You’ve spent hours preparing your lesson and there’s a power cut! You now have no access to the photocopier or the computer in the classroom. You are left with a lesson plan and no handouts, no slide presentation and no internet. What can you do?

1. Dictation

In your original lesson plan, you had a short passage for students to read, a tape/CD/clip that you’d wanted students to listen to or a quiz that you’d wanted them to work with. So why not dictate the text? And you don’t have to stick to the traditional ‘I dictate, you write’ style of dictation. Consider trying other forms of dictation:

  • A Dictogloss – This is where you dictate the text at a normal reading speed, without purposely slowing down and waiting for students to write. Ensure students know you are going to do this and suggest that if they miss some words, to leave a space on their paper so they can fill it in later. Read the text three times at normal speed. Then put students in groups of two/three to help each other reconstruct the whole text.
  • A Running Dictation – This is where you put the text up on a wall (or even a corridor!) and you divide students into groups of two/three. One student per group will be the ‘runner’ who will run to the text on the wall, memorise as much of it as they can, run back to their group mate(s) and dictate what they can remember to them. The fastest and most correct group wins.
  • A Shouting Dictation – This is where you divide the class into two and have one side do the shouting and the other side do the writing. This works well if you group ‘the shouters’ together, show them the text, and have them shout to ‘the writers’ line by line while ‘the writers’ write the text down. When that’s done, pair each shouter with a writer and together they can then look through what’s been written and make the necessary corrections.
  • Chinese Whispers Dictation – This is where you line the groups of students up in rows. Whisper the first sentence to the first person in each row. They will in turn whisper what they’ve heard to the next person, and so on. The last person in each row would be armed with a notebook to write down what they think they’ve heard. Answers will be compared with the teacher’s version at the end of the activity. The most accurate group wins.
  • Picture Dictation – This is great if your lesson involves pictures or descriptions of some sort. Put students in pairs, and have them seated back to back, with one student facing the board. Put your picture up on the board. The students facing the board will describe what they see to their partners, who will then draw it on their piece of paper. Most accurate drawing wins.


2. Gallery

Turn your classroom into a gallery and use the walls and the space of your classroom.

  • Instead of having students read a whole passage from a handout, cut up the text and place paragraphs in different parts of the classroom called stations. Á la a jigsaw reading, students are assigned to the different stations and will read the text placed at their station, make notes and discuss the text with others at their station. Students are then re-grouped so that each group has one student from each station to share what they’ve read.
  • Instead of doing exercises from a handout, place each exercise/task/quiz question in different parts of the classroom. Students are scattered around the classroom and the aim is to complete all of the exercises (not necessarily in the same order) by walking around the classroom and discussing them with fellow classmates.

3. Use the board/flipchart

I am not recommending that you copy everything that was on your handouts/slides onto your board/flipchart. However, the board/flipchart can provide a space for you to write down key points so that students can copy, and is also a space for students to carry out classroom tasks.

  • Activities that require students to categorise, label, unjumble or match can be done on the board. Put students in groups and give each group a different coloured board pen. Each group sends a representative to rush up to the board to do a task. Fastest group with the most correct answers win. If you don’t have a board and are using a flipchart. Consider sticking a few sheets to the wall to create a larger working space.
  • Dedicate a section of your board/a sheet on your flipchart to new and useful language items that have come up during the lesson. This may be useful collocations, phrases or chunks of lexis, or grammatical structures.
  • Write up important points that come up during a discussion or feedback to a task.
  • Have students copy what has been written on the board into their notebooks. Ensure that you allow them time to do so. The process of making notes often helps the student take in what is being taught. (This is one of the biggest reasons why I don’t normally give out photocopied handouts!)
  • At the end of the lesson, have students discuss in groups to come up with three takeaway points of the day. This is a good chance for them to summarise and consolidate what they have learnt. Write the students’ takeaway points on the board/flipchart.


4. Do some Task-Based Learning

Have students embark on a task or a group project. Get them to create posters, write and conduct a survey, plan a field trip or prepare to make a film.

5. Use your students as a resource

  • Have students generate tasks. Very often, students know what they want and what they need, and there can be increased motivation by allowing them to contribute to the design of tasks.
  • Have students generate comprehension/quiz questions. In groups, students will read/listen to a text and create three comprehension questions for their ‘rival groups’. You can also choose to have students focus on creating questions about the vocabulary in the text.
  • If you have a listening activity you’d wanted to do with the students, you could read from the transcript yourself, or alternatively, get students to read it for the class. This is especially useful if the listening text requires more than one speaker.
  • Have students talk about themselves. Students come with their own set of experience, knowledge and skills. And they come with the most authentic and interesting stories. Create opportunities to discuss and talk about things that your students know well. Don’t just ask display questions but be genuinely curious and ask questions that would allow the conversation to flow. By tapping into the wealth of experience you have available to you in the classroom, you can not only personalize the learning experience for your students, but also allow them to practise the negotiation of meaning. And through it all, you can be sure that the scenarios and the language that emerges from them are realistic, useful and not at all contrived.


I sometimes like it when we have no choice but to go back to the basics. We are forced to depend on ourselves and our students, and not the photocopier. And in the process, we promote collaboration, learner autonomy and tons of creativity. 

If you’re interested in teaching with minimal resources, look into Teaching Unplugged.


Read more from Chia Suan Chong.