ESL Activities

A good choice of ESL activities can turn an average class into a good one, and a good class into a great one. Here is a list of articles - each one full of useful EFL activities, each one focussing on a different area of teaching English. Below the list of links are brief introductions to each area: listening, speaking etc...


More pages of ESL activities are constantly added, and categorized according to the type of language points you want to teach. Subscribe to the RSS feed to keep up to date on the latest articles.


ESL Activities for ESL Listening

ESL Listening is one of the keys to successful language learning. If you listen enough to a language, if you immerse yourself in a language you will be going a long way to learning that language. And students learning English are in the same position.

By listening a lot, your students will learn pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. If the listening is beyond the sentence level, they will learn about how to put together larger blocks of speaking.

Any skill is best practiced by doing it, and listening is no exception. However, this doesn't mean the teacher should just talk non-stop in the classroom. The language needs to be graded to the students' level, and then up a bit. Practice makes this quite natural.

The lower the level of the students, the shorter the chunks of language they listen to should be. But it's important even for beginners to have practice listening to language beyond the level of the single sentence.

The most basic esl activity for listening, is listen and repeat. This can be very good for teaching/practicing linkage, sentence stress, rhythm and strong and weak forms. And it can be a fun way to set up the next activity by relating the sentences or questions to that activity.

Other effective activities for listening include various creative dictations (running dictations, cassette dictation and more). Listening to stories is an old technique that still works very well. It can work well for both children and adults, although the ESL stories need to be different. Good ESL resources for listening are available at BBC Learning English and Randall's ESL Listening Lab


ESL Speaking Activities

Given enough listening, speaking will usually naturally occur. However, to speed things up it's good to have a good set of ESL speaking activities and interesting tasks for ESL discussions

At the very beginning, speaking will be listen and say, as you help students build up dialogues by putting together a series of questions, answers, and short phrases. Story building and telling work well with children and adults. Stories can be personal anecdotes, stories of interest from the news, as well as fictional stories.

Stories are used by salespeople to sell their products, and by politicians to sell their vision. They do this because everyone responds to a good story. Use stories in your class and your life as a teacher, and the students' experiences in the classroom will be more interesting.

Using interesting ESL conversation topics which put any newly learned vocabulary to use, are also a good way of developing, and practicing speaking.

The trick in creating interesting speaking activities is to enter the world of the student; whether that student is a 6 year old girl, a teenage boy, or a middle aged business person.

Here are examples - ESL lesson plans - for teaching English conversation


ESL Activities for Reading

There are a huge amount of ESL reading activities, and reading for pleasure is a great way for a student - or for yourself - to learn a language.

Reading for pleasure - sometimes called extensive reading - is one of the most powerful ways available for language learning. In the language class there's rarely the opportunity for this - although it can be encouraged.

There is time, however, for shorter focussed reading activities - sometimes called intensive reading. This can be reading for the overall meaning, or for specific information. Whilst this is not as fun as reading for pleasure, it can be made interesting and useful; and it is, perhaps, more practical for using inside the classroom.

The choice of materials for reading is huge. Articles from the internet, novels or graded readers. Poetry, rhymes, jokes and aphorisms all work wonderfully when chosen appropriately for your particular students.


ESL Activities for Writing

Of the four language skills, writing is the one most likely to be neglected. There are a few good reasons for this. It's harder, and it's often seen as something which can be done for homework. Students often feel they shouldn't waste valuable class time on something which they could - but seldom do - outside of the class.

However, writing is a part of the language and, in moderation, can add a lot to the language classroom. It can focus the student's mind on accurately using language in a way that speaking doesn't normally do. Usually writing is most important when teaching children or exam classes.

ESL writing for children can remove the pressure of needing to speak, and can be a calming activity. Both writing alone, and collaboratively in pairs or small groups, is enjoyable - especially when it leads to the creation of piece of work they can share with their classmates.

ESL Activities for Teaching Grammar

Many of the ESL activities mentioned above under the skills of speaking, writing, listening and reading will also practice ESL grammar. All aspects of language are integrated, but it is useful to sometimes focus on particular aspects for practice.

Here is a collection of games to teach English grammar

Many ESL grammar activities are created by thinking about how the grammar point is used in everyday situations, then recreating some of these situations in the classroom in the form of dialogues or controlled discussions.

However, some are not, and they can still be powerful techniques. One of these is grammar dictation - sometimes called dictogloss...

Grammar Dictation

Grammar dictation is a technique that works best with teenagers and adults, although I have used it successfully with classes of 12 year olds. There are four stages. The first stage is preparation, where the teacher discusses the topic with the class to generate interest, and at the same time teaching any new vocabulary. Listening is always much easier when done in context. If this is a new ESL grammar activity then you need to explain what you are planning to do, at this stage.

Second the teacher reads a piece of text to the class. It is important to speak at a natural speed. It is also important to pause for 3 or 4 seconds between sentences. The students must write down notes - hence the importance of pausing between sentences. In the preparation stage stress the importance of only writing down the important words, particularly nouns and verbs, and not to waste time writing down the connecting words, such as 'the''is' etc. These can be added in the third stage.

Which is to put the students into their [prearranged] groups, and have them reconstruct the text together. It is vital that they understand that they do not have to reproduce the text you have read aloud. They only have to produce a text which is grammatically accurate and textually cohesive - that is, it flows together well. Of course they should base their writing on the text as much as possible, but this is not the point of the exercise. During this stage the teacher should quietly observe. Avoid the impulse to correct, unless there are so many mistakes - in which case you've probably chosen the wrong text for the class - that it's more practical to correct the minor ones, leaving the major mistakes for the final stage.

The fourth and final stage is analysis and correction. Here it can be useful to photocopy the students work so the groups can compare their own work with that of other groups, and help in the correction of other groups' work. The teacher needs to be active in this stage in helping to correct, or better, to point out the type of mistake, and give hints which will allow the students to correct the writing for themselves. Common problems should be highlighted on the board, and discussed with the whole class.

If this activity is done regularly the students grammatical accuracy, writing skill, listening skills and note taking skills will all improve. There are certain ESL activities which stand out as being more powerful than others, and this is one of them. Do remember, though, that this is a technique for pre-intermediate students and above; and for teenagers and adults.


ESL Activities for Vocabulary Teaching

Vocabulary is just as important as grammar for communicating in a language. Explaining the meaning of a word, pronouncing it a few times and having the students make a sentence or two is not an adequate method for teaching vocabulary. Sadly - this is exactly what many English teachers do.

Play with the new words. Throw them around and have fun, or use them in interesting ways. There are many ways to play with vocabulary. In questions, jokes, rhymes and stories; to name just a few. Here are more ideas for ESL vocabulary activities top 10 activities for teaching vocabulary and top 10 vocabulary activities part 2


ESL Activities for Teaching English Pronunciation

Teaching English pronunciation involves more than just teaching the individual sounds of the language. The teaching of sounds and words is covered, to some extent, by most esl books. However, ESL activities for anything beyond this level are, usually neglected. Many students are badly in need of training in weak/strong forms, intonation and the rhythm of English.

Doing this will usually raise the students' listening ability, as well as improve their pronunciation.


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