How to teach days of the week in English
Summary: Teachings tips, games and other classroom activities for memorising how to say and spell Monday, Tuesday, etc.
Days of the week are easy to teach even to very young and/ or low level students, and the topic prepares students well for future studies of and communication about present routines, the past, the future, etc. In addition, there are loads of great games, the topic can be combined with virtually any vocabulary, and it goes nicely before and after other useful topics like numbers, months and dates (dealt with in other articles on this site). This article gives ideas on how to make sure that students quickly memorise the words without losing sight of their actual meaning, gives some tips on helping students learn the pronunciation and spelling, and gives ideas for games, stories and songs to make the topic more memorable and fun.
What to students need to know about days of the week in English
Just like with native speaking kids, first of all students need to be able to say the days of the week in order. They will then need to be able to be able to say the days without needing to go through the list each time (instantly knowing that tomorrow is Sunday, etc). They might then need to be able to recognize and expand the short versions of the days (Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun) and then be able to write the words out, avoiding typical spelling mistakes like those mentioned below.
Typical student problems with days of the week in English
As with the order of things that they need to learn explained above, I find that most student problems with days of the week are the same as with English-speaking children who are learning this topic when they are young, namely:
- Not being able to think of the names of days without going through the whole list each time
- Mixing up Tuesday and Thursday and (less so) Saturday and Sunday
- Pronunciation and spelling problems such as not being able to pronounce the “th” in “Thursday” and not writing the silent “d” in Wednesday
Pronunciation problems specific to EFL learners mainly have to do with pronouncing the words as they are spelt, (“Monday” with an “o” sound, “Wednesday” with the “d” pronounced, “Tuesday” with three syllables, etc) but may also include “Tharsday” for “Thursday”.
Students can sometimes pick up the confusion about whether Sunday or Monday is the first day of the week. ELT materials from the UK generally start the week on Monday, and American ones often start from Sunday. This can obviously lead to confusion in students who have been exposed to both. Concentrating too much on memorising the days can also sometimes mean that students who know the list of days perfectly can’t actually relate them to today, tomorrow, etc.
Some very young learners may still be learning days of the week in their own language, meaning this topic will take more time as their brains also have to get used to the whole concept. There may also be problems with L1 interference such as English days of the week that start with the same letter as a different day in their own language.
How to present English days of the week
Before you start teaching the days of the week, you’ll need to decide when to start this topic. Many of the games below also work for numbers and months, so I tend to teach days of the week between those two things. Times can come before or after days of the week, but I tend to do it afterwards as “I… at seven o’clock on Mondays” provides good revision and extension of “I… on Mondays”.
The first thing you will need to do before teaching this topic is decide if you will teach Sunday or Monday as the first day of the week. I tend to go with whatever the students have already learnt and/ or what the textbook says (despite my personal preference for starting with Monday). This can vary from class to class, so I often have to write in my teaching notes what day of the week I have been starting on with that class to make sure that I am consistent in future lessons with the same group of students.
As mentioned above, the most important thing when teaching this topic is to provide context so that students can relate the vocabulary to the actual days of the week. Therefore, the best way of starting this topic is with a calendar, asking students to read out from the calendar what day it is today, and then the same for yesterday, tomorrow, etc (by pointing at those days on the calendar, because students studying days of the week probably won’t know English words like “tomorrow” yet). When they have got their heads round that, it is time for lots of drilling and other work to make the language memorable such as picture books and songs. However, you should regularly go back and check that they understand what they are learning with more communicative questions like “What day is it today?” and “What day is Xmas day (this year/ on the calendar)?”
How to drill days of the week
Although there is a danger of students losing sight of what it is that they are memorising and/ or relying on this too much, it seems impossible to avoid the stage of learning days of the week in order (as native speaking children also do). You can then alternate this with saying “Today” in the place of whatever day it is in the list (“Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Today”, “Thursday” etc) if you are worried about the students forgetting which actual days they are talking about.
The next step after this should probably be drilling in order the same way but starting from other days, e.g. starting again from “Thursday, Friday…” if the last game finished on Wednesday. Some of the games below also get students drilling the days of the week backwards, but I wouldn’t do this without blocks, movement etc to make the meaning clear in case it just causes confusion.
Once the list of days is learnt, you can also drill students by giving a random day and seeing if they can say the next day (Teacher: “Wednesday” Students: “Thursday!” etc). Most students should then be able to cope with little puzzles like “Wednesday plus two days” and “Monday minus two days”. They can also challenge each other in the same ways.
Days of the week drilling games
Days of the week silent drilling
This activity is good both for memorisation and for awareness of mouth shape for proper pronunciation of the days of the week. The teacher silently mouths days of the week and the class race to shout out the name of the day that they stop on. For example, if the teacher mouths “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” and then stops, the whole class should shout out “Wednesday!” You can then do the same thing starting on other days of the week. First of all you should probably tell students which day you are going to start on, but then you can just mouth “Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday” without any clue and see if they can work out which days you were silently saying just from the mouth shapes. They might then be ready to just watch someone mouth a single day word and guess what it is. Students can then mouth the same things for each other.
