I have recently returned from teaching English in South Korea and thought I would share a little but about some of the down time activities I used when we had time to spare at the end of a lesson or project.
First I suppose I should start with some background on myself. I graduated with a degree in English Literature and English Secondary Education, so I felt pretty confident on the instruction side of things, but I wasn't really prepared for the "improvisational" component to teaching. After I graduated I got a TEFL from Oxford Seminars and headed over to South Korea where I would spend the next three years of my life.
Now, for the activities I used. I found that a lot of the time, children in South Korea were constantly inundated with learning and studying. While I don't at all criticize this ( I think the American education could learn a few things from their system) I did find that my students tended to enjoy the slight reprieve from instruction with a quick game that still reinforced things we had learned in the classroom.
One of my favorite games to play was called "Staircase". This quick game reinforced the correct use of adjectives, nouns and even a little creativity. To begin with I would draw a pretty simple staircase on the board. Then I would draw a little man at the bottom and give this little man an arsenal of equipment that would aid him in reaching the top of the stairs (the goal of the game). I would go around the classroom and encourage my students to supply me with a few of the nouns we encountered during the last lesson. These could be anything from the honeycomb we discussed in a bee story to a spelling word like perfume or jacket. I would either draw these items out on the board or simply write the words. Then, I would ask for a volunteer to come up to the front of the classroom to be the "teacher". One by one, this teacher student would go around the classroom and ask fellow peers which item they wanted to use to help the stick man ascend the staircase. From here, the "teacher" would get to use their creativity and best judgement as they either used the chosen item to have the man go up one step or use the item to the man's detriment and chose to have him fall back down a flight. I would see some pretty silly stuff during this game like magic keys being drawn that opened doors to higher or lower steps, ropes that let the many climb up multiple steps etc... The kicker was that after they decided the fate of the little man in terms of the used items, the student who was chosen would have to narrate what just happened. This provided a great speaking opportunity for students who were usually a little more shy or reticent to speak, plus the goofy nature of the game really helped ease nerves.
Another great game I played was a spin on the classic game "hot potato". I would find a stuffed animal or small ball and have my students stand in a circle. Before we began, I would encourage the students to pick a part of speech, usually nouns work the best but if you are tailoring it to a specific lesson, verbs, adjectives and even proper nouns can work. After a part of speech is chosen I would then ask one student to pick a category. If noun was chosen, this could be all manner of things like fruit, types of clothes, colors etc.. If a verb was chosen you could make the category all about verbs tied to moving vehicles, or adjectives on topic with animals. Once everything has been agreed upon, we would begin to toss the small object around the circle. As it landed in each student's hands, they would have to say out loud, a word that was related to the topic chosen. If correct, they can pass the ball to a new student, if they repeat a word or say something that doesn't match up to the category they were out.
The last game that I had a lot of success with was called, "the clapping game". This game relied on a text to be read out-loud. Stories were the perfect setup for this. To start, I would write all of the names of the students on the board then assign them "life points", for some reason, my students really liked having little hearts that would represent their "lives". I would usually put about three for each student as any longer would make the game go on too long. From here, I would either chose each student to read one sentence or one paragraph of the text (depending on their reading level). After they completed the chosen selection, I would clap a number of times. Depending on how many time I would clap, the next reader would be chosen. If the class room was set up linearly (as most are) this is easy to accomplish via a clockwise rotation. Students were forced to pay attention as if they were not and the amount of times I clapped elected them the next reader, they would lose a heart. The student with the most lives at the end of the reading was crowned the winner of the game.