Livening Up the Process


This morning I saw this post by Marianne Petty in my Twitter feed called Ideas to Liven Up Your Class where the author is sharing several simple ideas to use a soft ball in the classroom to make a lesson livelier, more engaging and tech-free.

Reading this post reminded me of an idea I have had for a long time: ask my colleagues, other teacher educators, what objects they bring to their sessions working with teachers to make them more exciting (and excited!) and to model real classroom interaction. In my plans dreams I thought I would ‘interview’ those trainers and ask them to share a picture of those objects. Now it seems to me that this idea might not ever happen, so I decided to ‘paragraph blog’ it here and to invite others to do the same.

To get us started, I’d like to tell you a little about the set of objects I like to use. I happened to take this picture in a session on Classroom Management for International House Dnipro teachers last year:




As you see, a soft ball is here, too. In my training sessions (besides learning names, just as Marianne described) I often use it as a turn-taking tool (throw the ball to the next speaker, or nominate the next speaker by throwing the ball to him/her). I also use those dice as soft balls if I need several groups playing at the same time.

Speaking of dice: they can be obviously used for a board game. Having these big ones work for a large class where the instructions for a task need to be demonstrated before students (or teachers!) play in their groups. I also like to create a ‘mock/fake’ board game by putting cards with words or pictures in a circle and have the players throw the dice to determine the number of steps to make and either make a sentence or give a definition, or… (well, I guess you see the point now!)

Post-it notes deserve their own post, I think. Just to say that having a pile at hand helps a lot when I want to collect some group work results (write one idea you heard from a partner, etc.) and/or collect feedback (put a note on a poster, on the board, etc.) and/or to have a review activity. With teachers it works when there are extra questions to be kept in a parking lot. As I said, this could actually be a new post. [Note: I hope to write it soon!]

The little counting sticks replace Cuisenaire rods to some extent (but weigh much less!): serve as a categorization tool (use the blue ones for pros and the red ones for cons; ask someone with a different color stick), or as a grouping tool (sit next to someone with the same color stick). They are good for story-telling, vocabulary practice, and many more ideas. I really love their size (did I mention they are very light?)

My voice is not very loud (people who have worked with me can confirm it) so when it comes to an engaging speaking activity, especially mingling (cocktail) where everyone is speaking loudly and happily, it may take a while to stop/re-direct the participants into a new task. If this seems less important in a real classroom with language learners, a training course for teachers uses the ‘compress button’ sometimes, when an activity needs to be stopped as soon as the group members see its point. I know, I know: people complain that they are interrupted in the most interesting place… At the same time, sometimes, this needs to be done. This was a long introduction to the drum in the picture: it makes a nice rhythmical sound and catches everyone’s attention immediately. And… it is very light, too (so it can travel with me if needed!)

Finally, the magic wand (sorry, a pencil and an eraser that can look like a magic wand, if used ‘properly’ with a confident gesture and a spell) Sometimes is good for modeling an activity for a Young Learner classroom, and sometimes as a metaphorical reminder that there is no ‘magic recipe’ in teaching (or training!) and that a bit of creativity and imagination can make miracles.

What do you have in your teaching or training bag? What do you like to use in class? What do you the same, and (most interestingly!) what do you use differently? Let’s keep talking in the comments.

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂


My older post on a close topic may be relevant here: Life into Lessons 

More inspiration can be found in an older post on realia by Rachael Roberts:

Updates: it looks like we are enjoying a new Blogging Challenge #LivenigUpTheProcess. See great posts by Lina here, by Hana Ticha here, by Svetlana here , by Micaela here, and by Kate hereAre you joining the  ? 🙂

About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Livening Up the Process

  1. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,
    My bag is a lot less interesting by comparison. I carry folders with handouts and cards for the class(es) I’m going to teach that day (I usually start out with an empty folder and say I’m going to carry only the stuff I intend to use that day, but I never take anything out so by the end of the semester the folder has grown pretty fat). There are also board markers and because I’ve got quite a few, there’s bound to be a moment I reach for one that’s dying and then I chuck it in the bin during class. Sometimes I carry different color markers in a box, if we’re going to work on posters. Dice, too, but small ones. Your big dice reminded me of how I recently saw a microphone that was essentially a large soft cube and if there’s a large group of people or a large room, where it’s important that voice carries, you could toss the microphone to the person who wants to speak. I hadn’t seen that before.
    This semester I took a pretty unusual object to class (in my bag) – a roll of toilet paper. A coworker told me how this could be used as an icebreaker: you get each student to take a couple of pieces and then when everyone’s got some you ask them to share as many details about themselves as they took pieces of the roll. It was supposed to generate a lot of laughter and I liked the idea, although I wasn’t as impressed once I’d tried it – can’t really say why. Maybe I expected too much. 🙂
    Happy holidays!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana
      So cool to have this conversation – thank you for sharing how you organize your bag (and the learning process, some details!) I also use anything that reminds a mike for those purposes, and once saw a self-made one from a soft ball and a pencil (I think). Wow, laughed out loud reading about the toilet paper idea! 🙂 I heard about it, but have not done it myself. I think the idea I heard was about asking each other questions according to the number of pieces you got, or something like this. I remember a participant using a roll of toilet paper for the end-of-course ‘inspiration kit’ project, and eventually the whole group using it as tissues while crying about the course ending (and the only one not crying was me!) I think I quit the idea of using TP in class after that session.
      Thank you for leaving your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lina says:

    Hi Zhenya and thank you for an interesting post!! I got inspired and wrote my own about some funny/cute/unusual things I use in the classroom:

    Liked by 1 person

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