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ESL/EFL Teachers - 10 Informal Learning Activities

Updated on June 21, 2017
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Andrew is a TEFL graduate and has taught classes in the UK. A keen traveller and writer, he has also tutored 1:1 abroad.

Informal Learning can be Fun
Informal Learning can be Fun | Source

Informal Learning for ESL Students

Informal learning sessions for your ESL students can be of great benefit if they are well structured and professionally prepared. I find them an interesting contrast to my more formal and rigid lessons and thoroughly recommend an informal approach from time to time.

So, my message is: lighten up a little and have some fun with your students. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?

Teaching a class of students can be an intense experience for all and using a light-hearted approach from time to time can reap dividends. You might even play a game or two together!

Don’t worry, your students will not be losing out! Just the opposite. Your careful planning will ensure a meaningful learning experience for everyone and, your group of students may find themselves bonding as never before.

What kind of activities might be useful? Here are some ideas that will set you off in the right direction. With a more relaxed class the learning experience could well be enhanced.

Informal Learning- Some Fun EFL/ESL Activities

Informal learning can happen when your class has some free time or some spare moments - at the end of exam revision or before a lead-in to a more serious topic, for example. I've come up with some interesting ideas which you might like to experiment with.

1. Quiz - there are many forms of quiz you can create, from straightforward general knowledge to Mastermind type affairs! Mix things up with questions on grammar, culture and current affairs.

  • Tip : Your students should be challenged but not end up completely flummoxed.
  • You can find lots of quizzes on this link.

2. Crossword – invent your own simple crossword. You could suggest a topic; say planet earth, adjectives only, arts and crafts, travel. The choice is yours.

3. Alphabet Challenge – go through the alphabet with your students, alternating as you go. For example, you could start with A for adverb, your students then follow B for better, and so on.

  • Tip:Spice it up with variations. A – Adam Always Angers Aliens….Big Bill Bounces Bob…Can Chris Crunch Cornflakes…

4. Song Lyrics – have your students choose a favourite song and get them to analyse the lyrics. This could be an interesting exercise. Song lyrics are often very well known but an objective look at the way the words are written down can deepen our understanding of them.

  • Tip: What if your students want to sing the song? Say yes! Set up a choir!

5. Create A Story – this can be a real challenge to the students but is a fun way of learning as it encourages use of the imagination. You start with the opening line (or two) and then ‘hand over’ to the students.

For example. 'One day a friend and I decided to go for a picnic in the countryside........'

Their task is to continue the storyline in a realistic fashion by adding to your first line (s). The exercise goes on, one passing the baton to the other, until an ending is reached, or a chapter finished.

  • Tip: Keep the story short if possible and don't worry if the story becomes funny or someone starts laughing. It's all part of the learning experience. Get the whole group to help if a student gets stuck.

Tongue Twisters

Try These Tongue Twisters!

Unique New York! Unique New York! You know you need unique New York!

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter. "But," she said, "this butter's bitter!If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter!"So she bought a bit of butter better than her bitter butter,And she put it in her batter, and her batter was not bitter.So 'twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.

Tim took Tony's toy, Tony tickled Tim's toes, Tim tip-toed timidly.

More Informal and Cultural Learning Activities

6. Radio - find a suitable talk station and give your students 5-10 minutes listening time. You may choose a debate, a report from a foreign correspondent, a news programme. There are many options on the BBC, from Radio 4 to the World Service. Listen together. Suggest to your students they have a pen and paper ready to note down points of interest.

Tip - commercial stations have regular 'ads'; have your students listen to a few and follow up with some research into the language used, the product offered and the effectiveness of the ad.

7. T.V. or DVD - why not watch a typically English or American t.v. programme or DVD. It could be a film, a play, a soap opera, a documentary. Select a scene that has a particular focus on dialogue for example. Or you may want to show a comedy that wil test your students' sense of humour. This will enable your students to learn more about English or American culture. Especially useful for those who are about to visit or live in the UK or USA.

8. Online - give your class a choice of subject to research for 25-30 minutes. Have them go online, take notes and come up with a paragraph of finished work they can 'present' to you.

9. Cultural visit – a day out at a museum, a theatre trip, a church or gallery can be stimulating and give fresh insights into how your students are progressing. Choose a destination that you know will be of interest! Even better, let your student choose!

10. Book or Poem Quote - give time for your class to select a poem or page or two from an author of their choice. Go through it together if needs be searching for themes, unusual words and other devices.


Some More Simple EFL/ESL Ideas for Learning

  • Have your students read from their favourite novel, story or poem.
  • Set your class a mini art project - to create a collage, a picture, a montage on any subject.
  • Challenge your students to organise the trip for you both to the museum or gallery and have them report on how things went.
  • Give your class 'free space' to spend time on their own with a book or poem or news article. Spend 10 - 15 minutes on a question and answer session.
  • Your students may want to make a short film/video or presentation about their learning experiences. Encourage small group activities related to this idea. One group writing a script, the orher 'acting', a third group directing and working the camera. Great for bonding.

Don't Forget Feedback

As in previous sessions make sure there is plenty of time for quality feedback. Feedback allows your students to raise points that might otherwise be forgotten and allows you to focus on strengths and weaknesses and other important issues.

A question and answer session of 10 minutes may yield good results. You could ask your class for a short written report or summary of their experiences following any of the above informal learning activities. Or coax responses out of them with your own observations and write them down on a board.

Be open to suggestions and ideas. In this case your students may want to take photographs, create captions for them and put them together in a folder.

Tip: From the feedback if it becomes clear that your students need to learn more grammar or want to use more advanced conversation for example, then base a future lesson around these topics.


Informal learning can help with :

  • conversational skills.
  • vocabulary.
  • writing.
  • class bonding

Your students will have fun and hopefully want to repeat the experience at regular intervals. Research shows that learning is best achieved when students are relaxed yet motivated. (Why Relaxed Alertness Provides the Optimum Emotional Climate for Learning, Rick Reis, Stanford University, Keep your targets smart, but don’t forget to be inventive.

How To Teach ESL/EFL

© 2012 Andrew Spacey


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