Get ready for some fun ESL activities for adults! The key to happy students and great classes is a wide variety of activities. Read more to find out our top picks to help you get creative in the classroom, including ESL games for adults.
Top 20 ESL Activities for University Students and Adults
If you’re looking for some ideas for your conversation classes with university students or adults, you’ve come to the right place. Here are my top 20 ESL games for adults that will make your lesson planning easy and your classes as interesting, engaging and fun as possible. Put less time into making lessons, but with better results.
#1: Running Dictation 4-Skills ESL Activity
This is one of my favourite ESL activities because it’s challenging and fun, uses teamwork and incorporates all 4-skills into a single activity (listening, speaking, writing, reading). Try it out and I’m sure your students will really enjoy this word race.
It works for just about any level except absolute beginners. Just be sure to adjust the difficulty of the sentences you make.
Don’t forget to implement the rule “whispers only,” or your co-workers will likely hate you when there is continuous loud yelling coming from your classroom and you’re interrupting other classes.
You can check out this fun, 4-skills ESL activity that will help you create a great atmosphere in your English classroom here:
It’s EFL made fun! And the best part? Once you set it up and explain the rules, you can sit back and relax while your students are working hard at learning English.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 85 Pages - 02/02/2020 (Publication Date)
#2: Just a Minute
This ESL activity for adults makes an excellent warm-up at the beginning of class. Students have to talk about a certain topic, chosen at random for an entire minute, without stopping. You can turn this into a conversation activity as well by putting the students into groups and requiring the other people to listen carefully and ask some follow-up questions.
Find out more about this popular ESL warm-up here:
Want to learn more? Check out this video:
#3: Small Talk ESL Activity
Small talk is a very important skill that our students must practice, but it can be quite difficult to design an activity that is authentic. Try out this small talk activity that is challenging, but really fun. I guarantee your students will enjoy it!
The best part? It doesn’t seem like “school” because it does an excellent job at replicating real life.
You can find out more details about this ESL activity for teenagers and adults here:
#4 Adult ESL Activities: Surveys for ESL/EFL Students
I love to do ESL surveys in my classes because I think they’re one of the best ways for students to practice listening carefully to what their partner says and then asking follow-up questions. Surveys also work well for sleepy classes because they get students up out of their seats and moving around.
ESL surveys work well for a wide variety of topics, from food and hobbies, to introductions and holidays.
Check out more details about one of my favourite ESL activities:
#5: Dictogloss: A Favourite 4-Skills ESL Game
This is one of those activities that I use at least once every semester because I think it’s just an excellent ESL activity. Students have to listen and then they can either speak or write in response.
It practices a few different skills at once, it’s challenging and it also forces students to paraphrase what they’ve heard and use related words if they can’t remember the exact word or terms they heard.
You can find out how to set-up and play this ESL game here:
It’s a great way to teach some new writing skills. And, you may also want to use for a holiday lesson plan. More tips here: ESL Halloween Games.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 107 Pages - 02/16/2020 (Publication Date)
#6: Disappearing Text Grammar Review Game
If you’re looking for a quick filler activity at the end up class, try this one. It’s kind of like a little quiz to test how well your students remember the lesson. I’ve used it quite successful as an ESL preposition activity before.
It can take as little as a couple of minutes and it’s an excellent way to review what you’ve studied that day. You erase the sentence word by word and students have to remember what’s there.
However, it’s only for lower-level students. Disappearing text is one of the best ESL activities for adults who want to brush up on their grammar and vocabulary.
Find out more about this Grammar Review Game:
#7 ESL Group Activities for Adults: Group Therapy ESL Icebreaker
This is a fun ESL activity for adults that is the perfect icebreaker for the first day of class. It’s an interesting way for adults to share what they’re nervous about with regards to studying English.
See how to set-up and use this ESL icebreaker in your classes:
#8: Apples to Apples Vocabulary Game
- Filled with surprises and outrageous answers!
- The judge plays a Green Apple card with a descriptive word on it
- From the five red apple cards in your hand, play the one that makes the best combination with the...
- If the judge likes your combination the best, you keep the Green Apple card
- Collect four Green Apple cards to win! Includes more than 500 cars, plus tray and instructions
If you’re looking for a “party” game or something to review vocabulary or common words, Apples to Apples is your activity. You can buy the cards on Amazon, or make your own. It works well for a variety of levels, but you’ll have to make different decks to account for this in most cases.
