Activities that require no preparation are an essential element of a teacher’s toolkit.

These are the kind of activities you have up your sleeve because you’ve been dropped in it from a great height at the last minute when a colleague is off sick, or because your planned activities took far less time than planned. So what do you do?

One fail-safe option to go with is pronunciation, as the learners themselves and a phonemic chart is all you need. If you have a few sets of Cuisenaire rods kicking around, so much the better! This post outlines a handful of activities you can do without preparation.

1. Introduce the phonemic chart. (If learners are familiar, review the sounds instead – see no. 2 below.) I won’t go into details of how to do this – if you are unfamiliar, I highly recommend watching Adrian Underhill’s workshop video on youtube. This, in Adrian’s words, “takes pronunciation out of the head and into the body”; in other words, makes it physical – and in so doing, make it memorable.

2. Review the phonemic chart. There are various ways to review the phonemic chart with learners. Here are a few I have used recently:

  • Find the sound: a board race in which you project a phonemic chart onto the board (or stick a paper one on it) and put learners into teams. You make one of the sounds from the chart and learners must race to point to the correct sound before their opponents.
  • Phonemic hangman: like regular hangman, but using sounds rather than letters. You can use this to combine vocabulary review and sounds review.
  • Phonemic connect 4: A classic game with a pronunciation twist – see my description of it here.
  • Phonemic banana dictation: Dictate gapped sentences to learners, who must write the word on their mini-whiteboard. Only, in this version, they write the word in phonemes…

3. Review word stress of target vocabulary.

  • Pronunciation auction: Select about 20 target words (you can get learners to generate these, as a review activity in itself – list as many words of a target set as they can remember…) as the basis for a pronunciation twist on a familiar activity (the age-old grammar auction). For a full write up of the procedure, see my description here.
  • Cuisenaire Quiz: Give learners sets of rods, which they use to draw various stress patterns and their partners guess which word they have in mind, based on the pattern. (Thus drilling each other on target vocabulary, until the selected word is guessed, and focusing on the stress patterns of all these words…)



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