top of page


Lower intermediate or weak ESL learners definitely have some limitations when it comes to communicative language activities. Most of them are generally shy and not confident to use English orally due to their low proficiency of English. No matter how weak they are, ESL teachers cannot ignore the crucial need to carry out activities which encourage them to communicate in English. I believe most of the English teachers out there do want to promote communicative language activities among their lower intermediate learners. However, the big question is, HOW?

Personally, I would like to share my insights in designing or selecting communicative language activities (COLA) for weak learners. I would implement COLA in three phases. These are the features of each phase and their rationales:


  • Minimal communication or interaction – it is alright as it is Phase 1. Teachers cannot begin implementing COLA by being too ambitious. If the first few COLA tasks are demanding, most weak learners would hesitate to take part.

  • Repetition of words, phases or sentences suggested by the teacher

  • Repetition of words, phrases or sentences suggested by the pupils

  • Done in groups or pairs – to develop their confidence to use English. Individual tasks will take place if the pupils are ready.

  • Allow some applications of the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Example of COLA 1:

Name: Talking Balls


  1. To develop pupils’ confidence to be involved in activities using English

  2. To promote simple interactions in English


  1. Teacher gives three simple dialogues

1.1 Good morning (red ball)

1.2 Hi, how are you? (green ball)

1.3 I am very fine. Thank you (yellow ball)

  1. Pupils form a big circle or two circles (one inner circle and one outer circle).

  2. Teacher passes 3 small balls (red, green, yellow) at random to the pupils in the circle.

  3. Pupils keep on passing the balls until the teacher says “Stop”. Music can be played and stopped to make it more interesting.

  4. The pupil who gets the red ball has to say 1.1, followed by the pupil with the green ball who will say 1.2. The pupil with the yellow ball will say 1.3.

  5. Teacher can vary the dialogues such as the following:

6.1 Happy birthday to you (red ball)

6.2 Thank you for your wish (green ball)

6.3 Here is your birthday gift! (yellow ball)

  1. Teacher should encourage the pupils to propose other simple dialogues and the activity continues.

  2. Small groups are formed – 3 members per group. Pupils have to practise the previous dialogues on their own. If possible they should not refer to any notes.


Balls of different colours

Example of COLA 2:

Name: Dictation Relay


  1. To develop pupils’ confidence to engage in spoken English activities

  2. To promote collaboration and communication among pupils


  1. Pupils are divided into several groups. Each group must have at least 4 members; A,B,C,D and E. Each group must appoint a Secretary. Each group is given a baton.

  2. Teacher pastes a reading text behind the classroom (Reading Station). Each group must send the first member (Pupil A), who holds the baton, to the Reading Station to read and memorise as much as he/she can.

  3. Then Pupil A walks back to the starting line and passes the memorised sentences orally to the Secretary who will write the sentences on a piece of paper.

  4. Pupil A quickly passes the baton to Pupil B to do the same task. Once Pupil B has informed the Secretary about the sentences/ text orally, the baton is passed to Pupil C.

  5. The relay should continue until the time is up or the Secretary has finished writing all the sentences in the text.

  6. The first group to complete the task correctly is the winner.

  7. Note: For lower intermediate pupils, the text should not be too long and should use simple vocabulary and structures.

Sample text: It was Sunday. My friends and I went to Aman Mall for shopping. We went there after lunch. We saw a big crowd. The mall offered great discounts. My friends and I bought t-shirts, jeans and shoes. People were busy shopping. Fast food outlets were full. We had to queue for quite some time to buy our food. [59 words]


  1. Some batons – can just be pens/ markers

  2. A reading text which is suitable for lower intermediate learners. If time permits, teacher can continue the game with the second text


  • More communication or interaction using English. However, the weak pupils may have to rely on the sentence structures prepared by the teacher. That is not an issue at all as long as they are more involved in COLA.

  • Using the sentences structures suggested by the teacher. The structures should give them some guidance on what and how to say something.

  • Using the sentence structures prepared by the pupils. Teacher must encourage the pupils to contribute to their own learning.

  • Pupils may refer to their notes to “communicate” or “interact”. However, after some time, they should put their notes aside and just try to engage in COLA as much as they can.

  • Allow more applications of the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Example of COLA 1:

Name: Yes or No


  1. To promote confidence to ask questions and provide answers in English

  2. To communicate in English using simple structures

  3. To promote collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking


  1. Pupils are suggested a list of questions. Examples:

1.1 Are you a shy boy/girl?

1.2 Are you handsome/pretty?

1.3 Are you a vegetarian?

1.4 Are you a top student?

1.5 Are you on diet?

1.6 Are you from Kedah?

1.7 Are you afraid of me?

1.8 Are you happy to be in this class?

1.9 Are you from a rich family?

1.10 Are you a good singer?

  1. Pupils are explained about their options of response; either “Yes, I am” or “No, I am not”.

  2. Pupils are encouraged to formulate their own questions.

  3. All pupils move about in class and stop moving when the teacher shouts “Stop”.

  4. Each pupil must choose a partner on their left or right and start asking the questions. Their partner must response either “Yes, I am” or “No, I am not”.

