Class Extras from Our Friends

Class Extras from Our Friends

By: Think Tank Contributors

Think Tank Team: We sent out a request for class extra favorites to our readers. This fine list of ideas came in!

Alphabet Brain-Teaser - Guy Smith

Still 5 -10 minutes left before the end of class? How about filling it up with the Alphabet Brain-Teaser?

Quiz shows are popular. In Japan for example, at any one time in the early evening, you can switch on the TV and probably find a couple of quiz shows. The English Alphabet Brain-Teaser is a quiz based on the sounds of the letters and the possible meaning of that sound. I have made my own version for the classroom. Students enjoy it and generally get the answers pretty quickly, although sometimes you might need to give a little hint.

Starter sample to show what they need to do:

What letter of the alphabet is a popular drink? Answer – T (tea)

Some other questions.

What letter is a lot of water? C (sea)

What letter is an insect? B (bee)

What letter is a part of the body? I (eye)

What letter is a little green vegetable? P (pea)

What letter is a question? Y (why)

What letter is a Japanese name? I (ai), K (kei)

For more advanced groups.

What letter is a line of people? Q (queue)


And a question I always like to finish with.

What letter is from (insert your country)? – U (students should point at you and say, “you!”)

Guy Smith works at International Christian University teaching academic reading and writing.

Learner-Centered Cloze Activities – Chris Clancy

The British Council defines a cloze activity as one in which learners must replace vocabulary items that have been removed from a text. A typical cloze exercise among language teachers worldwide involves learners listening to a song of the teacher’s choice while reading the lyrics from which words have been removed by the teacher, aka “listen and fill in the blanks.” Language educator and author Tim Murphey includes a slightly less teacher-centered cloze version in his Language Hungry (Helbling Languages, 2006). He calls for language learners to bring in a recording and lyrics to a favorite target-language tune, from which the teacher omits the vocabulary items for which learners must listen. I take it a step further and have the learners chose the words to omit!

I admit to having used the traditional cloze in class. Some of my favorite songs to use have included the following: “Black Friday” by the American group Steely Dan, which I used when asked to create a lesson about the quintessential American consumerist event of the same name; “Signs” by The Five Man Electrical Band from Canada, when relating semiotics to language; and, on rare occasions, the controversial “Every Picture Tells a Story,” co-penned by Brits Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, as a precursor to teaching writing. I’ve used each as the proverbial springboard from which to jump into my learner-centered cloze activity.

The Activity

a) Learners, in groups, look at the written text and try to guess the missing words.

b) Learners listen to the song and try to fill in the blank spaces with the words they hear.

c) As suggested in Paul Nation’s Learning Vocabulary in Another Language (Cambridge University Press, 2001), learners are given L1 equivalents to translate into the L2 target English as hints to help them think of the missing terms. Terms in Japanese are listed for the activity below.

d) Learners check translations and vocabulary with teachers. Sometimes learner translations differ from the actual vocabulary items, but they still assist as hints.

e) Learners listen a second time and check again.

f) Finally, learners are invited to make their own cloze activities!!

1) Learners select English songs they like.

2) They find the lyrics to their selected songs online.

3) They copy the lyrics and paste them in their documents.

4) They replace 10 words of their choosing with blank spaces.

5) They include 10 hints in Japanese.

6) They submit their cloze activities to their teachers when finished.

These days I use only learner-generated cloze activities as my “springboards.” The cloze below was created by a 1st-year high school student.

Maybe I came on too strong

Maybe I waited too long

Maybe I played my cards wrong

Oh just a little bit wrong

Baby I (            ) for it


I could fall or I could fly

Here in your  (      )

And I could live, I could die

(          ) on the words you say

I’ve been known to give my all

And jumping in harder than

10,000 (         ) on the lake


So don’t call me baby

Unless you mean it

And don’t tell me you need me

If you don’t believe it

So let me know the (     )

Before I dive right into you


You’re a (        )

I have travelled the (     )

And there’s no other girl like you, no one

What’s your (      )?

Do you have a (         ) to lead some people on?

