Boring ESL activities=bored students. Avoid this by mixing it up with these fun, interesting games and activities to do with your teens. Check out my top picks for ESL games for teens.
Fun ESL Activities for Teenagers
If you’re looking for some fresh, new ideas for your English classes, check out these top 10 ESL activities for teenagers. They’re guaranteed to be fun, engaging, and interesting. These fun ESL games for teenagers cover a wide range of skills, from speaking to writing to listening and reading, and many of them cover more than one skill at a time. Your students will love your classes!
Try out some of these activities and games for teenagers today. Oh yeah, and they’ll also work for any foreign language teaching.
#1: Running Dictation: A 4-Skills ESL Activity
If you’re looking for an active, 4-skills ESL activity that teenagers will love, look no further than running dictation! It’s competitive, fast-paced and students always demand to play it again. Running dictation is the perfect ESL activity for a case of the Monday morning, or Friday afternoon blues. It’s guaranteed to get a bit of energy and excitement back into your classes.
The basic way it works is that there are sentences (from a dialogue or story) around your class. One student has to read it, memorize as much as they can, and then come dictate it to their partner who writes it down. At the end, the team has to put the sentences in the correct order.
This is a very good activity for intermediate language learners, although can also work for high beginners or advanced. The main requirements are basic reading and writing skills.
Including all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) within a single activity is the kind of like the holy grail of language teaching. This one is one of the best for doing that well.
#2: Board Games for ESL Students
Board games are one of my favourites for teenagers because they can be tailored to any grammar or vocabulary point that you’re teaching. They’re also extremely student-centred when played in small groups of 3-4 students. Make sure you bring in a little prize of some kind for the winner in each group to add a small element of competition.
The best part about board games is that they’re very easy to design yourself. Once you have template down, it takes only about 10 minutes to produce a board game for just about any vocabulary set or grammar point. You can also find some materials for board games in a teacher’s resource book for the textbook you’re using.
Learn more about using these ESL board games in your English classes:
#3: Apples to Apples ESL Vocabulary Game
One of my favourite vocabulary games for ESL students is Apples to Apples. You can make your own decks to suit any level or target vocabulary. Get the students to help you out—they’ll have fun doing it, and will also enjoy playing it all the more! Kids love this this one too.
Or, you can check out Apples to Apples Junior on Amazon if you want to use it as a party game.
Have some fun with your students while they practice English vocabulary. You can teach new words, or students can have fun while working the language themselves. I know which one I’ll choose every single time.
This is one of the best ESL vocabulary activities for teenagers because it’s challenging. You can play password with the entire class, but it’s best in smaller classes of 10 or fewer in order to increase student talking time.
Or course, if you have a large class, you can break it up into smaller groups to play this as well.
#5: Concentration ESL or EFL Memory Game
Concentration is one of my favourite ESL games for teenagers because it’s an excellent way to calm a rowdy class. You won’t believe how quiet your students will be when playing this one! It’s adaptable for all levels and ages, including young children.
Concentration is played in groups of 3-4 students and doesn’t require a lot of talking. I use it mostly for matching vocabulary words with definitions, but you can adapt it to suit lots of other stuff as well. The best part about this one is that you can adapt it for any age, or level of students.
For higher level students, you can match word to definition, opposites, or problem and advice. These are just a few examples so get creative!
Oh yeah, it’s one of the best memory games I can think. Not only does it challenge the brain, but it helps our students remember English vocabulary as well. After all, students should be doing the hard work, not you!
#6: Surveys for ESL Students
If you ask your students what they want to get out of your class, they’ll often say they want to speak English better. Surveys are an excellent way to help them do that.
With big classes of adults, surveys are one of my go-to ESL classroom activities because they’re student-centred, engaging and cover all 4 skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking). They are still an excellent ESL activity for teenagers, but you need to judge whether or not they’re mature enough to do it.
Most classes are, but be sure to set the ground rules before you set your students loose to do the activity. I usually say the following:
- Talking only 1-1 and not in groups of three or more.
- The goal is not to finish first. The goal is to have lots of mini-conversations in English with a lot of different people.
- Speak only in English. The goal is not to finish quickly! The goal is to practice speaking English.
- Also write down notes about the answers in English only. Remember that the goal is language learning, not simply to get it done as quickly as possible.
- Only take notes for the answers. You don’t need to write detailed sentences.
One of the best things I love about surveys is that they help teach students how to ask questions. You can learn more about why this is so important in the short video below:
Try out surveys in your lesson today. You’ll love them.
#7: Vocabulary Auction
Try out vocabulary auction if you’re looking to introduce an element of competition into your classes. Your students will have so much fun that they’ll forget that they’re learning English at the same time!
