A quick way to activate language in any lesson: the Alphabet

June 1, 2015


The students were running towards the blackboard, eager to write down their word before someone else could. For a moment, it was complete chaos in my classroom. A few smart ones stayed behind to wait and see what options would be left open, confident they would be able to fill the gaps. I watched the scene, arms crossed, smiling. Another activity that worked well!

The Alphabet is one of those activities that can be applied to almost any lesson and any age range and is sure to be a success.  Not just because the students respond with a lot of enthusiasm almost all the time, but mostly because this activity requires no preparation time at all. I like!

Why should you use it?

This activity is both a subject and a language activity. It can be used to activate language about the current theme and is a great way to make the learners aware of their progress over time. The activity does not last longer than 10 minutes (if done correctly) so it can easily be one of those tools that you use whenever you want to do ‘something different’.

Applying the activity to your lesson

So, how does this activity work?

  1. I ask my students to make list of all the letters of the alphabet in their notebooks, letters underneath each other.
  2. I tell them they have to think of as many different words possible that relate to the current chapter. The one with the widest variety of words (so as many different letters as possible) wins.
  3. I set a timer at 2 two minutes.
  4. Once the timer starts, all students start writing.
  5. Once the timer ends, all students stop writing.
  6. I ask for the amount of different words, saying something like: “Raise your hand when you have used than 10 different letters”
  7. The student(s) with most letters have to say their words out loud, after which they can write their words on the blackboard.
  8. To create the chaos I just mentioned, I tell the students that they can write down any words not on the blackboard yet. The goal is to have at least one word following every letter.

That’s it! It seems like a lot of steps but it really is a piece of cake and can easily be adapted to different age ranges (maybe you don’t make 16 year old students run to the blackboard) and different topics (words with at least two syllables, words introduced this chapter).

When the activity is over and all the words have been written down, I shortly discuss the amount of words they have learned in a very short time. This makes them aware of their growth, something I like to stress quite often in my lessons.

Lesson stage

As I described in my article on the different lesson stages, I like to categorize my activities to the moment I use it in my lesson. In this case, Alphabet can work both at the beginning of a lesson as well as at the end a lesson.

At the beginning of a lesson, you can activate prior knowledge and activate language by asking students to write down words related to the previous lessons or the previous topics.

At the end of your lesson, you can ask students to use words they have used this lesson or have encountered while discussing the topics.

Activity framework

Below you can find a framework I like to use to summarize my activities.

CLIL Activity Alphabet Framework

Let me know what you think of this activity.

How would you apply it to your lesson? Do you have other ideas similar to this one? What other ways can you activate language?

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