10 Easy ESL Activities for the Classroom

Looking for something fun, educational, and easy to teach? Try one of these 10 ESL activities for the English classroom. My students absolutely love these low prep English activities and I hope yours will too!

# 1 Back to Back Describe and Draw

​Level: All levels

Players: Pairs

Grammar Point: Describing an object, vocabulary

Time: 15-25 min

​How to Play: 

Before starting, arrange students so they are back to back. Give one student in each pair a piece of paper and a pen or pencil (or whiteboard).

Next, give the other student a piece of paper prepared with a vocabulary item or image. The student with the word or picture must describe it for their partner, who draws as they listen. Students can ask their partner to repeat if needed.

If you like, the artist may ask additional questions. Compare the results when finished!

To keep the game fresh, switch partners after each person in the pair has had a turn as the artist.

# 2 Scattergories

Level: All levels

Players: Pairs or groups of 3

Grammar Point: Vocabulary sets

Time: 15-25 min

​How to Play: 

First, draw a grid on the board with 6 columns and 6 rows. Write the following titles at the top of each column: Letter, Country, Food, Clothing, Color, Animal (of course you can choose other categories if you like). 

Have students copy the grid into their notebooks, one per team. Choose a letter of the alphabet and write it under the word “Letter” in the first column. 

Give students 2-5 minutes to think of an example for each category that begins with the selected letter. Encourage them to choose a word that they believe no other group will have. 

When the time is up, elicit the words from each group. For additional spelling practice, have them spell each word aloud.

Award one point for every UNIQUE and correctly spelled answer. Choose another letter and start round two. Continue until the grid is complete. The team with the most points wins!

# 3 Categories

Level: All levels

Players: Whole class

Grammar Point: Vocabulary sets

Time: 10-15 min

​How to Play: 

This is one of the easiest ESL activities to play because it doesn’t require any materials. First, choose a category like “colors.” Go around the class and have each student say a color. Tell the students that they need to listen carefully to each other’s answers.

If a student repeats a word that another student said, switch to a new category beginning with that student.

If a student hesitates or cannot think of an answer, switch to a new category beginning with that student.

Once you’ve done a few rounds, try to set a goal where everyone in the class says a word for the category.

# 4 Topic Crossword

Level: Mid to advanced

Players: Pairs or whole class

Grammar Point: Vocabulary sets

Time: 10-15 min

​How to Play: 

To begin, choose a topic for the class like “transportation.” Write the topic on the board. The longer the word, the better. You can also use a phrase if you prefer, just write it without spaces.

Whole class: Students come up to the board one at a time and add a word related to the topic either horizontally or vertically using the letters available to connect their word (just like a crossword.)

Alternatively, you can elicit words and have students tell you where to write them in the crossword.

Pairs: This can also be done as a pair activity where students take turns adding to the topic crossword.

Whiteboard in the classroom

# 5 Ghostwriter

Level: Advanced

Players: Pairs 

Grammar Point: Word forms and spelling

Time: 15-25 min

​How to Play: 

Firstly, start with an example as a whole class because this activity can be a bit difficult at first.

The object of the game is to force your partner to finish spelling a word.

Start with a letter. In this example, we will use S.

Your partner must write the next letter, for example, S-I.

Continue adding letters until a word is spelled. The person who spelled the word loses.

HOWEVER, imagine that the pair kept playing and had the word S-I-N-K. Player A said “K”  and was thinking of the word “sinks” or “sinking,” but player B couldn’t come up with those words. Player B loses because they couldn’t think of the word player A wanted them to spell.

Even though player A technically finished the word, because they were thinking of another one and player B couldn’t, they are still the winner.

Ghostwriter can be very challenging but is fantastic word forms and spelling practice for advanced learners. For highly advanced students, have them try the activity without writing down the letters. 

# 6 Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Level: Mid to advanced

Players: Whole class

Grammar Point: Present continuous, state verbs vs. activity verbs, other verb tenses

Time: 15-20 min

​How to Play: 

For this ESL activity, send a student outside of the classroom. I like to choose a confident student and send them out before explaining the activity to the other students to add to the hilarity and confusion. However, for lower levels, it’s better to explain the rules first.

Object of the activity: The person who is outside of the classroom is “coming to dinner.” Using clues from their classmates, they need to determine who they are, where they are, and what they are doing.

Tell the “guest” to go outside and make sure they cannot see or hear anything in the classroom. As a class, decide on who they are, where they are, and what they are doing (or whatever your grammar point is). You can write these on the board, but make sure to erase it before inviting the “guest” back in.