Check out this vocab game for yourself that’s ideal to play in a team:
#9: Board Games for English Learners
I love to play them in my real life, so I make my students play them as well! I usually design my own simple games, based around whatever I’ve been teaching that class. Don’t forget to give a little prize to the winner of each group to make it a bit more interesting.
(If you’re looking for a “real” board game to play with your students, check out King of Tokyo. I play it all the time with my university students and they love it).
Find out how to make your own games and use them in your classes today. It’s language learning made fun!
Check out this short video where I explain how I use them in my English classes:
#10: 20 Questions ESL Adult Activity
Foreign teachers have usually played this game when they were growing up.
ESL students are often very good at answering questions because a normal mode of class operation is that the teacher asks a question and the student answers it. They’re often quite weak at asking questions and this ESL activity can help them with that. 20 questions is one of my favourite activities for adults.
Find out how to adapt this fun game for ESL students. You can help bring some fun into your English class! It’s not just for adults, but works for any age of student. The best part? Students love playing it.
You may also want to focus on a certain area such as animals, ESL parts of the body, or people.
#11: What about ESL News Articles?
If you’re teaching a business, or conversation class, you may want to use some news articles that specifically written for English learners. There are lots of activities you can do related to them beyond just conversation: reading, listening, writing or grammar learning.
Here are some of my go-to online resources for making fun ESL lessons for adults: ESL News Articles.
#12: Picture Prompt ESL Group Activity
This is a classic activity to do in TEFL classes. Put a picture up on the powerpoint, ideally one with some activity going on in it. Then, have lower-level students say some words of things they recognize. Or, advanced level students can talk about what’s happening using a variety of verbs. You can do this with either writing or speaking and there is no one correct answer.
It’s an ideal way to introduce a new topic, as long as the picture is well-chosen. It assists with scaffolding language. By this I mean students are able to connect new words with some old, familiar ones related to a certain topic.
Another option is put up an image up for 2-3 minutes. Then, take it down and ask some comprehension questions to test the students’ powers of observation. For example:
- How many people were in the picture?
- What color t-shirt was the man wearing?
It’s a fun way to see who has the best powers of observation! Giving some hints is fun for the students too.
#13: Conversation Starters
Ask your students what they want to work on in your class and my guess is that most of them would say conversation. However, lower-level students often have a difficult time with this because they simply don’t have enough grammar and vocabulary to do it.
A way to bridge the gap is with a conversation starter that can be used for basically all categories or topics. The way it works is that you give students the beginning of a conversation and then have some blank spaces towards the end. They work with a partner to fill in the gaps. Then, I usually have students present their conversation either to me, or in front of the whole class.
You can find out more about it here: Partner Conversation Starter Speaking Activity.
#14: My World Icebreaker, Teaching Activity for Adults
A quick icebreaker that works well for the beginning of the semester is My World. Students have to draw a circle and then put some simple words, numbers or pictures inside of it, describing themselves. Around 4-5 things is best.
A student may have:
- Cat drawing
- 5 people and a house
Then, put students into pairs. Their partner would guess that the student is 21, has a pet cat, enjoys hiking, and lives with his mom, dad, grandmother and sister. They can talk a little bit about each of these things. For example, how old is the cat, where they like hiking, etc.
It may be more of a challenge (and also more interesting) if students are from different countries. And remember that the main point is for students to get to know each other a little bit, not too make it too difficult or challenging.
#15: Draw an Idiom
A quick, simple, fun warm-up is to have students draw some idioms. You’ll usually get some hilarious results, and it’s a perfect lead-in to many different topics.
Find out more about it here: Idiom ESL Activity.
#16: The Hot Seat ESL Adult Activity
Try out this fun ESL activity for adults:
#17: Picture Quest
Are you looking for a fun activity to do in your classes in order to give your students a break from the regular old textbook grind? Then you’ll want to keep reading all the details for Picture Quest, a fun group activity that gets your students out of the classroom and having fun around their school or university.
When we’ve been working hard in class and students are weary of the studying (like right before finals!), I often give them a break and send them outside on this picture quest ESL activity if the weather is nice.
