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Giving Directions Activity for a Large ESL Class

Updated on June 19, 2013

This is an ESL game for middle school: giving directions in English. It can be adapted to most textbooks, but I used the Sunshine 2nd year Japanese to English textbook.

My coteacher and I created this game to deal with the problem of having "active activities" in a large classroom. This game gets students on their feet without creating chaos. Multiple students compete in small groups, using reading, writing, and speaking skills. It's great for checking comprehension, as anyone who isn't giving directions properly will send their teammate to the wrong destination.

Prep Work

Create a "Cityscape" which can be placed on top of desks. I suggest some tissue box traffic lights, cereal box building signs, etc. Tailor it to the level and vocabulary of your textbook.

Set these up on students' desks before the activity.

Excuse my ghetto diagram.
Excuse my ghetto diagram.

Starting the Activity

Divide the class into 6 groups (I did say this was an activity for large classes!).

3 groups must stand at the back of the classroom, and 3 groups must stand at the front of the classroom.

From the groups at the front, choose 3 students (one from each group) to leave the room. These are the "cops" in this activity. The other front-group students are "witnesses." The back 3 groups are "checkers" and will check that all rules are obeyed, all directions followed in the lesson.

In this way, everyone gets to read in a group (checking), write in a group (the directions), and some students will individually have their comprehension checked (the cops). Also, having 6 students moving through the room at once would be madness.

While the cops are away, silently point out one desk (it's best if this desk has something from your cityscape on it, like the bank or a school). This is the "crime scene."

The front groups now have 2 or 3 minutes to write directions to the crime scene. Depending on level, you can either have them

  • copy the directions twice, giving one set to the cop and one to the checkers
  • show the directions to the cop and verbally tell the person, but give the paper to the checkers (more difficult)

On "go" the cops must navigate to the crime scene. The first student to get there is the winner.

Switch which students are "cops" and repeat. Eventually have the checkers switch to the front.

Modifying for Elementary School

At the elementary school level, my students only know the names of buildings, and the directions

  • go straight
  • turn left
  • turn right
  • it's here

It's still possible to give directions in English with this level. Simply explain to the students that each desk is one "go straight."

E.G. the directions for group 1 in the picture above would be

  • go straight
  • go straight
  • go straight
  • turn left
  • go straight
  • go straight
  • go straight
  • it's here!

Why it works.

  • Since each group has a different start-point, there's no way to copy.

  • The checkers will be making sure directions are actually followed, stopping any silly "just follow whoever is in front" behavior.

  • Only three students are moving around the classroom, but every student is engaged and considering whether the directions were correct, and how they're being followed.

  • Spectators get the energy level up by screaming if there is even a slight deviation from the path.


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    • profile image


      16 months ago

      Thanks for sharing! I'm currently teaching children at the age of 12 in Korea and I will be trying it out as well! I have like 30 students in my class, so I guess it will work out well :-)

    • Tealparadise profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thanks so much Paul! I just did it yesterday and it went pretty well. I let them do a few rounds where they were allowed to scream "Go straight, turn left!" etc as people walked (for review), then "Level Up" to the normal activity. It was quite a class :)

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a great exercise for giving directions for a large ESL class. I definitely will be trying it out in my EFL elementary classes. Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning.


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