Cause I heard you do


I could fall or I could fly

Here in your (             )

And I could live, I could die

(             ) on the words you say

And I’ve been known to give my all

And lie (          ), every day

Don’t know how much I can take

So don’t call me baby

Unless you mean it

And don’t tell me you need me

If you don’t believe it

So let me know the (        )

Before I dive right into you


I could fall or I could fly

Here in your (            ) 

I could live, I could die

(          ) on the words you say

I’ve been known to give my all

Sitting back, looking at

Every mess that I made


So don’t call me baby

Unless you mean it

And don’t tell me you need me

If you don’t believe it

Let me know the (           )

Before I dive right into you

Before I dive right into you

Before I dive right into you



謝る→                         飛行機→

ぶらさがっている→                  岩→

真実→                                     神秘→

世界→                                     歴史→

傾向→                                     起きている→




Answers: apologize, aeroplane, hanging, rocks, truth, mystery, world, history, tendency, awake

Chris Clancy, MSEd, teaches English at Saku Chosei High School.

Activities for Non-English Majors – Marc Helgesen

Many of us teach required English classes to non-English majors, people who don’t see a need for or the point of studying English. And many of those students just don’t care. Why should they? As John Medina (2014) famously put it: “We don’t pay attention to boring things.” Actually, I find it isn’t hard to make them care. Each class, we do something—often a warm-up activity—related to their major. Just by spending ten or fifteen minutes on that, English becomes relevant and they are quite happy to do the other, more “standard” English communication activities from their textbook.

"We don’t pay attention to boring things."

I made a webpage that has over 70 links connected to majors as varied as Elementary Education to Food/Nutrition to the Physical Sciences. I teach El.Ed/Early Childhood Education majors every week. We start most classes with an English kids’ song. They learn songs they can use when they become teachers—and we start each week singing (which helps the class bond). During Covid, when we are face-2-face, we’ve been doing “silent singing.” They mouth the words and do the actions while not actually making noise. (It is safer.) Starting with relevant activities quickly transforms the class from being just another “required subject” to something they enjoy enthusiastically.


Medina, J. (2014) Brain Rules (2nd Ed.). Pear Press

Marc Helgesen, Miyagi Gakuin, Sendai has several websites including and

Letters to My Past and Future Self – Steve McGuire

Steve McGuire, at Nagoya University of the Arts, has students write a letter to their earlier selves.

I sometimes have students write a letter to themselves when they were first starting at the university. What do they wish someone had told them then? Students have a lot of fun with this, with such suggestions as to study more during the summer or to work harder at making friends. Some even use their names and introduce themselves. “Hi, me! It’s me!” The advice they give their earlier selves is also good advice for other new students.

A nice follow-up activity is to have them think about their future goals and to write themselves a supportive email that will be sent to them a year in the future. They can upload their message to a free website called which will send their message on a date they request from a year, or five years, later or on any custom date.

Science Sharing Sheets – Sagar Junawane

Working with Indian primary students was a great journey for me. I started teaching them science at the beginning of the academic year. As we know, learning (not only study) is all about fun. So, I would use storytelling methods in my science classes, which children enjoyed a lot. I helped them to break their habit of rote memorizing words just for the purpose of passing the exam. I asked concept application questions on their tests, which was a bit tough for students. So, their scores were lower and they would complain that they did not understand what I taught them.

We know that understanding concepts, rather than just knowing them, is pivotal and for this, students must be good at the language in which they are learning. For better understanding, I took various steps for students, like doing a vocabulary-building program, presentations, role plays, games, art and craft activities, all in order to help them understand the scientific concepts. All these efforts led to change and students started improving in their academic performance and gaining self-confidence. As a facilitator, I had in mind that I am only helping students to learn, so now I wanted to know how they felt about themselves and their journey of achievements as they went through that year.

To understand them and receive feedback for myself as a teacher to reflect and improve on facilitating skills, I gave the students a Science Sharing Assignment with two questions: A) What was important for you in this science class? and B) What is one thing that you have improved in this science class? How? And what is one thing you are looking forward to in the next academic year?

