My bag of tricks

Today I’ve decided to open my bag of tricks, which is a small bag I used to take to my lessons when I taught at a language institute. Read below to find out what’s inside.


IMG_1291I always have some sort of object that can be thrown around the class. The idea here is that you can organize whole group discussions in a way that every student gets a turn. It’s also a way cater for kinaesthetic students without having them stand up.


  • Tell your students to throw them underhanded, as in softball rather than baseball. This greatly reduces the chance of people getting hit in the head.
  • Objects should be fluffy, so even if someone does get hit, they won’t get hurt.


The second item in my bag of tricks are these animal cards. They are part of a game called Jungle Snap, but I mostly use them for seating arrangements. There is a set of four cards for each animal, so I can get students in pairs, trios or groups of four, depending on how many students I have.

I usually pair students randomly, but this is a good way of disguising the fact that you want/don’t want certain students to be together. While students are carrying out a reading or listening activity, you can order the cards in such a way that you get the pairs or trios you want.


  • You may want to work on the pronunciation of animal names with lower level students, otherwise students are likely to mispronounce them.
  • This is a simple way of getting students moving after a low-energy activity (such as a long reading task).



I also have dice and counters in order to play homemade board games or those games that sometimes appear in revision units or resource packs in coursebooks. Many a student has been fooled by the tube of M&Ms.


  • If you have enough space for it, playing board games on the floor tends to work better in my experience. Otherwise the dice fall from the students’ desks far too often.


I’ve had these soda caps for a while, so they are pretty worn out. They can be used to pair students up, but I mostly used them in an activity called Carousel, which was introduced to me many years ago by Antonio Drummond.

Say you have some lexical or grammar items you’d like your students to practice in speaking. Put students in a circle with their desks. Every other student gets a soda cap. Assign the speaking activity. After 1-3 minutes (depending on the level), students who don’t have a cap stand up and move to the next desk on their right. Rinse and repeat until students are back to their original partners.

This is a veiled way og getting students to repeat the same lexis or structure many times. It tends to generate lively discussion and allows the teacher a chance to walk around and take notes of mistakes.


  • If you have an odd number of students, give two students in a row a soda cap and tell them to work in a trio with one student who will be rotating.


I made these bingo cards some years ago when I couldn’t find the set the school had bought. Nowadays I use them for vocabulary bingo.


These might be my favourite items in my bag. The idea of carrying around small (4×6 cm) scraps of paper was first suggested to me by Damian Williams. I usually make them out of unused worksheets, which helps the planet, I suppose.

These scarps of paper usually become vocabulary cards (seen below). Whenever I have 5-10 minutes at the end of a lesson I give each student two blank cards and ask them to choose the most interesting pieces of language from the lesson.

Then, in future lessons, students can refer back to the cards and see how much they still remember. There is a variety of activities and games that can be done with the cards, but that is a long enough topic for its own post.

If I’m pressed for time I sometimes write the cards myself. Three of the cards below were written by me. Can you guess which ones?



Last but not least I always carry either a small notebook or notepad, to take notes during the lessons. I tend to be very forgetful, so I’ve made it a habit of writing down mistakes students make in case I want to use them in delayed feedback. I also write down bits of vocabulary I think of while listening to students.

That all. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “My bag of tricks

  1. Pingback: My bag of tricks | English as a Foreign Language

  2. Hi Ricardo,

    Loved your bag of tricks!

    Could you just clarify activity # 4 (not clear yet for me, sorry)? How is this ” a veiled way of getting students to repeat the same lexis or structure many times”? and in #6 do you keep the scraps of people to yourself? That’s it?

    Thank you! 🙂


    • Hi, Juliana.
      In a carousel activity, students get to work in pairs with half of the class.This way they have to talk about the same structure many times. Let’s say you are teaching conditionals and the question is ‘what would you do if …?’ with some options. To talk about it, they will be practicing/repeating the structure many times. It’s like a drill, but it’s more interactive and personalized.
      As for #6, during the semester I usually keep the scraps of paper with me, but when I”m dealing with 1-to-1 students I give the list to them at the end of the semester. Sometimes I do give students the cards so that they can do something for homework, like using some expressions in a writing task.
      Did that help?


  3. Pingback: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish | ricardo barros elt

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