10 Student Activities for the First 10 Minutes of Class

This week I’ve been busy teaching and grading; however, I have also been approached and contacted by various people to present on something for the department. Wanting to be a good professional, I have been considering what I might offer my very accomplished cadre of colleagues. Then the idea of 10-minute activities occurred to me.

Back when I was at River Falls, a fellow ESL instructor and I used to brainstorm as many ideas as we could related to a theme, such as adapting tabletop games for language learning or incorporating social media for English acquisition. We would ultimately turn these riff sessions into a conference presentation, and I always enjoyed exhausting my creativity to come up with as many feasible teaching ideas as possible. 

So, in order to develop enough material for a departmental professional development session, I decided to produce a gamut of activities that might be usable for a particular problem: students being habitually tardy for class. I decided to write out my ideas as a blog post in order to help with my eventual presentation and possibly for submission to a newsletter at a later date. For now, enjoy and feel free to comment on your favorite activity or activities. Note: all the graphics were created using Canva.

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At many universities, student tardiness sometimes presents a problem. This lateness can be due to both cultural notions of punctuality and logistical issues created by massive campuses (e.g., traffic, parking, large buildings, etc.). Consequently, a steady trickle of late students can at times disrupt the first 10 minutes of class. Given this classroom issue, what is the best way for English language instructors to deal with the problem?

One idea that instructors might consider is using the first 10 minutes of class to run a supplementary language activity that engages students who arrive on time and allows students who are running a little late to join the activity as they arrive. The following is a list of activities that might be employed to hold the interest of students during the transition to the day’s lesson. These activities require minimum prepping, are adaptable, and can be added to an instructor’s emergency kit of classroom activities.

Note: in order to deliver these activities, it is recommended that an instructor keep them available on a PowerPoint (PPT) or Google Forms (GF). Additionally, it might be necessary to share parts of these activities with students via Padlet, Remind, or OneNote.

Spelling Practice

At all proficiency levels, students have difficulties spelling particular words. To provide students with practice spelling troublesome words, an instructor can keep a list of words either on paper or an electronic device. Then at the beginning of class, read either just the words, or the words in the context of a sentence, and have the students write them out.

Email Writing

Students sometimes need practice contacting an instructor using the university-preferred email system, so one activity might be to have students write the instructor an email to provide one of the following:

  • Information about the student 
  • A question about a unit or component of the course
  • Feedback about a lesson or component of the course

This activity would allow the instructor to respond individually to students and provide them with feedback and personalized encouragement.

    Vocabulary Table

    With most English courses, students have to learn vocabulary for a particular reading or unit. If an instructor knows the vocabulary in advance, then they can enter the words in a table on PPT to help the students review at the beginning of class. The words can be projected on the LCD screen, and students can be asked to perform various task with the words. For example…

    • Find the words that are verbs
    • Find the words with 3 syllables
    • Find the words with a positive meaning
    • Find the words that will complete the sentence: “She is a ____ person.”
    The table is an ideal layout for displaying the vocabulary because it is visually organized and requires student to “touch” the words multiple times as they scan them. As many language instructors know, research says that students must come into contact with a word seven or more times before they learn it. This activity facilitates multiple exposures to the selected vocabulary.

    Corpus Building 

    Viewing examples of a word in use via a corpus can be a helpful way for students to analyze a word and its word forms. In order to generate a classroom corpus, an instructor can project a table of words the students need to use and have them create sentences that they can submit using GF. The instructor can project the response page of GF so that students can see the corpus grow in real time.

    Podcast Activity   

    The BBC has a podcast series called 6 Minute English which is perfect for an impromptu listening activity while instructors are waiting for a critical mass of students to show up at the start of the class period. An instructor might select several shows that they wish to use in their class and create some basic comprehension questions that students must answer as they are listening.

