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15 variations for large pre-school classes

If you have a large class of pre-school aged kids, for example 45 three-year-olds, you can have the problem that not only do the games that work with older ages not work, but neither do the ones that work with smaller classes. Do not despair! Rather than throwing away all the ideas you have or […]

If you have a large class of pre-school aged kids, for example 45 three-year-olds, you can have the problem that not only do the games that work with older ages not work, but neither do the ones that work with smaller classes. Do not despair! Rather than throwing away all the ideas you have or find in the teacher’s book, you can easily adapt the 15 most popular pre-school English games and activities in smaller classes so that they become the most popular activities in large kindergarten classes too.

1. Actions
In order to reduce noise, bumping into furniture etc you can get them doing the actions sitting down (moving their legs as if they are jumping but without getting off their seats etc.), with one hand representing a person and doing the actions on the other hand (e.g. skiing down the other arm) or with plastic animals on the table.

2. Run and slap
If you can’t get all the kids running towards the object or flashcard you said to try and touch it first (in case they trample each other or all go crashing through the window), you can line them up in two teams with each member of the team having a different number. You then say “Touch the whiteboard. Number three.” and the students who are number three in each team run to try and touch it first, usually with the rest of their team shouting encouragement. Please note that this only works with students who are well over three years old. Other possibilities include racing to slap the right picture on their desks in pairs or groups, pretending to shoot the object that they would usually touch, or the teacher only nominating objects that are in easy reach of everyone such as socks or eraser.

3. Slap
As with “Run and slap”, rather than having a set of flashcards on the floor that everyone races to slap and ending up with a huge bundle of fighting kids, you can give students the same flashcards photocopied onto an A3 sheet and let them play in pairs or threes if they are mature enough to cooperate in this way. If you can easily make several huge flashcards for each of the cues, e.g. three large pieces of red coloured card and three large pieces of green, and there is enough space, you can have students stepping on the cards rather than slapping them. A similar idea is to put the flashcards on the walls and let the students slap anywhere on that wall rather than on the card (“Stations”, see below). Alternatively, you can get students to indicate which card they think it is in other ways such as shouting out which number it is in the row of cards on the board or pretending to shoot it.

4. Stories
Problems with large classes include not being able to see the book, not having enough room for everyone to sit on the floor near the teacher, and increased distractions stopping students paying attention. You can take away many of these problems by involving the kids all the way through the story, e.g. by getting them to guess the next page and drilling the word or sentence on each page. To improve visibility you can turn each page as you stand in a different part of the classroom, using a superlarge book (available but expensive) or photocopying and colouring at least some of the pages or characters from the book. Using a book the kids already know also helps.

5. Beach ball
Throwing and catching a beach ball while chanting the alphabet, counting, brainstorming vocabulary or asking and answering questions is lots of fun but can a problem in classes where students can’t catch the ball and/ or won’t have enough time to all catch it individually and so won’t speak and will feel left out. Rolling rather than throwing can solve the first problem. The other problem can be solved by getting them to pass along the row of their team asking and answering the questions as a race, changing the game so that they try and avoid catching it (e.g. tag or dodge ball), do it as a pass the parcel type game with students only answering the questions when the music stops, or train them up so that there can be several balls or other objects being passed around the class at the same time. A good technique to use with any of these is to get the whole class chanting the question as often as possible, to give them more practice and keep them involved.

6. Asking personal questions
A few questions, such as “How are you?” and “How old are you” can be done chorally with just one or two answers. “What is your name?” can be done with the variations on “Beach ball” above, or with a puppet that everyone knows the name of.

7. Individual drilling
Picking on individual students to repeat something or answer questions can both make the other students turn off and make the others feel left out. You should always mix up choral and individual drilling, never getting more than two or three people to do individual drilling before moving back to the whole class. You can get their attention and make them feel less left out by adding an element of chance to who will speak, e.g. by spinning round and round with your finger out or by throwing a beach ball up high in the air. Please note that this is still likely to leave three-year-olds fighting for a turn! Another possibility is just to use small groups rather than individuals, e.g. everyone between your arms or all the boys.

8. Stations
As well as the usual problems of students running into each other or furniture as they run to touch the wall that represents the thing the teacher has just said, you also have the problem of most students just following each other rather than listening. Children can learn passively like this, so this doesn’t have to be a huge problem as long as they do something to show they have understood once they arrive at the right place such as saying what is on the flashcard. This game can also be played in the same way as Run and Slap above with nominated students, or you can get them to illustrate which thing they heard by one of two or more things they can do without moving from their place, such as hands on head for “A” and touching your toes for “An”.

9. Sticky ball/ target practice
In smaller classes, students can take turns trying to throw at the correct place on the board, e.g. to hit the back of the card the teacher has said. With larger classes you can get everyone involved by blindfolding one student and getting the whole class or their team shouting out “Up”, “Down”, “Left” or “Right” as they approach the board (they may as well touch the place with the sticky ball etc rather than throwing).

10. Tag
The usual problems of potential noise and injuries are even greater with this game, as screaming and diving under desks to get away are two standard parts of the game. One simple policy is to stop as soon as kids get over-excited. Another is to put off that moment a bit by having times when they must all freeze on the spot or everyone must move around in slower ways, e.g “Hop on your left leg”. You can also reproduce some of the fun of tag in shorter bursts by, for example, getting students to run away from each other when you do the action for “spider” during animal vocab practice.

11. Letting kids touch realia
You can do this, but of course every child will not be able to touch every object. In early classes, hand out individual bits of plastic fruit etc just practising “Here you are”, “Thank you”. In future classes, work towards them handing them on to each other with the same language (giving any students who look left out some directly). You can then eventually move onto to students passing lots of stuff round asking other questions like “Do you like bananas?”

12. Colouring
Potential problems include not being able to help all the students who are having problems at the same time (and with younger students, not being able to take a look at their work and praise them individually), not being able to afford enough photocopies and wasting time giving out and taking back equipment. Solutions include doing colouring as a team game, with one student from each team racing to colour their picture on the board to the teacher’s instructions as quickly as possible. With older students, it might also be possible to get them to work together in groups of three to five to colour one large picture.

13. Crafts
There are even more potential problems with this than with Colouring above, including injuries with unsupervised kids and the one kid who can’t use scissors at all taking up all your attention as the other kids go wild. The best solution is just to stick to really simple things, e.g. giving them a piece of paper that is already the right shape to make a hat or telescope just by rolling and sticking it, and then giving out single pieces of sellotape while practising “Here you are”, “Thank you” and possibly “Can I have some tape, please?” A whole class version is to give each student something you will need when making the thing and getting them to give it to you when you call out “The big blue scissors please”.

14. Identifying something by feeling it
This is a nice way of getting students physically involved in guessing vocabulary that can’t be done in a large class. The closest thing you can do is put the object such as a plastic animal in a bag you can’t see through and slowly pull the bag tighter and tighter until the form becomes visible and guessable to the kids.

15. Rearranging
If you mix up the magnetic letters of a word or a set of vocabulary flashcards with their backs turned to the students it is very difficult for a whole large class to get involved in putting them back in order. One way is to get one student for each letter of the word up to the front of the class, get them to hold the flashcard with their letter on straight out in front of them so the class can see what letter it is but they cannot. The whole class or one team then shout out instructions of how they should move in order to put the letters into the right order to make the word.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net June 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Daina d'Achille says:

    Excellent and funny but true!

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Young Learners : 15 variations for large pre-school classes