The Masked Classroom: 13 engaging activities you can still use


There are no questions about it, the landscape of the classroom has changed. No matter which way you look at it, teaching may never be the same again. From one day to the next we went from face-to-face teaching to being stuck at home trying to figure out just how to get our ideas across to our students through a computer screen.

We’ve since been thrown back onto the front line and a great number of us are back in the classroom. Only now we’ve got brand new issues to deal with. In this blog post I’m going to provide you with 13 activites that will keep your classes active and engaging despite these essential restrictions which have been put into place 

I’m going to start by looking at masks. There are a few glaringly obvious issues that come to the fore when we think about wearing masks. My advice is to invest in a head strap or even just a hair clip. While it won’t make your coffee breath any nicer it will ease the pressure on your ears.

Secondly, as language teachers our key tool is our mouth. How many times have you found yourself really over emphasising words to show students how to shape their mouths in order to produce language and sounds? Removing this lip-reading option makes learning considerably more difficult. With around 55% of communication being visual(non-verbal) that leaves a huge 45% revolving around the mouth. Taking that into account it might be worth investing in, or asking your employer to invest in a clear face mask.  They’re inexpensive and you can find them on a large number of popular websites. For me this has been one of the biggest helps in overcoming these new barriers.

Since confinement came into force most of us have had to adapt to new technologies and online teaching at some point. When it comes to face-to-face teaching and the new measures that are in place. It really has been a case of going back to basics. That’s not to say we should forget about everything we’ve learnt. Far from it. We need to embrace and utilise all our newfound skills. What it does mean is rethinking old classroom activities because as language teachers we’ve grown accustomed to having a very lively classroom with plenty of movement to ensure students are really enjoying their learning environment.

I’m going to look at a few ideas on how to keep our students active in both their bodies and their minds. Those of you who know me or have attended any of my training sessions will be well aware that I like to have an active classroom with, sometimes, bordering on hyperactive students. What I’ve done recently is take a look at a number of old successful activities and see how they can be applied in the masked classroom. Some ideas are new, some are old games with a twist, and some are simple classics that you might have forgotten. All of which serve as reminders that you can have an active classroom and despite frequent classroom sterilization our lesson needn’t be sterile.

Spell it Out

Here is a fun activity you can do using only your fingers. Student A is given a word and has to “Air Spell” it for their Student B. When student B has the answer they can; shout it out, write it in their notebook, put their hands on their heads, write it on a mini white board and hold it up. Basically, any way in showing they have the word. The great thing about this is everyone in the class can be involved at the same time


Another all-inclusive activity is Pictionary. Only now, instead of students coming up to the front of the class to do their drawings, they have to stay seated and draw it on a mini white board, or even their desk guard, if you’re lucky enough to have had those installed in your classroom. One student draws an object/concept (usually something selected from the vocabulary list, or simply selected at random from the unit you’re working on) the other students in their team need to guess what it is. Students are given a time limit to see how many they can guess. This game can run one team at a time or all the teams/pair concurrently. Be warned, it gets competitive and if you’re running more than one game at once, it will get loud and there will be lots of cheating.

Crowded Café

This activity was always a hit when I used it to work on minimal pairs, I have however, since seen it as being increasingly useful for students to simply get some pair work done in a slightly more interesting way than simply turn to the person closest to you. As a forewarning this one is certainly a loud one. It can be adapted for a number of different activities, but I used it as an information exchange activity.

Each student is given a different reading activity, usually on the same subject. The teacher then gives each partner a set of questions (these can be written/projected onto the board) and they have to gather the information from their partner, who I like to set as being someone as far away as possible.  This gives students a chance to turn around in their chairs and get a different perspective of the room whilst maintaining the social distance.

Students will have to speak up, enunciate well and of course bring their focus onto not only spoken communication but also gestures and body language.

If you’re simply doing long distance pair work, why not spice it up and ask students to use different voices or to do the activity in character. Last week I had my students interview each other about their weekend as a pirate. Needless to say, we had quite a few laughs.

