Zero Prep Activities and Worksheets for Adult ESL Learners

As an educator who has always been prepared for class, you might wonder how zero prep activities and worksheets for adult ESL learners could be of any help to you. No matter how prepared you are, glitches can still arise with workplace computers, copiers, and the like. These ideas will help you to move quickly on your feet, improvise and provide your students with valuable ESL lessons and activities.

Zero Prep Activities and Worksheets for Adult ESL Learners Zero Prep Activities and Worksheets for Adult ESL Learners
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Ideas for Zero Prep Activities

Assess the Situation

Before you go into panic mode, think about what you have lying around the classroom. Chances are, you have a variety of learning materials that you could use. For example:

  • Newspapers give students the opportunity to read out loud.
  • Newspapers can be the research source for stories that are happening in the area on which a group of students could report.
  • Magazines, paper and a little glue give students the chance to create visual presentations about an assigned topic.
  • Books provide stories to read and sentences and words to analyze.
  • A white board could become the base for writing all the words in a word bank that need to be found in a paragraph.

Don't stop with what you find in your classroom. You might even have some newspapers, magazines, or other materials sitting in your car that could be of assistance.

Create Lessons from Available Materials

Once you have determined what materials you have to use around you, figure out how to turn them into educational lessons and activities.

These are some ideas that will help you to get started with your on-the-spot lesson planning for the day.

Give Dictations

Part of learning the English language is being able to understand what people are saying. You can choose a selection from a book, magazine or flyer and read to the students, and have them take down what you are saying.

If no source material is available, you could recite a favorite poem of yours or a piece of a short story. This listening and writing activity can also help improve their spelling.

Start Conversations

Understanding English is a major component of learning the language, so is being able to communicate in it.

Select a discussion topic that the class has not worked on before and get everyone talking. Here's how:

  • List some target vocabulary words on the board for students to use in their discussions.
  • Break students into small discussion groups and give them a few minutes to discuss the topic.
  • Go around the classroom, spending time in each group, to see how they are doing and to make sure they are using the vocabulary words.
  • Have everyone can come together for a large group discussion on the topic.

By working in both small and large group discussions the ESL student can increase both their vocabulary and their confidence.

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Create Activities Using Context Clues

No matter what type of reading material you have, it can serve as a valuable tool in teaching your ESL students. For example, if your students have pens and paper you could:

  • Copy a paragraph from the material on the board and leave out words that you think the students will know. You'll have to allow for a little bit of creativity here as surely more than one word can fit in a spot.
  • If you really want them to choose one specific word, then you should also put a word bank on the board.
  • You can also put fairly simple sentences up on the board and ask students to add flavor to them with adjectives, adverbs, and so forth.

Practice Vocabulary Words

Recalling a list containing dozens of vocabulary words off the top of your head can be difficult. However, if you do remember them all or have them recorded as a word list on YourDictionary, you can:

  • Assign each student a different word.
  • Ask each of the students to come up with three sentences containing their assigned word.
  • You can put all of the sentences on the board and discuss them as a group. Be sure to not identify who developed each sentence to avoid embarrassing any particular student.


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View the Zero Prep Activity Sheet for the Teacher above for an activity on Vocabulary Building.

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Play Games

As long as your students have been working hard since the term started, then there's nothing wrong with taking some time out for fun. Of course, you want to incorporate vocabulary, grammar, and questions about the English language into the games.

  • Whether you opt for Hangman, Pictionary, Charades, 20 Questions or a full spelling bee, the students are sure to have a lot of fun and to learn more about English and pronunciation along the way.
  • Another fun game involves two fly swatters. Write homophones or homographs on the board in random order, and divide the class into two teams. Say a word from the board, or provide clues about a word, and the first student to swat it gets a point for his or her team.
  • The class could also create an obstacle course with furniture and use directional words to guide each other through the obstacle course. Please be aware of student mobility issues and safety regulations if you opt for this activity.

Practice Reading Comprehension

If your class has recently read a story or if you read your class a story, then the door is open for some reading comprehension activities. You can put questions on the board about:

  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Conflict in the story
  • How the conflict was resolved
  • How the characters felt at different parts of the story

Once the questions are on the board, ask students to write responses to them. They could be asked to share the responses with the class, or you might collect them at the end.

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Let Students Guide the Discussion

You can always allow the students to guide the discussion. This works particularly well with high school and adult ESL students because they are often more eager to ask questions than younger students.

Let them ask you whatever they want about the English language. However, remember, you need to be prepared to answer any type of question, so you'll have to be on your toes.

Need ideas? Here's an activity plan to follow for questions to ask.


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Essentially, many of these zero prep activities require you to stay super alert to your surroundings and their potential; but, these activities can really present some wonderful teaching opportunities.


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