Low-Prep Activities

Low-preparation, fun and engaging games and activities for ESL lessons!

Activity Key: 'Z' zero materials needed, 'W' warmer, 'C' controlled-practice, 'F' freer-practice, 'R' review

1 Letter / Word Relay - WCR

Front student in a team row starts at board and writes first letter of a flashcard on the board, then runs back to student 2 who then runs to board and writes second letter, etc. Can complete with sentences as well with prompts on the board and each student writes one word at a time.

15 - ZW

Students sit in a circle and go around counting up to 15, but they can say up to 3 numbers at a time. The student forced to say the number 15 loses and is eliminated. (Optional: Eliminated students can return by correctly guessing which student will be eliminated in each round before it begins.)

Advice Carousel - WF

Have a student think of a recent vocab word, e.g. an animal, place, etc. The other students then ask yes or no questions to find out clues about the word, e.g. ‘is it red?’, ‘can it fly?’ until they can guess what it is. The class tries to guess the word before they have asked 20 questions. This can be played in small groups as well.

All of us... - ZWFR

Groups of 4 - 5 students must figure out commonalities between their group in order to finish the lines: “All of us…”, “Three of us…”, “Two of us…”, “One of us…” using the target language. Final product is the same number of lines as number of students in the group, so everyone is able to speak in the presentations.

Alphabet Race - W

Can have students write the alphabet as a long column down the left side of a piece of paper (seated as teams) or have them race to write it on the board (one representative writing at front). Teacher gives a category and students race to write one word starting with each letter from the category. Team with the most wins. See Scattergories to increase difficulty.

Bang! - ZW

2 students stand back to back at the front of the room. Say a category (i.e. sports), students then take three big, slow steps away from each other, teacher shouts a letter (i.e. T), students have to turn, say a word in the category starting with that letter, and shout BANG (with shooting motion) for the point (i.e. Tennis, BANG!).

Bang, Bang! - ZWCR

Students stand in a circle (2 circles for larger classes) and teacher (or student) in middle spins and “shoots” a random student, whom falls, then 2 adjacent students race to produce some language (e.g. an opposite of an adjective) and say “BANG BANG”, shooting their opponent, eliminating them from the game.

Battleships - ZWCR

Students sit in 4 rows, or 4 teams. Each team picks a team name. Front student remembers their own team name. Back student remembers other 3 team names. Middle students produce vocabulary. students rotate seats each round. Teacher chooses a category and shouts a team name, front student says team name, next student says a word in that category, continue through the team until the last student, he/she says a different team and it’s their turn. A team is eliminated if they repeat an answer, say the wrong team name, say an eliminated team name, or take too long to answer. Eliminated teams can be revived by catching an error by a team that the teacher doesn’t catch (i.e. a repeated answer).

Body Spelling - ZWR

Select the appropriate number of students from two teams and have them race to spell a vocabulary word with their bodies. Can designate an additional (strong) team captain to organize students. Have seated students place wagers on winner. If space is very limited, just do one team at a time and time them.

Bullseye - WR

Draw a bullseye on the board with categories. Students take turns throwing a ball at the bullseye for chance to give 1, 2, or 3 answers for corresponding number of points. (3 for inner circle, 2 for outer circle, 1 for surrounding board.). Adaptation: Can eliminate a section once hit so subsequent hits are lost turns. Dead on the bullseye? They choose the category.

Category Catch - WR

Each team has 3 lives. State the category, i.e. animals. Throw a ball to a student, the must catch it, say a word in the category within 3 seconds (no repeats), and throw it back. (Increase difficulty by mandating silence from teammates, and note lives will be lost for ridiculous throws, avoiding catching the ball, etc.)

Charades - ZWCR

Students mime actions (that they generate or are teacher-supplied) and students guess what they are doing.

Coin Flipping - WF

Write (can elicit subjects, verbs, etc) a list of questions on the board. Students work in pairs. They take turns asking the question, and flipping the coin to answer the question positively if it’s heads, negatively if it’s tails.