It’s an excellent way for them to work together as a team and to have a bit of fun in the process. A 16 week semester can be pretty gruelling for the students (and the teacher!).
I generally warn my students in the class before we do this about wearing appropriate shoes! It’s not ideal to be walking all over campus in high heels.
Picture Quest Handout
I give one handout to each team of this paper: Picture Quest. Then I give students 5 minutes to make a plan and send them on their way. The best teams at my university take around 25 minutes and the slowest teams around 40.
The way it works is that students have to take a picture of each thing on the list. To keep it simple, I require that the team only uses 1 phone/camera. When they’re done, they come back and I check to make sure they’re gotten all the pictures required.
You can give a penalty for missing one, or a mistake. I usually say 5 minutes.
Who is the Winner?
Make note of the rules on the top of the handout! The winning team is the one with the lowest total time (how long it actually took them plus any penalty minutes added in).
Does Picture Quest Work Well for Kids?
I generally only do this with students in high school or university. Think about it this way. Are the students going to be running around the halls of your school, loudly interrupting other classes and teachers?
If the answer to this question is yes, you should probably avoid it. And it’ll almost always be yes with middle school or younger aged students.
Of course, I mention to my students to be respectful when they’re inside and use inside voices, even though they may be excited!
And for elementary school students, it’s certainly an issue of supervision. You’ll be unable to directly keep an eye on more than one group of students. This is probably not allowed by your school policies so consider this carefully.
#18: Chain Spelling ESL Game for Adults
In my opinion, spelling is an important but often overlooked skill in many an English class. That’s why I like to so some practice with it for any new vocabulary words that I teach my students.
One game that I like to play is chain spelling. It works best for beginners rather than more advanced level students. The way it works is that everyone stands up and you say a word. Students have to take turns spelling the word, letter by letter. If they miss a letter, they sit down and are out. The last person left standing is the winner.
#19: Whiteboard Relay Races
There are just so many things that you can do with a whiteboard in language classes! For whatever reason, students, even adults love to write on it. Basically, have two students come up to the board from each team and give them a marker. Then, they have to race to do something. Some possibilities include:
- Writing the answer to a question
- Spelling a word
- Writing the question for a statement you just said
Get creative because there are a million ESL group activities you can do with this.
#20: Cup in the Air ESL Adult Game
Try out this active, engaging and student-centred ESL game for adults:
How Can I make English Lessons Interesting: Top 10 Tips
There are a number of things you can do to make your English lessons more interesting. Here are the top 10 ideas:
- Use mystery and get students to do most of the work!
- Use a wide variety of games and activities
- Allow for lots of student choice
- Use technology, but not all the time
- Laugh and have fun with the students
- Think interactive lessons
- Consider task based activities
- Change groups and partners often
- Get outside if the weather is nice
- Think about what can do to get students out of their seats and moving around the class.
Need More Teaching Activities for Adults?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 146 Pages - 03/09/2016 (Publication Date)
Thought so! Then you’ll need to check out this book: 101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults over on Amazon. There are more than 100 ESL adult activities that will make your lesson planning easier, and your students happy!
Dozens of Teaching English to Adults Activities at your Fingertips
The key to a successful class week after week is to add in a variety of activities and games. This book will help you do that in style. Keep a copy on your bookshelf. Or, a copy on your phone for lesson plans on the go. Just open it up and you’ll have a list of dozens of fun ESL games and activities at your fingertips.
Easy to Use ESL Class Activities for Adults
Each activity starts with a brief overview, so you can tell, at a glance what it’s all about. Then, it moves into the step-by-step detailed instructions for how to prepare before class, what to do with the students during class, and then some additional follow-up or feedback. Don’t forget to read the teaching tips too. They’ll help you to avoid the most common mistakes for each activity so that you can have even better classes.
Available in a Variety of Formats
You can get the book in both print and digital formats. The (cheaper) digital one can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app. It’s easier than ever to have top-quality activities and games for English language learners at your fingertips.
Order your Copy of ESL Activities for Adults Today
Check out the book for yourself today, but only if you want to get yourself a serious dose of ESL teaching awesome in your life, okay?
Have your Say about these ESL Games for Adults
Tefl teachers: what are your top picks for fun ESL games for adult learners? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2020-04-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API