Top 15 ESL Activities for University Students and Adults

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ESL Activities for Adults

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.

Top 15 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 15 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:

Running Dictation Details

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.

#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:

Just a Minute ESL Warm-Up

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:

Small Talk ESL Activity

ESL adult activities

#4: 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:

ESL Surveys

#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:

Dictogloss Speaking and Listening Activity

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.

#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.

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:

Disappearing Text

#7: 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:

Group Therapy

#8: Apples to Apples Vocabulary Game

Mattel Apples to Apples Party in a Box Game
365 Reviews
Mattel Apples to Apples Party in a Box 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:

Apples to Apples

#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!

ESL Board Games

Check out this short video where I explain how I use them in my English classes:

#10: 20 Questions

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, or people.

ESL 20 Questions

#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: ESL News Articles.

#12: Picture Prompt

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?
  • Etc.

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

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:

  • 21
  • Cat drawing
  • Mountains
  • 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.

Need More Teaching Activities for Adults? 

101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
3 Reviews
101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
  • Jackie Bolen, Jennifer Booker Smith
  • Kindle Edition
  • English

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!

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.

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.

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 Today

Check out the book for yourself today:

—>101 ESL Activities: For Teenager and Adults<—

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.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful teaching resource.


Last update on 2019-09-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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