Connect 4 - WCR

Draw a 7x7 grid on the board and, for example, place infinitive verbs along the top, one per square. Divide class into two teams, X’s and O’s. students take turns making a sentence using the verb (above the column in which they want to place their X or O) in the past tense. X or O “falls” all the way to the bottom of the board with “gravity”, so they have to stack tokens in order to get to higher squares on the board. First team to get 4 in a row wins, or continue to play until board is full and count most sets of 4 in a row.

Disappearing Man - WR

Teams each have a stick man drawn on the board representing their life. One student/team at the board races to write the word the teacher says. Winner gets to erase an appendage from an opposing team of their choice. Wait until the first team disappears/dies to announce that they are now zombies that still participate and when they win they get to erase two appendages.

Fizz Buzz - ZW

In a circle, students take turns saying one number at a time to count as high as they can. But instead of saying numbers with 7 in them, (7, 17, 27, 37…) they have to say, “Fizz,” and instead of saying multiples of 7 (7, 14, 21, 28…) they have to say, “Buzz.” (Number 7 and 77 are “fizz-buzz!”) See which team can get the highest. With elimination: Eliminated students get back in once next student is eliminated so only one student is eliminated at a time or have class-wide competition and eliminated students form their own circle and play (just not for the championship title). Adaptation: Change directions every time fizz or buzz or fizz-buzz is said.

Gallery Showcase - F

Stick production tasks up on the wall around the room and have students choose their favourites. Conduct a vote and depending on level, can require them to justify their choice in order for their vote to count. Winners (and other volunteers, if any) present task to class. For large classes, have students present within small groups or teams to choose top contenders, and only display those around the room.

Human Links - WF

Have students each write 3 answers to any question) on a slip of paper (keeping it a secret). Collect papers and redistribute randomly (ensure students don’t receive their own paper). Students memorize the answers on the paper they receive. Collect the papers again. Students mingle to find the person who gave those answers. When they find them, they link arms. The activity ends when the entire class is in one chain that eventually becomes a circle (or multiple circles).

MASH - WF

It’s an acronym for “Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House,” and can be used to predict people’s futures (with startling accuracy). First, demonstrate on the board to generate your own future. Elicit different types of homes, jobs, countries, and numbers (for # of children - it’s better if they don’t know this when eliciting). You can randomly pick a number (ideally from 5 - 10), or start drawing ticks and ask a student to tell you when to stop. Starting at the 0 (in the example to the right, in the children category), count to your number and cross off the option you land on. For example, if my number was 6, I would count out loud, “1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6!” cross out President. “I will not become the President.” Continue, “I will not live in the USA.” Continue until you only have one option remaining from each category, and summarize your future. Monitor and ensure students are practicing positive and negative forms while executing the game. Have students tell each other’s futures to ensure communication.

Matching Against the Clock - CR

Flashcards/drawings are on the board, word cards with blue tack are randomly distributed to members of a team, teacher times how long it takes them to match the words to the pictures.

Name 3 - W

Groups work (on mini-boards or at the front board, one representative per team), to write three words within a given category the fastest.

NOT a Marker - WR

Akin to charades, students take turns miming and pretending the marker is another random object. students must guess what the object is (i.e. gun, banana, puppy).

Partnered Yelling Dictation - WC

Students work in pairs, can play with 2 - 4 pairs at a time. On a slip of paper, write down 3 - 4 words and arrange one student at the board with a marker/chalk and one student at the back of the room with the list of words. students at the back have to yell the words to students at the front, who will write them. Seated students in between inevitably will help/add to the general chaos over which the designated “yellers” must try to be heard. If possible, give the pairs different sets of words so they can’t copy each other’s lists on the board. Break into pairs and have the entire class continue, taking turns being the speaker vs. writer.

Peer-Generated Quiz - CR

Set the parameters and elicit quiz content from students. For example, ask them to shout verbs. Write 10-20 of them on the board, number them, and tell students to write the past participle or simple past tense form of the verb. They then swap with a friend to check their answers.

Pen Balance - WCR

Draw one small circle on the ground and balance pen in its end inside of it (or simply place chalk in it, can put circles in odd places around the room to increase difficulty). One student/team at the board races to grab the marker, write the dictated word/answer dictated question, and balance the pen in their circle again.