    Listening Dialogues

    Instead of having students listen to a recorded audio, two students can volunteer to read a dialogue for the class. 5 Minute English offers a number of dialogues that can be downloaded and adapted for impromptu listening activities. Instructors just need to print out the dialogue for the listening activities that they wish to use; project a PPT slide with the vocabulary and questions that they want the students to use and answer, or send them the slide via your classroom delivery system (i.e., Remind, Padlet, or OneNote); and have two students read the dialogue while the rest of the students follow along. Then, for an additional listen, the instructor can have two more students read the dialogue so that the class can double-check their answers.

    Word Problems

    Word problems are a good reading activity that can engage students in critical thinking and short discussion. An instructor could search the internet for word problems that are appropriate for their level of students and personalize the situations so that they are relatable to the students. For example, I changed the name of the girl in the above word problem that I found at Brain Den.

    Interpersonal Question

    Creating interpersonal questions that utilize course vocabulary is a good way to review vocabulary and develop student speaking abilities. The following are examples of interpersonal questions:

    • Are you a member of any clubs or organizations? Explain which ones.
    • If you have an emergency, who do you contact? Explain why you trust this person.
    • What problems in the world are global concerns? Explain why these are critical to you.
    • If you could explore any city, which would you choose? Explain why.
    • What makes a person confident? Explain why.

    An instructor can project several questions at the beginning of class and have the students discuss or pose the questions to the class for a large class discussion. Another idea is to use a question when taking attendance: pose one question and have each student provide their answer in order to confirm that they are present for the day.

    #hashtag Activity

    Choose a trending #hashtag, or make one up, and have students write a message that relates to the hashtag (e.g., #MotivationMonday #TravelTuesday #Inspiration #TBT #NeverHaveIEver). Then have students submit their message to a Google Form so that the class can safely view the various messages without accessing a social media site.

    Grammar Poems

    A 10-minute activity that might require repeat practice, but yield interesting results, is the grammar poem activity. Introduce one of the forms: simple sentence haiku, compound sentence triplet, or the complex sentence quintet. Then have the students work on completing a type of poem for several weeks during the system. Save notable student examples of the grammar poems, and then share them with the class at the end of the semester. (Note: I created this activity when I was student teaching a middle school language arts class, so the example poems that I created were all written when I was a young father living in La Crosse, WI)  

    Simple Sentence Haiku 


      1. You must write three lines
      2. The lines should consist of the following syllable patterns 5/7/5
      3. Try to make the lines consist of 3 simple sentences each punctuated by a period.


      “Fatherhood and Spring”

      Zylan rides his bike.
      I chase the wet tire tracks.
      I am needed less.

      Compound Sentence Triplet


      1. You must write three stanzas of three lines each.
      2. Each line must be an independent clause.
      3. The first and second line must end with a comma; the second and third line must begin with a coordinate conjunction.
      4. The first word of each line must begin with a capital letter.
      5. The third line of the stanza should be punctuated by a period.

      [for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so]


        “The Beckon of Spring”

        Fall dries and darkens the days,
        And winter imprisons us in snow,
        But spring frees us from the tyranny of twilight and cold.

        We rejoice with the return of temperate weather,
        For we tire of curtailed day light,
        And climate has trapped us in our homes.

        Spring is like a trumpet call,
        And we stir with its sound,
        For when the call has ceased, summer will be around.

        Complex Sentence Quintet


        1. You must write four stanzas of five lines each. 
        2. The first four lines of each stanza must begin with a word from the list of subordinate conjunctions and must be a dependent clause.
        3. The last line of the stanza cannot begin with a subordinator and must be an independent clause. 
        4. The first word of each line must begin with a capital letter. 
        5. The first four lines are punctuated with a comma, and the last line is punctuated with a period. 

        [after, although, as, as if, as long as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even though, if, since, so that, than, though, unless, until, when, whenever, wherever, while]


        “Memories of Myrick Park”

        Before we head to Myrick Park,
        As I spend time with my family,
        While driving past the Eagles perched on the icy Mississippi,
        After the boys have ran and played,
        All of this becomes a memory.

        After you have read about this,
        While you consider my imagery,
        As you think about half frozen rivers,
        As you recount the playgrounds from your childhood,
        My words are part of your memory.

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