The Minimalist ALT
was inspired by a group of Japanese elementary school teachers I was training who told me they wanted to learn activities that require 'no preparation, no materials, and are time-flexible.' Don't we all!!
The result not only changed my own teaching style, it made my life at school a LOT easier! But more importantly, the students enjoy the classes and use English in real and meaningful ways.
Scroll down to learn how to teach... with less.

March 11, 2009

List of Activities

Here is a list of the activities listed on this site. For ideas about how to use the list, click here.
  • O/X Game
  • Choral Translation
  • CROSSFIRE- Patterns
  • Pair KARUTA/ Word Catcher
  • Hot Potato
  • Janken Conversation Rounds
  • Pair SLAP
  • Student <-> Teacher 1-on-1
  • Individual Student Translation
  • CROSSFIRE / LINEFIRE - Translation
  • Liar-Liar!
  • Find 3 People
  • Find 3 People -> Tell the Teacher

O/X (Maru-Batsu) Game

The O/X Game is a very powerful classroom activity- In one activity students participate in all of the categories of activities on The Minimalist ALT. It is also very flexible, making it useful for almost any language pattern. Learn to use it well!

This is the activity sequence for the O/X Game--
*Listen, Repeat, Respond, Repeat, Answer & Score

For Sentences:
Ready (optional, but suggested for elementary classes):
-WRITE a target sentence or question pattern on the blackboard, underlining or using a different color chalk for the part/parts that will be changed.

-CHOOSE a student with the dice.
-SAY a sentence aloud.
-All students REPEAT.
-All students RESPOND-raise hand for ‘O’, or don’t for ‘X’.
-SAY the sentence again.
-Students REPEAT.
-Chosen student ANSWERS- ‘O’ or ‘X’.
-Correct students SCORE a point (chosen student, too).

For Yes/No Questions:
-WRITE and PRACTICE answer patterns on blackboard.
-ASK a question.
-All students REPEAT.
-CHOOSE an answering student with the dice.
-ASK the question again.
-All students REPEAT again.
-All students RESPOND by raising hands (‘O’) or not (‘X’) to guess the chosen student’s answer.
-ASK the question again, to the chosen student.
-The chosen student ANSWERS.
-Correct students SCORE a point (chosen student, too).

  • be creative with play style and language use. For example, when teaching the pronouns he and she, ask the student a question, or use a sentence, using the student’s name. Then, ask the same student a second question, or say a second sentence, using he or she in the question or statement. When teaching we, first ask the chosen student a question, or say a sentence. Then the second time, stand next to the student, use the same language, except use we for the subject. Or, you can use a second student: after asking the first student a question, or saying a sentence about the student, use the same sentence, except use they, indicating the first student and second student.
  • If you use English names for the students, this is a good time to practice ‘What’s your English name?’ before making a question/sentence about that student.
  • For Wh- questions (for example, ‘What color do you like?’), put two (or more) choices for the chosen student to answer from on the blackboard (O=I like blue. / X=I like red.) This will also show the students a written model of the correct answer form.

Choral Translastion


Pair KARUTA/ Word Catcher

March 3, 2009

Hot Potato

Small Group Creative Substitution Drills for Sentences or Questions.
materials: prepared sentences or questions, timer
time: 10-15 minutes

For each of 3-6 rounds, write a sentence, a question or a short 2 person dialog on the blackboard, and underline one word or phrase for students to change with their own word or phrase (I always use the same colored chalk for this). Make successive sentences/questions/dialogs varied, and/or a little more difficult. Two parts to change for the last pattern give the students a fun challenge.
In groups of 3 or 4 (small groups give each student more chances to speak), the beginning student says the target pattern on the blackboard, then passes a pen case, or other hot potato, to the next student. If the pattern is a question, the next student must first answer the question before making a new question and passing the hot potato. If the target pattern is a sentence, the next student makes a new sentence before passing the hot potato. Students continue like this in a circle until the time limit is reached (1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds for short patterns, up to 2 minutes 15 seconds for dialogs). Use a count-down timer that beeps loudly when the time has finished.
If you use points in the classroom for motivation, all the students can start with 5 points, and the losing student (those holding the hot potato when the time has finished) lose one point.

Example rounds for one activity:

  • Have you ever been to Kyoto?
  • I have never seen an alien. How about you? Me, either./ I have seen an alien before.
  • Kenta has played gate ball many times.
  • How many times have you climbed Mt. Fuji?I have climbed Mt. Fuji once.


