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50 tasks for teaching with only a blank piece of paper

I've always been "constructivist", meaning that I believe especially with language, students "construct" knowledge and are active participants in the creation of what they know. They don't just swallow and file away ideas but learn through their own filter, culture, personal world as they construct from their own foundation of "knowing". 

My own basic approach for teaching English has developed into what I term, SCC or student created content. It is materials light and product focused. The materials are created by the students, from their own schema and then used as a way of practicing and building language forms. You can find out more about it through the coursebook I wrote - Teach | Learn.

Part of the constructivist approach is trying to look at things simply. It's about doing  things simply so that the process doesn't get in the way of the learning. I think that applies to all good teaching. When I sit in classes and watch other teachers, I usually look for this first - a simple approach where the students are the focus and language "discovery" is the end goal. 

In this vein and continuing on from my last three lists ( 50 tasks50 tech tasks and 50 Holiday Tasks), here are 50 super tasks that only require a blank piece of paper. I've written about this previously and find those posts here. 

Yep. Just walk in with enough pieces of paper for the number of students in the class and you are set..... Instant lessons that will allow students maximum amount of time "constructing" their own knowledge and participating in their own self learning. A perfect student created content material - the blank piece of paper and possibility!

Get The ebook with all the "50" lists!

 

50 Ways To Use A Blank Piece Of Paper

In The English Language Classroom

 

Even now, this late in the day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me — more promising than a silver cloud, and prettier than a red wagon.
- E.B. White

 

1.   Greeting Cards.Fold in two and write a _____________ card with greetings to someone in the class. The teacher is the postman and delivers the next day.

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2.   Cheap whiteboards.Laminate one piece of paper for each student or group.  Give out erasable markers and tissue. Now the whole class can answer questions and respond on their whiteboard.

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3.   Play Snowball. Students write 3 facts about themselves (print large).  Crumple and then have a snowball fight in the class for 1 minute. After, each student picks up one snowball, uncrumples and walks around the class trying to find the person who wrote it.  Read more …

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4.  Postcards. Fold in half.  On one half, design a postcard with address/message on the opposite side. After the teacher checks, use the other half for your final draft of the card. Send to someone in the class. Read more ….

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5.   Origami.  Students love this activity. First, the teacher tells and shows the students. After, students can teach each other new designs.  Read more….

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6.  Pop Up Cars.  Technically not a blank piece of paper but it is a piece of paper.   

Color and talk about the cars, share, be proud.  Read more …..

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7.   Graphic Organizer.  Give students a topic.  Weather / Animals / The House etc…..   Students write all the vocabulary associated with the topic and organize it into columns or  groups. Compare after, you’ll have interesting results!      Read more….   

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8.   Sentence unscramble.  Fold “hamburger” style (top to bottom)  3 times.  You’ll have 9 rows.  Students write in sentences that are scrambled.  Give to a partner who’ll write the correct versions on the back. Give back to the creator who checks the work.

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9.   Pass The Paper.  In groups, students pass around a crumpled piece of paper to lively music. When the music stops, the student holding the paper must do some set action (answer a question, name 3 ____s, do what the group says etc…)   Remember that students must pass (not toss) the paper! Try one game right now.   Read more …...

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10.  Write On!  I use this as a writing warm-up.  One student is the secretary and starts with a word. For example:  baseball .  The other group members must tell the person a word or expression that continues the word. Ex.  Balloon.  Students get points based on the number of letters used from the previous word. In this example, 4 points.  The paper would show baseballoon .  The secretary writes the words as a chain and underlines each.  Students point out spelling errors. Continue filling the page.

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11.  A Simple Webquest.   Students write a topic at the top of their paper.  Fold 3 times (hamburger) to make 9 rows.  Students write down 9 questions about the topic that they’d like to know.  Give to a partner who uses the internet to write in the answers. The creator reviews the answers.

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12.  Make a Doodle Video.  Choose a popular song.  Print the lyrics and cut out the lines into strips.  Students are given one line each. They draw a picture for the line and write the line clearly at the bottom.  Take photos of each and put together with music to make a student doodle video.    Read more ….

