Close your eyes and take yourself back to your teenage years.
Wasn’t everything just so complicated back then?
There was the challenging school work, the drama with friends, family and dates and your constantly changing body, just to name a few…
Now imagine if learning English to attend university or snag that dream job was thrown into the mix.
Talk about stressful!
Yes, it can get crazy for teens. That’s why it’s so important for English educators to keep lessons for teens engaging and motivating, so language learning doesn’t become just another layer of stress in their lives.
Wondering how to do that?
We’ll show you seven fun ESL activities to get teenage students listening and chatting in English. No matter what level you’re teaching or how many students you have, you’ll find options below.
Teaching Teenagers Can Be Fun!
When it comes to the field of ESL education, most job prospects fall under teaching business English to adults or teaching children their basics. Teenagers aren’t everyone’s first thought, and they come with their own set of challenges.
With a lot on their plate, some can often come across as moody. And if you get a big group of them, there’s guaranteed to be a lot of chatter and goofing around.
But teaching teenagers can also be rewarding. When teens respond well to an activity or a lesson, it can have a big impact on them. It’s rewarding to watch any English learner succeed—but helping a teenager master a skill that prepares them for college or their dream job, or broadens their understanding of the world, is an especially magnificent feeling.
Plus, teaching teenagers basically forces you to think outside the box! They’re too old for simple vocabulary games and they don’t typically have the internal drive and focus that many adult ESL learners have. Getting creative with your lessons and discovering what motivates your students will make you feel like a super-teacher!
Get training and credentials that will boost your career?
With high-quality, accredited courses at a reasonable price?
Click here and start your journey with myTEFL.com
Great Resources for Teen-friendly ESL Material
If you’re the type of teacher who’s always looking for more but has hit a wall when it comes to teaching teenagers, then you’re in luck. There are so many wonderful resources out there.
- If your students have formal language exam coming up, then you need to check out the British Council’s section on teenagers. With articles for advanced reading and teaching tools to make your classroom the best it can be, you can’t fail with their guidance.
- If there’s anything teenage students love, it’s movie time in the classroom! Of course, for teachers, the risk is always that movies can give students an excuse to zone out for a class period. So why not try FluentU, a tool that gives you all the fun and entertainment of a movie, but with built-in language learning features.
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
Sign up for a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.
- And of course we can’t leave out Dave’s ESL Cafe! With a wide range of topics from games to lesson plans, you’re bound to find material here that your teen students will love.
7 Creative English Activities to Inspire Your Teenage Students
Activity planning for teenagers can be a challenge. To make things easier, we’ve sorted these activities based on whether they work best for groups or one-on-one teaching. And don’t worry if you’ve got a mix of beginners and advanced speakers—there’s something on this list for every learner.
I Mustache You a Question
Level: Beginner and up
Focus: Speaking and listening
For some reason, the mustache is the “in” thing right now. I’ve seen T-shirts, phone cases, backpacks and more decorated with quirky little mustaches. Here’s a way you can incorporate this trend into your classroom. All you need is a stick, some paper and pens and chatty students.
Gameplay is simple. After cutting out a mustache and taping or pasting it to a stick, pass the mustache around. Whoever’s holding the mustache under their nose gets to ask the class a question. Students take turns answering and then passing around the mustache.
Questions can be as simple as “What’s your favorite color?” or as complex as ethical debate prompts. You can write a few sample questions on the board to get things going. If your class is usually shy, you can introduce this activity the day before and have them prep some questions as homework.
If your students aspire to travel the world or move to an English-speaking country, this is a fantastic way to practice listening comprehension and asking/responding to questions. This game can sharpen communication skills, preparing them for a job interview or coffee with an English-speaking friend.
Level: Lower intermediate and up
Focus: Writing, listening and speaking
If you ever had a ton of fun with Mad Libs around a campfire, why not share that fun with your ESL students? This game tests their knowledge of grammar and parts of speech, and the results are hilarious.
If you’ve never played before, here’s how it works: each Mad Libs story has blank words for you to fill in (you’ll be choosing “nouns,” “adjectives,” “emotions,” “places,” etc.) and you only get to read the full story after you’ve picked your words.
Writing.com has pages upon pages of Mad Libs puzzles that are great for teens. Or, if you’re tech-savvy, you can download an app onto your classroom device. The official Mad Libs app can be found on the Apple store or Google Play.
Then just sit down with your students and go around the table asking for nouns, verbs, adjectives and more. For ways to get your students move involved, have them write the words down themselves or spell them out for you.
Apples to Apples
Level: Lower intermediate and up
Focus: Reading, speaking
A game that took the world by storm in the 2000s is the party favorite Apples to Apples. This game is a great way to go more in-depth with parts of speech by doing word association using adjectives. And you can either buy your own box online or you can make your own cards that focus on vocabulary you’ve been teaching in class. Genius!
You’ll want a group of three or more students to play this game with. Cards are split into two types: green for adjectives and red for nouns. Students get seven red cards and then one green card is put into the middle by the “judge,” who rotates each round.