Days of the week ball games
Students drill days of the week while a ball is rolled across the table, thrown and caught, bounced up and down, etc. Students can do this back and forth between them, or one student can do this on their own for as long as they can without dropping the ball, saying the wrong word or pausing for too long. The other possibility is for one person to silently bounce the ball and the other students to race to shout out and/ or write down the right day of the week for the last bounce whenever that person stops or drops the ball.
Days of the week block games
Students say the names of the week as they make a taller and taller tower from blocks. They could also add more than one block and say or get the other student(s) to say what day the last of those blocks represents (e.g. that the last block is “Friday” if the last person built up to “Wednesday” and then two blocks were added). They could also deconstruct the tower, counting the days backwards as the tower is taken down block by block, and then racing to say what day the new top of the tower represents when two or more blocks are taken off.
As with the ball games above, students could work on their own to build as tall a tower as they can while chanting the days. They could also perhaps silently build a tower and see who can most quickly shout out and/ or write down the name of the day of the week for the top block whenever they stop or the tower falls down, although this might be too timing confusing if students stack too carefully.
Days of the week flashcard games
There are two kinds of flashcard games for this topic: using flashcards specific to each day of the week, and using other kinds of flashcards to practise both that vocabulary and days of the week. To do the former, you will need flashcards with pictures and perhaps written hints to what the day of week each card represents such as a picture of a closed school with a cross through it, a church and/ or a sun to represent Sunday. Other hints on the actual name of the day include the cartoon character or actor of Thor for Thursday and the moon for Monday. To make sure that recognising the days doesn’t depend on cultural knowledge, I would make one set of cards with “Mon”, “Tues” also written on and another set of cards with just with the pictures. These can then be used just like any other set of vocabulary flashcards, with activities such as:
- Quickly flashing up and then hiding a card and seeing who can spot what it is and shout out the right name of the day
- Slowing revealing a flashcard and seeing who can guess what it is
- Turning all the flashcards face down and seeing who can guess or remember what each card is
- Mixing all the cards up and seeing how quickly students can put them back in order
Putting the days of the week into order also works with just simple cards with the written names of days of the week, or short written forms like “Mon”.
The turning the cards face down memory game is the best way of using other flashcards to revise this point. Choose or make seven cards with vocabulary that you have just studied or want to move onto next, e.g. the names of seven foods or seven kinds of transport. It is best if these cards connect well to the topic of days of the week, e.g. kinds of TV programme that could be on or watched on different days, but it works for any set of picture and/ or word flashcards.
Drill the vocabulary on the seven cards as you place them one by one in a straight line on the table. Drill the names of the days of the week as you point at each card, then drill both the days and the vocabulary as you turn the cards face down, perhaps as sentences like “I do judo on Thursdays”. Students can then be tested on which day is “banana” and/ or on which object is on the Wednesday card with questions like “What do you study on Monday?”, “When do you study maths?” and “Do you study maths on Mondays?” They turn the card face up the check and it stays face up if their answer was correct and is turned back face down if they were wrong. You could also give points for correct answers, but the game is usually fun enough without points.
It may also be good practice of question formation to get students to ask each other questions like “What do you eat/ wear/ play on Mondays?” and “When do you eat/ wear/ play/ go to…?”, even though they are ridiculously unrealistic questions in real life. If you want to make sure students think about the days of the week that you are drilling, you can name the relevant card “Today”.
As well as providing weekly revision on days of the week until students really get the hang of it, this is a great game for students who are just moving from always going through the list of games to being able to say the names without having to go through the list each time. This can be encouraged further by students racing against each other to shout out the correct answers to the questions.
Days of the week TPR games
There are a few ways of using movement to make this topic more fun and more memorable. With very young learner classes, it can be nice to get students to get students to start hunched down low for the first day of the week and then stretch their bodies further up and out until they are reaching up high with their legs spread for the last day of the week. Perhaps after doing the opposite (i.e. getting smaller and smaller) as you count backwards through the days, you can then move onto random days of the week for them to take the position of, e.g. freezing with their bodies halfway up if you shout out or show the word “Wednesday”.
A similar game that also works with older kids is for students to step forward seven times from a back wall as they chant the days. Perhaps after chanting the days backwards (“Saturday, Friday” etc) as they walk backwards back to the first wall, they then rush to stand in approximately the right place when they hear random days like “Friday”. If you don’t want to get students up and walking around, they can do the same thing on their desks with the index finger and middle finger of one hand representing their legs. They could also do something similar with their hands going up and down, either by just raising and lowering one hand or by stacking their hands like the game/ song “One Potato Two Potato”.
