Sound Practice ELT Teaching Tips Setting Up Activities Like a Pro

Setting Up Activities Like a Pro

If you’ve taken a pre-service qualification like CELTA or the Trinity Cert TESOL you’ve heard of how important instructions and ICQs are. If so, you’ll find some review here. Keep reading to see what I’ve come up with after rethinking everything I know about setting up activities.

For those of you who already know a lot about this and instruction delivery I’d like you to predict what I will cover before reading further. In the comments let me know if there is anything else that should be mentioned.

Now everyone has a reason to read! Let’s go!

Planning to SET-UP Activities

Whether you use English or the student’s first language to set up activities here are some tips you can follow.

Remember: SET-UP.

The photo below is to remind you that you shouldn’t just deliver instructions on the fly unless you know you’re good (enough). 🙂

Instructions, ICQ, Task, Activiity, CELTA

Study the activity while imagining being a student.What do you need to know to do this activity? What assumptions will you have? Imagine everything could go wrong.

Express using your body movements (and whatever materials involved). Are you thinking of how you will handle those problems you anticipated?;

Tell your students what to do very simply. Say just enough to support what you expressed with your body movements. Again, are you thinking about those problems you’ve anticipated earlier?;

Use a student to help you model the activity (if it’s a pair or group activity). If not, use the activity yourself. Show them how it’s done; and,

Put the students to the test. Ask them questions to check that they’ve understood. Think of your tell stage. Turn those simple instructions into questions, called Instruction Checking Questions (ICQs).


What I’ve included in SET-UP is the essence of what you’d get in a CELTA input session (probably entitled Classroom Management), although there isn’t an official acronym you’d get on the course.

A few other tips you might find on the course can be found in the acronym CELTA:

  • Circulate the room. As soon as the activity starts, do a quick round of the class to make sure everyone is doing exactly what you want them to do;
  • Extend the time before ICQing. Ensure you stagger your ICQs. If you tell them 3 instructions, and the final one is “you have 3 minutes,” don’t immediately ask “how long do you have?” It’s too soon. Let some time pass. Ask the other ICQs first.
  • Lay off with the ICQs when they aren’t needed. Don’t always go through this process, especially if it’s a routine activity like T/F reading;
  • Task before text. That’s usually for a reading or a listening though (give them the questions before they read or listen). Here I mean, tell them what to do before you give them a handout that distracts them. This includes showing a PPT slide.
  • Attract everyone’s attention. Make sure everyone is looking at you. Repeating just takes up more time.


Yes, I’m using the acronym CELTA, but you can use these tips in your own context. You would probably hear about CELTA tips in Teaching Practice Feedback rather than in an input session.


My Recent Thoughts On Setting Up Activities

Sometimes I don’t stop to anticipate all the ways in which people may approach my activities. It still happens to this day. Usually if this happens in an input session on CELTA the trainees think it’s their fault because they weren’t listening. But this isn’t true really. It was my job to ensure everyone was clear on what to do. I used to hide this so I could “look like a pro.” Lately I’ve been letting the trainees know about this afterwards.

Making everyone realize that this really happens puts everything into perspective. Experienced teachers make mistakes all the time. Being aware of it and drawing everyone’s attention to it really helps though.

I feel that no matter how good you get you will still have difficulties (at least sometimes) with setting up activities. Someone who is really clued in will be able to pick up on little mistakes you make and give you suggestions. If you don’t have someone like this, you’ll just have to do what I do: stare into space when drinking coffee and think about what you’ve been doing lately.

Instructions, ICQ, Task, Activiity, CELTA

I feel even if you do look like a pro when setting up activities, you will still be aware of how you could’ve made it better.

Be nice to yourself though. If you are reading this, you are the kind of person who is already staring into space drinking coffee, thinking about how to do things better.

While you’re enjoying that coffee, comment below about your predictions from earlier!


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