Tennis-related activities for Wimbledon themed lessons

Anna Hasper shares 5 interactive tennis-related activities to keep your learners engaged as the tennis season consumes us.

With Wimbledon getting underway in London, it seems only appropriate to add a tennis flavor to our lessons. Not all of us have the liberty to adapt our curriculum easily, and not all students are interested in tennis. However, that shouldn’t stop us linking our activities to a real-life event happening outside the classroom. This activity offers an effective way to explore learners’ interest in tennis and their knowledge about tennis terms and references. It forms a great springboard to focus in more depth on tennis-related content or just spice up your set curriculum for a few minutes of tennis-related fun!

Activity #1 – Word Rally

This activity enables you to revisit or recycle previously studied vocabulary in pairs. There are various ways of playing this. One of the most well-known is where one learner ‘serves’ a word eg girl and their opponent has to return the serve with a word that starts with the last letter of that word eg lipbalm. This activity does not only require learners to listen carefully but also to recall the spelling of the words. The learner who makes the first mistake loses the rally.

You can adapt the activity by giving learners a theme or topic that words need to relate to, eg fruit, mammals,etc. To keep the challenge level manageable you can relax the last-first letter rule to any letter. With my learners I use the same ‘Rally’ approach for feedback; when we check answers to written exercises orally, the student confirming and justifying the answer nominates the next learner. This can even be applied in the online context. Here, the learner writes the name of the next person to provide an answer in the chat.

Activity #2 – Baseline Jump

This activity is perhaps more appropriate in the Young Learners classroom, when you need to manage their limitless energy, or re-energise them! I often use this activity to chorally check the meaning of a concept. It’s also a great way to get to know your learners at the start of term; their interests and likes. You do need some space for this activity!

You can create an imaginary baseline (all you need is a magic wand and their imagination) or you can stick some masking tape on the floor. Get learners to stand on the baseline. Explain that a jump forward means ‘Yes’ (or true) and backwards means ‘no’ (or false). You can use flashcards, sounds, mime, etc. to check understanding. For example, act like a kangaroo and say “This is a koala”. If they all jump forward, you’ve got some more clarifying to do! Or you use it to revisit grammar points in an age-accessible way. Say the sentence “Mohammed have 3 sisters”. Learners need to jump backwards to indicate that it is incorrect before giving you the correct form. You can adapt this to the online context by asking learners to act by holding up their imaginary racquet for ‘yes’, and keeping it down for ‘no’.

Activity #3 – Stand like this!

This activity requires the use of visuals. If you want to practise tennis vocabulary (for example, racquet, net, umpire, etc.) select either a screenshot from a match or download some pictures that depict people on a tennis court. To find some copyright free images on tennis, with people, check out ‘Flickr’.

Select 3 or 4 images and put learners in teams of 3. If a photo has 2 people, only one person in each team can see the image and has to tell the other 2 learners to impersonate the people in the picture, but without seeing it ! As well as this activity being a lot of fun, it also provides meaningful opportunities for students to practice not only tennis-related vocabulary (that is if your images relate to tennis, but they can be about any subject) but also language of direction, position, emotions and body language. This activity can be done in breakout rooms, but only if learners are in a safe area and have the room to move around. Make sure they unplug their headphones if they need to ‘stand like this’!

Activity #4 – Four Corners of the court!

If you haven’t used four corners in your face-to-face (F2F) classroom, then this activity is definitely worth trying. I often use it with adults, just to include some movement in the speaking stage of my lessons. You need to prepare signs (agree, disagree, strongly agree, strongly disagree) for each corner of the court (your classroom). Prepare some interesting statements for your students to discuss. Again, these can relate to the topic you are addressing in your curriculum such as health, environment or tennis.

Say the statement, such as ‘you can only become a successful tennis player if your family is wealthy’ or ‘we should put a sugar tax on soft drinks to encourage people to purchase healthier options’. Give learners time to think which corner best represents their opinion, or even get them to take some notes. Then ask learners to get up and move to the corner they most identify with and share their ideas in groups/pairs. This is where you need to manage it carefully if one learner stands alone, and I suggest pairing them to share ideas with another opinion group. As everyone needs to get up and physically move, this activity ensures all learners are participating. Again, this could be adapted by setting up four breakout rooms for the four different ‘corners’ . Get students to select the room they want to go to (Zoom allows this now). It can also be used as a formative assessment when students have four answers/ options to a question, just label the corners A, B, C and D and you can ‘see’ their thinking.

Activity #5 – Tennis idioms

As you will have noticed, the names of the activities also provide you with an opportunity to introduce some of the important terms in tennis, such as rally, court, and baseline. There are lots of activities online that can help you teach more specific tennis-related vocabulary in the classroom. However, I find my learners are more interested in ‘juicy’ language such as collocations and idiomatic expressions. So this would be a good time to introduce some commonly used expressions in your lessons. I love drawing and get my learners to play a combination of hints and Pictionary to guess the expression, before exploring the meaning and use. Of course, once you have these learners can share common expressions in their L1 – which can lead to some interesting translations – and they guarantee a great back-to-the-board activity!

Some of my favorite idiomatic expressions are:

  • The ball is in your court – it is up to you to make the next move
  • To have many balls to juggle – to deal with several different things at once
  • To call the shots – to decide how something should be done
  • Something is in full swing – to be at the highest level of activity
  • To be still in the game – someone might be struggling but they are not finished yet and may come back.
  • It’s whole new ball game – it is something that is completely different or new

For a fun word pair game you can try with your class, have a go at guessing which words are more frequently used with corpus tennis.

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