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13.   Hand Organizer. Student trace their hand on a blank piece of paper.  Use this to organize vocabulary on a topic.  Ex. The 5 Senses.  Things you taste, touch, see, hear, smell.

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14.   KWL Organizer.  Fold “hambuger style” so you have 3 columns.  Write K W L at the top of each.  (KNOW |  WANT to know  |  LEARNED).  Students fill in this about the topic of study for the lesson, unit, video.  Read more….

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15.  A Name Card.   Fold “hotdog” style (long way) 3 times like you would a letter for an envelope. Students write their name on two sides. Set the triangle on the desk so everyone can see.  Read more…..

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16.  Vocabulary Conversation.  Give students 2 minutes to write down vocabulary all over the page.  (or give them a specific task – 5 animals / 5 verbs  / 5 colors etc…).  Students in groups use one sheet and make sentences about the vocabulary, connecting the words.  Take turns until all the vocabulary is connected in logical sentences.

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17.  Vocabulary guessing.  Give students 2 minutes to write down or brainstorm a set of vocabulary (jobs, family member names,  animals, celebrities, sports etc…).  In groups, using one student’s paper, a student describes a word.  The first to guess wins a point and crosses out the item. Continue until all items are crossed out. With family members – students can ask questions to find out the relationship of the names to the student.

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18.  Vocabulary ABC sheet.   Fold twice “hotdog” style.  Fold three times “hamburger” style. Unfold and you’ll have 32 boxes.   Student write in small print, the letters of the alphabet in each box.  They must brainstorm in a group and fill in as many boxes as possible with vocabulary for the topic beginning with each letter.  Most completed boxes wins.  Read more…

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19.  Describe and Draw.  Prepare 2 simple descriptions which students can draw.

Ex.  A man is standing infront of his house. The house has two windows and a chimney. Birds are in the sky. It is cloudy. There is a garden on the left. Two children are running beside the house. A dog is chasing them.

 

Students draw the pictures based on the descriptions. Take away the descriptions and students in pairs, must describe their drawing to their partner who draws it. After, compare drawings. 

Read more …

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20.  Drawing and labeling.  Student draw an item  Ex. A car / human body / the school.  Then they must brainstorm in a group and label the picture.

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21.  Student made wordsearches.  Students design their own wordsearch on a topic.  They make the boxes and fill in with words / extra letters. Write the words below with a small picture beside each word.  Exchange with a partner and race to see who completes them first! Read more …

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22.  Map drawing.  Home or treasure map.   On a piece of paper, students draw a map from the school / class to  a. their home  or b. some treasure .    The student gives their map to another student who must go to another group and tell the others how to get to ______’s home or where ______’s treasure is located.

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23.  Dictation.   The students fold “hamburger style” the piece of paper 3 times.  The teacher dictates 9 sentences, reading each one twice.  Student exchange papers with a partner and check the answers (the teacher prepares beforehand and shows on the board / screen after).  Also see dictogloss and running dictation variations.

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24.  Tag Stories.  Students fold “hamburger style” the piece of paper 3 times (9 lines).  On the first line, all students write the same prompt: ex.  A man walked into a bank  /  I heard that (student’s name) went to a party last night, etc… .   After, they pass the paper to the left/right/front and the next student continues the story on the next line, folding over the first line so it can’t be seen. Continue passing and folding. (make sure you the teacher also participate and write!).  Read them silently and aloud afterward. They’ll be funny!

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25.   Survey Cards. Fold the piece of paper in half.  Students write a question they want to survey the class about. Ex.  What is your favorite ……?  /   How often do you …… ?

Write Yes /  No   below the question.  The students mingle and ask the class their question, checking if it is Yes or No.  They report back their findings to the class.