When I received the Sharing Sheets from my students, I was so happy to see that all the students recognised themselves for their effort in ways that we, as adults, never think of (we take them for granted and never recognise ourselves as doing something good).

Here are some things they commented on in the Sharing Sheets:

a) How they looked at the challenges they overcame by themselves and with help from parents and teachers.

b) How it is very important to ask questions if they do not understand the topic.

c) How vocabulary and handwriting have to be good.

d) The importance of drawings and figures in answers.

e) How it is not only about pictures in textbooks.

f) How concentration is the key; it is not about the Score but rather the Core.

g) How we can help society to be a better place by being good human citizens

h) How talking with friends to seek help is valuable.

i) How they need to be ready for interpretive questions and should not recite or just memorize the concept.

j) Why time management, accountability and discipline are important.

See more reports here.

Sagar Junawane is a trainer at Classklap (India).

Teaching Life Hacks Through Videos – Hall Houston

Recently, I’ve been using short videos about life hacks to engage with my university students in Taiwan. In this short article, I’ll explain some of the benefits of this approach, as well as suggest a few ways I’ve found to adapt authentic videos to a language learning lesson.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, Merriam-Webster defines a life hack as “a usually simple and clever tip or technique for accomplishing some familiar task more easily and efficiently.” If you need an example, here is one life hack that I like to share with my students:

Choose a spot in your home to put your keys, perhaps a corner of a counter. That way, you know exactly where they are and don’t waste time looking all over your home for your keys.

Life hacks are ideal for teaching because they can be explained in just a sentence or two, they’re relevant to everyday life and, like other short texts, they can be exploited to help students develop all kinds of important language skills (listening for gist, listening for detail, summarizing, paraphrasing, etc.)

Originally, I did a search for “university life hacks” and while I found an alarming number of obnoxious, childish videos from a company called 5-Minute Crafts (don’t bother), I also found several videos that were exactly what I was looking for, videos of practical life hacks relevant to university students, delivered by YouTubers who are actually university students.

As the videos feature authentic speech, not specifically tailored for second language learners, I find it necessary to watch a video several times and think of how I can adapt it for my classes. For example, some videos contain 10 or more life hacks, which might be too many for my students. I choose the first three or four and focus on those alone. (Students can watch the rest of the video at home.)

When using one of these videos, I think it’s important to plan a pre-video viewing stage, where students are introduced to the topic of life hacks. In addition, I might introduce some challenging vocabulary that appears in the video. Before students watch the video, I set a task, such as writing down the main idea of the hack in just a few words. It’s also wise to plan out a series of tasks (listening for detail, making inferences, evaluating the text, making a personal response).

If you are interested in doing a lesson (or a short series of lessons) on life hacks with a YouTube video, here’s a simple format I recommend:

1) In class, introduce the topic of life hacks and give an example. Explain any difficult vocabulary that appears in the video.

2) Ask students to watch the first part of the video and summarize the life hack in a few words.

3) Play the first three life hacks from the video once or twice.

4) Check answers with the students.

5) Ask students to write more detail on each life hack as they watch again.

6) Students work in pairs to discuss their notes. They can also discuss which life hack they think is the most useful for them. Share with class.

7) Put students into small groups and ask them to share any life hacks they know about saving money, studying, getting organized, or anything else.

8) After several minutes of discussion, ask each group to present their favorite life hack.

I’m hoping this article has gotten you thinking about how you might use a video on life hacks in your classroom. In addition to videos, there are numerous books and articles on the subject for you to explore. I recommend that you look for life hacks that are relevant to your students.

Finally, here are several videos of life hacks you might wish to try with your students.

Top 15 Student Life Hacks (Northumbria University)

20 actually useful, not basic adulting life hacks (studyquill)

10 College Life Hacks That Saved Me in College (Morgan Yates)

Top 10 Uni Hacks (Shenae Desiree)

Hall Houston, at National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences, wrote 101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students, iTDi Publishing, 2022.

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