Coffee break exercises

coffee_cupI’m tired of listening to people complaining about lack of time for studying languages. It’s nothing extraordinary. Everyone has the same problem nowadays. If you want to change it start from a single, short step and use your coffee break (for example) for some activities which will move you forward a bit. The aim of this article is just to give you some hints how you can spend short breaks, still developing your language skills. Here is the short lists of activities you can do.

  1. Reading an article in English. Pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? If you are interested in military English, choose some military-oriented magazines. And I do not recommend your own national magazines, which are merely translated into English. The quality of texts there differ significantly depending on the skills of a translator. Instead, reach for BIG titles – be it Stars&Stripes, The USA Today, The Economist, The Guardian and alike. Quality and live language actually spoken are guaranteed.
  2. Once you read something, you can extend simple reading into some vocabulary-oriented exercises. Scan a given paragraph against any nouns or adjectives trying to find/recall any of their antonyms and/or synonyms. If you cannot recall any, just underline them and at home or wherever you have the access to dictionaries, find them and note aside the article.
  3. If you find a new word, try to guess its meaning from the context. Play the role of a new English user to whom you must explain the meaning of the word either by providing synonyms either in a descriptive manner. Let’s even assume you must explain it to a Martian, not familiar with our world because what is obvious for you could not be so obvious for the others. That concerns mainly specialized terms or jargon.
  4. Grouping words. I believe this activity is self-explanatory too. Just find some words belonging to the same category, e.g. nouns, names of the same thing, verbs, adjectives, the same tense, etc.
  5. If you do not read anything at the moment, you can try writing something. Just enjoy your coffee and look around. For sure there is somebody around you or something is going on. Look at the world from the perspective of an agent/reporter who is about to start his report/novel. Such sentences like “I was sitting in the nearby cafe when suddenly a biker fell on the lady in front of me…” – your imagination is the limit. As an aspiring author you can start with “It was a rainy day and Sally was sipping her usual coffee. Her round glasses were covered with dust so she couldn’t spot the approaching man…”. This practice is meant for developing your reporting skills. If you lack a word, note it down in your mother tongue – you will get back to it when with a dictionary.

I believe that English teachers immediately noticed the potential of such activities. If you happen to be one, you can assign such tasks to your students in the classroom. It can be a good warm-up or extending exercise to any texts you are working with.