  5. Then, the pupils move about in the classroom again and stop as instructed by the teacher. They must get a new partner and repeat the questioning and answering tasks.

  6. Music can be played as the pupils are walking and stop the music for them to get a partner.


  1. Printed questions. Option: The questions are shown using PowerPoint.

  2. Music/ Songs – if necessary.

Example of COLA 2:

Name: Moving Letters


  1. To develop pupils’ confidence to give simple instructions

  2. To promote collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity


  1. Pupils are divided into two big groups – Group A and Group B.

  2. Each group has to appoint 2-4 leaders who will give instructions or comments such as the following:

2.1 Please form “R.A.I.N” – rain

2.2 “N” you are the last person.

2.3 “Hurry up please”

2.4 “Your position is wrong”

2.5 “Alright, next word”

2.6 “We need O and P”

2.7 "The next word is PAIN. Hurry up P.A.I.N”

  1. The game starts with Group A. Group A is given a word such as “Entertainment”. 13 pupils from Group A are involved as there are 13 letters in “Entertainment” (if the words is “interest”, then only 8 pupils are involved).

  2. Each of the 13 pupils will hold a letter – E,N,T,E,R,T,A,I,N,M,E,N,T

  3. Group A must cooperate to form other English words using the 13 letters in 7 minutes.

  4. The pupils holding the letters have to move accordingly to form a new word such as “TRAIN”, “RAIN”, “IN”, “RAT” or “ENTER”. They have to listen to instructions given by the appointed group leader or leaders.

  5. Points or scores are awarded based on the number of words formed correctly.

  6. When the time is up, Group B will form words based on another word such as “GOVERNMENT”.


  1. Letters which are written using markers on A4 papers


  • More or highly independent COLA should be promoted even though they are just simple ones. This should only be done after the pupils have practised several times in groups or pairs.

  • Teacher only provides or suggests some sentence structures to be used if necessary. Please bear in mind we are dealing with weak learners. Some of them may still need help even in Phase 3.

  • The communicative activities are normally done in groups, then in pairs and finally individually. This is to further enhance their confidence. Before the pupils are called to present individually, they would have practised their lines / dialogues several times in groups and pairs.

  • Give emphasis on all the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Example of COLA 1:

Name: I Don’t Mean to Lie


  1. To develop pupils’ confidence to communicate in English

  2. To train pupils to use wh-questions correctly

  3. To develop communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.


  1. Pupils are reminded the activity does not intend to encourage them to tell lies but merely to communicate in English in a fun way.

  2. Pupils are asked to formulate simple questions such as:

2.1 What is your name?

2.2 How old are you?

2.3 Where do you stay?

2.4 Who is your favourite actor?

2.5 How much money do you have in your pocket now?

2.6Who is your girlfriend / boyfriend?

2.7 Where do you go after school?

2.8 Who is your best friend?

  1. Pupils prepare more questions on their own.

  2. Pupils are paired and they take turn to ask some questions and answer them by not telling the truth.

  3. Pupils change partners and do the same tasks several times. Pupils should ask different questions when they get a new partner. Pupils should also try to give different answers if they get a similar question more than once.

  4. Teacher asks for volunteers to ask questions and answer them in front of the class.



Example of COLA 2:

Name: Who is this?


  1. To develop pupils’ confidence to present ideas in English

  2. To develop pupils’ creativity in giving descriptions

  3. To develop communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.


  1. Teacher prepares some photos of famous people in PowerPoint (such Justin Bieber, Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza and Dato’ Lim Chong Wei). [Teacher should encourage pupils to bring a photo of their idol].

  2. Pupils are introduced to these structures to describe people:

2.1 His / Her name is ___________ (name).

2.2 He / She is _________ years old.

2.3 He / She is a / an ____________.

2.4 I know him / her. He / She is my ___________. (e.g. cousin / neighbour / best friend / mother’s friend)

2.5 His / Her hobby is ___________.

  1. Pupils are encouraged to use their creativity to describe the person in the photo. They do not have to tell the truth. For example, if the photo shown is Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza, the pupils must create something like this, “She is Aminah. She is my cousin. She is 40 years old. She loves to cook. She cooks the best chicken rice in the world”.

  2. Pupils form small groups – about 3-4 member per group. They take turn to introduce the person in the photo.

  3. Pupils form a new group. Pupils take turn to share details about the person in the photo without referring to any notes.

  4. Teacher calls for a volunteer to present his / her creative ideas about the person in the photo in front of the whole class.

  5. The volunteer will select the next person. The description activity continues.


PowerPoint presentation – photos of some famous individuals

Photos of famous people brought by the pupils


It is hoped this write-up does give some insights to English teachers in designing or choosing COLA for weak learners. Avoid making the mistakes made by some teachers; they begin COLA among weak learners with demanding and ambitious tasks. Whatever we do, of course we do not want to scare or embarrass our lower intermediate learners. Surely all of us desire the best for them. Let us do our best for our learners.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page