We’re continuing our series of 50 warmup activities for ESL adult classes. These are (mostly) language-based games and tasks to get the class started off right, whether you’re teaching first thing in the morning, during the sluggish hours after lunch, or late into the evening.
On Tuesdays, it’s time to break out of students’ L1 and switch their brains back into English. instead of generic discussion questions, try these talking activities.
To get students talking to new classmates, use different methods to find partners. Divide the room into half and tell students to find someone from the other group. Play music while students walk around, and when the music stops, have students find the nearest classmate for their partner. Draw cards from a prepared deck with a black and red card from each number.
Magic Word: Ss try to use the target word as many times as possible in a conversation
Give students 2 minute to write 5 WH-questions. After they finish, write a simple, common word like can on the board. Ask students to use their questions to chat with a partner. Every time they use the word can, the team get a point. After 2 minutes, stop conversations and ask each team how many points they got. Make new pairs and repeat with different magic word. (examples: like, want, please, because, happy, etc.)
Same and Different: Ss discuss a topic to find similarities and differences
Write a familiar topic on the board, such as family. With a classmate that they don’t know well, students can discuss the topic for 2 minutes to find two things they have in common and two things that are different in their opinions or experiences. Monitor progress by asking quiet pairs to explain their results. Switch partners and topics as time allows. Other topics can include: food, neighborhoods, places you’ve been to, movies you’ve seen, etc.
3-2-1: Ss discuss the same topic 3 times to improve fluency
Give students a discussion prompt that is at a slightly harder level than they usually use for conversation practice. For beginners, you can use something like What should a perfect apartment have? while intermediate students might get Describe the best vacation you ever went on? and advanced students can handle If you could change one thing about your town, what would it be? In pairs, give each student 3 minutes to complete the task. Then, change the pairs and give each student 2 minutes to discuss the question. Finally, ask the students to explain their answer to a new partner with one minutes each.
This activity can also be used for summarizing homework articles or videos or reviewing past lesson material. In this case, let students prepare by assigning each a different article/video, or by assigning half of the material to half the class and asking them to explain to a partner who had different material.
Describe a picture: Ss draw the picture that their partner describes
Before class, collect pictures of simple activities, silly situations, or other images with distinct spacial relationships. In pairs, one student faces the projector screen or picture and describes the picture to a partner with paper to draw. After a set time, switch positions. Choose images based on the temperament of the class, and avoid cluttered pictures with an overload of vocabulary. Normal Rockwell pictures or clip art scenes can be useful.
Yes/No: Teams get points for crafting questions with a ‘yes’ answer
Divide class into two teams and ask the first student on Team A to ask the teacher a Yes/No question. (Get students started with examples and question starters Are you… Do you… Can you… Have you ever…). The teacher answers with Yes or No, and writes 1 or 0 points on Team A’s score board. Explain that Yes answers get one point, and No answers get 0 points. Allow the first student on Team B to ask a question, and continue through all students in class.
The next time you play the game in class, switch the point allocation – only give points for No answers – without telling them before you start.
Gone in 30 seconds: Ss must continue speaking about the topic for a full 30 seconds
Prepare question prompt cards for general topics that are easy for your students to chat about. In pairs, student A takes the first card and reads it, considering the topic for a few seconds. When the teacher starts the timer, the student must begin answering the question and must continue talking until the timer ends at 30 seconds. If a student stops, he or she forfeits the card. Then student B takes a card and tries to complete the goal. After several rounds, ask who has the most cards in each pair and in the class.
For more fun in a longer activity, find the board game version at Teach-This.com
Bedtime Story: Ss create a story based on randomly drawn pictures
A set of Story Cubes is a great investment for a teacher, but if you’re on a budget or out of time, find and print out simple clip art of actions, simple vocabulary, locations, shapes, etc. Give each student a few dice or allow them to draw a few cards. Allow students to ask questions about vocabulary or re-roll if necessary. The teacher begins a past tense story using concepts from their own die, and students continue adding to the story. For a larger class, break into groups, and ask them to tell their stories to each other. One great thing about Story Cubes is that the images can be interpreted in different ways. You might use the story to explain why an absent student is missing from class 😉 This can also be turned into a writing activity instead of speaking practice.
Another variation of this is to have student groups draw a main character, a setting, and a conflict and create a short skit. For example, Batman / falls in love / at a shoe shop.
Taboo: Ss give hints to their teammate to guess a word as fast as possible
Before class, prepare enough one or two word vocabulary cards for each student to get 10 cards. Just like the old game show $10,000 Pyramid and the board game Taboo, each student gets a pile of cards, but two students work as a team. Student A looks at the first card and can use examples, descriptions, comparisons, or any other language-based tool to get their teammate to guess the word on the card, without saying the words. As soon as their partner says the word, they can go to the next card. Students can pass on a card and come back to it at the end. After a set time, the team counts gets a point for each card they completed. Then, it is Student B’s turn, and points are added together at the end.
What are you talking about?: S tries to guess the topic that the class is discussing
Send one student out of the room and give the class two or three topics to choose from, such as unusual hobbies, famous book couples, foods that a lot of people don’t like. It’s recommended to number the options and write them on the board, so the class can choose without the student in the hall hearing.
Tell the class to discuss the topic, without saying any of the words in the topic, similar to Taboo. Invite the student back into the room and ask them to guess the topic. For a bigger challenge, increase the complexity of the topic.
6 x 6 Words: Ss use dice to drill target vocabulary or sentence structures.
Prepare a 6×6 Words board by writing six target words at the top of each column and make enough copies for each student. Give each pair or small group a die. The first student rolls the die, makes a question or sentence with the corresponding word, and marks one square in that column. The next student takes a turn and play continues till a student has completed one full column.
Thanks to Davy Tran for her help with some great game ideas! Download a PDF with the full list of activities below.