Pictionary - WR

Can use a theme (i.e. food you don’t like) or to review specific vocabulary set. Begin by drawing a picture of a vocabulary word on the board. First student to guess correctly comes to the front and draws the next picture.

Pyramids - WC

Students take turns writing words in a category (start simple with animals or sports, increase difficulty or relevance by reviewing vocabulary sets i.e. furniture or clothing). Each word has to have more letters than the last (so it ends up looking like a pyramid). Assign a time limit. Large class: 1 representative per team at the board with team assistance (shouting). Small class: 2-3 teams, students line up and take turns writing.

Really Complicated BINGO - R

Can have students draw a “BINGO” card that is only 1 x 5 on scrap paper, can prep this for them beforehand, or just have them make a list of 5 things they “have got.”. Once these are completed, have 2 - 4 students at the board complete a simple board race reviewing vocabulary or past participles, for example. The winner of a round will get to choose one item from their card to read to the class (i.e. “I've got a pet dog”.) They then can cross that item off of their card, and anyone else in the class that has the same thing on their card can cross it off as well. The first student to cross off all five of their items wins.

Rhyme Time & Stand If It Rhymes - WC

Teams race to brainstorm words that rhyme with the given word (i.e. ache: make, take, lake, bake, snake). Can use a piece of paper or mini-whiteboard. The team with the most wins. Feedback: Stand if it Rhymes. Can use a combination of their correct and incorrect answers from Rhyme Time and your own additional words. Teacher shouts a word, and if it rhymes, students stand up. The first team with everyone standing gets the point. If anyone stands for a word that doesn’t rhyme, they lose a point.

Right or Wrong - W

Choose a 5-letter word in your head and draw “_ _ _ _ _” on the board. Have students take turns guessing the word. Each time, write the word on the board and put a ✓ if it’s the right letter in the right spot, an ✗ if it’s the wrong letter, and a 〰 if it’s the right letter in the wrong spot.

Saturday Dice - WFR

Students take turns rolling 2 giant dice at front of class (ex. First roll is an 8). Working in pairs, students have 1 minute to ask and make notes of partners answer to, “What did you do at 8PM last Saturday?”. Repeat 4 - 5 times, or until you feel they've had enough practice. Students then change partners and have 5 minutes to tell the new partner about their old partner’s day. (Can repeat this for additional practice.). Students then present to the class. (Teacher can do a quick quiz after each presentation for bonus points to ensure audience is listening to speakers.)

Scattergories - WC

Before playing Stop the Bus or an Alphabet Race, outline that if another team has the same answer as you, you don’t get a point. I.e. In an alphabet race where they have to list one adjective that starts with each letter of the alphabet, if two teams wrote “bad” for B, neither would get a point. Encourage them to use their most impressive vocabulary! Execution: Go through answers one at a time and teams take turns saying their word. One point for a correct word, no points for a repeated word. (Increase difficulty: Choose letters at random. Students must listen carefully to hear which letter you’re asking for. If they give their answer for the wrong letter, no point!)

Slap (with Obstacles) - WC

Arrange the flashcards (or drawings) on the board. Shout a word and have students race to hit the correct picture. Can have them start at the other end of the room and add physical obstacles (feel free to let them invent the obstacles). Can yell a body part at the same time that they must use to hit the picture (i.e. nose, elbow, knee, toe, ear).

Snowball Fight - WFR

Students write the answer to a question on a piece of paper (or multiple), and throw them to the other side of the room. Students pick up papers and find the writer of the answer using proper question form. Compete to identify as many authors as possible. Adaptable: Once author is found, searcher must ask additional follow up questions related to answer, or complete an additional task with that student.

Spelling Relay - WR

Two students work together with a different coloured marker/chalk, teacher shouts a word, students take turns writing one letter at a time to complete the word correctly.

Stand If... - ZWR

Whole team listens and stands on a condition. The entire team must stand to get the point. The team loses points if someone moves/stands at the wrong time.