Full Class Testing or Listen-and-Respond Activity
prepared sentences or questions, or make them up as you go
time: 3-10 minutes

CROSSFIRE or LINEFIRE are testing activities that need to be used judiciously. As a game, they can be quite fun for the students (especially those sitting and watching). Students intuitively understand the testing nature of the activities, however; many students just don’t like to be one of a few students standing while all the others are sitting and watching. For the teacher, though, it is very convenient for checking students' oral production accuracy: for example, after introducing or practicing some words, structures or gestures, and before moving into an activity that doesn’t allow for direct teacher error surveillance. We often play CROSSFIRE or LINEFIRE before moving onto more free-speaking activities (or the ConFluency Card Game).


CROSSFIRE: With the classroom set up with the desks in rows, choose one row -either front-to-back or side-to-side- to stand. After the teacher says a sentence or asks a question, the student with the first hand up can respond. If the response is correct, this student may sit down (if incorrect, the student remains standing, and the next fastest student may respond). This pattern continues until there is one original student standing. At this time, the line of students ninety-degrees opposed to the original line and containing the last standing student, stand and become the responders.

Continue play until the students sufficiently understand the correct patterns for responding to be able to continue to the next activity. After playing several rounds, you can ask the students who haven't stood up yet to stand for the final round.

LINEFIRE: Choose one row to stand (I usually roll a single die/dice to choose one row, counting from left to right). This row stands, and in order (front-to-back or back -to-front) each student in turns responds. If the response is correct, the student sits down; if not, the student remains standing, and the chance to respond moves to the next. When all students have resonded correctly and sat down, the student who answered incorrectly is given another chance.

CROSSFIRE/LINEFIRE PATTERNS for practicing a variety of Conversation Skill patterns:

  • (Teacher -> Student)
  • Question -> Answer
  • Question -> A + 1 Answer
  • Question -> Answer (+1) & Repeat the Same Question
  • Question -> Answer (+1) & Ask Another Question
  • (Teacher 1) Question -> (Teacher 2) Answer (+1) -> (Student) Follow-Up Question
  • Question -> Answer (+1) -> (Teacher) Pardon? -> (Student) Repeat
  • Sentence -> Say the Same Sentence (Listen -> Repeat, or L & R. Great for introducing new patterns.)
  • Sentence -> Say Another Sentence
  • Sentence -> Say Another Sentence -> (Teacher) Pardon? -> (Student) Repeat

Janken Conversation Rounds

*This activity was chosen by a group of elementary teachers as the main activity for their English classes. It is the best way to teach and practice Conversation Skills. It can be used for meaning- or pattern-focus, and for all of the language structures. Learn how to use it well!

: target sentence or question

Time: 1-5 minutes

Students sit at desks in paired rows, facing forward.
Write or post the Rotation Pattern on the blackboard (click for print 1, print 2).

WRITE A SENTENCE & RESPONSE or QUESTION & ANSWER pattern on the blackboard as an example. UNDERLINE or WRITE IN A DIFFERENT COLOR the part of the sentence or question that the students are to change. Write this in order of W (winner) and L (loser), W and L representing the two students. If there is a choice of responses, number the choices (see below).
Next to the above, WRITE also the CONVERSATION PATTERN OR SKILL to be used on the blackboard (so students learn to recognize it on the ConFluency Card Game cards. See Conversation Skills for a list. Click here for a Practice Order List of the skills).
For example:

(W) I play tennis. (Say a Sentence) (L) I play soccer. (Say Another Sentence) or

(W) I play tennis. (Say a Sentence) (L1) I play tennis, too. (plus don’t) (L2) I don’t play tennis. (plus ,too.)

All students LISTEN AND REPEAT the target conversation from the blackboard or text poster. You might ask for volunteers to first say some optional phrases for the underlined/colored section.
All students are given time to think of a sentence or question in the given pattern.

Students, in seat pairs, play Janken (Rock-Paper-Scissors, or R-P-S). Usually, the winner (W) begins the conversation according to the posted pattern, and the pair continue until they finish the posted conversation pattern.
When the conversation pattern is finished, the student on the rotation side moves one seat forward or back (according to the posted Rotation Pattern). The new pair again plays Janken (R-P-S), and does the posted conversation, as before.
The activity continues until students return to their own seats.


For vocabulary (single words), students simply say the word in English or Japanese, and the other student translates.

For sentences, to make the activity communicative, use the conversation patterns (plus ,too.) and (plus don’t) as a two-choice response.

To TEST any of the language focus patterns, have students translate from English to Japanese, or from Japanese to English in their conversation pars.

Try to use the same colors or writing style every time you do the activity. This will help students easily recognize the patterns.
Try also to use the same words/phrases every time for students’ easy recognition. Using the same names as are on the ConFluency Cards will also promote easy success when students begin to play the card game.
Varying the rotating side, and front-to-back or back-to-front will help keep students’ interest.
Depending on time, there are a variety of rotation options: seats pairs can play one time together; seat pairs play first, then once more with the student in front/behind. Rows can be split in half, or played full length. When you have enough time to repeat the activity, in classes with six rows, the 2nd and 3rd rows, and the 4th and 5th rows, can change seats. In this way, all students get new seat partners.

