Fun Information Gap Activities for ESL Learners

Information gap activities can be a great way to get ESL students talking and practicing the grammar and vocabulary they're learning in any given lesson. Teachers often complain, however, that there aren't enough fun information gap activities. Although these kinds of class exercises abound on great ESL websites like Boggles World and ESL Printables, and although they do an excellent job of keeping the practice focused on specific skills, they still aren't as engaging and fun as they could be.

Today, we take eight common information gap activities and find ways to make them more fun!

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Understanding Directions

Normal: Student A has Map A, and Student B has Map B. Student A must direct Student B to locations that are marked on Map A, but not on Map B. Student B must correctly place locations on Map B. Reverse roles.

Uses: Practicing prepositions and imperatives as well as around-town vocabulary.

Fun: Students set up the room in an obstacle course you design. Draw a map of how the obstacle course should look. Cut the map into as many pieces as there are students. Give each student a piece of the map. The students must work together to set up the obstacle course.

Then, divide students into two groups. Each group will design their own route through the obstacle course. They may also include required activities (jumping three times, spinning in a circle, singing "Happy Birthday").

Finally, students from one group take turns giving instructions to a (brave) student from the other group, guiding him/her through the course they've created.

Gathering Information

Normal: A scenario is described (high school reunion, office party, etc.), and each student has a role to play while also gathering information on everyone else present.

Uses: Practicing "wh-" (information) questions

Fun: I've got two words for you - murder mystery. Instead of just being at a reunion, students find themselves swept up in a classic whodunnit. They must not only gather information about everyone at the party, but also put that information together to find out who murdered the homecoming queen.

Practicing Prepositions

Normal: Student A has Diagram A, showing where various characters are located in a building (house, mall, office, school). Student B has Diagram B, showing where other characters are located. Student A must explain to Student B where the people are on Diagram A while Student B draws them there. Reverse roles.

Uses: Similar to the information gap activities for giving directions, this one also practices prepositions. It adds vocabulary for whatever building it uses.

Fun: Get a game board for "Clue" or "Mall Madness" or just a dollhouse. Create a villain who moves around the place trying to start fires or break things or cause general havoc. Give students game pieces and have them strategize, working together to defeat the villain. On each turn, a student must draw a card telling where the villain is and/or what he's doing, and the other students must move the villain to that place and try to get their piece to him in time to stop his nefarious plans.

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Gathering Info About Famous Works

Normal: Student A has information about famous works of art, music or literature that Student B does not have. Student B asks questions about each work, and Student A answers the questions while Student B fills in the information.

Uses: Practicing passive and active voice - "Who painted Starry Night?" "It was painted by Vincent van Gogh" - and asking "wh-" questions

Fun: Have students research famous works online and create their own info sheets. Give them a few key types of information to find (creator, type of work, when it was made, materials used, etc.), and let them loose on the Internet. Alternatively, you could include class presentations, let the class ask the presenter more questions about the work, and have them take notes.

Mastering Phone Messages

Normal: Student A makes a call, but the intended recipient of the call isn't home, so Student B has to take a message.

Uses: Listening/note-taking, spelling.

Fun: Give Student A something weird or complicated to say in his/her message. Then bring in Student C. Student B must relay the message to Student C, and then Student C must return Student A's call. It's like a miniature version of the game "Telephone."

Comparing/Contrasting Info

Normal: Students trade information about anything from simple prices of grocery items to movies playing in the theater to insurance policies.

Uses: Practicing "wh-" questions, comparing/contrasting, making/filling in charts

Fun: Have students use real, local information to make a real decision. Students give each other information about movies playing at a local theater, and then they choose a movie to watch together this weekend. Or they compare local restaurants, taking into account various dietary restrictions, menu options, locations, and prices to decide where to eat lunch after class. Or, they compare local caterers to help their engaged teacher decide which one to hire for her wedding!

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Matching Sound-alike Pairs

Normal: Student A has a half-filled-in chart of ch- and sh- words. Student B has the other half-filled-in chart. Student A must tell Student B where to put which words. Reverse roles.

Uses: Pronunciation, spelling

Fun: Student A has a list of complete sentences. Student B has a list of fill-in-the-blank sentences. Student A must read the sentences to Student B, who must then fill in the blanks. No spelling allowed, and Student B must write what he/she hears, not what makes the most sense. Then the students illustrate their sentences:

  • Maria is chopping in the mall.
  • Jaime is eating ships.
  • Hiro is pointing to his shart.
  • Youjin is wearing a new teacher.

Use illustrated sentences to tell a story.

Adding Time Clauses

Normal: Student A has a complete paragraph, telling a story. Student B has the same paragraph, but it's missing all the time clauses. Student A reads his/her paragraph to Student B, who must fill in the blanks in the paragraph.

Uses: Pronunciation, listening, spelling

Fun: Student A has a list of five complete sentences and five fill-in-the-blank sentences. Student B has the opposite. Students read their complete sentences to each other and fill in the blanks, but then they must work together to put all ten sentences in the correct order to tell the story. You can make it even more fun by leaving the story incomplete and having each pair finish the story with an extra sentence or two.

Creating Fun Information Gap Activities

As you can see, it doesn't take much to turn normal information gap activities into fun information gap activities for ESL learners. All you need to do is add an extra step, toss in a scandal, make it relevant to the students' real lives, or take it off the page.

Fun Information Gap Activities for ESL Learners