It can take a while to get this ESL vocabulary activity organized. However, it’s worth it, especially if you teach multiple sections of the same class because your students will love it! Seriously, it’s one of the most exciting classes of the whole year.
#8: Charades for ESL Students
If you’re having a party day, charades makes an excellent ESL activity for teenagers. It’s really fun and also a great way to review vocabulary. You can build your own words or phrases, or get the students to help you out with it.
The way I get students to help is to go in groups of 3-4, look through their textbooks (only what we’ve studied together) and choose 10 vocabulary words that were new to them. Then, collect the papers and compile your own master list to play with from there.
#9: English Central Videos
Teenagers love videos, but it can be hard to find ones easy enough for your teenage English learners on YouTube. Check out English Central for help in finding ones that are the right level for you. It’s one of the best online resources for your English classes.
You can do so many things in your ESL lesson when using videos! Discussion, comprehension question, a focus on the grammar or vocabulary, etc. Get creative because the sky is the limit. It’s English teaching made easy!
Group presentations in English can be a fun task-based learning project for teenage students and it’s a nice break for you! They’re ideal for language learning because they offer some serious speaking and listening practice.
You’ll get the best results if you give students plenty of support and instruction on how to give an effective presentation. The key to this one is allowing lots of preparation time in class, as well as giving detailed feedback throughout the process.
Also be sure to make your expectations clear so that you get the best results. For example, are students…
- Allowed to read from a paper?
- Able to have a wall of text on the PowerPoint?
- Allowed to have one person in the group do all the talking?
As you can see, it’s worth it to think through your instructions clearly before getting started with this.
#11: Conversation Starters
(BONUS!). I know I promised to give you 10 of the best ESL games for teens, but here’s an extra one! These conversation starters work well for teenagers or adults, but you should only use them with high intermediate or advanced students. Beginners usually don’t have the grammar or vocabulary necessary to talk about one of these questions for more than 10 or 20 seconds.
You can check them out here: https://eslspeaking.org/conversation-starters-adults/
More Ideas for Games and Activities for Teenagers and Adults
Did you like these ideas for teaching English to teens? Do you want even more? Then you’ll need to check out this book: 101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults, available on Amazon. It’ll help spice up your lessons and it includes activities for all levels, from beginner to advanced.
The good news is that the book is available in both print and digital formats. You can keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office to use as as a handy reference. Or, get a copy for your phone for lesson planning in your favourite coffee shop. It really is that easy.
You can check out the book for yourself on Amazon:
Tips for Teaching Teens
When you teach English to teenagers, it can be quite challenging. However, here are a few tips to make sure your classes go as smoothly as possible.
Use General Feedback
Teens usually don’t like it when you point out their behaviour, either good or bad in front of the whole class. Praise, or scold a group or the entire class rather than an individual.
Don’t Put Students on the Spot
This can often end in disaster! Instead, you can:
- Ask for volunteers to give an answer (if works best if you give some incentive for doing so)
- Require that each group give an answer instead of an individual
- Tell a student during the practice time that you’re going to call on them during them to answer the question in front of the class so they have a bit of time to prepare something
Small Group Interactions
Be sensitive about partners and small groups and who ends up working with who. It’s best not to make random partners, but it’s fine to do with groups of 4 or 5 for example.
Also be on the lookout for mean spirited behaviour and clamp down on it hard so that everyone can have an enjoyable class experience.
Most people like it when they know what they can expect so have some routines. For example:
- Check or hand in homework
- Warm-up activity
- Work on 2-3 pages from the book in partners
- Small group activity or class game
- Assigning of homework
You can also make routines for things like handing out worksheets, collecting papers, making groups, marking homework, etc. so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time.
Get Feedback from your Students
I’ll sometimes put these questions (as a bonus point) on a quiz or test a few weeks into the semester:
“What do you like best about the class so far?”
“Is there an activity in this class that you don’t like doing?”
You’ll often get some illuminating answers. Take the feedback seriously, especially if you see the same thing over and over again. Maybe the students hate doing dictation, or they LOVE your board games.
Give Teens Choices
If you’re giving homework like a written essay for example, let them choose from a list of topics. Or, if they’re doing a speech, allow them to choose just about anything as long as they check with you first before starting.
For a group project, give them guidelines and recommendations but don’t micromanage how they get it done. As long as the final result is what you’re looking for, it doesn’t matter how your students get there. Their process may be different from yours, but that’s okay.
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Have your Say about the best ESL Games for Teens!
Do you have any go-to activities for teenagers who are English learners? Do you have any ideas for making your lessons for teenanagers more interesting? Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about teaching English.
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