Did you ever make those macaroni angels at Christmastime when you were a kid?
Maybe you still break open a box of mac and cheese during the holiday season to “deck the halls.”
From glittery Easter eggs to dried pasta necklaces, art activities are not only memorable, they’re incredibly beneficial for ESL students.
Art-based activities can teach your students essential language skills in a fresh new way, forming the base they can fall back on when in a real-life English situation years down the road.
We’ve picked out five simple activities that creatively combine art with language for some unforgettable ESL lessons!
Why Art Activities Are Perfect for Your ESL Class
Creative: Art activities allow your students to become the creative masters of their learning. Creativity in ESL can often fall to the wayside during class presentation, practice and production. Art activities bring your students back to the creative forefront that they enjoy and are eager for.
For all ages: You may think that art activities are only good for the creative young ESL student. However, adult ESL students, coupled with the right art activity, can provoke creativity in a fun and exciting way. ESL-minded art activities will give your students a chance to take their ESL skills to a more creative level. Art activities are truly for all ages and English levels, so don’t shy away from art activities only because your students are older professionals, for example.
Visually stimulating: Art activities are also a great way to deliver ESL material in the presentation, practice and production stages of your lesson plan in a more exciting way. Many young ESL students may know the ABCs and they may have practiced them many times over, but why not give them a visually stimulating way to remember?
Memorable: Combining art activities with essential ESL skills will allow your students to recall what they have learned through the art they created. This is why we all remember our early classroom art projects more than say a classroom spelling bee. Art activities give your students an exciting and fun memory to draw from when using their ESL skills in a practical situation.
Exciting: ESL art activities are also an excellent way to break up the humdrum associated with the more formal, traditional ESL teaching methods. A week long focus on vocabulary and grammar could cause silent mutiny among your students. Traditional teaching methods are time-tested and they work, but allowing your students to explore a new creative and fun way to learn important ESL skills is a Hallmark moment. Your students will love you for incorporating more art activities into the weekly classroom learning. They get a much needed break from worksheets and whiteboards, and your students may not even know they’re learning grammar during art day.
With a touch of your own creative side, you can easily craft these five exceptional art activities that drive home some of the most essential ESL skills.
5 Vibrant Art Activities to Make Your ESL Class Buzz with Excitement
1. Holiday Themes
Holiday themes are exceptional ways to not only allow your students to create fun artistically minded projects, but it also helps them assimilate a bit more into English culture. ESL art activities for holiday themes can cover a wide array of holidays, including Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and many more.
One holiday theme that can work for all ages and ESL levels is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is portrayed in some non-English speaking countries, but the traditions are often very different. For example, in Japan, women present men with a chocolate gift, instead of the North American tradition of men presenting women with chocolate and flowers. These are the minor differences between cultures that can be explored through art activities.
- Pink, red, blue and white paper
- Scissors and glue
- Assorted markers
For this project, your students will be crafting a Valentine’s Day card to someone they care about. This can be easily entertaining for students of all ages, since love is the second universal language to English.
- Give a bit of history about Valentine’s Day and how it’s practiced in North America. You could even see if your students have a similar holiday to compare it to.
- Next, bring in and show your students a Valentine’s Day card you created prior to the class. This will give them a visual to work from.
- Before they begin crafting, cutting and glittering away, have a classroom brainstorm session about what they want to write. Let students share the emotional words related to such a holiday theme. You can even put them in groups and let them discuss what might go into a great Valentine’s Day card.
- After the brainstorming is complete, let them loose to begin creating their very own Valentine’s Day card for a loved one. You could use this template if you’d like.
This activity is a great way for your students to develop vocabulary relating to emotion, love and caring. It will also hone some excellent writing skills with a touch of discussion and collaboration. You can float around the room and make sure their grammar is correct, and ask questions regarding the words they have chosen for their card.
It goes without saying, this art activity works best when done around Valentine’s Day, but why wait? It could be fun to express love at any other time of the year as well.
2. Learning the Body
Simple body vocab words are essential, and yet they often escape us in the most important moments. So by pairing this content with a memorable art project, English learners will gain crucial visual connections. In this activity, your students will create a small skeleton and discover new vocabulary relating to the different parts of the body.
- You will need to draw out different body parts on a piece of paper or find a worksheet on the web. They don’t need to be huge by any means, only large enough for your students to write the name of the body part in the designated areas. This will be their template to work from.
- Colored pencils, crayons or markers
This activity will allow your students to pair up and put together a skeleton using glue and a bit of anatomical knowledge that you’ll present beforehand. This is a great activity for Halloween, since skeletons are closely tied to this North American holiday.
It’s appropriate for students of all ages, since I have met many adult professionals who have fumbled with the word for arm, hand and leg.
- First, you’ll need to give your students the tools for success. Presenting vocabulary is the best practice, but only use your body as a reference. Let them look at their skeletons with a keen eye when it comes to naming the different body parts.
- Once all body parts have been discussed, pair your students up and pass out the skeleton worksheet filled with assorted body parts scrambled about.
- Instruct your eager students to collaborate with their partners and begin cutting and gluing their skeleton together.
- Once they feel good about the anatomical correctness of their creations, instruct students to begin naming the different body parts using multiple colors to identify each. For example, arms will be green and legs blue.
- Float and answer questions as needed. You can even correct a few arms which should be legs as well.
