In every teaching book that I read they always mentioned this “bag of tricks”. It was always a collection of activities that you could pull out at any time in a lesson if you needed to fill time. Despite the fact that this was mentioned nonstop, no one told me how to do it. There were some generalized ideas, but usually they were really non-specific and didn’t fit in with a language classroom. For that reason, I am bringing you my 5 items in my bag of tricks that I have ready to go at all times.
- Quizlet Live
This is a gimme for most teachers as it is painfully obvious, but I still think it is worth mentioning. Not only is it a great idea to have whatever vocabulary set that you are working on ready to go on quizlet, but it is always great to have backups as well. There are a lot of times that lessons end early, especially with different classes, or even different learners. Having extra quizlet live sets that solidify that extra knowledge that you don’t have time to practice as much as you would like is a great thing to have ready. Some ideas are
- classroom Spanish (student version) – aka what you want your students to be able to say in the classroom
- classroom Spanish (teacher version) – aka what your students should be prepared to hear you say and understand in the classroom
- travel vocabulary
- idiomatic expressions
- circumlocution starters
You can also always practice old sets for grammar, which I think is really helpful. If you are teaching more of a dated curriculum that focuses on grammar topics and vocab lists in an isolated manner, this is a great way to continue to recycle old material and keep it fresh in their minds.
Prep time : around 10 minutes to create
Learning time : usually a 10-12 minute time filler, but you can really go as long as you like with different sets, groups, rounds, etc. (it just gets old kinda fast for kids)
2. Peardeck Factory
Peardeck factory is a great trick to have in your bag because it is practically no prep. I have created a set to play with in less than a minute for my upper level classes, and the best part is that this game can kill a lot of time if you need it to. If you have never used it before, flashcard factory is a partnered game in which students create virtual flashcards for vocabulary terms. Then, you can review the flashcards as a class and approve or deny them, and create your own unique study set which you can even add to your quizlet class!
One of the reasons that I love this so much is because it is so student centered. Here are some skills you can practice with Peardeck Factory.
- Using vocabulary terms in a sentence
- Conjugating verbs
- Conjugating verbs and using them in a sentence
- General vocabulary practice (ie. term and translation)
It’s also great because in a lot of ways, less is more. If you are practicing a more complex skill like sentence writing, or circumlocution you can use as little as 10 terms and the lesson will last for quite a while. I also appreciate that it encourages teamwork by partnering students, and that you can end the game at any time as the teacher so the game can be as short or as long as you’d like.
Prep time : 5-10 minutes (if even)
Learning time : 15+ minutes minimum (I find the more advanced skills take at least 10 minutes to create, and then at least 10 minutes to review as a class)
Oh Blooket, how I love you. I was introduced to Blooket by one of my followers on instagram, and regrettably dismissed it because I didn’t like the game that I demo’d it with, and I thought it was too childish for my high school students. Boy, was I wrong. Blooket is now a staple in my classroom and was such a life saver during distance learning as well. The reason that I love Blooket the most, and why it is on this list and other popular gaming sites aren’t (ie. kahoot, gimkit, etc.) , is because of how versatile Blooket is. Once you make a set on blooket, you can choose multiple games to play with it, and they change regularly. They have a version that is just like kahoot, as well as a version that is just like gimkit, AND many others. My students are obsessed with the gold chest game (a game where you get to open a chest after every right question and the prize is sometimes good (steal from the top player) or sometimes bad (lose 50 points). My kids are super competitive so they love the randomness of this game, and it’s a great way to let students who don’t normally win class games have a chance to shine. The only downfalls of this site is that it does take a little bit more prep time to create a set, and the questions are multiple choice only, however I think the payoff of having multiple activities ready to go at any time once the set is made, as well as the level of engagement from students makes it well worth adding to this list.
Prep time : 30+ minutes
Learning time : 15+ minutes (but really as long as you like because you can set how long many games run for)
4. Heads up
I am sure that many of you are very familiar with the popular phone app “Heads Up” which was developed by Ellen DeGeneres, but did you know that you could make your own version for the classroom? This is something that a coworker of mine came up with a couple of years ago and it has been a popular game in my classroom ever since. Some of the best features of this game is that it is very student centered, it can take a good chunk of class time, and there are no devices needed in order to play. The way that we play in my classroom is you have a basket of vocabulary terms, student sit in groups, take out a card and place it on their head, and the other members of the group need to describe the term in order for the player to guess what vocab word is on their forehead. The descriptions could be done in English or done with charades for lower levels, intermediate could use key words in Spanish that help give clues, and higher levels would use full circumlocution sentences in the target language to describe. I highly suggest taking the time to prep these out the right way the first time so that you can use them for years, but you could do this with no prep at all (can have students who are guessing face away from the board, and students who are describing face the board and project one vocab term at a time on Quizlet flashcards) The “right” way, is to print right from Quizlet into strips, print each set on a different color sheet of paper (to keep them organized if any are lost or fall on the floor), and then laminate and cut them into individual pieces. That way you can use them time after time, and they are more durable.
Prep time : an entire prep period usually
Learning time : 15 + minutes
This is also a super obvious one but it is honestly THE go-to filler for language teachers, and for good reason. It is the one that requires the least amount of prep and is the most student centered. Any time that you have a lesson end short and you need more time filled, a speaking activity is your best friend. All you need to do, is creae a simple question around what you are learning and write it on the board. Depending on how much time you would like filled, you can start by brainstorming on the board with verbs, vocab terms, reviewing grammar they might need, etc. Then have students pair up with the person next to them and speak for 1-2 minutes that you have timed. Again, depending on how much time you need to fill you can tailor this next step. If you have a lot of time you need to fill, you can have them turn to another classmate and have another conversation, or you can start cold calling on students and having them share aloud. You can have them share what they talked about, or share something their partner said. You can ask follow up questions to deepen the activity. There are really endless possibilities to taking a simple question like “what are you doing this weekend” and transforming it into an in-depth and meaningful activity that you didn’t plan for. This is something that ALWAYS is my backup when I am being observed. During one of my formal observations I was commended by my administration because I had already described my full lesson to them in the pre-observation meeting, and when I got done 15 minutes earlier than expected they knew I had nothing else planned for the lesson. That was when I put a question on the board, did pair and share, and then cold called on students to share aloud. They knew I had pulled this out without planning and were impressed with how I had added to my lesson with no prep at all. So when in doubt, do a speaking lol
Prep time : none
Learning time : 5 +minimum