If you’re looking for some ESL activities for adult beginners, you’ve come to the right place! I’m going to share my Top 12 ESL Activities for Adult Beginners with you.
Adult beginners can be a bit tricky to teach because although they don’t have the skills to engage in things like free talking or open discussions, they of course aren’t babies and you need to use topics, games and activities that are relevant and appropriate for them. That’s why I like to use a variety of ESL games for adults.
I taught in South Korean universities for 8 years and about 5 of those years were spent teaching beginners. Despite having studied English since elementary school, many Koreans can’t put together a grammatically correct sentence when speaking by the time they reach university. Adults beginners? Yes, basically.
ESL Games and Activities For Adults: Top 12
Here are the top ESL games for adults. Are you ready? Let’s get to to it!
#1: ESL Surveys
Coming in at #1 on our list of the Top 12 ESL Activities for Adults Beginners are ESL Surveys. I love me a good ESL Survey! Just ask my students-I use them at least once a month in every single one of my classes.
I love them for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they hit all the four skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing) in a single activity and also that they get students up out of their seats and walking around talking to many different classmates. I love that stuff!
One quick word of caution about ESL Surveys-they’re aren’t for the total and absolute beginner. Although you can adapt ESL surveys to make them as easy or as difficult as you want them to be, students MUST be able to read and write simple 1-2 word answers, as well as say things like, “What’s your name?”
For more details about one of my top ESL games for adults, be sure to check out: ESL Surveys and How to Use Them in the ESL Classroom
Surveys can help students learn how to ask questions. Check out this short video below for all the details about this question thing:
#2: Videos in the ESL Classroom
Everyone loves a good video! They belong firmly at the top of my Top 12 ESL Activities for Adult Beginners list because they’re particularly good for those just starting out with English. It’s listening with a whole bunch of visual cues. Perfect!
The best part about using videos is that they work well for just about any topic. Of course, you should do some lead-in activities, as well as follow-up activities so your students get the most value from the lesson.
- Have students answer some questions about what they say
- Watch a snippet and then predict what’s going to happen
- Give them the title and think of 5 questions the video will answer
- Have a short discussion about what they saw (giving students a chance to respond to what they saw is always valuable)
- Describing things. Ask students what the ____ looked like and have them describe it to you
- Etc. (get creative!)
- Write down 5 phrases that they heard
- Focus on adverbs by describing how people are doing things
It’s usually possible to do all of these things with an image as well.
For more information, including how to choose the best ones for your students, check out: How to Use Videos in the ESL Classroom.
#3 ESL Activities for Adults Beginners: Concentration
ESL beginners often start with learning vocabulary. If you don’t know any words, it’s impossible to speak a language! A great way to get students having fun while learning English vocabulary is by using this concentration card game.
The best part? You can use this activity for any age of student.
There are a few different variations, but for kids I usually use pictures and words. For adults, I’ll often use the terms and them a homonym or antonym, or word-definition. It depends on the level of your students, but use your best judgement.
You can use verbs, but I find that nouns are ideal for this activity.
Some subjects that work well with this include: animals, shopping, jobs, food or school life. Really, any category of simple vocabulary lends itself nicely to concentration.
For more details about this ESL vocabulary game, check out: Concentration for ESL. It really is one of my top ESL games for adults.
Young learners love this one too!
Quick tip: You can laminate the cards if you plan on using them for a few classes and it’ll save you some time in the long-run.
#4 ESL Games for Adults: Is that Sentence Correct?
Next up on our list of the best ESL Activities for Adult Beginners is an ESL Grammar activity. It’s super simple, easy to set up on the fly and challenging enough for adults. I use it mostly at the beginning of class as a warm-up to review material from the previous class, or as a way to review what we learned at the end of class.
The way it works is that students have to decide if a sentence is correct or not. The error could be related to word order or grammar. Put some correct sentences in there to prevent just a random guess all the time.
Check out this ESL grammar activity for more details: Is that Sentence Correct?
#5: Story Timeline
All students read stories at some point! They’re particularly good for beginners because it’s an easy way to introduce or reinforce key grammar or vocabulary points. Story Timeline is a nice way to review what the students have read in a fun kind of way.
You can make it as easy, or as difficult as you want for the student, making it a nice choice for absolute beginners. The requirement of course is that students are able to read, but you can also use this with younger learners.
Test your students’ reading comprehension with this challenging activity. You can put students into a team if you think it may be a bit difficult for them to do this activity alone. But, make it difficult enough that it can be challenging to complete correctly.
For more details, check out: Story Timeline.
#6: ESL Listening Template
Check out this ESL listening lesson plan template. The good news is that you can adapt it to any level from the total beginner to the most advanced. The only requirement is that students know a little bit of vocabulary and are able to read.