This activity is a great way for your students to learn new vocabulary and even review known areas relating to the human body. They will also develop some key discussion and collaboration skills with their partners, allowing them to get more comfortable using their new ESL vocabulary in a more practical way.
Additionally, students are able to practice writing and spelling, since they write down new body vocabulary on each specific section. This is a wonderful activity to increase practical awareness, and give students a visual to draw from later in their English lives.
3. Coloring with Words
This vocabulary-focused activity is great for ESL students from young to adolescence, and works best when discussing animals and scenery. It involves taking a predesigned picture and writing the words over and over in order to color in the specific feature.
For example, a mountain would be colored in with brown. Your students will color in the mountain by writing the word “mountain” over and over in brown.
- Worksheet containing mountains, rivers, grassy plains and maybe even a few animals. You can design your own worksheet or find a plethora of printable coloring sheets like this on the web. Keep in mind that you want the features in the worksheet to be large enough for your students to write the corresponding vocabulary words a few times in each area.
- Colored pencils, markers or crayons
- In your presentation, have your students discuss as a class the different visuals you will show them. If the worksheet has mountains, you will discuss mountains. If the worksheet contains rivers, you will discuss rivers. You will want to give your students the vocabulary (and spellings) necessary to succeed in the activity.
- Next, it’s more fun to put the students into groups. This allows them to discuss, share their thoughts or ask questions while working on the project.
- Once they’re in groups, students can begin. Challenge them to really fill in the features completely. You can even show them that linear is not always the best way to create a three-dimensional picture. Give them the opportunity to write mountain diagonally and grass horizontally to add a more artistic touch.
This art activity introduces your students to new vocabulary and spelling skills essential for their growth. It’s often difficult for young ESL students to recall the names of animals or geographical features on the spot. This activity gives them something to fall back on in those times when they’re trying to describe a vacation or maybe their hometown. This activity is also perfect for any new vocabulary words relating to features of the home, town or even specific places like a hospital, school or supermarket.
4. Mapping Your Town
This activity is a great directional activity and allows your students to craft semi-detailed maps of their town. It’s also a wonderful way for your students to pick up some essential vocabulary regarding areas around their town, such as hospital, church, post office, gas station, park and many more.
- Large rectangular paper, which will act as the drawing board for your students’ maps. It’s great to have each student name their town on the top-center before they begin to create their map.
- An assortment of pens, markers, colored pencils, crayons and rough-draft drawing pencils.
- Optional: You may want to craft a worksheet with the different areas one may find on a map. This will help guide your students and allow them to think about the different places they can reference on the worksheet and how it may relate to their home, which will be used as the starting point.
- You will first want to give your students a detail visual of what they should create. You can make a map of your town to show them. You can also use your map to present the different types of places that can be found around your home. A good example of this would be the very animated tourist maps you may find when traveling to touristic towns. They are often more fun and have a comical three-dimensional feel, like this one.
- Once your students have a visual, present the worksheet and the different types of places found in an average town. Have them go down the list with you and the class and check-off or circle the specific places that are near their home.
- Have your students place their home in the center of their map as the staring point. Instruct them to choose an initial place they can draw, which is just a street away from their home. This will give them an easy reference point and will allow their minds to begin making connections by roads.
- After all questions are answered and they have a visual reference in mind, let their creative map-making skills run wild.
This vocabulary-building exercise can easily be coupled with a directional activity after your students have finished designing their maps. You could have them present how they get to school using directional vocabulary. Your students will also practice writing as they label each place on their map, and gain the practical skill of giving directions.
5. Favorite Fruits
This last art activity is an exceptional way for your students to build vocabulary, spelling and grammar. Students will create beautiful displays of artistic fruit and then discuss what they like about each fruit they have chosen to draw.
- White paper for drawing (2-3 sheets for each student)
- Colored pencils, crayons, markers and drawing pencils
- Before letting your students free to create fun, eccentric-looking fruits, give them a visual to work from. Show them a whacky drawing of your own. It can be a oddly shaped apple or skinny pineapple. The key aspect of this activity is fun and creating things differently. This will ease them into the grammar portion that will follow.
- You can even show your students a few famous portrayals of different fruits drawn or painted by famous artists in your presentation. This may spark more creativity and it will definitely spur some discussion among students.
- Have each student pick a fruit of their choice to draw and get started. Emphasize that they don’t need to make it in any way how it actually appears. This artistic freedom will allow them to use their imaginations, instead of trying to copy how a fruit looks in real life.
- After all art has been crafted, it’s ESL skills time. Have each student write the name of their fruit. Then have them flip over their drawing to the blank side of the paper and guide them through a series of questions to answer:
- How often do you eat this fruit?
- Why did you draw your fruit this way?
- What other fruits do you like to eat?
This activity allows your students to build vocabulary, work on grammar and sentence structure, and practice writing. It can be done with any types of foods, not only fruit. Let your students explore new ways to express themselves through art and English.
Pairing art with English is a perfect way to switch up the normal pace of ESL class; your students may learn more vocabulary, grammar and writing skills without even noticing!
Bringing art activities into your ESL classroom is also a wonderful way to not only create an atmosphere of fun and enthusiastic learning, but also for your students to express themselves in new ways.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these fun activities, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. 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 “brought,” 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 English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.