Students must then choose a red card from their hand that they feel fits the green card best. Then the judge decides which of everyone’s selected red cards is the best of the bunch. Green cards stand for points, and the one with the most points at the end is the winner.
Of course, that’s the standard way of playing. You can mix Apples to Apples up a bit by playing opposites (they put in the card that least fits the adjective) or change things up completely by giving them several green adjective cards and one red noun card with the objective of matching a variety of adjectives to that noun.
Apples to Apples can also be a great way to get your more advanced speakers debating. For example, go around the table and ask whether the students agree with the winning card that the judge picked.
Level: Lower intermediate and up
Focus: Listening, speaking
It was the first day of classes, and I’d gotten my first group of teenagers. Our books hadn’t yet arrived. What did I do? I came up with a Jeopardy board.
As I found out, Jeopardy is a great way to review old information that may’ve been tucked away during the summer.
Not to mention that the possibilities for quiz categories are endless. Some Jeopardy categories you might use include U.S. vs. U.K. English, the present tense and superlatives. You can go into easier categories for lower intermediate students or harder ones to really challenge your teenagers’ advanced grammatical skills.
Focus: Speaking, listening
If you thought Jeopardy gets students excited, then you ought to see my students when I tell them we’re going to play Mafia. This party game gives a hilarious twist to your everyday role playing exercise. Your teens will have to focus on banding together to either beat the Mafia or outsmart all the others.
To play this game, you’ll need some cards with roles written on them such as Mafia, Doctor, Detective and Citizen. You also need a narrator, who’ll essentially direct the course of the game.
Mafia has “daytime” and “nighttime” phases. During the nighttime phase everyone closes their eyes. Then the narrator will ask the players with the Mafia role to open their eyes. Those players will open their eyes, and then the narrator will ask the Mafia to silently decide who to remove from the game. Nodding and pointing are the only form of communication allowed during the nighttime phase. When the Mafia has decided who’ll be killed, the narrator asks the Mafia to close their eyes.
The narrator then calls on the Doctor, Detective and others in a similar fashion. The Doctor gets to silently pick who to save, while the Detective gets to guess who’s in the Mafia. (Check out this helpful article for a comprehensive rundown of the game roles.) When each role has been called the narrator asks everyone to open their eyes for the daytime phase, and the narrator then spins a story talking about how the players were killed or saved.
Students then pick two players who they think are Mafia to remove from the game, and once two are picked those two have to talk their way out of being eliminated. This is where those talkative teens you have can shine; they need to give details that go beyond “I didn’t do it!” and list reasons why they should be able to stay in the game, allowing them to further develop their speaking skills.
For a lighter version you can always just stick to interrogating with a Good Cop/Bad Cop narrative, which targets similar defending and questioning skills that give your students that fun twist to the average role play.
It’s all about using their English skills to communicate and collaborate with one another, but unlike regular role play activities there are winners and losers, which gets competitive students even more invested.
There are plenty of activities that teenage students can do during one-on-one lessons. These lessons are more about catering to the student’s interests, and once you find something that grabs their attention you can focus on fostering their love for learning English.
Focus: Speaking, reading, listening
There are tons of board games you can play one-on-one with teenage students. They’re great for sparking English communication in a fun environment.
Guess Who is perfect for those who are just learning how to distinguish characteristics and talk about how a person looks. You can even go beyond how a person looks and work on what a person does. For example, if you print out a page of sports stars your students can ask questions such as, “Do they play tennis?” Or if you print out a page of people in their job environment they can ask, “Do they wear a uniform?”
Scrabble is also a classic game that teens enjoy. You can use the game to focus on vocabulary and spelling. If you get bored playing the old fashioned way, you can tweak the rules. For example, allowing your student to change only one letter can focus on phonics and rhyme on top of their spelling.
For more vocabulary you can always play Battleship. Gameplay is the same except instead of using boats you use letters to form words. It’s a great way to review words and focus on spelling, especially when the student is making their own board.
And there are so many possibilities! You could do colors, foods, animals or even unit vocabulary from a book for more advanced learners.
Person, Place, Action
Level: Lower intermediate and up
Focus: Writing and reading
A lot of teenage students really dislike writing. However, some are more keen on the idea if you give them the freedom to write what they want. While the list of possibilities for creative writing exercises can seem endless, one of my favorite games that my private students really enjoy is called Person, Place, Action.
The student is given nine pieces of paper. On three of them they write a person, on another three they write a place and on the final three they write some sort of action.
These can vary from short answers to long answers. Lower intermediate students could write “runs a race” for one of their actions, while a more advanced student could elaborate with “runs a race through the desert during the hottest day on record.”
These sheets of paper are then folded and sorted into their categories, and then the student picks one from each category. The student then unfolds their paper and writes a story with the given prompt. I generally join in with writing on nine slips of paper with my student to give them more variety, and you can get some pretty wacky results with a little bit of brainstorming.
Teaching teenagers can be a big challenge. But just like any other student, if you get their attention and cater to things they’re interested in, you can make their language learning experiences fun and enjoyable. These activities are sure to inspire your students to love the English language and encourage them to strive for fluency.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.