Top Classroom Activities to Engage Adult ESL Students

Posted by on December 23rd, 2015

Supporting English as a Second Language (ESL) learners should not be limited to textbook memorization, but should be engaging opportunities that are intended for learning and practice. Through the combination of direct instruction and practice activities, students’ language acquisition skills will improve. Some examples of activities to help adult ESL students are:

Where are You From?

Provide students with a world map. Have them ask the people in the class where they are from. Record the names on the map in their respective places. Have each student share a particular cultural fact about their country.


Native Countries

Tell students to think of two questions to ask each person in the class about their native country. Place large pieces of paper with the names of each country represented around the room. Have each student write their questions on the pages and read them aloud. After all of the initial questions have been answered, have students share what they have learned with groups or the class. Extend the activity by asking students to talk about countries they have visited and those they would like to visit. The results can also be recorded on their map hand-outs.



The Conversations activity is designed to give students an opportunity to practice the casual conversations they are likely to encounter on a regular basis. Provide students with a list of common phrases to practice reading and assembling into an exchange with partners. You may also provide the students with a particular scenario, such as meeting someone for the first time, and allow them to create the conversation for themselves.


Family Tree 

Teach students the typical names of relationships on a family tree. Provide them with a handout to input the names of their own families. Allow students an opportunity to introduce the members of their family. You may also have them bring a family picture for a similar exercise. After the introductions, create further discussion about the backgrounds of families, similarities or differences, and the way that students view family.


Describing Things 

Provide access to pictures of clothing items. Ask students to name and describe each item. The activity can also be used to describe people and what they are wearing. Extend the activity by asking your students to stand up. Write a phrase on the board such as “Sit down if you are wearing black shoes.” This activity will give you an informal assessment of their associated reading skills. To strengthen writing skills, assign pictures to various groups of students. Require them to individually write as many sentences describing the pictures as they can in a given time period.


Rainy Days 

Have students ask classmates what they like to do on rainy days. Record the responses and discuss similar interests. Create a list of other activities that weren’t mentioned. Use other weather outlooks and the seasons to change the activity slightly. Wrap it up by having students describe the appropriate clothing for different weather and seasons.


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