Can you smell it in the air?
No, I’m not talking about what the Rock is cooking. I’m talking about autumn!
Take a moment and breathe in the scents of pumpkin spice, caramel apple and falling leaves. Isn’t it great?
Wouldn’t you like to share some of that joy with your students?
In this post, we’re going to explore a few creative ways to bring a little of the season into your classroom while teaching students about the significance of autumn in U.S. culture and adding a whole lot of fun to the classroom environment.
Transform Your Classroom into a Fall Festival with These 5 ESL Autumn Activities
If you’re looking for ESL activities that’ll get your students speaking English naturally while learning a little more about how Americans celebrate autumn, this post is for you. You’ll see modifications for beginners and more advanced students, as well as some ideas on how to follow-up your lessons with exciting activities.
So take a look at these out-of-the-box autumn activities and get ready to have a ball.
1. Take a Taste of Autumn
There’s nothing tastes like autumn more than pumpkin, cinnamon and apples.
In fact, autumn is when you’ll often see giant pumpkins and apples used for decorations, in addition to pies and other festive foods. But students from around the world may or may not be familiar with these autumn treats, which is why they’ll love an autumn pie taste test that lets them sample what the second half of the year has to offer. Besides, what’s more American than pie?
For this activity, you’ll need to have a range of popular autumn-themed pies. I recommend the following flavors for students to sample:
- Sweet potato
Before the actual taste test, take some time to review words that can be used to describe how something tastes—descriptors like sweet, rich, creamy and other adjectives used to describe flavor and texture. We often talk about how something looks, but describing the sense of taste may bring a bigger challenge for your students. As a class, brainstorm as many words that describe taste as you can think of. Then make your list a little longer by checking out this list of taste vocabulary.
Give students a sample of the various pies and ask them to describe it. Is it sweet? Spicy? Smooth? Chunky? Have students work with a partner to find at least five taste words for each type of pie. Then ask students to choose which type of pie is their favorite.
Note: Before going through with this activity, be sure to talk with your students beforehand (or their parents, if you’re teaching children) to see if anyone has food allergies.
Once students have made their choice over which pie is their favorite, have the class vote on which pie tastes the best.
As a follow-up activity, get each student to write ten sentences comparing the two types of pie using comparative adjectives. Here’s a simple lesson plan for teaching comparative adjectives from ESL Kid Stuff. Encourage students to use the taste vocabulary words as they write sentences such as, “The pumpkin pie is spicier than the apple pie. The apple pie is fruitier than the pumpkin pie.”
2. Enjoying Autumn’s Weather
There’s no arguing that summer’s warm days filled with sunshine are hard to beat. But autumn also has some beautiful weather, once you take the time to appreciate it.
There’s something about the cool breezes, the falling leaves and the vibrant leaves that makes autumn the favorite season for many people.
The coming of autumn is also a great time to talk about vocabulary related to weather. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or the vocabulary list, for your ESL class with this activity. There are plenty of great vocabulary lists for talking about weather including this one from Excellent ESL 4U.
If you did the pie taste testing with your students, you’ve already talked about comparative adjectives. But you can use the sentence structure to contrast too, and that’s a great way to talk about the weather in autumn.
Divide your class into two teams, and have one person from each team come up front. Give them a random weather word, and have one person use it in the first half of a compound sentence. The person from the other team must then complete the sentence with a logical phrase.
For example, team 1 might start by saying, “Summer was hot…”
Team 2 could then finish by saying, “…but autumn is chilly.”
If team 2 finishes the sentence logically and grammatically, they score a point. Then two new players come to the front and team 2 starts the sentence with a word you assign.
Play until each person in class has had a turn. Whichever team has the higher score wins.
As a follow-up activity or an extension for higher-level students, have your class use modal verbs to write a paragraph about what you can/might/should do in autumn. You can even have students work in groups of two or three to come up with a list of activities before writing their paragraphs.
3. Leaf People Stories
Autumn presents a unique opportunity to get crafty in class with nothing more than some leaves and glue, and the fun doesn’t stop there. You can turn those leaves into a story, helping your students tap into creativity they didn’t know they had.
Start by taking your students on a nature walk to collect fallen leaves or ask them to bring some to class the next day. Using these leaves, have students create a character such as these by My Mommy Style.
Once your students are happy with how their leaf beings turned out, challenge them to write a story with their being as the main character. If you haven’t had your students write fiction before, here is a guide for walking them through the process in just five simple steps.
For beginning level students, encourage students to keep their stories simple and tell them in the past tense. For more advanced students, the sky’s the limit! Tailor your expectations to your students.
You can follow up by doing peer reviews in class. If you haven’t used that method in class before, here’s a great article from Washington University on how to make peer writing reviews a success for all your students.
4. Create an Autumn Festival in the Classroom
Who doesn’t love a good hayride, corn maze and visit to the pumpkin patch? You may not be able to grow the big orange fruits in your classroom, but you can create your own autumn festival with a little imagination and these fun activities.
Through the Corn Maze
First, create an in-class “corn maze” by pairing students and asking them to stand at opposite ends of the classroom. Move some things in your classroom around to create obstacles (or ask your students to do it), then have the student who’s not blindfolded shout directions to their partner to help them cross the room while avoiding the obstacles.
For beginning students, let one team go at a time. To challenge more advanced students, have all teams go at once. This will force your students to block out background noise that might distract them from their partner’s voice.
Cut it up with a Pumpkin Carving Activity
If you have a great source for cheap pumpkins, have a carving party in your classroom to give your students a real autumn treat. But if you can’t make that happen, talk to them about the process of carving a pumpkin—the steps you must follow from start to finish. Then, ask students to explain a process of their choice to the class. They might explain how to cook a food native to their country, how to play a sport, or anything else that they are knowledgeable about.
Point out that an important part of explaining a process is using clear transitions – first, next, after that, finally, etc. Have the class listen for the transition words each presenter uses as they explain their process to the class.
At the end of the lesson, save time for your students to carve their own pumpkins. If you and your students need help carving pumpkins, this website has step-by-step guides and hundreds of jack-o’-lantern stencils you can use.
5. Traveling in Autumn
Holidays are popular travel times, and no holiday has more travelers in the U.S. than Thanksgiving. The holiday is traditionally a time to get together with family and be appreciative of the blessings you have received.
Activities that encourage your students to be thankful are great, but the Thanksgiving celebration doesn’t have to stop there. Have students use a U.S. map to plan a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. Here’s a great map to use for the activity, or use another one you prefer.
Have students work in groups of three or four to plan their route paying particular attention to the states they will travel through. Then give groups some internet access time or have them get out their smartphones to find an attraction they might stop and see in each state on their list.
For beginning students, have each group share the states on their list and what attractions they chose for each. For more advanced students, consider assigning a travel journal. It would include at least one paragraph for each attraction they saw describing what it was like.
To Everything There Is a Season
Some may mourn the passing of summer into autumn, but once they see all that autumn has to offer, your students may find a new love for the year’s third season. If nothing else, they will give their English skills a boost in the process and leave your classroom with a smile on their faces.