top of page

Activities to try in the ESL classroom

Text reads 'activities for the ESL classroom' in front of a photo of young learners smiling and sat at their desks looking towards the front of the classroom.

Teaching English as a foreign language should be a fun experience for your students, as well as being educational.

Here are some enjoyable activities to bring into the classroom to help learners pick up English vocabulary and phrases.

Board Race

Split the class into two teams and line them up in these teams. Draw a line down the middle of the whiteboard and assign each team a side of the board. Set a timer for two minutes. In this time, teams must write as many English words on the board as they can that are related to a topic the class has been learning.

The teams line up in front of their side of their board. Each member of a team writes one word when they are at the front of the line, before rejoining the back of the line. The teams must stop when the two minutes are up.

The team with the most correctly-spelt relevant words on their side of the board are the winners!

Two Truths and a Lie

Split your class into small groups. One person then says in English two things that are true about themselves and one lie. The others must guess which of their statements is the lie.

This will not only get your students practising speaking English, but will help them get to know each other better. Students being comfortable around each other is important in the ESL classroom because it can be difficult to try speaking in a new language in front of others.

Simon Says

In this game, you give an instruction starting with the phrase “Simon says” and your students must do what you have told them.

For example, you could say “Simon says put your hands on your head”. Your students then do so. The twist occurs when you say an instruction without the preceding phrase of “Simon says”. Instead, you would simply say “Put your hands on your head.”

In these instances, your students must NOT follow the instruction – if they do the action, they lose! Usually, students will be caught out when you say several “Simon says...” instructions in a row before throwing in a normal one. When a student is caught out, they are eliminated from the game until there is a single winner.

Young learners find this game fun and will learn quickly as they put effort into recognising each instruction and teaming them with the correct action. It is a good game for teaching the words for different body parts or articles of clothing.


In pictionary, one student is given a word related to a topic the class has been learning. They must not share this word with anyone as it is everyone else’s job to guess what the word is.

A one-minute timer is set and during this time, the student with the word must draw their word on the whiteboard. The other students must shout out their guesses of what the word is. The first person to guess correctly is the next drawer.

Asking for Directions

This activity will help students learn words associated with giving directions.

The class is split into pairs and each pair receives a worksheet featuring cartoon maps of an island or town with a grid on top of them. One of the squares of the grid will be labelled with ‘Start’ and another with ‘End’. The aim is to use directions to get from the starting point to the finish line.

For example, you might have to move along four squares right and six squares up to move between the points. Pairs must try and describe the path for each of their maps using words such as ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’.

This activity can also be used for learning ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’ and ‘west’ if you include a picture of a compass on the worksheet. Make the task a little more difficult by including obstacles on the map such as buildings that they must go around or bridges they have to go over, allowing students to learn the words of these objects as well.

I Went to the Shop...

This game doubles as a test of memory – a key skill needed for picking up a language.

Everyone must sit in a circle. Begin the game (or pick a student to do so) by saying “I went to the shop and I bought…” and end the sentence with a word the class has been learning.

For example, “I went to the shop and bought a pineapple.” You can also test numbers and pluralisation by saying “six pineapples” instead.

Next, the person to your left repeats the sentence you have just said and adds to it: “I went to the shop and bought a pineapple and a carton of milk.” Then, the person on their left repeats this sentence and adds to it again.

The aim is to see how far the sentence can go around the circle before someone is unable to remember the full list. Of course, it doesn’t have to be based around food vocabulary. You could also try “I went to sports day and competed in the long jump” and then list sports, or “I went to school and took a pen” and list things you bring to lessons.

Complete a Level 5 Certificate in TEFL with Notting Hill College and be able to effectively teach English to non-English speakers.



bottom of page