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The Top 3 Best ESL Activities

By Edited Feb 22, 2016 1 1

Being an ESL teacher is physically exhausting and coming home after work and trying to find activities for the next weeks lesson, is even more difficult than the teaching itself.

You can successfully blend commercial board games and activities into your classes, giving your kids some fun whilst learning, but creating some great games from scratch that the kids enjoy and find impressive, is very satisfying.

Here are the top 3 low preparation activities that never fail to produce a good class. These have all been played in small and large classes with students young and old. Adding fun to the learning process will make your classes easier to handle and the students will love to come back week after week.

 "These are powerful activities young jedi's, use them wisely!"



1: Name Chant - Slap Slap Clap Clap

Designed to get new students to speak at more than a mouse whisper, learn, remember and pronounce English names, coordinate doing something else (the rhythm) whilst they have to speak and have a great time.

For this activity you need to get the students seated in a circle. Teach them to slap their hands on their thighs twice and clap their hands twice, all the time keeping a constant rhythm. Everyone should be participating by playing the rhythm at the same time, however, only one person will be speaking at one time. Pick one student to start the chant. The first time they double clap their hands they will say their own name, the second time they double clap their hands they will say another students name. Whoever's name was called, immediately carries on the chant by saying their own name followed by another students name and so on.

All of the following things will deem you out of the game, meaning you must fold your arms and no longer continue to slap your thighs and clap your hands.

  • No stopping is allowed, if you stop and break the chant, you are out.
  • If you say the name of a person who is already out, you too will strike out.
  • You cant immediately repeat the name of the person who called your name i.e. no pingponging back and forth between two people.
  • If you break the rhythm, are too slow to answer or can't think of your name or someone elses name in time.
  • If you forget to say your name first and immediately call another students name instead.

It can be hard to explain games clearly so maybe you would like to see this in action in a class of around 45 students.

Name Chant

2 : Do You Wanna Buy A Duck?

This activity is one of the best ESL activities that I have ever found to tempt students into speaking full sentences. It is absolutely hilarious once it really gets going and the students have so much fun with the dialogue. There's very little preparation but a lengthy explanation is required, and a slow demonstration with a practice run are all essential to get this lesson kicking.

I find it's best to ask for a group of 5 volunteers to come up the front of the class to be the guinea pigs for the demonstration at the same time as the explanation.

This is a dialogue game so write it up on the board or if you have a smart board prepare it as a word document to fire up on the computer. Either way, the preparation time for this activity is only about 5 minutes at the maximum.

Choose your 5 demonstration students and make them stand in a line at the front of the class.

The Dialogue

Student 1 - Do you wanna buy a duck?

Student 2 - A what?

Student 1 - A duck!

Student 2 - Does it quack?

Student 1 - Of course it quacks, it's a duck!

Now this same dialog is used the whole way down the line of students but each student replaces the object (the duck) with a new different object, which in turn makes the student asking the "Does it" question, have to alter their response. For example, if student 2 decided he was selling a ball, student 3 would have to ask him "does it roll"? and not "does it quack"?

After student 1 and student 2 have finished the first dialogue, student 2 turns to student 3 and carries on by asking student 3 if he wants to buy...lets say, a ball. It's not quite that simple though check the dialog and video below to see the added twist.

Student 2 - Do you wanna buy a ball?

Student 3 - A what?

Student 2 (turning back to student 1) A what?

Student 1 - A duck!

Student 2 -(turning back to student 3) A ball!

Student 3 - Does it bounce?

Student 2 - (turning back to student 1) Does it quack?

Student 1 - Of course it quacks, it's a duck!

Student 2 - (Turning back to student 3) Of course it bounces it's a ball!

Student 3 - (turning to student 4) Do you wanna buy a...? and so on

Yes, it sounds rather complicated but once you demonstrate it really isn't hard. Don't be put off by the explanation, it really works and is a wonderful activity.

What The Students Learn With This Activity

The kids have to really take part in this activity, making them concentrate, listen and speak. I find that with the "Wanna Buy A Duck" dialogue, they are happy to join in the fun and at the same time they learn so much. There is a lot of basic vocabulary covered in this activity in addition to thinking about what they are selling to the next student, whilst also thinking of the action associated with the item that the previous student is selling to them. It also helps them work on getting some expression into the tone of their words sentences.

Note :Make sure that they grammatically ask the correct questions.

If you want to make it competitive, you can time each group to see who can complete the activity in the quickest time, but be sure if you do this that they don't disregard clear speech for speed.

Another bonus of this game is they also learn the slang version of "want to" (wanna), which is something we all commonly say in everyday speech. Students love to try to get their English to sound as natural as they can. ESL teaching should have a primary focus of getting the students to speak more naturally and understand how native speakers talk. The students do this by listening to their ESL teachers and the way the say and phrase things.

O.K, so it sounds really complexed but it's not, have a look! Here is one of my classes having a go. I originally got this idea from the website Ultimate Camp resources[1], 

Students Demonstrating - Do You Wanna Buy A duck?

The Slam Game

WARNING : This game will most likely cause mass chaos in the classroom. The students really go crazy with this particular activity. If you have classes in close proximity to your own classroom, you will need to make sure you can control the sound level a little, as this really gets LOUD.

The Slam Game is a game for teaching any new vocabulary , so you will have to make sure that you have some flashcards for whatever words you are wishing to teach. E.g. If you are teaching occupations, you will need a set of at least 13 occupation flashcards.


This can be played by using magnets to put the flashcards on the blackboard, but personally I've not had much luck doing it that way. The students show so much enthusiasm that the magnets fall off and the cards fall on the floor. Therefor I recommend this set up  :

  • Arrange 13 desks in a horse shoe shape, split the students into two teams and get the teams to line up at either end of the horseshoe of desks. Place the picture flashcards face up, one on each desk and get ready to play.

Note : if the kids don't know the English translation for the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors" you will need to teach them before starting The Slam Game.

How To Play

Slam is really very simple to play.

  • The first student from each team starts to walk along the inside of the desks, heading towards the other teams home base, touching each flash card and saying what it is as they go along. At some point (at the very start of the game, usually somewhere around the middle) the two students will meet face to face.
  • The next step is for the two students to play "Rock, Paper, Scissors".  The winner of this contest wins the right to keep progressing along the desks, touching and naming the flashcards as they go, all the time edging closer to the goal of reaching the other teams home base at the other end of the horseshoe.
  • Meanwhile the loser of the rock, paper, scissors contest has to go back to his home base and join the end of the line and wait for another turn to play. The next player from his team starts again on the journey around the flashcards, heading along the inside of the desks, touching and naming the cards and getting ready to meet the reigning champion for the next rock, paper, scissors contest.
  • When a student finally makes it to the home base of the other team, there will be huge cheers. You will need to keep score on the board to see which team will be" The Slam Game" champions.

It's a great way for the kids to remember new vocabulary, but if you work in China (as I do myself) teaching Chinese kids, keep in mind that they happen to have a unique ability to memorize sequences. Make sure you regularly change the flash cards positions on the desks.

Quiz Buzzers

Learning Resources Answer Buzzers
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These are extremely useful in an ESL classroom for group quizzes etc.

Satisfying Classes

These 3 ESL activities are not only enjoyable and educational for the students, but they are extremely satisfying for you as an ESL teacher. It's fantastic when you can see that the students have forgotten the fact that they are actually learning because they are too busy having fun.



Apr 23, 2014 10:45pm
Great tips and great article.
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  1. "Do You Wanna Buy A Duck?." Ultimate Camp Resources. 8/03/2013 <Web >

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