7 Engaging MFL Activities That Make Your Classroom an Awesome Place to Be
Remember the excitement you felt that morning when you had something special prepared for your class, an activity that you know they would just absolutely love?
Remember the exhilaration you felt? I know you do!
Imagine having that kind of feeling each time you step inside the classroom. Imagine having an exciting activity prepared for your class each and every day.
Well, this post will help you with all that. I’ll give you seven Modern Foreign Language activities that’ll make your classroom not only “fun central,” but also a hub for long-term learning. These activities will not only make your classes buzz for weeks on end, they will pave the way for lessons to be remembered long after your students step out of the classroom.
So that’s like hitting two birds with one stone, right? But before we do all that, we’ll look into three very important things you need to do in order to never run out of fun activities.
How to Never Run Out of Fun MFL Activities for the Classroom
1. Run to the Internet
Your students run to the internet for pretty much anything. You should too.
One of the first things you’ll discover is that you’re not the only teacher who has run out of gas and needs fresh classroom ideas; the problem is actually quite common.
The second thing you will discover is that your problem has already been solved—by many others. And by tapping into the power of the internet, you’ll find a whole community of peers who can help you with your plight.
The great thing about online materials is that you can have all of them virtually free and at the speed of light. Teachers of yore had to spend a whole evening preparing visual aids and story props just to make their classes interesting. And they burned through those visual aids in a matter of minutes.
All you have to do today is use your keyboard, mouse and printer to have in seconds what used to take a couple of days of intense labor!
Check out these sites—pick and choose, mix and match—and you’ll always have something creative and engaging under your sleeve:
- Teach It Languages – A site exploding with games and worksheets you can download and print.
- Teachers Pay Teachers – A site where other teachers share their original teaching resources.
- FluentU – An immersive site with real-world videos that serve as effective language lessons.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
- Language Nut – A site specifically made with language teachers and students in mind (classroom friendly!)
- Share My Lesson – Another site teeming with language lessons from creative language teachers around the world.
Really, in this day and age, there is no excuse to run out of interesting activities to do in the classroom.
2. Involve the Class
Another trick to never run out of activities is to flatly ask your students what they want to do. If they say, “Let’s hear a story” or “Let’s play a game,” then do so.
You’ll always have activities to do because your students will never run out of things that they want to do. I’m not saying be at the mercy of their whims, but they’ll basically tell you what would be the most effective way of getting their attention right at that very moment.
The orthodox way of teaching was one directional—the flow of information goes from the teacher and down to the students. Nowadays, information flows both ways. Good teachers have discovered that students learn better when they become actively involved in the lessons.
So instead of doing all the thinking yourself, open up a dialogue with your students and encourage them to have a say in the lessons. This does require a bit of flexibility on your part because your lesson plans become very fluid, but the benefits far outweigh the adjustments.
Instead of prepping an entire activity yourself, enlist your students’ help during this preparation process. For example, if you’re planning a story time, let students become active stakeholders in the story rather than passive listeners.
One way to do this is to let your students make the props that will be used in the story. With this move alone, you have not only given yourself more time, you also created “teachable moments” while your students are working on the props. If the story involves creating a background of a forest and animals, for example, you can take advantage of such moments by commenting, “Oh, Johnny is drawing dogs. Nice! In German, dogs are called ‘hunde.’ In English we also call dogs “hounds,” right? In German, it’s ‘hunde’ –‘hound’ with a twist. Johnny is making cute ‘hunde’… ”
You’re already teaching, but in a different way. One simple story alone could take at least four sessions: two for making the props, with you supervising and finding “teachable moments,” another session for the story itself, and then one final session for recapping the story and reviewing “hunde” and other vocabulary learned.
Involving your students creates more options for classroom activities, and it also gets students to listen extra hard and feel especially proud because they’re making an impact.
3. Repeat with a Twist
One common misconception of teachers who run out of things to do in the classroom is that they think every activity should be 100% unique. “Oh, we’ve already played that game, the students will get bored with that.” That’s a sure-fire way to run out of ideas!
If your goal is to make your language class as interesting as possible, you don’t have to be novel all the time. All you have to do is change prior activities a tiny bit to make things more interesting.
When playing classroom games, for example, you could play the same vocabulary game but have your students pick different teams. If you’ve already done boys vs. girls, divide the classroom in half and play left side vs. right side. Or instead of giving 20 seconds to answer, you kick it up a notch and allow only half the regular amount of time. Or instead of raising their hands and screaming the correct answer, have a representative run to the board and write the answer.
You could have the same game, but because of these little twists you introduce, it will be a whole new experience for your students. You don’t have to wrack your brain thinking of something that’s never been done before. (In fact, classic games like Pictionary and Charades work best because the class already knows the rules and they can be totally focused on beating the other team.)
So remember, when you think you’ve done everything there is to do, revisit your previous activities and add a twist. They will be as fresh as morning bread for your wards.
Next, we’ll look into actual activities you can do in class.
