15 best TEFL games with miming/ TPR

Miming is used in almost every English language class, if only as a warmer or when a teacher is trying to explain or elicit language. However, the positive elements of waking people up with movement, making them aware the use of gestures for communication, an easy activity for students who have difficulty speaking etc. can […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

Miming is used in almost every English language class, if only as a warmer or when a teacher is trying to explain or elicit language. However, the positive elements of waking people up with movement, making them aware the use of gestures for communication, an easy activity for students who have difficulty speaking etc. can be brought into all kinds of other parts of the class too. Below are 15 ideas on how to use mime for different language points and other purposes, starting with the most obvious ones and getting more original/ obscure as you go down the page.

1. Vocab mimes
Students mime a word they choose or are given, without speaking or using sound effects, until their partners say exactly that word. This works particularly well for adjectives, action verbs, and idiomatic phrases such as body part idioms.

2. Sentence mimes
This is similar to Vocab Mimes, but students have to mime and guess whole sentences, e.g. “The elephant jumped over the chair”. These sentences can be given by the teacher, taken from a textbook exercise or text, written by the person or group that is going to mime, or written by another group as a challenge. See below for some tenses this works particularly well for.

3. Present continuous mimes
Because we use it to describe actions that are happening now, the most common grammar point to use miming in class with is Present Continuous. As the grammar is fairly easy, this can be a great opportunity to introduce lots of vocabulary that is relevant to the students, e.g. actions of using office equipment for a Business English student or of using machines for a Technical English student. To add a bit more grammar, make sure they use a variety of “he/ she/ it/ they” sentences and/ or that some of the sentences are with state verbs (e.g. “want”) that do not usually take the Continuous form.

4. Past continuous mimes
An obvious extension of Present Continuous Mimes that is often missed is just to make students stop miming when their partners shout “Stop” and use the Past Continuous to describe what they were doing. This means that you can revise the same vocabulary as you used in the Present Continuous mimes and point out the similarities of use between the two tenses to describe something in progress at a particular point in time (now for the Present Continuous and in the past for the Past Continuous), and avoiding “ing” for state verbs.

5. Past tenses mimes
To take the use of mimes for describing tenses to the next level, you can get students to mime whole sentences that contrast the meanings of different past tenses, e.g. miming being interrupted for “I was taking a bath when the phone rang”, finishing it off first for “I had taken a bath when the phone rang”, and leaving it till after for “I took a bath when my mother came home”.

6. Going to mimes
The easiest future tense to mime is “going to” for predictions with future evidence and plans. Students slowly mime the lead up to an action but don’t start the final stage, e.g. for “You are going to fall off your bike” they mime wobbling more and more, but not falling off. Mixing up sentences like this with preparations for future actions such as taking out your tools for “You are going to mend your car” also helps show the cross over between two seemingly separate meanings of “going to” for plans and predictions with present evidence.

7. Will mimes
Apart from “going to”, the future is quite difficult to show in mimes. For “will for predictions” students could mime looking in a crystal ball or dealing out tarot cards and then mime what they see. For “will for spontaneous intentions” students would need to work in pairs with one student miming the problem (”My bag is heavy” or “My friend is crying”) and the other miming the solution (”Stop. I’ll carry it for you.” or “I know. I’ll give her my ice-cream.”) for the class to guess.

8. Present Continuous for future mimes
“Present Continuous for future arrangements” could be done with pairs of students pointing at a blank diary page and miming suggesting doing things (”Why don’t we go for a drink at lunchtime on Wednesday?”) and replying (”I’m sorry, I’m playing tennis on Wednesday.”), with each person trying to say what their partner is miming until they make successfully make a new arrangement. This works best if students are also given different diary pages with their arrangements for the week already written in.

9. Future tenses mimes
If you have practised a couple of the different future tenses above with mimes, you can then get students to mime contrasting sentences, e.g. “I am going to start the car” and “You will marry a man with a huge car”. Although this is quite tricky, the difficulty of miming future tenses that are not “going to” can be a useful lesson for students, showing them how a “will” prediction is more “theoretical” than a “going to” prediction.

10. Past present future mimes
For the ultimate mimes challenge, students can get to understand why their teachers are flapping their arms over the shoulders to elicit past tense sentences all the time by trying to mime all kinds of tenses for each other.

11. Cultural differences mimes
An easier miming activity that still brings in a more interesting topic than most miming lessons is to get students to mime gestures that vary in different cultures, e.g. “okay” and “check please” to a waiter. You can then discuss possible misunderstandings and teach some common ones of cultures they are interested in or are likely to come into contact with people or media from. By miming things like “Thank you” and “Sorry”, this can also be used as a lead in to a functional language lesson.

12. Mime roleplays
This is another way of bring a bit more content and context into a miming lesson. Having a whole roleplay where one person doesn’t speak not only gives a shy or low level student the chance to get fully involved, but also gives the person with the speaking role a better chance to speak. These kind of roleplays work best if you give someone a realistic reason for not speaking and a clear task to do, e.g. “You have a cold, so you have to stay outside the hospital room and mime instructions for what to do with the baby to your husband” or “You have lost your voice, so stop someone in the street and try to explain with mime that you want them to phone your husband and ask him to pick you up”

13. Can/ can’t mimes
Students mime all the things you can and can’t do with an object (using crossed hands or arms to mean “can’t”) until the other students guess what the object is.

14. Number mimes
Especially for Technical English and Financial English classes where numbers come up a lot, it can be a welcome break to move bodies a little and mime them. Very big numbers, fractions and decimals work well for this. You can also get them to mime the units, such as kph or mm.

15. Vital statistics mimes
Mime the dimensions, weight, speed etc. of something (using fingers for the numbers or showing lengths between two hands), then the other person guesses what dimensions you are showing until they get them right, and then guess what the object is (e.g. Petronas Towers or an iPod). This is good for Technical English classes, a type of class that often lacks some fun!

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
March 2008 | Filed under Games
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.