How to Always Have the Best ESL Activities

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut using the same activities every lesson. The activities you’re using are familiar to you (you know that they work) and familiar to the students (less explaining to do. You’re too busy to think of new ones.

However, you’re bored, the students are bored, but you’re too busy to create or find new activities.

What can you do?

You can use the Barefoot ESL Activities Grid. Which looks like this:

ESL Activities Grid

ESL Activities Grid

Across the top of the grid are some skills that you’d typically want your learners to practice. Down the side are the student interaction patterns – working by themselves, in pairs, etc.

Each number in the grid represents an activity that practices that particular combination of skill and student interaction pattern. For example, activity 1 will have the students practicing listening by themselves.

Now it’s time to fill in the gaps! Use the grid above to help fill in the table below. Grab a few colleagues who are moaning that they never have enough activities. If you can, a workshop is ideal for this.

Ask pairs or small groups of teachers to brainstorm together and fill in the grids. There are only two rules:

  • Every activity has to be adaptable (i.e. it doesn’t just work for a single grammar point or lexical set)
  • Every activity has to be fun, useful, but ideally both.

Some activities will overlap, and that’s fine. No need to be super strict, or quibble over categories. If an activity has both speaking and listening in equal amounts, you can put it in either.

ESL Activities Table

ESL Activities Table

One side note: the difference between a whole class activity and individual is sometimes confusing. For a whole class activity, all students must be focused together (even if it’s listening to one student). For an ‘individual’ activities, every student is working by themselves at

How do you come up with new activities to keep your teaching ‘fresh’? Let me know in the comments.

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  • http://www.eslwriting.org/ eslwriter

    Nice organisational tool. Thanks, I’ll give it a try.

    • http://www.barefootteflteacher.com/ David Weller

      Thanks, I hope it works for you too!