4 Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy Activities for ESL Students

by Published

As a TEFL teacher, you know all too well the importance of lesson planning. Without planning, the classroom would be utter chaos, and your students would be walking out the door faster than they could practice saying “goodbye.” But, what if you slept past your alarm and didn’t have time to create lesson plans or activities for your ESL students? Or, what if you’re putting your students to sleep with those mundane pronunciation drills? Lacking solid TEFL lesson plans or a variety of educational activities are surefire ways to ruin your ESL class.

English childrens books on a shelf
When your students start to nod off at another class reading through “Goodnight, Moon,” wake them up with one of these free ESL lesson plans.

There are other challenges ESL teachers face too, like being short on resources, having to adapt your lessons to the length of class time, and having unruly students bouncing off the walls. Lucky for you, we’ve got your fix with four free ESL lesson plans to tackle each one of these challenges. Whether you’re teaching in Spain or Taiwan, ESL lesson plan format might vary by institution and individual instructor, but ultimately these ideas will inspire you to write engaging ESL lesson plans and address the needs of your higher and lower level kiddos.

Use these TEFL lesson plans if...

You’re short on resources: My favorite mistake.

Finding free lesson plans for teaching English as a second language has never been so easy! All you need is a marker and a whiteboard for this reading comprehension activity (or chalk/a chalkboard if you’re old school). It’s a great “do now” activity to start class off with, so that your students can review the English content from the last class. Write three to five sentences on the board, each with their own mistakes. Have students write down the sentences, circle the errors, then fix them.

Example: An ESL lesson on plural/singular nouns using classroom materials.

1. The pencils is blue. (The pencils ARE blue/The pencil IS blue).

2. The corrector pen are red.  (The corrector pens ARE red/The corrector pen IS red)

3. These notebook are black. (These notebooks ARE black/This notebook IS black)

Stack of workbooks and notebooks
Tired of the same old drills in the same old workbooks? Take one of these ESL writing lesson plans for a spin instead. 

For lower-level students, circulate around the room and see how quickly students are getting it. After a few minutes, check your answers with them. I like to have my students raise their hands and volunteer to come up to the board and correct the errors.

To modify this ESL lesson plan for higher level students, write down one sentence at first without an error, so that the students cannot assume that they’re all wrong, then have them explain why that sentence is correct. Also, have students make up their own “favorite mistakes” and write their incorrect sentences on the board. Make sure they understand the corrections. 

Have a long class: Scavenger hunt.

This ESL lesson plan is a fun way for students to get a breath of fresh air and do some hands-on language learning. Before progressing into these activities for ESL students, make sure your principal is okay with your students leaving class and scouring the hallways for about five to 10 minutes while looking for these items. Set parameters before starting this activity, like a late policy. If students take longer than 10 minutes to come back, they’ll lose points (or they can’t participate). However, you could just stay inside the classroom, too.

I’ve used this for an environment unit for a  tenth grade class studying the difference between organic (natural) and inorganic (man-made) materials. I divided my students into groups of four to five, then assigned them to find eight to 10 organic or inorganic materials around the school. I wrote example items on the board, such as leaves and rocks for organic materials and candy wrappers for inorganic materials. My students then looked for different items and brought them back to class. The principal appreciated us helping clean up the school, but I should’ve prohibited my students from dumpster diving.

Chalkboard that reads Todays lesson: Spelling
A chalkboard or whiteboard is all you really need to have an engaging ESL lesson.

Once the time is up, each group presents their items and the whole class practices pronunciation of the items. To bump up the difficulty, higher level students can work in pairs to create a dialogue. For an environmental lesson, create a 10 sentence dialogue between two students who disagree whether or not it’s okay to litter. They can then practice their speaking by performing their skit in front of the class. No mumbling or hands covering mouths, though!

Have a short class: Telephone.

Listening activities for ESL students like this one are lots of fun because they break the ice and lead to some giggle-worthy misunderstandings. There’s a reason why this is a childhood game, so why not bring into your ESL classroom to practice vocabulary? Here’s how to do it:

Write 10 vocabulary words on the board. Students will sit or stand in equal rows, then they’ll whisper a word from the board to the first student in each row. Those students return to their row and whisper the same word to the student behind them. This continues until the end of the row. The last student in each row runs to the board to touch the correct vocabulary word.

Modify these ESL lesson plans for higher-level students by, instead of whispering single vocab words, having your students whisper entire sentences. Or, play with word pairs— give the students one word and have them touch the word on the board that matches it. For example, give the word “Nairobi” and students touch the word “Kenya” on the board. Last, to practice writing, the last student in the row writes the word on the board.

Young girls in class in Nepal
Keep students engaged in class with any one of these activities for ESL students.

Your students are antsy: Total physical response.

Kinesthetic learners especially love learning by doing, and this strategy uses movement to teach English language learners. Say a vocabulary word or phrase and perform an action to represent it at the same time. If you’re studying sports, say “I play tennis!” Your students will then copy your action of hitting a ball with a tennis racket while they say the phrase. You can turn this into a listening or speaking activity, or both, depending on your students’ needs and what types of activities for ESL students they enjoy most. Bonus points if you can turn the movements into a song.

How can you adjust this ESL lesson plan for higher-level students? After practicing several times, say the word or phrase without performing the action, and have the students perform the action and say the word or phrase. Then, after practicing several times, perform the action and ask the students to say the word or phrase. If your students are killing their English language learning game, then stand in a circle and assign each of them a movement to go with a sport. Each student must remember the movements of the previous students in the order that they performed, and they perform their own.

Students sitting in a semi-circle around their instructor outside
Restless students (no matter the age or language level) can always benefit from a lesson taught in the great outdoors! 

Need more activites for ESL students? Check out these 3 ESL Lesson Plans Fit for Any TEFL Teacher.

Teaching English abroad is no piece of cake, but with these new TEFL lesson plan examples, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way. Just remember to be willing to scrap an ESL lesson plan if it’s no longer working. Doing total physical response might work for one class, but it might not work as well for another. Be as flexible in your lesson planning as you are in the classroom, and remember to have fun! You don’t have to plan for laughter during your activities for ESL students, but when you’re having fun, the lessons stick best.

Ready to test these free ESL lesson plans? Start with MyGoAbroad.