When the “guest” comes back to class, encourage students to interact with the person by making comments and asking questions.

Example: The student needs to guess they are Elvis. 

“Wow, I really like your hairstyle!”

“Can you sing us a song?”

“Dance for us!”

The student needs to guess they are cooking.

“Mmm, that smells good.”

“I’m hungry.”

“Be careful, that’s hot.”

The student needs to guess they are on the Moon.

“Is it difficult to walk?”

“You are far from home!”

“Is it easy to breathe?”

If the “guest” is stuck, you can give them simple clues or extra help

 # 7 Just A Minute

Level: Mid to advanced

Players: Whole class

Grammar Point: Debate and speaking fluency

Time: 10-15 min

​How to Play: 

This challenging speaking activity gets students working on their speaking fluency.

Tell students that they are going to speak about a subject for 1 minute. However, they must speak with no hesitation, no repetition, and no deviation.

To start, choose a student and give them a topic like “pizza.” They must talk about pizza for 1 full minute to win. Start the clock and the student begins.

If another student believes the speak has hesitated (um, uh, or dead silence), repeated any words or IDEAS, or deviated too much from the original topic, they can raise their hand and the teacher will stop the clock.

The student who raised their hand needs to say if they think the speaker violated the 1st, 2nd or 3rd rule and how. The teacher is the judge and if they accept that there was a problem, the student who raised their hand becomes the new speaker. They must continue the exercise with the remaining time without repeating anything the previous student(s) said.

This can become very fast past, confusing and competitive and is great for training for debates.

# 8 Photo From My Life

Level: Mid to advanced

Players: Pairs or small groups

Grammar Point: Deduction

Time: 10-15 min

​How to Play: 

Ask each student to choose a photo from their camera roll that represents something/someone in their life, but that could be a bit confusing for other students. This is also a great activity for “getting to know you.”

One at a time, a student will show their photo to their partner or the rest of the group. Students try to deduce information about the student using the photo.

Example: A photo of people playing soccer

“In my opinion, you must be athletic because this is a photo of a sport.”

“I think you might be the coach because you are not in the photo.”

“You may have a soccer game this weekend because it’s soccer season.”

# 9 Labyrinth

Level: All levels

Players: Whole class divided into teams of 2 people

Grammar Point: Vocabulary, pronunciation

Time: 15-25 min

​How to Play: 

This is one of my favorite ESL activities to play with my class. Choose 24 vocabulary words, phrasal verbs, words with similar pronunciation, etc. Write them up on the board – 4 columns of 6 lines. Make an identical list to the one on the board for you to use.

Object of the activity: Students will work together to guess your path through the “labyrinth.” They win by successfully guessing and remembering the correct sequence.

On your identical list, draw a path by choosing one word in each horizontal line. Make sure the students cannot see this list.

Next, starting from the bottom line, the first pair chooses one of the words. Tell them “yes” if they’ve guessed correctly and “no” if they haven’t.

If they guessed correctly, they can continue to guess by moving to the next line
(the one above the line they just guessed). 

If they guessed incorrectly, the next partner can guess.

Each time a new pair guesses, they must start from the bottom line. This repetition makes it a great activity to improve pronunciation because they have to say the words over and over.

The first pair to reach the top line with all the correct words wins! I like to have this group come up to the teacher’s desk and run the second round of the game (with a new path or completely new words.)

To use this as a review activity, you can also require students to give a definition or use the word in a sentence after each correct guess in order to progress to the next line. If they make a mistake, play resumes with the next pair.

# 10 Survivor

Level: All levels

Players: Whole class divided into small groups

Grammar Point: Review activity

Time: 30-40min

​How to Play: 

First, divide the class into groups. For this example, let’s say there are 5 groups.

Draw the game board as shown below. Each line represents one team. A dot represents one question. A star represents the end. The oval at the bottom is the hole. The first team to reach their star wins.

Survivor game board

Start with the first group and ask them a review question. If they answer correctly, they move up one dot on the line.

If they answer incorrectly, they drop down into the hole and must begin the climb again.

This game can get very competitive because a team can be very close to winning and then lose it all with just one wrong question. 

Final Thoughts

ESL activities are a great way for students to practice and review concepts covered in class. A lot of these ESL activities can be adapted for online classrooms as well. 

I hope you try some of these activities out in your classroom!

If you liked these activities, try out 10 more English classroom activities.

Try this free Zoom lesson for teaching prepositions of place or C1 vocabulary activities.

Happy Teaching!


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