Pair Slap

materials: target sentence or question-and-answer pattern

time: 2-10 minutes

group size: seat pairs

-All students stand in seat pairs. One student is designated as student A, the other, student B.
-WRITE TWO SENTENCES on the blackboard. The two sentences should be similiar, for example, A-‘I like tennis.’ and B-‘I play tennis.’ or A-‘I like pink.’ and B-‘I like blue.’

Play- for listening accuracy
-A-students first repeat the A sentence after the teacher, then B-students repeat the B sentence.
-Paired students face each other, each holding one hand out as if shaking hands, BUT the 2 students’ hands are held 10-15 cm. apart.
-Teacher says, ‘READY!’ and reads one of the sentences aloud.
-If the A sentence is read aloud, the A-student tries to slap the other student’s hand (winning). The B-student, though, tries to pull his or her hand away before it is slapped (winning).

Play- for translation
-Teacher writes ONE sentence on the blackboard, in English or in Japanese.
-All students repeat.
-One of the pair (the A or B student) is told to slap if the translation is correct. The other student is told to slap if the translation is not correct. (on the blackboard- A-O B-X ).
-Teacher says, ‘READY!’ and reads the sentence aloud.
if points are awarded, correctly guessing students get one point for each correct guess.


  • For classes that don’t interact well in a free-moving activity like this, have the students Janken Conversation Round style-- seat pairs playing janken, and one side rotating back one seat after their conversation is finished.

Student 1-on-1 with Teacher

Individual Student Translation

Asking an individual student to translate your spoken or written English word or structure into Japanese can be an effective way to test comprehension of meaning and to reinforce it for the entire class. It also follows the good teaching practice of not telling an answer, but rather challenging the students to elicit it.
Beware, though, that this is a test. The student's answer will be either correct or not. And all of the other students are watching and listening. This raises the answering student's affective filter and anxiety level.
To lessen the anxiety, I usually ask the whole class to first chorally give me the translation, giving everyone the challenge. Then after this, I ask for a volunteer, or choose one by rolling the dice, to tell me the correct translation. Asking for a volunteer or choosing a volunteer by dice, rather than choosing one yourself, lessens more the stress on the lone answering student.

Liar! Liar!

a meaning-focused sentence pair practice activity
(with a time-adding writing/testing option)

materials: target sentence pattern, and return comment
time: 5-10 minutes (with writing, 15-20 min.)


-Write a sentence pattern on the blackboard. the part that the students will change should be written in a different color, or underlined. Write also the partner’s return pattern *.
-* teachers here can choose what language the students react with. for example, ‘I play tennis.’ --> ‘You play tennis?’ or -->‘Liar! You don’t play tennis!’ or -->‘I think you don’t play tennis’ or -->‘Do you really play tennis?’, etc.

-Students think of two sentences in this target pattern-one TRUE and one FALSE.

-Writing/testing option--students write the sentences in their notebooks (or elsewhere) for checking before the next speaking activity.


-With all students standing, pairs play janken, and loser says/reads their two sentences aloud. janken winner must guess which is the FALSE statement, using the teacher-chosen language (above *).

-If points are awarded, correctly guessing students get one point for each correct guess.

For classes that don’t interact well in a free-moving activity like this, have the students move in their seating rows, seat pairs playing janken, and one side rotating back one seat after their conversation is finished.

Find 3 People

materials: target sentence and return comment, or
question & answer pattern
time: 5-10 minutes (with writing, 10-20 min.)
group size: pairs-row rotations, or free moving

-* teachers here choose what language the students respond with. for example, W)‘I play tennis.’ --> L)‘I don’t play tennis.’ or L)‘I play tennis, too.’
-writing/testing option--students write the sentence-and-comment or question-and-answer patterns in their notebooks (or elsewhere) for checking before the next speaking activity. You could first write the patterns in Japanese on the blackboard.
-Students think of an original sentence or question based on the given pattern.

-With all students standing, PAIRS PLAY JANKEN, and winner says/reads his/her sentence or question. Janken loser responds or answers, using the teacher-chosen language (above *).
-GOAL of the pair activity is to find 3 students with a Yes or No answer (teacher chooses before starting); +,too. or +don’t response; or for Wh- questions, an answer pre-chosen by each student.
-When a student has found 3 of the target answers/responses, he or she returns to their desk and sits down.


