esl games Games are such an important part of the classroom when we teach kids, and they’re sorely unappreciated when we teach adults! I make them a part of all my classes, with some changes of course, but there’s nothing like a game to grab children’s attention and to inject some enthusiasm and laughter into the adult ESL classroom.

Today I want to share with you my Phrasal Verb UNO game. It’s so ridiculously simple to make and you’ll have it in your teacher’s materials forever. All you need is a pack of UNO cards (which we’ll use for many different levels and age groups so read on), some scissors, a glue stick and either a printed version of the language points you wish to play with, or some colored pens to write directly on the cards if you prefer. One pack of UNO cards will be enough for many different classes and grammar points, but soon your students will be hooked and you’ll find yourself making more and more.

So far I’ve made this version with phrasal verbs for an elementary/pre intermediate level. You can download the list I used here: phrasal verbs for uno game. Note that there are some extra ones in case some might be too difficult for your students or in case you accidentally cut one in half (hey! it can happen right?!):

1) Print or choose the vocabulary or grammar you will use. Download my phrasal verbs list for elementary/pre intermediate students here.

2) Cut out each part of the phrasal verbs and paste one part on a card and the other part on another card.

3) Continue with all remaining cards.Verb tense uno

(If you don’t have access to a printer feel free to write directly on the card. But use a pen or marker of the same color for the entire deck, you’ll see why in a moment).

4) Play UNO with your students following the normal rules with one exception: they can match the cards according to color or by making a phrasal verb correctly. Tell students they need to forget about the numbers on the cards. To sum up, only colors or a correct phrasal verb (any that make sense, not necessarily the exact pair from your list).

Here’s the beauty of this new version of UNO, although students can simply match the colors, they will make a huge effort to find the phrasal verbs (this happens naturally and it never ceases to amaze me). I’ve heard comments from 9 and 10 year olds saying “Oh well I have to match the color, what a bummer” They will always, always try to find the phrasal verb and you’ll hear them practicing pronunciation as well while they scan the cards they have in their hands to see if they have a match. Behavior will be wonderful as well. Out of all my games this by far creates the most peaceful students, believe it or not.


You can now create lists of any grammar points (where you have many options, enough for all the cards) and add them in the same deck of cards. Make them in a different color this time (if the phrasal verbs were in black do your next batch of strips of paper in blue or red for example) and place them in a different part of the card. When you play simply tell the students what color they are supposed to be playing with. Adaptations may cover such issues as:

– Different levels of the same grammar points (e.g. phrasal verbs for elementary students, phrasal verbs for intermediate students, etc).

– Different age groups.

– Different grammar points or even vocabulary points.

Here are some ideas for other grammar points and vocabulary that might go well with this game:

– Other phrasal verbs.

– Verb tenses.

– Compound nouns (one card says cup, the other says board = cupboard).

– Countries / Languages / Nationalities.

– Word families (photograph/photography/ photographer).

– Homophones (words with different meaning and spelling but the same pronunciation, e,g, new and knew, to and too)

Even if the list is simple and the spelling might make it obvious, students will still be scanning the options as soon as the card on the floor is revealed.

All of these are suitable with adults as well. Never underestimate the power and joy of a classroom full of adults playing games to learn or review English.

You can monitor and help students, make corrections etc. In private lessons or small groups you might wish to play along with your students and in larger groups you might need more than a deck of cards (check the package to see how many people can play at one time). When things quiet down you can ask the students for examples of what could go with the word that has been revealed on the floor pile. That way they’re practicing the entire time.

As always, don’t forget to…

Games in the classroom

Feel free to share with fellow teachers and leave me any comments or questions you might have! Enjoy!



arts and crafts for eslI had a busy busy Sunday with all the cooking you read about in yesterday’s post. Followed by a little run, some much needed tv time and of course, lesson planning. I’m working on a project with one of my young students (age 9), which we’ve called “The Interesting Home Project”. We had a lesson on vocabulary that included mill, windmill, treehouse, castle, space shuttle, submarine, cave, teepee, among others, all in the fun concept of people who live in unique homes. He had a blast, especially because I made a Keynote presentation for him with these crazy real life photographs of strange houses from all over the world. Even the young ones are fascinated by real life stories and photos (plus they go nutty with the Keynote transitions so it’s a win-win!). At the end of the lesson we started our project and he got to choose one unique and interesting home that we would design together and write about (also to incorporate previous vocabulary and grammar such as rooms of the house, common objects and the present simple). His choice: a treehouse with a garage right inside the tree trunk (genius right?). So last night I decided to cut up some 3D leaves for the branches out of different materials and I’m going to show them to him today. I can’t wait to see his face when he realizes his tree will be 3D! I’ll post a photo of how the project is coming along (he doesn’t want me to take it until it looks really good and of course I respect his little work in progress). There is no better involvement for a student than these kinds of projects, especially if they’re allowed to think outside the box and show you their wonderful imagination. The amount of English that is used while making them is fantastic as well.

