More Sponge Activities to Teach English

Sponge Activities that Teach English

Teaching English requires many different skills. One of them is preparation. ESL teachers need a good supply of ready to go materials when the inevitable surprise comes up. Like when a lesson finishes early and you want to fill a gap with a useful activity.

Consider adding these 5 activities to your collection of back pocket activities, fun language-focused exercises, video lessons and pair work discussion builders that require little prep.

Most of the activities are geared towards a conversation class (high beginner+), but  can easily be adapted for writing classes with some imagination.

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Logic Puzzles and Word Games

Learn English with Logic Puzzles and Word Games

Can you teach English in an EFL class with logic puzzles and word games?

Sure. Every English class needs a little variety to keep things interesting and people motivated. Besides, puzzles and words games are great learning tools. Used in pairs or with the class as a whole, they focus attention on short reading passages with the goal of comprehension, encourage students to speak up, stimulate recall of long-forgotten words, and foster learning by helping students see patterns.

Here are five logic puzzles and word games which I have used with success in high-beginner to intermediate ESL conversation classes as sponge activities or 10-minute diversions.

1 Monkey in the Well

This is a popular puzzle, so don’t be surprised if your students know the answer. That is not the point. The objective is to explain the answer with a degree of precision.monkey_3

There is a monkey at the bottom of a well. The well is 30 meters deep. Each morning, the monkey climbs up three meters. Every evening, the monkey slides down two meters. There is no water in the well and there are no tools. How long will it take the monkey to get out of the well?

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Three EFL Pair Work Activities

Three EFL Conversation Activities

Sometimes an EFL class needs activities which get away from the textbook in order to keep everyone motivated, including the teacher. Here are three activities that work well with pairs or small groups.

These EFL conversation activities help students learn English by involving a number different language skills including task-based problem solving, fluency, intensive listening and precise vocabulary.

1. What Happened? – Be Precise

This fun exercise that will challenge your intermediate+ level EFL students. Watch a short video which contains 13 segments (the video is about one minute long). Each segment shows dots and lines moving in way that visually illustrates an abstract concept.

Now describe each segment with precision. Sounds easy? Ha.

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Teach EFL Students Critical Thinking

Teach Reasoning in the EFL Writing Class?

Teachers sometimes lament the fact that EFL students can’t seem to write well-reasoned, logical arguments in English.

The underlying socio-linguistic factors thought to influence higher order cognition of that kind are plentiful. For example, some people suggest the way we talk affects our thinking, or the way we write script gives people from some cultures an analytical advantage. Or, it might simply be that people from different cultures see the world differently, as suggested by the Michigan Fish test, and therefore cannot write about experience in the same way.

Here’s another idea.

Perhaps EFL instructors have not found an effective teaching technique to help non-native speakers organize ideas in a logically coherent fashion or even the language they need to represent complex ideas on paper.

Put Away the Five-Paragraph Essay

Some English teachers believe well-reasoned arguments can be constructed inside a five-paragraph essay template. A thesis sentence (i.e. the main idea) backed up by supporting evidence in three paragraphs, each carefully crafted with cookie cutter precision and topped off with a topic sentence, constitutes persuasion. In other words, the way we organize ideas is the way to we create reasoning. Seemingly, what happens inside or between paragraphs is not so important.

I understand the appeal of the five-paragraph essay. It’s easy to teach. It’s mental Lego with a manual that tells everyone how the pieces should be assembled. It’s also easy to grade, especially for high-risk test readers who spend a minute or so skimming a student’s written work.


While it’s hard to argue against organisation, one of the problems with the way the five-paragraph is taught is oversimplification. The five-paragraph essay, some say, is a building block, but that misses the point. What’s really important is the mortar, the hard stuff in the middle that cements ideas together. 

An Inquiry-based Approach to Reasoning

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