7 Engaging MFL Activities That Make Your Classroom an Awesome Place to Be
1. Organize Individual and Group Vocabulary Games
One of the most effective ways to teach vocabulary is through fun games—either played individually or in groups.
A great vocabulary game for individuals is Word Scramble.
To play, give each student a list of vocabulary words in the target language. The catch is, the words have their letters jumbled in the wrong order, and they’re accompanied by a set of clues so students can figure out what that word is.
This game mixes both the joy of discovery and the positive effects of actively working, manipulating and rearranging the letters.
But the real power of this game is in the hints that you give for each word. (I recommend giving at least three.) Each of the hints will be anchors for the memory, so that when your students try to recall vocabulary, they’ll have plenty of mental connections going for them.
For example, for the French word “Vert” (green), you could present it like this:
RETV: __ __ __ __
- It is a French color.
- It is the color of most leafy vegetables.
- It is the color of the Incredible Hulk when he gets mad.
- It is the color of money.
So with the hints that you give, you are actually providing context for the word. You are teaching even when the students are working their way through the list on their own. Plus, it would be very hard for your students to forget that “vert” is French for “green” when they have the angry Incredible Hulk in their heads. The game is memory friendly and continues to pay dividends long after it’s done.
Another type of vocabulary game you can do is a group game called The Amazing Race. This is less of a sit-down activity, and more of a run-around-talk-with-your-teammates affair. Think of “The Amazing Race” TV show and give the groups tasks to complete.
Only by knowing the meaning of certain vocabulary words will they be able to complete the task. So for example, you might give them a list of 10 tasks and the group who finishes first gets a coveted prize. Examples of tasks you might include in a German class would be:
- There’s something “rot” in the playground. Find it, because tied to it is your next task. (“Rot” is German for “red.” There’s a shiny red balloon in the playground, and tied to it is the envelope containing the next task.)
- Bring me (the teacher) “drei, runde” objects (three round objects) and I shall reward you with your next task.
- Run to the Kantine and ask how much is a slice of chocolate Kuchen. Divide that number by 3. Whisper to me the answer in order to get the next task.
It’s a fun game which fosters not only cooperation among team members, the vocabulary words used in the game will always be embedded in the long-term memory of your students. (Especially when they lose because of it.)
2. Hold a TPRS Storytelling Session
The traditional kind of story has a set plot involving a predetermined number of complications and a predictable ending.
A TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) story is a little different. It’s a story where your students get to decide what happens next. The plot is not set in stone; it’s fluid and contingent on what the class wants.
Are you familiar with improv or the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Your story would be in the same vein. You would “ask” the story from the class. You could say, “Our story today is about a farm animal. Jessica, what is your favorite farm animal?”
The whole idea of TPRS is that the story is merely a vehicle for the vocabulary that you want to teach. It doesn’t matter what happens in the story, the story is just there to provide repetition opportunities so you can hammer the vocabulary over and over.
Let’s say you want to teach the French word “triste” (sad). You can create a whole story around it! It can be about a girl who lost her pet, or a boy who can’t play outside because of the rain. Any story will do. The story just gives you the opportunity to repeat “triste” over and over and over until the word is transfixed into the long-term memory of your students. How can they ever forget the word when you keep on repeating it each chance in the story?
Teacher: Sally is gloomy. She’s sad. She’s triste. [Teacher shows a sad face.] She’s triste because she and her best friend had a fight.
Teacher: You know what made Sally triste?
Students: Because she and her best friend had a fight?
Teacher: Correct! They had a fight. That’s why Sally was sad. She was triste. “Triste” is the French word for sad. And Sally was triste that day. The fight made her triste. Poor Sally. Class, do you know what Sally and her friend fought about?
Teacher: Take a wild guess…
Notice that in these few lines, the teacher was able to use “triste” in the story half a dozen times? And we haven’t even really started yet. Can you now imagine how—by the end of the story—your students will know what “sad” is in French, and would remember it for the rest of their lives?
Can you also imagine how, with a little mental flexibility, you can mesmerize the whole class with a story that they help create? Imagine what it would do to their attention span when, instead of being passive listeners, you give them stakes on what actually happens in the story.
3. Watch FluentU Videos and Have a Discussion After
Multimedia is an effective teaching tool that both captures attention and maintains focus.
FluentU is the leading provider of engaging language learning videos that covers the whole spectrum of learners—from absolute beginners to advanced students. This immersion platform covers a wide range of topics—like arts and entertainment, science and technology, and business—to teach language learners with authentic content.
Take an ordinary video, a newscast for example. FluentU turns that unassuming clip into an interactive language lesson. Your students will experience language immersion right in the confines of the classroom.
The videos have perfectly timed subtitles (and downloadable transcripts) so your students can have whatever level of support they need for maximum understanding. With catchy tunes and engaging visuals, the language will come alive for you students.
After watching a clip, you can lead the class in review. A cool feature of FluentU videos is that every word has an image, audio, definition and example sentences. So if you want to emphasize something and need to give a more thorough explanation of a word, you simply hover your mouse over the word and FluentU will expound it for your students. It’ll even show other video clips where that same word or phrase are used, meaning lots of context.
