Developing Effective ESL Classroom Activities for College and Adult Students

Developing effective ESL classroom activities for college students and adults is fun because you have a lot more freedom to choose topics and activities than you do with kids. Depending on your employer and required curriculum, you can select more materials based on your own interests and the interests of your students, which will make your lessons more engaging and your activities more fun. When you are interested in what you're teaching, it's much easier to capture your students' attention.

Developing Effective ESL Classroom Activities for College and Adult Students Developing Effective ESL Classroom Activities for College and Adult Students

The problem many teachers encounter is that the Internet abounds with materials and classroom activity ideas for teachers of young children, but as students get older, materials become more scarce and more boring. The good news, however, is that developing effective ESL activities for older students is not that hard, and you can have more fun with it once you have a good starting point.

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ESL Grammar Activities

If you love grammar, this is a good place to start. You can develop an infinite number of activities based on any grammatical structure you teach.

  • Start by teaching the structure.
  • Explain how it is formed and when/how it is used.
  • Compare and contrast it with other structures the students know. They need to understand how it is different so they can determine correctly which one to use. For example, if beginning students have learned Present Simple verbs and are now working on Present Continuous, they should learn when to use which.

Once students have a firm grasp on how to form and when to use a particular structure, you can give them exercises or activities to practice using it.

  • Think of a situation in which you would naturally use the structure, and let the students role play.
  • Find a song that uses the structure a lot, and do a listening activity.
  • Give them a paragraph in which one verb tense is used, and have them change all the verbs to the new tense. Then have them change anything else in the paragraph that needs changing in order for the paragraph to make sense.

Don't feel like you need to reinvent the wheel here. Once you know what you're teaching, it becomes much easier to find activities to support your lesson. There are countless books available, and the Internet is full of information, games, exercises and activities.

ESL Function Activities

Sometimes referred to as "skill," function is what you want your students to be able to do with the language. They need specific language abilities for all these skills:

  • Navigate the grocery store - students need the necessary vocabulary to understand what they're looking at as they peruse the aisles.
  • Tell the doctor what hurts - To explain symptoms they need to know the names of body parts as well as how to describe pain (sharp, throbbing, dull, etc.).
  • Rent a new apartment - Students must be able to express their needs and ask questions about potential housing (size, cost, pet allowances, nearby transportation, etc.). They also have to be able to fill out a rental application and understand things like credit checks.
  • Apply for a job - Students must be able to not only fill out the application, but also interview for the position.

If you start with one of these language functions in preparing your lessons, you will also teach grammar and vocabulary, but you will do it within a specific context. For example, for grocery shopping, think about the kinds of conversations you have when you go grocery shopping.

  • You might need to ask simple questions like, "Where is the soup?" and understand the response, "It's on aisle 12."
  • You will also have a brief conversation with the cashier about how you are and whether you found everything you needed.
  • And you will need to be familiar with American money.

As you plan a language function lesson:

  • Walk through the scenario in your mind
  • Jot down vocabulary you would need to know
  • Consider the conversations you might have
  • Consider the things you would have to read and write
  • Think through any cultural factors that may present a challenge.

After all of that, you'll have plenty of lesson material.

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ESL Content-based Activities

Content-based instruction starts with a text or subject area and teaches vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, listening and speaking through it.

To many ESL teachers, this is the really fun stuff. For example, if your students are interested in science and technology, you can find a million different articles in magazines like Scientific American and Popular Science. You can also find scientific articles written in simplified English on the website English Online.

Say you find a story in the news about music and the human brain. You've automatically got:

  • A list of new vocabulary to teach
  • A listening activity (listening to the news story and/or some music)
  • A discussion about musical preferences and how different kinds of music affect people's brains and moods
  • A discussion, debate and/or essay about arts education
  • A classroom full of engaged students.

But don't stop there! What else can you find on the subject? How else can you add to and stretch the topic? Is there anything the students can further research and present to the class? Are there projects, experiments or surveys they can conduct to use their language skills and learn more about music and the human brain?

You don't have to use legitimate news sources for content-based instruction. Pick up a celebrity gossip magazine, and you have a hundred lessons at your fingertips - reported speech, cultural standards of beauty, gossip, vocabulary, family trees/relationships, dating/marriage, you name it!

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Printable Lesson Plan

YourDictionary ESL experts have prepared a printable lesson plan on the topic Music and the Human Brain to give you more ideas for activities and to illustrate the teaching flow. It is shown at the beginning of this article.

No matter where you start - grammar, function or content - developing effective ESL classroom activities for older students should be fun. It will take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, you'll find lesson materials everywhere!


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