Back to the Future: Still More Low-Tech Activities
for a High-Tech Classroom

2013_Heyer_Sandra Sandra Heyer

This is the last article in a four-part series on activities that foster physical activity in the classroom. I titled the series “Back to the Future” because my search for activities led me back to time-tested ones I began using years, even decades ago. At first I balked at reviving them; I confess that the razzle-dazzle of the new technology had a stronger pull on me. But when I saw how enthusiastically my class responded, I had to remind myself that although the interactive activities were old hat to me, they were novel to my students, who were accustomed to a teacher-centered learning environment, one in which they rarely, if ever, got out of their seats.

I chose the activities because they might benefit our physical health, but they may have improved our psychological health as well. I think we all enjoyed periodically taking our attention off the big screen at the front of the room and instead focusing on one another. After all, that people-to-people connection, not gliding desks or a high-tech console, is what makes a class great. It’s what has always mattered—and always will.

In previous newsletters, we took a look at six activities:

  1. The Moving Line
  2. Conversation Stations
  3. Walking Dictation
  4. Find Your Match
  5. Opinion, Please
  6. Line Up According To

Below are the final two activities, Find Someone Who and The One-Question Survey.

Activity 7: Find Someone Who
Levels: All

This classic activity has been a classroom staple for years, and with good reason. It is a lively interactive activity that creates a game-like atmosphere without the pressure of a game. Students discover shared backgrounds, interests, and talents while getting lots of practice forming questions. Best of all, the activity gets the whole class moving around.

  1. Make a survey in the format below, and distribute it to students. (Tip: An Internet search for “find someone who activity” will give you many possible items for the survey.)


Find someone who . . .

          • plays a musical instrument. __________________
          • can drive a truck. __________________________
          • drank coffee today. _________________________ etc.

 2. Students circulate around the room, asking classmates questions and trying to fill in each blank with a different classmate’s name.

Figure 7


3. When most students have completed the survey, they all return to their seats. Volunteers go down their lists, sharing what they learned about their classmates. Follow up by asking students for more details.

Variation: People Bingo. Arrange the Find Someone Who items on a Bingo grid with 25 squares. Students try to fill in the blanks that make a winning Bingo card—five names across, down, or diagonally.

Tip: This activity can be more challenging grammatically than it appears. To complete the sample survey above, for example, students need to pose questions in three forms: Do you play a musical instrument? Can you drive a truck? Did you drink coffee today? If you teach beginners, you might want to structure the survey so that all the questions take the same form, as in the example below.

Examples of Surveys for Find Someone Who
A. Beginning Level: Can you . . . ?

Find someone who can

  • dance. ___________________________
  • play soccer. ___________________________
  • take care of babies. ___________________________
  • build houses. ___________________________
  • sew. ___________________________
  • speak three languages. ___________________________
  • grow vegetables in a garden. ___________________________
  • sing. ___________________________
  • use a computer. ___________________________
  • swim. ___________________________
  • fix cars. ___________________________
  • play a musical instrument. _________________________
  • play chess. ___________________________
  • run fast. ___________________________
  • ride a horse. ___________________________
  • make a sweater. ___________________________
  • fix broken machines. ___________________________

 B. Intermediate or Advanced Level: A survey based on information from student letters

I’m not a big fan of activities I call “one-hit wonders”—activities that are great but take time to prepare and can be used only once. I make an exception for this one.

  1. At the beginning of the semester, write a one-page letter to your students in which you give some background about yourself. You could write about your teaching experience, personal history, hobbies, etc. Distribute the letter to your students, preferably on the first day of class.
  2. Students respond to your letter by writing a one-page letter about themselves.
  3. Outside of class, as you read each student’s letter, circle one piece of information that is probably unique to that student. (Of course, you would not select information that might be highly personal.) Use the information you collect from the letters as the basis of a Find Someone Who survey comprised of one fact about each student. For example:


Find someone who…

  •  is a pharmacist. ___________________________
  • lived in France from ages 1 to 3. ___________________________
  • has three daughters. ___________________________  

4. Students circulate around the room with the survey, asking classmates questions and writing down names. (If students don’t yet know one another’s names, have them wear nametags.) This will foster a lot of mingling and interaction, as there is most likely only one name that fits each blank.

