15 ways to use ‘post-it notes’ to teach English


Although they may not be great for the environment, the humble ‘post-it note’ is one of my favourite teaching resources. They follow me into every class I teach (along with their less eye-catching cousin, scraps of used paper) and they are always on hand, to help me engage and activate my students’ English.

Post-it notes, those little squares of brightly-coloured sticky paper, are a simple and cheap addition to your teaching tool-kit.

Here are some ways you can use them with your classes:

Ways to Use Post-it-Notes to teach English

1. The Rizla game

I first came across this in a pub and originally played it with cigarette papers (hence the name). Each player writes the name of a famous person on the non-sticky side of the post-it. Then, they stick it on the forehead or back of the player on their left. Make sure that everybody looks at the names on the other players’ post-its – you can’t see the name on the post-it stuck to your own forehead or back. Finally, you play a version of 20 questions, asking closed questions such as:

Is this person a man?

Is he an actor?

Does he have dark hair?

The great things about this game are a) it’s fun b) it’s great for questions with auxiliaries / modals and c) it’s adaptable as you could use it to review any vocabulary topic. For example, if I were teaching fruits, the students might ask questions such as :Is it round? Is it yellow? Do monkeys eat them?

2. Word jumbles

Great for spelling practice. Write a letter on each post-it, stick them on the board, table or  around the room and ask the students to reorder them to form a word.

3. Sentence jumbles

Great for syntax (word order). Write each word in a phrase / target structure on a separate post-it, stick them on the board, table, around the room, and ask the students to reorder them to form the phrase. Get them doing their own later.

4. Running dictation

Write short pieces of text on each post-it then stick them around the room / school. The students have to read them, remember them, then rush back to the scribe / secretary and dictate what they read. Practises all 4 skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

5. Matching activities

Packs of different coloured post-its are helpful here. Write a word on the yellow post-its and the definitions on the pink ones. Stick them on the board and ask students to come up and match them. Better for kinaesthetic learners than writing words and definitions on the board and then connecting them with arrows.

6. Word stress

When analysing the pronunciation of longer words, write each syllable on a post-it and then ask students to identify the stressed one by sticking it on the board a little higher than the others.

7. Sentence stress

The same activity but with phrases rather than words. Great for identifying how meaning changes according to which word is stressed.

8. Connected speech

Write each word on a separate post-it an get students physically moving them closer to the next word as a tangible demonstration of elision, assimilation and linking sounds.

9. Phonemic symbols

If you have a big poster of the phonemic chart in your classroom or on your IWB, write a word on a post-it, underline a particular syllable and ask students to stick it next to the phonemic symbol. Alternatively, if you want to get students practising writing the symbols, write a word on the board and ask them to write the symbol on their post-it and stick it above/below the word. Make it into a board race!

10. Peer-correction of writing

If you ask students to write something, ask them to peer-correct. Post-its are great because the students don’t have to write on the text itself. They write their comments on the post-it instead. Not as messy as asking students to write directly onto the text.

11. Brainstorming / mind-mapping / spidergrams

If you have a regular whiteboard but only have one or two markers, getting students to come up to the board and add examples / ideas can take too long. With post-its, students can all contribute at the same time (which also means individual students don’t feel so exposed). The other great thing about doing it this way is that you can ask the learners to categorise their ideas easily just by moving the post-its around.

12. Grading and organising language items

When you want learners to grade pieces of vocabulary, for example,adjectives describing weather (cold, hot, cool, freezing, boiling, mild, warm), you can use a cline to determine the hottest to the coldest . By using post-its, learners can physically move the words around, discuss and experiment, before finding the right order. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/cline

13. On-the-board gap-fills

Gap-fills can be dull but they are useful. Write sentences on the board with gaps. Write the missing words on post-its then ask students to come up to the board and stick them in the correct gap – make it more fun by making it a board race. Open cloze activities can also be done this way if you ask the students (in pairs/small groups) to write their answers on post-its.

14. Storytelling activities

Paraphrasing skills can be practised effectively with post-its. For example, you could read a story and ask students to write down keywords on post-its. They can then use these post-its as a series of cues for retelling the story. Alternatively, you could write a set of keywords from a story then stick them in random fashion on the board. Read out or tell the story and ask the students to listen. Then, ask them to order the post-its on the board according to how they were used in the story. They can then practise retelling the story to each other using the post-its as prompts. Finally, get some words on post-its and stick them on the board. Get the learners in a circle in front of the board and ask them to tell a group story in which each learner has to keep speaking until they are able to use a word on a post-it. When they have, they remove the post-it from the board and the next student continues the story.

15. Texting simulations

Post-its can be used for texting practice if you don’t permit learners to use mobiles in class. They write their text on the post-it, then send it (hand it) to the recipient who, in turn, responds. Get students doing this in pairs or small groups then collect the texts (post-its) and stick them on the board in random order. Ask another pair / small group to put the messages in order to reform the text dialogue.

I’m sure there are hundreds of other activities you could do with post-its. What’s great about them is they can be used to get students out of their chairs and moving around, encouraging them to interact with the language.

Can you think of any other ways we can use post-it notes in class?