Activities for Young ESL Learners

Illustration of a teacher giving lesson and talking to attentive children to illustrate activities for young ESL learners

Teaching English as a second language to young learners can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. To ensure success in the classroom, it’s essential to engage students with interactive and entertaining activities. In this article, we’ll explore 10 tips and activities that will help make learning English enjoyable for young ESL students. These activities range from teaching English through other subjects, using role-play and acting, incorporating music and dance, playing educational games like Simon Says and The Alphabet Game, encouraging creative writing and storytelling, utilizing art for language learning, and even engaging students in guessing games and riddles. Dive in and discover how these activities for young ESL learners can create a fun and immersive learning environment for your young ESL learners.

Teaching English to the Young Non-Native Speakers

You could say that English is a West Germanic language like any other, belonging to the same family as Dutch, German and Yiddish. However, the global impact of the UK and the USA over the last three centuries has transformed English into today’s lingua franca. Indeed, a language that was spoken by a few hundred thousand people in medieval England has become used on all continents as a common language between speakers of different native tongues.

Oddly enough, in terms of native speakers, English is ranked only number 3 in the world (373 million), far behind Mandarin (929 million) and Spanish (475 million), and closely followed by Hindi (343 million). But when we include 2nd language and foreign speakers, this number goes up to 1.7 billion! The number of teachers is also impressive: we estimate the number of native English speakers working abroad as ESL teachers in foreign schools and language institutes to be a quarter of a million! If you add all the native speakers giving classes in their own countries and non-native professors, this makes a lot of English teachers!

English is a mandatory school subject in 142 countries. In others, it is optional but strongly recommended. The big question for all these students of English is: How do we learn English when it is not our mother tongue? And the question for the hundreds of thousands of teachers: How do we teach English to children when it is their second language?

Since English has such an importance in our globalized world, the teaching of this language often starts from elementary school. Therefore, teachers need to establish strategies and develop activities made for a young audience. And that is why we would like to offer you some tips and activities that you can use in English classes with children.

10 Tips and Activities for Young ESL Learners

Photo of children smiling to illustrate tip and activities for young ESL learners
Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

1. English is Not Only a Subject: It is a Means of Communication

To teach science, sport, arts, music, or any other subject, you need a language. You must get information across to your students and make sure they understand and process it. That is what languages are for. So, our first tip for you is to teach other subjects in English in order to develop a genuine interest in children, using activities for young ESL learners.

Show them that English is as useful, fun, and interesting as their mother tongue. How? By teaching them something new in English from other subjects or by reviewing content they are already familiar with, but this time with vocabulary in English. You can teach them about compost making, 3D geometric figures, the solar system or anything they are interested in!

2. Children Love Acting, so Use Role-play in Your Classes

A classroom is a place where anything can happen, and everything actually does happen! It is indeed a miniature recreation of the outside world. Children love playing and acting, so we should use this loved activity to make them practice the English language. They have to imagine they are somebody else or that they are in a particular situation: going to the doctor’s, baking, shopping but also pretending to be a teacher, a vet, a pirate or a superhero.

3. Make Them Sing and Dance!

Kids love to move their bodies to the sound of their favorite tunes. They also like to sing them, even when they don’t understand the lyrics. So, teachers should use this curiosity to make them discover great songs in English. It is proven that rhythm and rhyming help the human brain remember information. Songs are therefore great material to help young learners discover vocabulary and language structures. You can find many ESL song activities on the Internet!

4. Play Simon Says to Teach Parts of the Body

For your students, this activity will just be a fun game with a lot of laughs. However, you can teach a lot with this simple game. It will develop their listening skills and their kinesthetic memory. Of course, it will be a great way to learn the names of body parts in English. To make things a bit harder, you can even play it with the name of bones or internal organs.

5. Play with Letters: The Alphabet Game

The Alphabet Game is an equivalent of Scattergories, only more fun! You can divide the class into teams and let them choose a category of words they have been studying, for example, countries of the world or parts of the body. Then a team has to name one item starting with the letter A, the other team follows suit with letter B, etc. If it is too hard, you can write the letters of the alphabet on the board and erase them as children name an element starting with the specific letter. You can play with many categories, including jobs, cities, animals, fruits, or vegetables.

6. Creative Writing and Storytelling

We tend to think creative writing is for advanced students. This means we don’t trust children’s imagination, their capacity to learn quickly and adapt to situations. Stories will pique their curiosity and help them learn faster.

7. I Spy

To learn vocabulary that belongs to the children’s familiar world, the Game I Spy is an ideal activity for young ESL learners since they have to spot things with a specific color or starting with a specific letter. This guessing game will help them memorize words quickly. You can also use worksheets to learn specific vocabulary, such as fruits, vegetables, or animals.

8. Art

Just like languages, art is a form of expression. When you associate both, you create more possibilities for children to remember lexical structures. You can ask your pupils to represent specific words with a drawing, painting or sculpture. You can also have them draw or sculpt a work of art. Later they can explain in English what they created.

9. Pictionary

If you choose simple words, you can play Pictionary with your students, even if they are beginners. Matching drawing with language helps communication and memorization. You can find a lot of Pictionary word lists for kids online.

10. Guessing Games

Children love riddles, and there are many guessing games to please them. Riddles are a great way to practice speaking and creative thinking. Kids can even invent their own riddles and questions and later ask their classmates to solve the mystery.

In conclusion, incorporating these ten tips and activities for young ESL learners into your teaching repertoire can create a dynamic and engaging learning environment. By emphasizing the importance of English as a means of communication, utilizing role-play and acting, harnessing the power of music, employing interactive games, and encouraging creativity through writing and art, you can spark genuine interest and enthusiasm for the language. Remember, the key to successful language acquisition lies in making the process fun, relatable, and memorable. So, go ahead and inspire your students with these enjoyable and effective activities, and watch their language skills flourish!


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