help reduce ‘teacher talk time’ as well. You can start the class by putting a question on the whiteboard that ties into the lesson and allowing them to mingle (see #4). It’s a simple warmer, but effective in so many ways.

7. I was also told, never do anything that your students can do instead, so what this means to me is I let them read the directions in the textbook. I let them read almost everything out loud. And if there are questions to create, and they can do it, I let them create their own questions. I don’t have to come up with everything and the students benefit.

8. You’ll learn a lot of games, but one of the ways to spice it up is to add a time limit to them. Gazzawazza takes too long, in my opinion, so when I give them only a minute to come up with a list of words for the category, it adds so much more urgency, which makes it more fun.

9. Sometimes you don’t have to check homework. It can take up too much time and trying to make it into a game can be even more annoying. Just take a look around the room to see who did it, have the answers ready on the WB, ask if there are any questions, and move on.

10. Probably another big Waldorf takeaway was realizing how important it is to observe your students. Pay attention to them. Give each one a chance to talk individually (when possible). You can avoid misunderstandings sometimes if you notice they are not feeling well, having a bad day, whatever. 

11. Write up a list of all the games you know. I often refer to my list when I’m feeling blank and uninspired.

12. At the beginning of the term, roughly plan out the entire 10 weeks or whatever you have. It’s a good idea to see where you are going, will you have time, do you have too much free time, etc.

13. Learn the language of where you are at. You don’t have to master it, but you’ll gain a much better idea of what kind of mistakes your students will make. And hopefully, an appreciation for how tricky learning another language can be.

14. If there is an opportunity for the students to get out of their seats with their books and ask questions, read a dialogue or even a short reading, then consider doing it (but don’t overdo it).

15. There are many ways to pair up the students so they are not just sitting next to their friends. Sitting in alphabetical order, by favorites, give them questions and answers and the Q&As sit together, heck draw straws, but get them mixed up.

16. Walking in a circle when practicing the alphabet or reciting whatever you’re trying to get your students to remember. And then have them walk backwards while reciting the alphabet backwards, too! You can put it on the WB and when they need to cheat, they can look at the board.

17. Getting your students to pair up and test each other on spelling, months, or vocabulary is a simple, but effective way to get them engaged and practicing.

18. One of the activities I use regularly is ‘shouting dictation’. It requires you to find a dialogue (from the book or the web that is relevant to your grammar or lesson) and split the conversation. Have your students facing each other and make sure they don’t copy. 

Student (Ss) A reads their part while Ss B writes it down, then they switch until they have written the entire conversation. So good for so many reasons. It’s worth the prep.

19. Pictures can be great learning tools. I use laminated photos of famous places from around the world to elicit, not only countries, cities, languages, but also adjectives and questions like, “Do you want to travel here? Why or why not?” 

When the picture is a physical object that the Ss hold, not something they see on the computer, there’s a whole new world of possibilities that can open up. Discussing the photo in pairs, groups, exchanging photos, they love holding them. Celebrities pics are good for beginner levels, getting Ss to ask, “What’s her name? Where is she from?” and so on.

20. I also found animal and job cards in a local bookstore. They were obviously made for younger kids, but older children can enjoy them as well if you make it more challenging. Writing a story about one of the animals, and asking harder questions regarding an occupation like, “Where does he work? What does he do?”

21. Board games like Toggle, Chutes and Ladders, and Game Shows like Jeopardy can be modified for the classroom.

22. There’s a silly game called Password you might want to try if you don’t have a lot of students. It’s a category game. For example, if you say or write down ‘something in the room’, all the students have to line up and the last person to give you the correct answer has to sing or dance or maybe say a tongue twister. It’s fun. And yes, you can send someone to the end of the line if they give an answer that has already been given!

23. When I taught vocabulary related to clothing, I’d have the Ss write down what they were wearing. Then, everyone is out of their seats mingling, asking, “What are you wearing?” Next, I choose a Ss to come to the front of the room and turn his back to his classmates. I then ask him, “What is ____ wearing?” It’s a nice memory game, a bit unexpected and you can help them work on the vocab.

24. My students love a good ‘ol fashioned battle of: rock, paper, and scissors. You can incorporate this in a variety of ways in the classroom. I generally use it as a tie breaker between teams like when two Ss both gave the right answer and I’m not sure which team should get the point-kind of thing.

25. For my IELTS test preparation class, I typed up a 'game plan' which was basically an outline with suggestions of the areas they needed to study and asked them to come up with a regular time commitment. It's an experiment, that is we'll see if they try it, but that's what it's all about, right? Try something new and different.

Happy planning! 

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