Speaking of unique homes, take a look at this man’s journey into designing an eco friendly tiny home: Tumbleweed, the tiny house company. Thanks to our reader and beloved friend Rachel for this amazing link!


sunday best blogThis week we have a very special edition of our Sunday Best series! The inspiration behind this edition is my amazing experience with young learners and all those  friendships I’ve made with the little ones I’ve met over the years. Anyone who has taught children can tell you how they are wise beyond their years and what an incredibly creative experience it is to work with them. I’ve always loved working with children and always stare at them in awe, wondering why we lose so many of those creative and courageous qualities as we get older. So in the spirit of these wonderful little learners and achievers, I give you our “Listen to the Kids” edition of Sunday Best.

For foodies, cooks and aspiring chefs, here’s the culinary 14 year old expert behind A High School Foodie, if you thought kids had a limited palette and only made a mess in the kitchen think again, and try his sweet potato fries with blue cheese dressing while you’re visiting!

It’s time for some TED! Don’t miss 12 year old Adora Svitak and her TED talk (yes! you heard me) titled “What adults can learn from kids”. Adora is a children’s author who tours the US giving talks advocating for literacy and giving us a wonderful glimpse into the minds of children. Astounding, brilliant and funny, you have to listen to the wise words of this little girl.

You know I couldn’t leave you without getting a little bit musical. Here’s a jaw dropping video of a 14 year old girl improvising on the piano and talking about my second favorite topic, her creative process and how she composes. Wait… is that Goldie Hawn in minute 17? Please don’t miss talented Jennifer Lin improvising on the piano at TED.

These are just three examples of where a child’s mind wanders and the great places listening to them can take us. Here’s an idea,why don’t we all listen to the wise words of Adora and really listen to our children? In my experience the answer to this question is a big WE HAVE TO START NOW! Don’t be surprised if in a matter of minutes you’re learning more from them than they are from you.

Do you have some beautiful words of wisdom your children or students might have shared with you? Could you share them with us in the comments below?


Creative teachingOne of the great things about being a teacher is that now I can work anywhere, including my favorite spot in the park. Students see you for an hour maybe two and think that’s all there is to it, but any teacher can tell you that for every hour taught, there’s many more in the planning. Especially in your first years as a teacher! When it comes to my time to plan lessons, I love being outside.

Yesterday Nala and I sat next to the stream and she chased after ducks while I planned a lesson on weather and global warming. A lesson on what?! Yes, I’m still an ESL teacher (English as a second language) not an Earth sciences teacher, but the days of standing in front of the board explaining verb tenses for hours and hours are long gone, at least in my eyes.

The students and colleagues that have watched me teach can tell you one thing, my classes aren’t your normal run-of-the-mill English classes. We’ve gotten used to such a traditional way of learning and teaching, but now I’m always so happy with the enormous smiles I get from students when I teach adverbial phrases with an “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode, or the lesson I was planning yesterday in the park about global warming and weather, with segments from movies like “Twister” and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Shouldn’t creativity in teaching be the norm and not the exception? Not only for students! I can tell you I have so much fun planning these lessons and waiting to see what my students’ reaction will be. It’s not all decoration by the way, you can turn a funny scene from “Airplane” and transform it into a listening practice by simply adding some pre-listening tasks. Use comedians and music to teach subtext and inferred meaning. Not to mention vocabulary and grammar, Alanis Morissette’s ‘Hand in My pocket‘ has more adjectives in it than any course book I’ve ever taught with! I can also tell you that the tv show “Friends” has just about every single lesson intro or warmer you can possibly think of. It’s a simple way to engage students a bit more and make the lesson and its contents more memorable. Not to mention a really positive way of getting students to practice listening and especially get used to the speed in which the words are said in a normal conversation.

This is the way I learned in school, I was one of those lucky ones to have “magicians” as teachers when I was growing up, but I’ll cover that in a different post soon. Some of the lessons, books, stories and subjects I learned in this way have never left my mind, and it’s not because of any memory super power of mine  (I have quite the opposite actually!), it’s because of the way these subjects were being taught.

I can’t wait to have our Creative Teaching section ready for you guys, I simply need a few extra hours to take some fun photos I want to include, and it will be ready. In this section you’ll find great links and ideas so you can take your teaching to a more creative place. Your students will love you for it.

I’m off for today to teach a lesson on the possessive with old family photos (yes, baby pictures included! yikes!). Wish me luck!

Did you have any unusual and creative experiences as a student? Please share your stories with all of us in the comments! We’d love to hear from you!