Anyone teaching English as a Second Language or ESL knows how important the English language is for their students. Some students enroll in this course to qualify for better working opportunities, while others want to improve their English speaking skills. Your ESL class might have students from different parts of the world, and at some point, you might run out of ideas on how to keep your class engaged.
There are several ways to get your students to pay attention during your ESL classes, but sometimes your classes might become hard to follow.
20 Fun ESL Activities You Can Do Without Materials
- Storytelling Circle: Start a story with a sentence and then go around the room, with each student adding one sentence at a time. This not only encourages creativity but also practices listening skills and tenses.
- Twenty Questions: Choose a person, place, or thing. Students then take turns asking yes or no questions to determine what you’re thinking of.
- Charades: This classic game is great for teaching vocabulary. Have students act out a word, phrase, or situation, while others guess what it is.
- Call My Bluff: One student comes up with a rare or unusual English word (but one that you as a teacher know). They then write down the real definition and two false ones. The other students need to guess which is the correct definition.
- I Spy: This classic children’s game can be great for teaching vocabulary related to colors, objects, and descriptions.
- Alphabet Game: Pick a category such as animals, foods, or countries. Students must come up with a word for each letter of the alphabet. For example, for animals, ‘A’ could be ‘ant’, ‘B’ could be ‘bear’, and so on.
- Chain Spelling: One student says a word, the next student says a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word, and so on.
- Role Play: Role-play situations are a great way for students to practice their English speaking skills. Examples of situations could be at a restaurant, in a job interview, or at a doctor’s office.
- Two Truths and a Lie: Each student tells the group three statements about themselves: two truths and one lie. The group must then guess which statement is false.
- Telephone: This is a classic game for practicing listening skills. Students sit in a circle and the first person whispers a sentence into the next person’s ear, and so on around the circle. The last person says the sentence out loud – it’s usually amusingly different from the original.
- Categories: Pick a category, and the students take turns naming something in that category. If a student repeats an answer or can’t think of anything, they are out. The last student remaining wins.
- Word Association: A student says a word, and the next student must say a word related to the previous word. For example, if the first word is “apple”, the next word could be “fruit”, then “banana”, and so on.
- Describing and Guessing: Have one student describe something without naming it, and other students have to guess what it is. This can be great for practicing adjectives and descriptive language.
- Memory Game: Start a story or a list (e.g., “I went shopping and I bought…”), and each student has to repeat the story or list and add their own item. This helps improve both vocabulary and memory skills.
- Pictionary: Have students draw a word or phrase on a chalkboard or whiteboard, while other students guess what it is.
- Simon Says: This is a good activity for younger learners and to teach commands, body parts, and simple phrases. The teacher gives instructions for actions to perform, and the students only perform the action if the instruction starts with “Simon says”.
- Hot Seat: One student sits with their back to the board while the teacher writes a word. The other students have to explain the word without saying it, and the student in the “hot seat” has to guess the word.
- Mime: Similar to charades, but students mime an entire situation or action which others have to guess.
- Find Someone Who…: This is a great ice-breaker. Students walk around the room and find someone who meets certain criteria (e.g., “Find someone who has traveled abroad”).
- One-Minute Speeches: Give students a topic and they have to speak about it non-stop for one minute. This activity can be used for older students to practice speaking fluently and thinking on their feet.
Additional No Material ESL Activities
1. Word Chain
Word chain is an excellent ice-breaker suitable for students from different learning levels, from kindergarten to adolescents. It’s a passing game where students make a circle, and the teacher passes the first ball. When a student catches the ball, they say a word starting with the letter the teacher chooses. The first student speaks the word and tosses the ball to the next student. This student will then say a word starting with the last letter of the word the previous student said. You can play this game until everyone says one word. For example, a student catches the ball, and the teacher chooses the letter C. The student responds with the word “Cat” and tosses the ball to another student who would now have to say a word that starts with T, the last letter of the previous word “Cat.”
With time, you can make this game difficult by changing the rules. For instance, after a week, your students will have to say 3 words or speak a sentence. This game helps ESL students learn English in a fun and engaging way, and you can make this into a competition by awarding start points to the one who gives the quickest replies.
Pictionary is the best ESL activity without material. It’s a classic game suitable for students of all ages, and it requires no extra material than what you already have in your class. The game starts with the teacher drawing a picture of a target vocabulary word. The first one to guess what you are drawing will have their turn at the black/whiteboard and draw a picture of a target vocabulary word.
This game is very flexible, and you can change it according to your class size and difficulty level. Divide your class into different groups and have them compete with one another. A little healthy competition in an ESL class will surely give your students the energy they need for the course material ahead.
3. ESL Blackjack
Use a regular deck of cards for this game, which is a perfect fit for adult students. This game is bound to have your class compete with one another. You can start by writing “21” on the board and “up” and “down” arrows on either side of it. The rules of the game are no different than blackjack, but what makes it an exciting ESL game is that the students have to say the number on the card within 3 seconds to keep it. It’s a great way to teach how to pronounce numbers to your ESL students.
4. Line Up
Your ESL students must know each other so they can practice English while talking. The best way to break the ice in your class is by playing a lineup. You can start by lining up your students and write down three questions on the board. These could be anything you like. When you say “go,” your students will have to ask these 3 questions to the person on their right, and the other person has to respond. There is no time limit to this game, so your students can answer comfortably.
Once each alternate student has answered the three questions, the line of students will move one step down, and the game continues. It’s an excellent game for adult students, and it will help them improve their conversation and confidence while speaking English.
5. Rearrange Words
Rearrange words is a bit challenging game; therefore, it’s best for students who have intermediate-level command over English. You can start by writing a long word on the board and ask your students to make more words from it. As your students make different words from a single word, their vocabulary will improve. An example of this is the word “Safety.” You can make the word “ate” and “safe” from it.
If you want, you can start by giving away the possible number of words that can be made from a single word to help your students in the initial stages. Once they get the hang of the game, you can stop giving hints and let your students figure words out independently.
This game is taken from the British television show of the same name. Start by writing random letters on the board, and ask your student to make the longest word from these letters. Award points for each word they come up with. The only way to score zero points is by not saying a word. For example, words can be made from the letters L, O, P, K, C, I, M, T, S, and H.
- One point for saying: “I”
- Two points for saying: “Pick”
- Three points for saying: “Smith”
Teachers put a lot of effort into educating their students. However, sometimes classes become redundant and boring. To boost your student’s morale and gain their attention, you need to introduce newer teaching methods. Sticking to our ESL activities without material is the best way to surprise your student with something new every day. These activities will make them look forward to your class, and learning will become fun for them.
Check our other sections for other ESL activities & games.