Stop the Bus - WF

Draw a grid on the board with categories across the top and letters down one side. Teams race to write one word in each box. Can have them race to fill one row/column or entire grid. First team to finish yells, “Stop the Bus!” - see Scattergories to increase difficulty.

Taboo / Backs to the Board - WCR

One student from each team stands at the board facing the class, Teacher writes a word on the board, and teams must get their teammate to say it without saying the word itself, any part of the word, or using actions. (Make large classes sit on their hands and monitor for mouthing/spelling, etc.)

Target Practice - WCR

Draw a target on the board. If they answer a question correctly, they get a shot at the target for points.

Team Ordering - ZWCR

Students race to get in line “from oldest to youngest,” “tallest to shortest,” “longest name to shortest name,” etc.

Team Slap - WC

Requires vocabulary drawn on board. 1 - 2 student(s) at front of the room facing the board full of vocabulary, teacher shows class a flashcard (hiding it from the “slapping student(s)”) and class yells word. “Slapping Student(s)” listen and slap correct flashcard/drawing on the board.

Thumb-Sucking (Marshies) - W

Write the most difficult to pronounce words from a recent set up on the board in a sequence of progressing difficulty. Write the number of times the word needs to be said beside the word (i.e. “x 3”). Drill the word. Demonstrate by putting a thumb (or marshmallow if you prefer) into your mouth and say the word that number of times. Elect one student per team and the best speaker wins.

Tic Tac Toe - WCR

Students divided into 2 teams (team 1 + 2 are X, team 3 + 4 are O). In each section of the grid, have a sentence with missing keywords. Teams must produce sentence chorally with no mistakes to place the X or O on the space.

Tongue Twisters - WR

Write a sentence on the board involving the pronunciation issue and drill it correctly. Then, demonstrate saying it three times as fast as you can. Give students 30 seconds to practice themselves, and elect one representative from each team to come to the front to be timed. Get each student to say it one time slowly before their attempt to correct any errors. The student who says it perfectly in the shortest time wins. See the Materials page for some tongue twisters!

Wheel of Fortune - WR

Reminiscent of hangman, can use any full sentence with the target language. Teams take turns guessing letters and get one point for each time that letter appears in the sentence. If they say the full sentence with correct pronunciation, including final “S’s”, they get more points. To increase difficulty, can do “multi-puzzles” with a few different sentences, students can infer the theme for additional points. Can do this at the start of a lesson to introduce theme, or at the end of a lesson and can let students take over the role of teacher (closely monitored) and generate their own sentence using the TL.

Who Said What? - FR

Every student gets a slip of paper on which to write one sentence using the target language. Teacher collects the slips, spot-correcting grammar, keeping each team’s responses separate. Start with Team 1’s answers. Read one answer to Team 2, and they have to guess who gave that answer. (“We think it was…”) Teams get a point for correctly identifying the speaker. Read the next slip of paper from Team 1 to Team 3, then to Team 4, and so on.

Word Chain - W

Students take turns writing words on the board where the first letter is the same as the last letter of the previous word. To increase difficulty, add a category. Large class: 1 representative per team at the board with team assistance (shouting). Small class: 2-3 teams line up and take turns writing. To increase student engagement, can allow other teams to place wagers on teams competing or assign them a team to help by shouting from their seats.

Word Circles - ZWC

In circles (or lines if necessary), student 1 finishes a sentence prompt or says a vocabulary word. Student 2 repeats that sentence, and adds their own. Student 3 repeats the first two, and adds their own. Repeat until a student makes a mistake and is eliminated. Students can re-enter if, when the next student is eliminated and they can execute the entire sequence properly. Extension: Have students form a sentence to practice certain language. E.g. a shopping list "I went shopping and I bought a ___"

Word Salad - WR

Groups of 3 - 4 students generate the list of vocabulary to review/practice on paper or mini-board. Round 1: One “speaker” in each group chooses a vocab word from the list and describes it. The first student in the group to say the correct vocab word wins a point. Repeat until all words are done. Round 2: Repeat with a new speaker describing the words from the list using one word only. Round 3: Repeat with a new “speaker” using only actions.