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Sharing Thoughts in the Language Classroom
by Hall Houston

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Positive/Negative Thoughts

Before class, prepare several pictures of a classroom filled with rows of students. Also, bring plenty of post-its.

In class, put students into groups of 3. Give each group a copy of a picture, and give them a few post-its. Tell them to imagine this is a classroom in another country. It’s the first week of class and students are filled with fear and anxiety. Ask each group to think of a few thoughts that might occur in some students’ heads (“I hope we don’t have a lot of homework.” or “This teacher looks strict.”) and write them on post-its. Next they should place the post-its above the students’ heads in the pictures. Ask each group to pass their picture to the next group.

Now ask students to imagine it is later in the school year, and these students are filled with hope and inspiration about their classes. As in the previous step, get students to write down thoughts on post-its, but this time they will write positive thoughts (“I’ve learned so much this semester.” or “I love this class!”) and place them on top of the other groups’ post-its. When they’re finished, they will pass their picture again to another group.

Call on students to read out some of the positive thoughts they wrote or read. Write these up on the board, correcting any errors. Stop when you have about ten. Do a brief drill of these sentences with the class.

Now put students in new groups of 5 or 6. Ask them to place one chair in an open area of the classroom with enough room for students to walk around the chair. Have one student in each group sit in the chair, eyes closed and listening, while the other group members walk slowly around the chair, reading out some of the phrases from the board. After a couple of minutes, another student sits in the center. Ask each group to repeat the activity several times, until each student has had the opportunity to sit in the middle of the circle. End the activity by asking a few students how they felt sitting in the chair and listening to the positive thoughts.

Acknowledgements: I adapted the second part of this exercise from an activity titled “Positive voices in your head” which appeared in Marc Helgesen’s article “Let’s Get Physical.” (This article is available here:

The Book of Thoughts

Tell the class to imagine they have each completed writing a book about their most common thoughts. Each chapter describes a different topic. In order to finish the book, they need to create a table of contents that lists the different chapters of the book. For example, Chapter One might be Food, Chapter Two might be Studying, and Chapter Three might be Planning for the future. Give students a few minutes to write up their own personal table of contents, then put students into pairs. They must trade papers, and ask questions about each others’ table of contents. (For example, “I noticed Chapter Five is about Travelling. How many countries have you been to?”) After a few minutes, get students to change partners and exchange table of contents with another student. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Round off the activity by inviting everyone up on the board to write a sentence about one of their classmates using reported language.

Variation: You can ask students to come to the front of the class, read out their table of contents, and then answer questions from their classmates.

Who thought that?

Create a list of short sentences that could be the thoughts of a famous person. Make them somewhat enigmatic, as you will invite your students to guess whose thoughts they are. For example, see if you can guess who this is:

I’ve got a difficult job.
I’d sure like to go back to Chicago for a few weeks.
I wonder if Malia and Natasha did their homework.
Now what did they say about me in the newspaper today?

The answer is U.S. President Barack Obama.

You might want to make your own list about someone you think your students will be familiar with. Put sentences that are more difficult to guess earlier in the list.

Read the list to your class, and pause between each sentence, encouraging students to guess.

Next, after they’ve guessed the answer, ask students to create their own list. Then call on several students to read out their lists, and invite classmates to guess the answer.


Hall Houston has taught EFL for over a decade in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is currently a full-time English Instructor at Kainan University in Luzhu, Taiwan. His first book, The Creative Classroom, was published in 2007. His second book, Provoking Thought, was published in 2009.His professional interests include task-based teaching, group dynamics, discourse analysis, creativity and critical thinking.

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