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Fun ESL Activities for the Classroom
Lots of new ideas to help with your ESL Lesson-Planning
Sometimes it's hard to keep your ESL students engaged and interested in learning English. I totally get that and I know that we've all been there.
Things get old and boring pretty fast if you have don't keep things new and fresh with a variety of fun and interesting ESL games and activities. This site has lots of ideas for you to introduce into your classroom, to make learning enjoyable for your students. There are a range of interesting ESL activities that practice all four of the language learning skills: speaking, writing, listening and reading. Learning can be fun and this site makes it easy.
I've been teaching English in South Korea for the past 10 years, all ages and levels. I work at a university now and mostly teach academic writing, but I still love to work with lower level students who need just a bit of an extra push to get motivated to learn. These games and activities have helped me to do this.
A Quick Warm-up Activity for all Levels of ESL Students
Put the students in small groups. 3 or 4 people work well. Have them pick 4 famous people, dead or alive that they'd like to invite to a party they are having. Then, they have to say the reason why they're inviting them. I do an example like this:
Person: Michael Jackson
Reason? He can play some dance music for us. Also, I want to know why he got so much plastic surgery.
Give them a few minutes, depending on the level. Then, I get the student to pick 1 or 2 of the people, depending on the size of the class and tell the rest of the class their answer.
I've gotten an interesting array of answers and the students are quite interested to hear what the other groups have to say.
Typhoon Game: the perfect TESOL game
A fantastically fun review game that any age group of students will love that requires a little prep but no materials. Especially if (as in my class) the winning team gets a stamp, which translates into 1% of their final grade.
Draw a grid on the board, marking one row with numbers, one with letters. I usually do 5x5 or 6x6 for a 20-30 minute game.
Put in the following letters:
T=typhoon. Lose all your points
H=hurricane. Pick 1 team, for minus 5
V=vacation. Get 5 points for free
For these ones, I'll do each one 2 or 3 times
E=easy question, 1 point
M=medium, 3 points
D=difficult, 5 points.
Fill in the rest of your grid.
Then depending on how big your class is, make 4 or 5 teams. They pick a square, (B-6), then you write the letter in the box and ask them a question of whatever. Have a list of easy/medium/hard questions beforehand (I literally use the questions from the mid-term exam as a way to reward students who care/pay attention). If they get the question correct, give them the points, if not, erase the letter in the box and another team can pick that square if they want.
Play until all the squares are done. That's it! Make sense?
Board Games for ESL Students
39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (Age 7+)
It's the book every new teachers needs to have in their libraries!
A Review Group Activity
So this semester, I came up with a somewhat genius game, on the fly and it turned out really well. I will share with you so that you don't have to rack your brain for goodness like this:
I basically wrote down all the conversation questions that are going to be on the final exam, on little strips of paper. I did some simple grammar questions mixed in as well. For example: "Tokyo is interesting, but....." Or, "It's my bag, It's_____. It belongs to _____."
Then I put the students in groups of 4, and gave them about 15 little pieces of paper/group. I organize it beforehand so that each group doesn't have the same question twice. Then, the first student picks a random paper (seeing, or not seeing them: you can decide), and then picks a random student in their group to ask the question to. Correct answer, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, the questioner gets a chance to answer. Correct, they keep the paper and get a point. Incorrect, it goes back into the pile. The winner is the student with the most points.
And of course, I officiate for any groups having disagreements over any answer.
ESL Speaking Activities: Role Plays
Students love Writing on the Board
Who doesn't like writing on the board, when you're a student? I get kind of sick of it as a teacher, but the students seem to be fascinated by it for some reason. So at least a couple times a semester, I will do some sort of race, where there are 5 or 6 students up at the board and they have to write down the answer. Then I switch it up and the next teammate comes up and does the same. This is kind of genius for review sessions. Try it out!
The Memory Circle
This is a game that I often use with smaller classes (less than 10 students) and younger students (middle/elementary school) but I've also used it with uni students with good results.
You can make a rule as to what kind of words the students can pick. If we're studying food and drinks, I'll say that the students can only use those. New vocab from a vocab book, only those words. Past tense verbs, then only sentences from the past.
Everyone will stand up, in a circle, and I will start the game off. "I ate pizza last night." The next student says, "She ate pizza last night, and I studied yesterday." The next student, "She ate pizza last night, he studied yesterday and I watched TV." And so on it goes, around the circle. If someone misses and gets it incorrect, they have to sit down and the game is over. I usually let it go until there are 2 or 3 of the geniuses left and then I give them a prize of some sort and start over with the same rules, or a new set of criteria.
For even more speaking activities for English language students, check out: ESL Speaking-Games, Activities, and Resources.