If your students are extremely low-level, you can help them along with the answers instead of putting them with a partner and turning them loose.
This lesson plan is easy to adapt for all levels, and is perfect for helping students practice their skills. You can also use this kind of lesson to introduce new grammar or vocabulary.
#7: The Dreaded “Hobby” Unit
All beginner ESL textbooks for teenagers or adults have a hobby unit in them. After teaching for 10 years in South Korea, I was really, really tired of it! I’m sure my students were too-they’d studied English for just about the same length of time that I had taught it. Here’s how you can turn the dreaded hobby unit into something fun and interesting.
But, a word of caution. This ESL Activity for Adult Beginners is not for the absolute beginner. Your students have to be at a high enough level to form and ask each other simple questions. High beginners should be able to handle this one with a bit of help from you. Perhaps some example follow-up questions on the board?
Check out this this article for a great way to make this unit way better: How to Avoid the Hobby Unit Brain Rot.
#8: ESL Interactive Games and Speaking Activities
The best designed ESL speaking activities are those that create a ton of interaction between students. Or, between the teacher and student if you have a very small class. The key is choosing the correct activity.
Check out some of my favourite interactive fun ESL games for adult beginners here:
#9: Dialogue Substitution
Ask your students what they want to learn in your class. A very common answer is that they want to work on conversation, or speaking English. This is easy to do with intermediate or advanced level students, but easier said than done with beginners.
For students who are too low-level to engage in “real” conversations, dialogues make a great option. You give them some bits of a conversation and they fill in the rest with their partner. Provide students with some possible words, or leave it up to them—the choice is yours.
They’re perfect for adults students who want to feel like they’re “talking” in your class. And they are! It’s a step on the way to freer conversations that happen in real life, and can overcome one of the big problems with beginners—that they feel like they’re not having conversations with each other.
Here’s how I use them in my own classes: Dialogue Substitution.
Coming in next for fun ESL Activities for Adult Beginners is Dictogloss. Dictogloss is a challenging ESL listening activity that’s one of the most common 4-skills activities you can see online. Create some opportunities for serious English learning with this activity!
You can combine it with either speaking or writing. Speaking is the easier version while writing is more difficult.
The best part about dictogloss is that you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want. You just have to vary the grammar/vocabulary as well as the length of the story.
It’s also possible to get students working in a group, either teams or pairs for this one. Also be sure to mix the teams and pairs up periodically to keep things interesting.
Here’s how I use this popular 4-skills ESL Activity in my classes: Dictogloss.
#11 ESL Speaking Activities for Adult Beginners: ESL Board Games
Another one of my favourite, fun ESL activities for adult beginners is a board game, which are perfect for rounding a unit, or reviewing material before an exam. Of course, they shouldn’t be just random ones, but should be related to the English language that you’re teaching in class.
You can often find them in the teacher’s resource books that may come along with your textbook. Or, you can make your own in just a few minutes. The best part? Students love to play them!
You can learn more about this here about these games that students love playing:
#12 ESL Games for Adult Beginners: The Preposition Ghost
A fun way to teach prepositions to adult beginners is to have a classroom ghost. Before class, you could move a few small, but key objects around the class.
For example, the clock could be leaning against the board instead of on the wall, the dictionaries could be under your chair, or the trash bin could be behind your desk.
Then, when you start class, you could tell the students that the ghost moved five things and they have to figure out what they are. But, to tell you they have to use a preposition. You can give each member of the class a chance by limiting one answer/student.
For example, the clock is usually on the wall, but now it’s in front of the board.
For even more ideas to use in your ESL classroom, you can check this out: Preposition Games ESL.
Did you Like these ESL Beginner Activities?
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 100 Pages - 06/04/2015 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)
Did you like these games and activities that you can use with your learners to help them practice English? They are some of my top ESL games for adults so I hope so!
Then you’re going to love this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities for Adults. There are dozens of top-quality activities that’ll help you have fun, engaging and interesting classes. Try them out for yourself and you’ll have a more exciting ESL classroom to say the least.
The best part? They work for a variety of topics and levels, so you can plan your lessons in no time. All of them are based on my 10+ years of experience teaching English.
Keep a copy on your bookshelf at work. Or, the digital copy on your phone for lesson planning on the go at your favourite coffee shop. It really is ESL awesome.
Here’s what one teacher had to say about it:
“It’s a very easy to read, helpful book for busy teachers who need news ideas about how to get their students talking. I’ve used it in many different teaching contexts with good results. Thank you for the great book! I’ve already recommended it to many of my colleagues.”