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26.   Posters.   Use A3 / A4 size paper, one for each group. Student plan out a travel or movie poster on one side. Once the teacher has checked, they make a good copy on the other side and present to the class. Display on the class walls.  Make sure to show some examples to the students, so you are sure they understand this genre.  Read more …

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27.   Scattergoiries / Categories.   Give students one minute to write on a piece of paper, all the vocabulary/words/expressions associated with one topic (one secretary / writer / group). Then, go around each group getting one answer from each. Each correct answer is one point. If they repeat an answer, they lose 2 points (so they have to listen well!). Continue until all correct vocabulary is recorded.  Play another round.

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28.   Cootie Catchers or Fold ‘ems.  These are great language prompting products.  Students make the cootie catcher or foldem and then play with fellow students to study the language described on the product.  Lots of description about foldables here.

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29.   Bookmaking.  You can make all sorts of books with a few pieces of paper. I find students love the smaller books and collect them, make a class library. They love producing these English books!  Find out how ….

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30.    Storyboards.  Do it just like they do in the movies. Students fold “hotdog” style once and then “hamburger” twice. They then draw in the boxes with captions to sketch a story. Present to the class afterward or better have students act it out with dialogue.   Read more ….

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31.   Reading Response.   Read students a story (this is a nice one).  Get students to write the story again but with differences and changes.  Share afterward.

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32.   Journal Writing.   DRAW (Dream / Remember And Write). Each lesson at the beginning of the class, students record in their journal and entry.  Give them a specific prompt on the board or they can write their own. Collect the papers in their own portfolio folder, dated.

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33,   List making.  Shopping / Christmas / Future, etc… .    Fold the paper “hotdog” style once.  In the first column, write all the names of the people in the class. In the next, write down a list item for that classmate.  Christmas present / food item / birthday present / future job / adjective etc….  Compare lists afterward.

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34.   Paper Jeopardy.   You don’t need a computer to play Jeopardy!  Just fold the piece of paper to get the right number of columns and rows. Name each category and assign to one group. They write in their questions, easiest to hardest.  Play the game by having groups taking turns asking all their questions. Other groups ring in.  Have one student keep score for all groups.  Make sure the students know the answers to their questions!

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35.   Bingo.   Fold  twice “hotdog” and “hamburger” style.  In each box students write numbers between   __ and __   Call the numbers and play for  bingos and superbingos (the whole sheet). Award prizes.  Play the same but with a set vocabulary list where the students write in their own vocabulary (or better draw it in).   Read more….

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36.   Timelines.   Students draw a line down the left of the paper.  They record important time events there and write sentences about what happened to the right. Can be for their own life, a historical person, the school year etc….  Review together as a class.

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37.   Grammar Poems.   Use the piece of paper to have students write poems where each line is a specific grammar point (verbs, gerunds, nouns, demonstratives, comparatives etc….).  Write on one topic and then present / read out to the class.

Read more….

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38.   Chatting (paper airplane style). Students love chatting or texting but they can’t use their phone in the school.  Why not have them chat then make it into a paper airplane and then send to a student?  Can get a little noisy but they’ll write a lot of English!

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39.   Test Making & Taking. Fold the blank piece of paper into 2 (hamburger style). On one half, write some test questions for the class or some exercise, fill in the blanks. Turn over and write the correct answers. Exchange with a partner and take their test. Check the results by folding open the test paper.

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40.  Pictionary.  A classic game that’s easy to play with a blank piece of paper.  Give students a set of words/prompts and they play using the piece of paper in a group. They’ll produce much more language than if you use the board!   Read more …

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41.  Debate it!    Differences / Similarities.  Students write a topic for debate at the top of the paper. Fold the paper into two. Brainstorm on one side all the advantages of the topic and on the other side, all the disadvantages.  After, debate using full sentences.  Possible topics -  Living in the city / having a pet / being married / going to university / being a male /  taking the subway etc….  Read more ….