This is a fun intermediate/advanced conversation kind of activity. I get the students to write down 5 things that they are an expert in. I do my own list first by way of example. I'm an expert in:
1. Scuba Diving
2. Teaching English
4. Reality TV
Once they've written their lists, I get them to circle the 3 that they think will be most interesting to the other students in the class. Next, divide them up into groups of 2 and give them about 7 or 8 minutes to ask some questions to their partner about the 3 things that they circled and are experts in.
I like this activity because I think people tend to forget they are actually talking English, if they're talking about stuff they're passionate about. And it's interesting because you can keep changing partners.
Survey Activities for ESL Students
One of my favorite things to do is survey type activities, where the students have a sheet of paper with some questions or something and they need to find one of their classmates who fits each slot. Today, we're doing questions such as "Do you travel sometimes?" or, "Are you a university student?" Then, if their partner answers yes, they write down their name and ask them one more question to elicit an extra piece of information. They have to walk around the class, talking to everyone because they can only write each student's name in one slot.
I like it because students can get out of it, what they put into it. The students who are serious about English will actually speak English, and ask good, thoughtful questions.
The ones that aren't serious about it will just copy off their friend or only speak Korean.
I try to prep the activity well, before I turn them loose, saying what I'm looking for: only speaking English, talking to everybody, writing the answers in English. But in the end, it's up to them. As learning English should be. A teacher can facilitate but it's up to the student to really take it in. It's the same with teaching anything.
Where do you teach?
Telling a Story
This is an activity that you can do if you're talking about interesting experiences, achievements, or telling stories. Give the students a few minutes to write about something that they've experienced in the past. The examples I give them are: paragliding or bungee jumping, meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend, a special vacation, eating an interesting food, etc.
When the students are finished writing, have them put their names on the paper. Collect them. At this point, I'll usually put the students in teams of 2 or 3. Then, read the papers out loud to the class and have the students write down the name of the person they think it is. Exchange papers with another group, give answers and you have your winner.
This could also work well for a smaller, more advanced level class of mixed-major students as a "get to know each other" kind of activity. Or, you can do it in a bigger class with students who know each quite well.
For some more speaking class ideas, check out: ESL Speaking-Games, Activities, and Resources.
A Group Project Idea for EFL Students
The students can do this in groups or 2-5 people. They have to choose a topic such as: eating junk food, human rights in North Korea, etc and make a poster. I give points for things such as how beautiful it is, English writing on it, and grammar.
Then, they have to do a presentation about their poster.. I take off points for reading from a script, and copying from the internet and give points for interesting and clear speaking. Each student in the group has to talk for 1-2 minutes.
...an oldie but a goodie. You put a selected passage outside the classroom or around the classroom, hidden so the students can't see it in plain sight. They will be in teams of 2. One person is the reader, one is the writer. The reader gets up and reads a bit of the passage and comes and tells it to the writer. They go back to remember more of it and so on and so on. About halfway through, I'll yell stop and change up the reader and the writer. When they're done, I'll check their writing and circle any mistakes for them to modify.
I change it a bit, and don't allow yelling as some do. I say that if I can hear their voices, it's too loud and inconsiderate to those teaching next to me and they won't get whatever prize I'm offering. I had one experience last year where a teacher did not state this and it was impossible for me to do anything in my class until the game was done. This was not cool and I don't want to be that teacher that pisses off their coworkers!
ESL Speaking Activity: Just a Minute
An ESL Vocab Review Activity
Write the vocab words on a flip chart of some sort. I use an old notebook and write one word/page. Divide the class up into teams. I find that 5-8 people/team works well. One student from the team comes and sits at the front of the class facing his or her teammates. I show one word at a time to the team but not the person sitting at the front. The team has to give hints about the word, in English only, using no body language. An example: EYE. Hints students give: 2, on face, I can see.
I do 2 or 3 rounds of 1 minute each and the goal is to get as many words as possible in that 1 minute. If the team uses body language or Korean, I discount that point. This game is very, very fun. Lots of laughs and happy times.
Beat the Match Vocab Game for higher level students
Daily Schedule ESL Activity
It seems that in most beginner ESL textbooks that there is a unit on daily schedules, such as "what time do you get up?" or "what do you do in the afternoon?" A fun activity that you can do is to have students interview their partner. You can pre-select questions for lower-level classes or let the students choose their own questions for higher levels. Make sure you specify a minimum number of questions if you let the students choose their own. Have the students jot down a few notes as they go. Then, they have to close their notebooks, and in a group of 4, they have to explain their partner's daily schedule.
You can use this fun games to review whatever you're studying. Verbs and concrete nouns works especially well. Write out some phrases or words that can be easily acted out on small pieces of paper and put them in an envelope.
Divide the class up into 2 teams. The first team sends one person up to the front and they have to act out as many things as they can in 2 minutes, with their team shouting out the answer. Then the next team goes. You can do as many rounds as you want, and of course give a small prize to the winning team!