The 2 things that really improve the success and effectiveness of an ESL lesson are games and activities. These are the 2 elements that get the students excited and interested in learning. Using games can be great but sometimes, it would be more effective to use an activity instead. Some of the language you will have to cover will also, be more suited to an activity format. The type of lesson that you will have to do (Reading, Writing etc...) will also come into whether to use a game or activity. The following activities are ones that are pretty versatile and can be set up with the minimum of effort:


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Survey/Questionnaire: A great way to get students talking in a more structured way is through the use of surveys or Questionnaires. They can be adapted to incorporate many elements of the lesson such as vocabulary and the target language. There are 2 approaches you can take to this activity; Either the teacher makes the surveys before hand or the students make the surveys themselves. The second way can be more effective as it gives the students some additional practice. It is also a great way to get your students drilling the language, while having a little fun, especially if you make the questions a little silly.

Teacher Created Survey

1) Look at the lesson material. Isolate the target vocabulary and target language.

2) Using a word processing program like Word or even high tech tools such as a pen and paper, come up with a survey that includes questions using the target language. Depending on the survey structure you have in mind, it is usual to have 2 columns. One that contains the questions and the other that will contain the students answers.

3) Split the class into pairs.

4) They can then take turns asking and answering a question from their survey. 

5) If time permits, the students can swap partners and do it again.


Student Created Survey

1) Before class, use a word processing program like Word to create a blank survey template. (This is pretty easy to learn. If you can't work it out, do a Google search. There will be plenty of info.) 

2) Demonstrate to the students what they will have to do. 

3) Individually, have the students come up with questions using the target language. 

4) Then proceed in the same way as above.


Operator (AKA Chinese Whispers): This activity is another one that can be used to practice new vocabulary and target language in a fun way. The premise of the activity is to pass a message around all the students in the class and hear what comes out the other end.

1) Come up with a simple sentence using the vocabulary and target language to practice. 

2) Whisper the sentence into the first student's ear.

3) The student's whisper what they think is the correct sentence to the next student and then the next, till it gets to the last student.

4) The last student, then says the sentence aloud to the class.

5) Do it again but make the sentence more complex or longer.


If you are so inclined, you can reward your students for getting a sentence around the class perfectly. 


Create your own ____: This is a very versatile activity and will allow students to work on their writing skill while using new vocabulary and target language. It is very easy to set up as all you need to do is create a template once and reuse accordingly. 

1) In a word processing program, create a blank template. It should have the title at the top "Create your own _________." Put an empty square box into the document with about 5 or 6 straight lines underneath. The box will be for drawing as most kids love to draw and the lines will be for the writing. This will take about 2 minutes to make. (You could just give the students a piece of paper and get them to do it themselves.)

2) The language that you have to practice will determine what the task will be. For example, if you have to practice can/can't, you may get them to create their own game or rules for their own country. 

3) Explain the task to the students. I usually walk through an example on the board as it seems to give them a better idea of what to do.

4) Give the students their sheets and allow them to create. So, if you chose to go with the country idea, they would draw their country and use can/can't to make the rules for their country. "You can eat ice cream everyday," "you can't be bad," etc...


Story Chain: Story chains are basically creating a story by adding a sentence at a time. Each student adds one sentence each. They can be done on the board as a writing exercise or purely as a speaking activity. To tie it into your lesson, you can make it a rule that students have to include the new vocabulary they are learning so that they use it in context or use the new target language.

1) Sit the students in a circle. It seems to add to the atmosphere and allows the students to fell more in relationship.

2) Work out who will be the first student and which direction the story chain will go. Clockwise or anti-clockwise. 

3) Give the students a lead in line. This is the first line of the story. If you are practicing a certain grammatical rule, it could be a good idea to put the first line in that form. For example, if you are practicing past tenses, you could use a line like "The rabbit awoke in the morning and ..."

4) The first student then adds a sentence like "The rabbit awoke in the morning and looked around his room."

5) Go around the circle with each student adding a new line. They may need some help, so help as much as possible while keeping the integrity of what they want to convey. 


These activities are the ones that seem to work well the most consistently. If you add them to your repertoire, I'm sure they will serve you well.