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42.  Design a sign or a welcome mat.   Students use the blank piece of paper to create a welcome mat or a sign with a message.  Show the class afterward.  Read more …

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43.  Listen – Remember – Review  The teacher tells the students a simple story (funny stories work best).  As the teacher tells the story, the students take notes on their blank piece of paper.  When the story is finished, the students try to write out the story based on their notes.  Compare versions after.   Read more…

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44.  Introduce the teacher.  The teacher writes out different words detailing important things in his/her life. Ex. 1988 /  pizza / soccer  /  broken  etc... .  Students ask a question to the teacher. Ex. Is your favorite food pizza? If correct, the item is crossed out. Continue until all items crossed out. Repeat with students in small groups doing the same on their blank piece of paper.  This lesson in a can for EFL Classroom 2.0 supporters has a great description of this and downloadables to support this activity.

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45.   Translating / decoding.   Divide the students into 2 groups.  Show each group of students a different version of text/story either in their own language or in textmessaging (make it into text using Transl8it.com).  Students decode/translate on a blank piece of paper.  The students fold it over and exchange with a classmate from the other group. They translate / decode back into the original then unfold and compare with the starting version.

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46.   Making Connections. Give students 3 minutes in groups to write down on the blank piece of paper as many vocabulary items / things as they can think of.  Next, students must connect each thing with another, using “A …… is similar to a …….. because both ……….”    Continue until all things are paired or connected.

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47.   Design a zoo.   Brainstorm as a class all the possible animals in a zoo. Using a blank piece of paper, student design a zoo and where all the zoo animals will live. Discuss possible conflicts and reasons to have each animal where …..  Do the same for a barn and farm animals.  Read more ….

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48.   Family Tree Student make a family tree of all their family member names.  Then they desribe their family to the group, using the family tree.  They must answer 2 questions from other group members about each person in the family.

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49.   Indian Poker.  Students fold “hamburger style” the piece of paper and write in large letters the name of a celebrity.  They hang the paper from the back of a classmates shirt. Students mingle and ask yes / no questions to guess who they are. If they tell the teacher the correct person, they can sit down. Continue until the majority guesses correctly.

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50.   Scheduling.  Students use the blank piece of paper to make a schedule.  Fold to make a calendar with boxes and students plan their perfect month if they were millionaires.  Or fold and make a perfect school timetable.  Present to the class / group after. 

 

Read more with these articles and resources.

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Tags: 50, activities, ideas, lessons, resource, scc, tasks, teach_learn


Supporter
Comment by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan on November 25, 2012 at 9:13pm

amazing. Thank you David

Eva


Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on November 25, 2012 at 9:29pm

Eva,

Very welcome!  I'll have to package these lists into a book.  Already much larger than the classic - Teaching With Nothing (but which I feel was much overrated but nonetheless gave teachers basic training in teaching with their feet on the ground). 


Supporter
Comment by Alice Sun on November 29, 2012 at 3:16am

Thank you David, you've been really helpful!!


Supporter
Comment by Marina Shvets on December 4, 2012 at 6:16am
Thank you, David! I'm going to arrange a 'Time' vocabulary conversation with my advanced students as a module revision. Hope it works)))

Supporter
Comment by Ann Foreman on December 5, 2012 at 12:05pm

Hi David,

Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.

Best,
Ann


Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on December 5, 2012 at 12:45pm

Ann, 

Thanks and will do.  Good for teachers to get back to basics!  I've got away from this and wish I had some video from the years I gave the blank piece of paper workshop - it was always fun. 

David 

Comment by Daniel Kinrys on January 20, 2013 at 6:26am

Thanks for the great list! I ought to print it and put it up at my desk, both for ideas and to inspire me to make sure I'm not "cluttering up" my teaching to much with unnecessary, distracting elements!


Supporter
Comment by Gisele rebeca de Paola on September 8, 2013 at 5:29pm

Excellent ideas...precious when your eboard is not working!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

Gisele de Paola


Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on September 8, 2013 at 6:43pm

Hi Gisele,

Yep!  Also, so many of these use techniques/approaches can be transferred to online learning. It's a delivery foundation that can be applied no matter the delivery method.  I remember only once doing a training like this - showing the "low" tech lesson and then complimenting it with the other side of the coin - the tech version. 

Comment by Bahram Mahmoodi on December 17, 2013 at 5:38pm

Ddeubel you are just Fantastic! Thanks for spreading ideas

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