Quick and Simple Language Activities

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a decent amount of time amassing quick and simple language activities to use with my class. I’ve focused on finding things that easily adapt to a wide range of abilities, can be used in a variety of ways, and are fast to set up. I like to use these activities during my language groups/centres time, but they’re also really handy to have around in case there are any last minute schedule changes or an unexpected absence.

1) Photo of the Day: I load up a photo from a website like National Geographic (their Photo of the Day galleries are great) or a news source. I like to choose photos with a lot of interesting elements to them – things my students can talk about, think about, compare to their own experiences, etc. I provide my students with some sentence starters (I teach a second language program) and then ask them to write about the photo, prepare a short presentation for the class, or discuss it in groups. My sentence starters are things like:

“In this photo, I see…” / “Dans cette photo, je vois…”

“I think ________ becase ________…” / “Je pense que ________ parce que ________…”

“This photo makes me think of…” / “Cette photo me fait penser à…”

My students talk about where they think the photo was taken, what they think is happening in the photo, what details they notice which provide them with insight into where/when the photo was taken and what is going on. These activities have taught them a lot about providing evidence and justifying their responses, which has helped their literacy development considerably.


2) Journal Tic-Tac-Toe: At the beginning of the week, I set up one of my language centres with a tic-tac-toe sheet (really just a 3×3 grid) where each square has a different writing prompt. Over the course of the week, students choose three prompts to write about, with the caveat that their three choices have to make a straight line. The prompts can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. You can tie them into your Social Studies or Science units, or you can focus on specific writing forms, or follow a simple theme. These sheets provide students with choice while focusing on specific skills or subjects.


3) Story Starters: My husband is a professional artist, so sometimes I ask him to make things for me to use in the classroom. It’s pretty awesome when he has the time to make something for me! One thing he made me several years ago was a bunch of sets of “story starters” – collections of images (two characters, an object, and a location) based on fairy tales or themes. I printed them out on cardstock, laminated them, and put them all on their own keyring. In my classroom, I use them for writing and drama. They’re handy to have around for having students come up with simple skits to get them speaking (especially useful in a second language classroom like mine). Sometimes I use them in their original sets, other times I mix and match characters, settings, and objects from different stories/themes. I have about twelve different sets of these, which I keep in jars/tubs that students can draw them out of randomly. Here’s an example of a printsheet with a few different sets:

Story Starter Small Set 1


4) Boggle: I have a standard Boggle template I’ve made and a bunch of laminated square cards that I can write letters on with dry-erase markers. The square cards have magnets on the back so that I can stick them on the blackboard. Students have to make as many words as possible with the letters provided. In French, I don’t worry about adding accents to vowels, telling my students instead that they can add accents to the letters as necessary when forming words. We keep a tally in the class throughout the week of which students have found the most words and/or the longest words, which really motivates them to try and find more as the week progresses. I usually pick the letters for the week by starting with a long word so that my students have a really good one to find. Sometimes I use letters that I know will form a vocabulary word from a unit we’re studying. I don’t do Boggle every week, but they enjoy it every time I do!


Hopefully those are a few ideas others can use in their classroom when they need something fast and simple to prepare. The nice thing about them all is that once you’ve set them up once, they’re really easy to come back to again. I have all my favourite photos bookmarked, for example, and I keep lists of Boggle letter sets my students were really successful with.

If you have any favourite quick/simple set-up language activities you do with your students, let me know! I am always looking to add to my repertoire.

Updated: February 28, 2016 — 9:57 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 6 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011 (or 2008 if we want to include Teacher's College).

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