Teacher says please

This is simply Simon Says but with a different name. It’s a way of getting students out of their chairs and moving their bodies yet maintain distance and learning some manners in the process.  Instead of Simon Says I simply say: “Teacher says stand up and touch your nose, please” If I don’t say please students shouldn’t do it.

Exit Interview/TV Interviews

One of the only times students can actually move their entire body. I make one person the delegated interviewer, they stand two metres from the door and as students leave, the interviewer asks each student a question about the day’s lesson. This gives students a moment in the sun and gives each student the sense that they have taken something from the class.

This can also take the form of a news reporter interview. One student is the designated interviewer asking questions to other students as they pass by at a safe distance. Lines and floor markers are all important here.

Secret Story

Here is a way of getting students writing together. Put your class into groups of three and get them to select a story title, some main characters (work in a character build here if you like) and a setting.

Next get one person from each group to write, the introduction to another student (or two depending on age/ability) to write the main body and a final student to write the ending.

When the time is up, and you’re all done. Students put their stories together by reading them aloud to the class. You will end up with some truly bizarre stories and you can really get to see how students’ imaginations work. I like to then give the students the chance to fine tune their stories at home. Upon returning to the classroom they can reshare what they have developed.

 Why is there a in your bag?

Here is an activity that will get students of all ages laughing, seamlessly working on their question formation and quick thinking.

I tend to ask one of the stronger students “Why is there a monkey in your bag?” They have to come up with an answer on the spot. In turn I get each of the students to ask a question about said monkey. You can then get the students to develop the idea and ask each other why they have various other bizarre objects in their bag. It’s great for question formation and imagination.  Works with all levels from about K2.


I’m sure everyone knows this one. This is a classic that has really come back in my classes of all ages since returning to a masked classroom. I’ve chosen to look at it simply becuase it’s a great way for students to work on their non-verbal communication. But perhaps more importantly, in a time when students can`t move as much as we are used to it let’s them stay active whilst in their chairs. It also brings about that lovely new perspective of the classroom. Much like in Crowded Café.


A Deep Breath

Here is a fun fluency activity I use an entrance/leaving routine. I ask students to say what they’ve learnt that day they have to answer in one breath. Obviously, you can adapt the question depending on your students’ level/needs.

Distanced Role Play

Role plays have always had a key part to play in my classroom. The only difference  now is I do them from a distance. Watch the videos/listen to the audios then simply assign students a role and play it out from across the room. With performers keeping their distance from one another, of course.

Chants and Music

Using the chants is another a great way to get the students active. Rather than simply ccopying the chant or song,  I like to add a beat to it by students stamping and tapping out the beat on their desks. Most coursebooks for young learners come with chants. This is simply a way of bringing them to life and giving your students the chance to move their bodies a little bit.

Pig, Dog, Cat, Duck

Continuing on the chanting and banging theme, this is a pronunciation activity to work on weak forms. You can use any single syllable words from a lexical set. After Christmas perhaps you’d use. Toy, Ball, Doll, Car. Set a beat of about 112bpm. Then chant the words. Show them how the stress remains on the words even when you add more words.

Stage 1. Pig, Dog, Cat, Duck

Stage 2. A pig, a dog, a cat, a duck.

Stage 3. A pig and a dog and a cat and a duck.

Stage 4. A pig and then a dog and then a cat and then a duck.

Throw that ball

The last activity is one I used even before classes were completely non-contact. I hold up an imaginary ball and get the students to describe it. “It’s a big, heavy metal ball.” you can then throw it around the classroom and with the lexical set at hand. So if it’s a big heavy metal ball, you have to use all your power to toss the ball across the room to a student. They then in turn have to do the same. Each time shouting a word, continuing a sentence/sequence or even spelling something out

 Thanks very much for taking the time to read today. I hope that these activities can bring about some action to your classroom. There are obviously a great deal more games and activities that can be used in the masked classroom. If you’re interested in sharing your ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I’ll be back in a few weeks with a blog based on online classroom games and activities. Until then stay safe and keep your distance.


All materials taken from:

Real World 

Poptropica English




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