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My favorite English Camp activity

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Jan 27 2013

Need an idea for a Summer/Winter English camp activity that is:

  • Good for students from second grade through high school?
  • Requires almost no preparation?
  • Will take anywhere from an hour to an entire day?
  • Students love?

Of course you do! If you are anything like me, you would almost give body parts for decent activities. This is my favorite English camp activity: making Rube Goldberg machines.


Anything in the English room. If you also raid the science room before class, you can add to the possibilities considerably. Oh, and string. Lots of string.


A small, ranty detour here. You know what drives me crazy? Native English teachers who somehow interpret their jobs as “I play games with the kids and they learn English by osmosis.” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen on Facebook or waygook.org somebody saying, “Tomorrow I’m going to play game X with my kids!”, without any thought as to how that will help them learn English.

Having said that… I do relax my rules a little with English camp. If nobody is around, I confess that I might skip the English instruction part for this activity. Still, if you need to justify it or write it up in a lesson plan, or actually want them to learn some English while they do this, I would suggest the following:

New verbs: push, pull, hit, slide, fall. Pre-teach and drill the verbs with a powerpoint. Depending on the level of your students, you can get into grammar as well with simple present tense “the ball hits the book” or future tense “the ball will hit the book”.

Introduction/stimulate interest

Show a video of a Rube Goldberg machine in action. I used to use Mythbusters’ Christmas Rube Goldberg machine:

But these days I think the video clip for OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass is more fun:

Korean students will get the concept pretty quickly, but, being Korean students, they will sometimes assume that you expect them to create a perfect reproduction of the video clip. Assure them that you do not. Also: they will turn the whole thing into dominoes if you let them. Tell them their machine can’t be all dominoes.


Tell them they can use anything in the room and let them loose. Dividing the class into  teams and offering a prize for the best machine is also a good idea*.*I find large teams work well for this activity – 6 to 8 students is fine. Sit back and enjoy, or get your hands dirty constructing stages of Rube Goldberg machines.


When they are finished (allow at least an hour, or even longer) it is English time again. Before they can start their machines, they must explain, in English, how their contraption will work, using those verbs you taught them (or didn’t).


Let them go.

They won’t work perfectly. They never do. As you can see from this video of my students, it really doesn’t matter. (Ah, but so close! All the difficult parts worked really well… if only we had been a little more careful with the dominoes…)

Waegukin wrote these 521 words on January 27th, 2013 | Posted in Teaching |


2 comments on “My favorite English Camp activity”

  1. Kevin says:

    Hey there,
    Just curious – what’s the average size class that you teach in Korea?

  2. The Waegukin says:

    Hi Kevin, please see the post It depends on your school.

    At the moment my average class size is about 10 students, but that is really atypical, as my school only has 64 students.

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