Ongoing engagement, Warm up activities

Lost in Translation

Raise awareness of the richness of language and creativity in using language.

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Lost in Translation
Educator prep: None
Student prep: None
Breakout rooms, Shared online space
Duration: 5-30 mins

Activity purpose

Raising‌ ‌awareness‌ ‌of‌ ‌richness‌ ‌of‌ ‌language,‌ ‌creativity‌ ‌in‌ ‌language‌ ‌use‌ ‌(inventing‌‌ words),‌ ‌multilingualism,‌ ‌cultural‌ ‌meanings‌ ‌and‌ ‌connotations‌ ‌of‌ ‌words‌.

Useful for

  • Ice-breaker
  • Getting to know each other (works with groups that know each other, but also total strangers)
  • Starting discussions about language, culture and meaning
  • Learning new words


Instructions (find a word in one language you speak that is not translatable to another language you speak), and space for each group of students to take notes (eg Google doc or slides).


Explain the activity to students “find words in one language you know that are not translatable to another language you know” (giving some examples if you want) and share a link to a space for them to write their words (you can either have a single doc with a table for all groups to use or separate docs for each group - see below)

Individually: think of some words or words or expressions in any languages/dialects you speak, or words you or your friends have coined yourselves, but which you feel cannot be translated into English (or any other language).

Breakout rooms: Write these words, and share these words with other members of your group See the sample table in this document here.

Regroup in the main room to share words (have students pronounce the words), ask questions and clarifications


15-20 minutes.

Adaptations and examples

This activity can be adapted by looking at words which may be related to specific issues, for example participants could be asked to think about words that trigger them - particularly in relation to certain issues; words that evoke positive emotions, words that make you laugh for example; ‘pop culture’, words that your parents/grandparents wouldn’t understand).

This activity can be done as a reflective asynchronous assignment or posted on a discussion forum.

Technical requirements

Breakout rooms to break up larger groups Space for writing together like a Google doc.

Useful resources

More 'Ongoing engagement' activities:
Equity Unbound Activity
Create a Fake Photo Group Assignment
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Maha Bali
Equity Unbound Activity
What we don’t know about each other
This activity can be used for ongoing engagement mid-semester helping students to get to know each other better.
Noha El-Rawy
Equity Unbound Activity
Would you rather?
This fun icebreaker can be used to spark interesting conversations in class.
Frank Tontala

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