  • Communicative ability testing option--When a student has found his/her 3 people, he or she must come to the teacher and perform the dialog before sitting down.
  • Pattern accuracy testing option--Students answering the target responses form a group. When a group of 3 has been formed, they come to the teacher. The teacher can choose a variety of options here. For example, when studying subject pronouns, each of the students can say, ‘I play soccer. He plays soccer. She plays soccer. We play soccer. They play soccer.’
  • If points are awarded, students get one point for each janken win.
  • For classes that don’t interact well in a free-moving activity like this, have the students Janken Conversation Round style-- seat pairs playing janken, and one side rotating back one seat after their conversation is finished.

Find 3 People -> Tell the Teacher

This is a simple twist on the Find 3 People activity that makes it into a testing activity. Simply require that students who have found their 3 people come to the teacher and perform the Q & A with the teacher before sitting down (and to perhaps receive points).

How to Use This Site

There is a translation tool in the upper left corner of the page; choose your language to translate the page. After translation, hover the cursor/arrow over a sentence to see the sentence displayed in the original English.

Explanations of each activity are written lower down the blog page. A link at the top of the page will bring up the List of Acitivities for you to use in the following way:

When I need to choose activities or make a lesson plan, I first determine the language pattern being targeted (words, sentences/negatives, yes/no questions, wh- questions, or commands). Then I simply look down a compiled list of the activities I know (click the Activity List link at the top of the page). My eye/mind recognizes suitable activities as I look through the List, and I note these on a pad of paper. Next I look over the activities I've written down, and choose complementary activities that I want to include in the lesson. The last job is ordering the remaining activities to maximize student experience.

The Minimalist ALT blog offers another method: sorting. By choosing one of the links in the lefthand column, you can bring to the top of the page only those activities that are suitable for your language pattern, meaning- or -pattern-focus, or time. Since the blog can sort by only one criteria at a time, by choosing different sorting tags and noting which activities sort into each option, you can use the sorting feature of the blog to assist you in choosing appropriate activities.

For in-class use, here is a .pdf document listing all of the activities on a single page, divided by meaning-/pattern-focus and teaching/practicing/testing. Keep this in a folder that you carry to class (and your dice & timer!), and you'll have it with you when you need it in a hurry.

How the Activities are Divided

The activities presented on The Minimalist ALT are divided 3 ways: by language part; by teaching, practicing & testing; and by pattern-focus or meaning-focus. These divisions are based on natural language learning modes and usage, and have direct implications on how activities are chosen and sequenced in the classroom.

The Language Parts: Words; Sentences & Negatives; Yes/No Questions; Wh- Questions; and Commands. These divisions cover very simply almost all of the kinds of language that we teach. In conversation, each of these patterns requires a different kind of response. Developing awareness of these divisions in students helps to overcome such common errors as: 'What's your name?' 'Yes, I do!' and 'My name is Elton.' 'No.' Using these divisions also makes it very easy for teachers to select appropriate activities for the target patterns being taught.

Teaching, Practicing & Testing: These three activities pretty much cover all that we do in the classroom. In regards to ordering activities within a lesson, another commonly recognized point is paramount: Everyone's listening vocabulary is always larger than their speaking vocabulary. Or in another way, input preceeds output in language learning. Input can be either listening or reading; output can be either speaking or writing. Regarding these four language skills, speaking and conversational interaction are the fastest; as such, the other skills can serve to build competence before students are required to demonstrate speaking ability.

Pattern-focused or Meaning-focused activity: Words, and similarly language structures, are commonly said to have two distinct features: sound and meaning (there are, of course, also rhythm, written form, feeling, and more). Based on this, I think how we say something, and what it means, are likewise a natural division in choosing language activities. Placing pattern-focused activities prior to meaning-focused activities in the teaching sequence is also natural: this is what we say, this is how we say it, and this is what it means. Using this natural sequence in choosing and ordering activities has been very helpful in my lesson planning.

How to Use Dice in the Classroom

I always walk into class with a pair of dice in my pocket. Here are the ways they can be used:

-Roll two dice to choose a student-very effective in choosing a volunteer (for O/X Game, to choose the cross-point student to begin CROSSFIRE, etc.). With a little use, the students become resigned to the fact that their turn to perform was chosen at random by the dice.
With students sitting in rows of 6 across, and 4-7 deep:
  • One die counts the rows of students from left-to-right. The second die counts the rows of students from front-to-back. Thus the front row lefthand-most student is number 1-1, the back row righthand-most student is number 6-6, and so on.
-Roll one die to choose a row to stand up for LINEFIRE.

-If you give out points, you can offer a choice of a set reward (6 points, for example) or the total of 2 rolled dice.

-When doing an activity such as a Quiz Show that awards points to the (usually) higher-skilled team, give them points equal to two rolled dice. BUT, if the dice roll any pair (1-1, 2-2, etc.) take away ALL of the points awarded until that time!