Top 10 ESL Activities for Big Classes | Best ESL Games

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Have a Big ESL Class? Help is Here!

I love large classes of 20+ students! They used to terrify me when I first started teaching in Korean universities. However, as the years went by and I figured out how to manage them, I liked them more and more. These days, I actually prefer a class of 20 to a class of 1 or 2.

Large ESL classes of 20 students or more can be a bit difficult to teach English to if you don’t have a lot of practice with them. Another problem is that it can be hard to come up with games and activities that will work with a big crowd. However, help is here! Read on for my top 10 ESL activities for big classes. Most of them will work for children as well as adults so adapt away and enjoy.

Top 10 ESL Activities for Big Classes
ESL Activity for Big Classes #1: Is that Sentence Correct?

Is that Sentence Correct? is a sneaky way to get your students focusing on English grammar. The best part about it is that you can use this activity with 1 student or 100! It’s also very easy to adjust the activity from beginner to advanced. The sky is really the limit for this one.

I find this ESL activity works best at a warm-up activity, or as a review at the end of class. When used as a warm-up, use it to review material from the previous class(es). When used as a review, focus on what you’ve studied that class. It’s a nice way to round off a unit as well. The best thing about this one is there is a few minutes of silent calm that descends upon your class!

ESL Activity for Big Classes #2: Videos in the ESL Classroomvideo-in-classroom

Videos can be a great tool to use with large ESL classes. They are interesting, motivating and engaging for most students. There is also a wide variety of activities you can do along with them. The sky is really the limit! Whatever you do, don’t just watch the video and be done with it. There really are a million and one pre and post watching ESL activities that you can do which are really useful for your students.

Check out this post for some ideas about how to use videos in the ESL Classroom. There are lots of ideas for pre and post video-watching.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #3: Presentations for ESL Students

Presentations for ESL students is another excellent activity to get your big ESL classes doing. Task-based learning, especially if students are able to choose their own topic is a great way to make learning more memorable. In large classes, simply put students into groups of 4-6 instead of by themselves or in pairs.

I find that presentations work best when students are given a very specific set of guidelines, mostly related to avoiding the death by PowerPoint. Here are some things I tell my students:

  • Only 1 slide/person plus and introduction slide.
  • No more than 10 words on that slide. Focus on an interesting picture, etc.
  • You must memorize your section of the speech. You can have a piece of paper in your pocket for emergency use only. I won’t penalize you if you quickly look at it once.
  • Each student in the group must talk for an equal amount of time.
  • Think of 2-3 discussion questions you could ask the class.
ESL Activity for Big Classes #4: Concentration

Concentration memory game

Concentration is a fun game to help your students review vocabulary. There are different ways to play and you can match words-definitions or words-pictures. It doesn’t matter how big, or small the class is because you students can play in pairs or in groups of up to five.

This is an excellent activity for beginners or intermediate students and children especially love to play it. You really can adapt it to just about any age or level, and it lends itself well to vocabulary, as well as certain grammatical points. For example, problem and advice, or conditional clauses.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #5: Just a Minute

Just a Minute is a great warm-up activity for higher-level teenagers or adults. They idea is that students have to speak about a certain topic for an entire minute without stopping. You can also make it interactive by having a partner or group members ask follow-up questions based on what that first student said.

It’s challenging, but you can make it a bit easier by reducing the time for beginners to 30 seconds.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #6: Reading Activities

Reading is a great activity for bigger classes because it can be done individually without a lot of guidance from the teacher. Check out this ESL Reading Lesson Plan Template for how to conduct one of these lessons the CELTA way. You’ll find the usefulness of your reading lessons increases substantially by using a lesson plan template such as this one.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #7: ESL Surveys

ESL Surveys are one of my favourite activities for big ESL classes and they actually don’t work that well with fewer than 10 students. Surveys are great because they’re entirely student-centred and they also cover all 4-skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking). Students usually really enjoy talking to lots of their classmates too!

Be sure to set up some guidelines before you start. Here’s what I usually say:

  • 1-1 speaking only. I don’t want to see any groups of 3 or more.
  • The goal is not to finish first. The goal is to have lots of mini-conversations in English with a partner.
  • Speak English! Sure, it’s easy to speak in your first language, but you’re actually wasting your time. The goal is to practice English so go for it.
  • Don’t write full sentences, but just take notes for your partner’s answers.
ESL Activity for Big Classes #8: Board Games

Board games are a natural choice for large classes of ESL students because you can break up any number of students up into groups of 3-5. It’s student-centred teaching all the way! The other reason that I love using board games in the ESL classroom is because you can make one for just about any topic. Students love them too!

Don’t forget to bring a little prize for one student in each group to make it more interesting.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #9: Running Dictation

Running Dictation is a fun activity that children as well as adults love. It gets your students up and out of their seats and can really energize a lethargic class. Running dictation also makes a great warm-up activity for that Monday morning 9am class!

It’s one of my favourite 4-skills ESL activities.

ESL Activity for Big Classes #10: Odd One Out

Odd One Out is an excellent ESL warm-up game to review vocabulary for small or big ESL classes. You put students into pairs and they compete against each other to add an element of fun to it.

Even More ESL Activities

If you found these ESL activities for big classes useful, then you’ll want to check out this book over on Amazon: 101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults. They’ll help make your classes interesting and fun, guaranteed. Plus you’ll save a ton of time when lesson planning by not having to wade through all the junk on the Internet to find that one ESL game or activity that you can actually use in your classes. These ones are tried and tested and they’re awesome.

Check out the book for yourself on Amazon today:

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