8 No Prep Activities for Very Young Learners

Part of the Teaching Trick Tuesdays Series

Every teacher has had lessons which didn’t quite go as planned. Whether the computer isn’t working, the students sped through the content you planned, they simply hated an activity and you had to move on, or you forgot to bring an important item, having some Plan Bs (and Cs and Ds) in your pocket are essential. Some activities also have a variation that can be used in online teaching environments.

Here is a list of 8 No Prep Activities Personally Tested and Recommended:

  1. Duck Duck Goose
    • Students sit in a circle on the floor. The teacher walks around the outside of the circle gently tapping each child’s head or shoulders as he/she passes them while saying “Duck, duck duck….”. When the teacher says “goose” as they tap a child’s head that child must rise from their spot and chase the teacher around the circle. The teacher is safe if they reach the child’s spot without being tagged. If the child catches the teacher during the lap around the circle,  the teacher must go sit in the middle of the circle.
    • The child must start the game again by circling the group while saying, “Duck duck……. Goose.”.
    • Variation: Once students know how to play, use 2 vocabulary words that students have difficulty pronouncing instead of “duck” and “goose”.
    • Skills practiced: vocabulary, pronunciation, and gross motor movement 
    • Recommended ages: 3-6 years old
  2. What’s the time Mr Wolf?
    • The teacher becomes a very hungry Mr. Wolf and stands at one end of the playing area or classroom. The students stand in a line at the other end.
    • The students call out, “What’s the time Mr. Wolf?” and Mr. Wolf answers with a time (i.e. 3 o’clock) which equals the number of steps students can take forward towards Mr. Wolf.
    • Once students are close to Mr. Wolf, he can respond to the chant with “It’s dinner time!”. At this point, Mr. Wolf chases students back to the starting line with the aim to catch one of the them, who will then become Mr. Wolf for the next round of the game.
    • Variation: Mr. Wolf can catch multiple students and turn them into wolves. They continue playing until only one student has not been caught by any of the wolves.
    • Skills practiced: counting (numeracy), speaking, and gross motor movement
    • Recommended ages: 4 or 5 to 7 years old
  3. Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?
    • Students sit in a circle. Draw a cookie jar and say, “Yummy…cookies! I’m going to have a cookie!” Pretend to look inside the cookie jar and then say, “Oh no! No more cookies! Who took the cookie from the cookie jar? Pedro? Did you take the cookie? Tina? Did you take the cookie? Who took the cookie?” Even children with very little English ability will understand this conversation when demonstrated this way.
    • Next, have everyone make a beat by patting their laps then clapping their hands (pat, clap, pat, clap, pat, clap, pat, clap). Don’t go too fast! Set a slow pace at first. As you pat and clap your hands, do the following chant (with the teacher demonstrating first):
      • All: Who took the cookie from the cookie jar?
      • Teacher: (Student 1) took the cookie from the cookie jar.
      • Student 1: Who me? (Student points to themselves.)
      • All: Yes you! (Students nod their heads “yes” and point at the student.)
      • Student 1: Not me! (Student shakes their head “no”.)
      • All: Then, who? (Everyone shrugs their shoulders.)
      • Student 1: Student 2 (Student 1 points at student 2 while saying their name).
      • Repeat as many times as desired.
    • Variations:
      • Once students know how to play, have all students close their eyes. Teacher walks around the circle and taps on a student who when asked will say: “Yes, I took the cookie from the cookie jar.”
      • Practice animal vocabulary by giving each child an animal flashcard. Instead of using children’s names, they will have to say the animal: “Panda took the cookie from the cookie jar.” etc.
      • Online classes: Let one student in the virtual classroom first and tell them that they are the one who took the cookie from the cookie jar, but that it’s a secret. Then, play until someone calls out that child’s name and he or she admits to taking the cookie.
    • Skills practiced: speaking (asking and answering questions), vocabulary, rhythm
    • Recommended ages: 4 to 7 years old (7-9 year olds will enjoy it too if you use the variation where they are all trying to guess who took the cookie).
  4. Touch Something…
    • Students stand in an area of the classroom. The teacher stands in front of them and says: “Touch something…(blue, big, etc).”
    • Students move around the classroom until they find an object that matches the description given. After a period of time, say “STOP!” and go around talking about what each child has touched (small classes) or a few objects (bigger classes) before calling another adjective out.
    • Variations:
      • Only allow one child to touch the same object. If two children are touching the same object, the last one to touch it must find another object.
      • Eliminate children who are unable to find an object matching the description before the teacher says, “STOP!”.
      • Give children a maximum of 10 seconds, counting aloud to 10 or down from 10 to touch the object. This is good passive listening practice of numbers.