And while you can definitely center lessons around FluentU, you can also assign videos, flashcards and audios for students to watch and learn at home. You can set due dates and view each student’s progress as they work through the assignments. Here’s how to get started using FluentU with your classes today.
4. Give Engaging Worksheets That Encourage Individual Work
There will always be room for individual work in an MFL class.
Individual worksheets ensure that all students get to tackle the lessons. Group work sometimes permits some students to piggyback on the work of their teammates.
Earlier I told you about the internet having anything a teacher could ever wish for. With websites like Share My Lessons, Teach It Languages and Teachers Pay Teachers, you’ll feel like you’re in Disneyland. These sites are brimming with free worksheets and lesson plans that not only entertain your wards for hours, they open new ways of looking at the lessons. It’s a good thing that creative educators are also not short on generosity!
The worksheets are often arranged topically, and there’s something for all language levels and ages. They are visually engaging and mentally challenging and would be perfect for your MFL class.
After giving your students ample time to work, process and correct the papers as a class. This will reinforce their comprehension of the lesson. And when a student asks a question, it benefits the whole class to hear your reply to the query.
5. Fire up Those Gadgets and Have an “App-time”
Preschool would often have “nap time” in their daily schedule. For your MFL classes, you can have “app time.” This is when you take full advantage of technology and employ educational applications to bolster your language classes.
One app I recommend is Language Nut. Unlike many other apps that have been developed for individual use, Language Nut has actually been structured with the MFL class in mind. It is the brain child of language teachers who have years of experience in the trenches. Their goal was to make language teaching both fun and easy.
Out came an app brimming with games, stories and songs that help teachers make their classes “fun central.” Games like Pairs, Multiple Choice and Hangman make repetition non-repetitious and learning inevitable.
Language Nut has the Teacher Tracking Tool that keeps you informed on the progress of your individual students. It will alert you on who did the assignments and who did not. You can also give homework and set deadlines using this tool.
For a classroom activity, use Language Nut’s “Live” feature, which will display an interactive whiteboard. This whiteboard is so cool because it updates in real-time, showing the progress of your students. So for example, during app time, if Johnny finishes a test or has won a medal, it will be shown on the board for the whole class to see.
This is a neat way to create a fun and competitive learning classroom environment where students see what their classmates are up to and try to best each other.
6. Lead the Class in Singsongs and Run an Insta-concert
Studies have shown that songs help in learning a new language, benefitting both memory and motivation. Songs and music should definitely have a place in your classes.
One way to never run out of songs is to take the tunes of common songs like nursery rhymes (i.e. “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Baa-baa Black Sheep,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) or pop songs (i.e. “Call Me Maybe,” “Gangnam Style,” “Mambo No. 5”) and embed them into the lessons. All you really have to watch for are the number of syllables.
For example, say you want to teach the Italian sentence “Dove posso trovare il bagno?” (Where is the bathroom?) You can help your students remember it by singing it to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
So you go:
Dove posso trovare il bagno. . .il bagno [Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb]
Dove posso trovare, that’s when you wanna pee. [Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow]
By repeating the catchy tune, your students can learn and always remember important phrases and sentences.
Since the tunes are already familiar to your students, you can skip teaching them music and go right into the lesson. The catchy tunes will help anchor your lessons in their memory, so you can definitely take advantage of this in your MFL classes.
String a couple of them together in a single class, and suddenly you’re having a very educational and memorable insta-concert!
7. Invite a Native Speaker and Get Cultural
One of the most important things you can do as a language teacher is instill in your students the motivation to learn a foreign language. And one of the most effective ways of doing that is to make language and culture come alive before their very eyes.
Language is closely tied to culture; there’s really no neat way of separating the two. You can’t just teach Japanese greetings, Chinese numbers or French verbs without letting students see the big picture.
So the day a native speaker comes to class and gives a talk about his/her language and culture will be one of the most unforgettable moments in a language learner’s journey. It ignites not only their enthusiasm and curiosity for the language, but also sparks their motivation. Seeing a native speaker in front of their faces, language learners realize, “Hey, I’m not wasting my time. There are real people who speak the language I’m studying.”
Let your guest talk not only about vocabulary or translations of certain words, but let him/her share what it’s like to be the native of a country. What are their customs and traditions? Do they celebrate Christmas the same way? How do they show respect for elders? What do the different gestures mean? Do they also make mistakes in their own language? What advice can they give to sweep a native speaker off her feet?
Learning about these things make the language come alive for your students. Expect them to be extra curious and motivated after the talk. You will find that they will be more attentive to your lessons, and you’ll have just made it a lot easier on yourself.
So those are seven activities you can do in your MFL classes, and three insights on how to never run out of things to do. May your classes be fun and meaningful.
I wish you all the best and hope, that through your job, you will be able to expand the horizon of your students. May they see farther in life, all because they happen to pass by your classroom.