Sounds like exactly what you need? You can order the book for yourself over on Amazon. Check it out for yourself, but only if you want a serious dose of ESL teaching awesome in your life:
13 Tips for Teaching English to Beginner Adults
If you have a class for ESL for beginner adults, it can be a little bit challenging. However, there are a few keys to spice things up and make it educational, as well as interesting for your students. Here are some things to keep in mind.
#1: Reading is Very Important
Before you do almost anything else, ensure that students know how to read well. If they don’t, anything else you do in the way of ESL vocabulary or grammar will be a bit of a struggle.
#2: Do your Students Know Basic Vocabulary and Grammar?
Without a basic working knowledge of key grammar (past, present, future tense constructions), and some basic vocabulary (at least 500 words), it’ll be pretty difficult to have even a simple conversation. If students are not at this stage yet, forget the more advanced things and instead focus on this simple stuff.
#3: Teach a Few Things, a Lot
It’s better that beginner adults take away a few things with them from your class that they know really well, instead of a ton of things that they don’t really know at all. Keep this in mind and avoid the temptation to power through a textbook just for the sake of it.
Make sure you’re clear in your head about what the target language is for that lesson. Share this target with the students too!
#4: It’s All About Review
ESL for beginning adults is ALL about review. I like to incorporate it a few ways into my classes. First is at the end of class. Second, is at the beginning of a class for things previously studied. Finally, I dedicate a class or two to it before any sort of exam.
Here are some of my favourites ways to do this: ESL Review Activities.
#5: Consider Topics Carefully
Just because your students are at a beginner level, it doesn’t mean that you should treat them like children. One key area related to this is topic selection. They usually don’t want to study about animals, colors, etc. like little kids would!
Keep this in mind during lesson planning and when choosing articles for them to read. You can most definitely find articles with simple grammar and vocabulary that aren’t written for little kids.
#6: Avoid Surprises in the ESL Classroom
Kids often don’t mind mixing things up in your classes. It actually helps to keep them interested.
However, adults often don’t like this kind of thing because it can put them on the spot. Use some different activities and games, but try to avoid ever putting anyone on the spot. Give thinking time, or have students compare with a partner before having to say something in front of the entire class.
This is especially important in Asia where it’s all about saving face.
However, each day should be a little bit different so things don’t get stale and boring. Adults like a nice mix of old and new, so add in a new activity or two to each lesson. There are a ton of ESL activities for adult beginners, so get creative, or try out the ones from this list.
#7: Ask Students if They Want Homework
Adults usually have very different expectations about things like homework when they’re studying English. Some will expect it, while other won’t. Ask your students in your ESL classroom what they want and they’ll usually tell you!
There are a ton of resources out there, so take a look online as you really don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
#8: Ask for Feedback and Be Willing to Adapt
Your adult students will often have some excellent feedback for you, so please ask them. I generally do this on the midterm exam with this question. What’s your favourite thing we’ve done so far? What’s one thing you didn’t like about this class?
Of course, I read the answers carefully and if I see the same thing more than once, I’ll know it’s something I need to consider changing.
#9: Think Student-Centred Teaching
Do you rock the chalk? You probably shouldn’t. Your students should be doing most of the hard work, not you. So, whatever you do, try to get your students thinking, writing and speaking in English as much as possible! If you do this, your class will likely be successful.
#10: Offer Lots of Encouragement and Praise
Yes, adults love positive words or encouragement during their learning process. Be positive and upbeat, as well as kind and gentle in correcting errors.
#11: Remember that Students are Good at Other Things
Just because a student isn’t that good at English, doesn’t mean that they’re not a pro at something else, or a number of other things. Maybe you can even learn something from them?
#12: Mix the Groups and Partners Up
It can get pretty boring for students to talk to the same person every single day. That’s why I like to mix things up a bit and change partners or groups. And, when you play games, mix the teams up.
There are a ton of ways to do this, but I like to keep things simple. I just number the students like this:
1, 2, 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 4
Then the number ones go together, number twos together, etc.
#13: Use a Variety of ESL Games
The key to a more exciting ESL classroom is a variety of ESL games. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit and get away from the same old thing. This list of ESL games is an excellent place to start. There are also plenty of resources online.
How Should I Teach English to Beginners?
Here are some tips for teaching English to beginners:
- Simple is best
- Provide lots of practice opportunities
- Check for understanding with CCQs
- Show, don’t just tell
- Make it interesting
- Use positive reinforcement
- Use a variety of resources and games
- Be clear on what the target language is
Have your Say about these ESL Activities for Adults
What’s your go-to fun ESL adult game for beginners? Also, do you have any resources that you’d like to share with us?
Leave a comment below and let us know. Also be sure to contact us with any questions that you might have about teaching English. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2020-01-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API