5. When most students have completed the survey, they all return to their seats. Volunteers go down their lists, sharing what they learned about their classmates. Follow up by asking students for more details.

Activity 8: The One-Question Survey
Levels: All

This activity and the Find Someone Who activity would look the same to a casual observer. For both activities, students move around the room with a survey form and interview their classmates. There is, however, one important difference. Each student conducting this survey asks only one question.

  1. Make a list of questions. You will need one question for every person in the class. Questions that prompt short answers–even yes / no answers—are best. Number the questions. Write the questions on the board, duplicate them on paper, or project them on a screen.
  2. Give each student a sticky note. Students count off (1, 2, 3, 4 . . .) until everyone in the class has a number. They write their number on the sticky note and attach it to their shirt. Then they look for their number on the list of questions. The question next to that number is their question.
  3. At the top of a piece of paper, students write their question. Under the question, they write numbers, as many numbers as there are people in the class.figure 8
  4. Students walk around the room asking each classmate the same question. They write the classmate’s answer next to the classmate’s number. (For this activity, unlike for Find Someone Who, students write down answers, not names.)
  5. When students have completed the survey, they report back to the class and summarize what they learned about their classmates. For example, a student who asked the question Do you like baseball? might report: About half of the people in the class like baseball.

Examples of a One-Question Survey

A. High-Beginning Level: A one-question survey about baseball

My students conduct this survey as an introduction to the unit “Baseball” in More True Stories Behind the Songs. The questions are from the Internet TESL Journal “Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Class.”

  1.  Do you like baseball?
  2. Does baseball look like a fun game to you?
  3. Have you ever watched a baseball game?
  4. What is your favorite baseball team?
  5. Do you know the names of any famous baseball players?
  6. Have you ever played baseball?
  7. How many players are on a baseball team?
  8. When is a baseball game finished?
  9. What is the most difficult position on a baseball team?
  10. Are there any baseball players from your country playing in the United States?
  11. Do you think baseball will ever be a popular sport like soccer?
  12. Are there professional baseball teams in your country?
  13. Are there recreational baseball teams in your country?
  14. Do children play baseball in your country?
  15. Are there women’s baseball teams in your country?
  16. What kinds of food are sold at baseball stadiums in the United States?
  17. What kinds of food are sold at baseball stadiums in your country?
  18. Which song do people sing at baseball stadiums in the United States?
  19. Which songs do people sing at baseball stadiums in your country?

 B. Intermediate or Advanced Levels: A one-question survey for the first week of class

 A survey like this one gives you a quick snapshot of your new class.

  1. What’s your name? Do you have a nickname? What name should we use in this class?
  2. Is this your first time in this country?
  3. How do you feel today?
  4. How many hours did you travel to get to this class? (Count the hours from the time you left your home to the time you arrived.)
  5. What do you do in your home country?
  6. Do you work in your home country? If so, how will you use English in your work when you return?
  7. Are you a student in your home country? If so, what is your major?
  8. Do you plan to teach English in your home country?
  9. How many years have you studied English?
  10. How does your family feel about your being here?
  11. How did you find out about this program?
  12. What is the most number of pages you have ever written in English?
  13. Do you have a computer, laptop, or tablet here with you?
  14. Have you ever read an entire book in English?
  15. So far, is this experience what you expected? Has anything surprised you?
  16. What do you want to do in your free time here?

Thanks to: Anna Silliman, who sent me the One-question survey idea many years ago. The activity was from the classroom of Fiona Armstrong, Adult Basic Education, New York City Schools.

And thanks to: The late Norma Shapiro, who taught me the simple drawing techniques used in the illustrations that accompany this series of articles.