Days of the week trivia quiz drilling
This is perhaps the best game for making sure that students link the names of the days that they are learning to the actual days of their lives. The teacher or a student says things that are specific to one day of the week and students race to shout out and/ or write down the right day of the week. Possible clues include names of television programmes, festivals and holidays which are coming up, “The first day of school”, “No school”, birthdays of particular people in class (this year), plus things that are specific to the country that you are in like “Church”, “People beat their carpets” and “Shops close at one o’clock”. As students studying this topic are likely to be low level and the main focus is the names of the days of the week rather than the vocabulary in the prompts, it would be good to prepare picture hints and/ or gestures to reinforce the meaning of the prompts if necessary.
Communicative activities for days of the week
Students who are learning days of the week for the first time tend to be very young and/ or very low level, and therefore there are not many communicative activities that you can do with the language that they know. As future forms are likely to be well beyond them, we are limited to Present Simple for repeated actions. If you eliminate the more ridiculous textbook exchanges like “What do you eat on Mondays?” “I eat cabbage”, for most students the only things they are likely to have weekly schedules for are school subjects and television programmes, plus possibly after-school activities such as clubs. This can be practised with the battleships game below, or you can add things that they do every day and never do in the Make Me Say Yes game.
Days of the week make me say Yes
Students get one point for each time they get a “Yes (I do)” answer to questions with days of the week like “Do you go to school on Wednesday?” and “Do you eat on Saturdays?” They can then play the same game with one point for each “No, I don’t” answer, and then possibly with one point for each “I don’t know” answer to questions like “Does your mother like Fridays?” and “Does your father check his email on Saturday?”
The fact that most of the things that they will get the right answer for are the same for every day of the week makes this game both easier for students and more amusing to play (if they ask questions like “Do you stand up on Mondays?” and “Does your mother breathe on Sunday?”) However, if you want them to think more carefully about the days of the week, you can have rules such as not allowing two similar questions in a row and/ or not giving points if their partner answers “Yes, I do, but I do that every day”.
Days of the week hangman
You might be surprised to see hangman in the communicative games section of this article, but this variation has the nice twist. The teacher or a student writes blanks for the letters of the day they are thinking of and gives a single hint about which day it is that they are thinking of, e.g. “I get up at seven o’clock on this day”. The students try to guess one letter of that word, then listen to another hint such as “My father doesn’t like this day”. This continues until the word is completed or they have made too many wrong guesses, with one hint per guess. Students could then take on the teacher role, but they will probably need ideas for hints they can give such as sentence stems like “_______ is on television” on a worksheet or the board.
This game is a little too easy with gaps showing how many letters the day of the week has, so after a few rounds like this they should probably do the same thing with just a single long gap to represent the word.
Days of the week battleships
This is based on the traditional kids’ game in which players try to guess which squares their partner’s battleships (and submarines etc) are on until they have “sunk” them all, in exchanges like “A3” “You have sunk my battleship!” In the normal TEFL version, the grid represents the different periods at school on the different school days and students search for something as they ask questions like “What do you do at three p.m. on Mondays?” or “Do you study English on Mondays?” However, you can also do a version of the game which doesn’t need times.
Give students a table with boxes representing the days of a week that you want to practise, e.g. seven boxes for Monday to Sunday. Give students a list of different things to write in those boxes such as names of places (station, cram school, library, etc). Ask them to choose just three of those things and write each of them in all but two of the days, e.g. “station” in any five of the seven days. Students ask each other “Do you… on…?” until they think they have guessed their partner’s whole schedule. If they are right when they show what they have written to their partner, they win the game. However, if they made a mistake then they lose the game and the game stops there.
Days of the week drawing games
Students choose cards from the table to make sentences like “I + eat spaghetti + on + Sundays”, “You + have a picnic + on + Wednesdays” and “The cat + goes to work + on Tuesdays” to be able to draw that thing in the relevant one of the seven boxes on the board or their piece of blank paper. Alternatively, you can play that they pick and arrange cards to make the teacher or a classmate draw that thing, depending on which version your students find more motivating.
Days of the week projects
Projects for days of the week need to be very careful designed in order to not demand too much language and to really have a connection to each day of the week, avoiding silly information like “Nobody eats snails on Mondays”. The best idea I have come up with is to get students to design and ask the whole class and/ or other people pairs of questions like “Do you wash your sheets on Monday?” and “Do you wash your sheets on Sunday?” to find things where the number is higher for one question than for the other, ignoring anything which is the same on both days. These can then be put onto a poster as bar charts etc, then perhaps voting on the best poster and most interesting information.
Days of the week stories and songs
Picture books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and the many days of the week songs on YouTube can be used to making drilling more fun and also sometimes to provide some context for the language that they are studying. With songs you can choose between ones which have just the days of the week with a tune and others which add sentences, sometimes including actions like the one on YouTube that goes “I like to sing them quiet. I like to clap them out” etc. With the exception of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, picture books tend to have some quite difficult and not particularly useful language. However, if the text rhymes and there are some nice pictures, students are usually quite happy to sit through that part as they wait to shout out the next day of the week. Ones which can be simplified or at least coped with by most EFL classes studying this point include:Five Little Ducks by Denise Fleming, Today is Monday by Eric Carle, Busy Builder Busy Week by Jean Reidy and Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young.