      • Count down from a lower number in each round. First, count down from 10. Next, down from 9, etc. Eliminating students until you have a winner or winners!
      • Allow students to play teacher once they understand the game.
      • Online classes: Ask students to find an object matching the description and bring it back to you and show it to you via webcam. Adjust time accordingly.
    • Skills practiced: descriptive adjectives vocabulary (colors, size, etc), counting, speaking (especially if you ask students about what they have touched or if they play teacher), and listening.
    • Recommended ages: 3-8 years old. For older students, make sure that they take turns playing teacher and give more complex instructions (Something you can write with or something you can wear on your head, something round, etc). Competition through elimination also works better with older students than those 3 and 4.
  5. I Spy…
    • Teacher starts by saying: “I spy something… (red; starting with the letter “p”, starting with the “p” sound; square; small; etc).
    • Children take turns asking questions with the structure, “Is it…?”.
    • Variations:
      • Allow students to ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” to narrow the options. For example, “Is it bigger than a pencil?”
      • Practice specific targeted vocabulary or grammar structures by projecting an image that includes images with that targeted language. Although this would involve planning before class, many websites include I spy pictures to download for free. You can also create one specifically for your class. Download a free example I created for one of my classes.
      • Online classes: Open a document (that you have created or found online) with different images and share your screen. As an alternative, you can create a PowerPoint/ Google slides presentation I Spy Game. Download an example PowerPoint I made for my class of 4 and 5 year olds.
    • Skills practiced: speaking (asking and answering questions, giving descriptions), vocabulary, comparatives (for more advanced age groups), listening skills
    • Recommended ages: 4 to 10 depending on the way it is conducted.
  6. Action Songs and Rhymes
    • All teachers of very young learners should make a list of action songs or rhymes that are appropriate for their class and that can be done whenever students need to get moving. It is important to learn these songs and to decide whether you are able to sing them without playing music (I think these ones below are easy to do without music).
    • Here are some of my favorites:
    • Skills practiced: vary based on the song chosen but include listening, pronunciation, vocabulary acquisition and retention, rhythm and musicality, movement and coordination.
    • Recommended ages: 4 to 6 – older students can benefit from other types of action songs as well.
  7. Teacher Says / Simon Says
    • Teacher gives commands to be completed by students. It is important to model actions while playing when working with very young learners. With slightly older learners, make sure to only incorporate actions that they have previously learned or covered in class unless you do that action with them (modeling it).
    • Variations:
      • Simon Says: Explain that students are only to perform the action if preceded by “Simon says…”. If the teacher does not say “Simon says…” and a student does the action, they are eliminated. Play until there is a winner. The winner can become “Simon” for the next round.
      • Teacher Says: A simpler and non-competitive version played with students 3-5 years old where students simply listen and copy what the teacher does. There is no elimination in this version.
    • Skills practiced: listening, action verbs, body parts vocabulary, coordination and movement.
    • Recommended ages: 3-5 years old for Teacher Says and 6-8 years old for Simon Says
    • Free Downloadable Copy of Suggested Commands (coming soon!)
  8. Odd One Out
    • Draw or say 4 things aloud. Three of the things must be similar in some way, and one must be different. For example, say: “apple, banana, orange, sock”. Then, ask: “What’s different?”. With very very young learners, it helps to either draw these things on the board or use objects whenever possible. As students get older, you can rely more on having them listen only. Keep in mind that the possibilities of what can be different are endless. This is a fantastic way to review phonics!
    • Variations:
      • Have students take turns being the one to share 4 things and ask which is different.
      • Extend use of language by asking students why that one is different. In the example above, students could say: “socks aren’t a fruit or socks go on your feet. etc.”.
      • Adjust the number of items: maybe there are 5 in total
      • Adjust the number of odd ones out (but always say how many before playing)!
      • Have the odd one out be the word that is misspelled.
      • Online Classes: Share your screen and play an online version of this such as this one. You can also share your screen and show odd one out printables on your screen. There are a lot on Pinterest. Another alternative is holding up 4 objects and asking which is the odd one out. With words, there is no difference in how to play in an online vs. offline environment.
    • Skills practiced: visual discrimination, vocabulary, speaking, listening skills (when done orally).
    • Recommended ages: 3+ (even adults can do this activity if designed appropriately).


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