5 ESL Filler Activities

What two items would you bring if deserted on an island?

Your favorite book? Smartphone to send an S.O.S.? Your pooch?

This question is a favorite among native English speakers, and it’s a wonderful ESL filler activity that keeps your students engaged with insatiable English learning hunger.

If you don’t have a filler activity ready to go for those classroom lulls, you can take a few of the ones below.

Spark those creative, English-learning minds in new and exciting ways while boosting those ever-essential ESL skills.

Why Have ESL Filler Activities Handy?

Having ESL filler activities handy is essential to any teacher’s classroom repertoire. ESL filler activities engage students and serve up a wide variety of essential skills.

From compelling communication to vocabulary building, these back pocket ESL activities are sure to boost comprehension.

ESL teachers can use filler activities for a variety of effects such as:

  • They boost class energy.
  • They can be used as ice breakers.
  • They fill in class time gaps.
  • They’re perfect warm-up exercises.
  • They help introduce new students.
  • They allow teachers to cover other classes with ease.

Powerful, fast-paced ESL filler activities get students engaged in new ways. Maybe you and your class just finished a challenging grammar module. Bring them back to life with a filler activity to get them excited for anything that follows. It’s like a classroom palette cleanser.

The most important factor in using filler activities is student engagement. You want these exercises to be firecrackers, sparking that English learning enthusiasm that motivates you and your class daily.

ESL filler activities are also diverse and flexible. They can be stand-alone activities, or they can complement the core material in your lesson plan for that day.

An excellent filler activity and learning program more generally for engaging ESL classes is the FluentU program.Whether you need a short video to highlight a point or some fun activities to test the student’s vocabulary, you can enjoy heaps of versatility with the FluentU system. Using video content in class is never a bad idea.

Let’s take a closer look at five filler activities you can use to get your eager students’ minds electrified with energy.

5 Excellent ESL Filler Activities to Keep in Your Back Pocket

1. Deserted on an Island

Deserted on an Island is an engaging ESL filler activity serving up actionable skills students can use in the real world. It combines creativity, communication and debate for a fun-filled learning atmosphere.

ESL skills covered in Deserted on an Island include:

  • Quick English thought
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Writing
  • Discussion

The Deserted on an Island ESL filler activity poses the age-old question to your students, “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you bring?”

Here’s how you can use this ESL filler activity in your next class:

  • Get this activity off to a powerful start by writing the question on the board. Draw a desert island and a stranded person for an extra visual boost.
  • Next, tell your students what two things you would bring if deserted on an island. Write your two choices on the board and follow up by explaining why you chose those items, people or animals.
  • Take questions regarding your choices, and ensure that your class understands the activity.
  • Next, pose the question to your students. Give them a minute or two to be creative and write down their two choices.
  • Once your students are ready, choose a student and ask them what two things they chose. After, let other students in the class ask them why they chose those things.
  • Repeat with the next student, and so on.

This ESL filler activity can be paired with core lesson plans covering geography, vocabulary and grammar. Ensure you keep the momentum moving in order to keep engagement high among the class as well.

2. The End Is the Beginning

The End Is the Beginning is a fast-paced ESL filler activity with a strong focus on vocabulary within specific English learning topics. For this activity, you’ll need to choose a few topics you’ve already covered in class, or you can pair it with a vocabulary lesson plan to ensure comprehension.

ESL skills covered in The End Is the Beginning include:

  • Quick English thought
  • Vocabulary
  • Communication
  • Speaking
  • Listening

In this ESL filler activity, students will use the last letter of a vocabulary word to say a new word within a specific topic.

Here’s how you can use this ESL filler activity in your next class:

  • You’ll first set the topic for the first round. For example, let’s say the topic is “animals.” You’ll say “bird” and then point to Student A.
  • Student A will need to quickly form a new word that relates to animals in some way using the last letter of the word “bird,” which is the letter “D.”
  • Student A will stand and say, “Dog” and point to Student B.
  • Student B will think on his or her feet, stand and say, “giraffe” and point to Student C.
  • The ESL filler activity will continue around the classroom until the topic is exhausted or students become stumped.

It’s best practice to begin with an easy topic, such as animals, verbs, etc. in order to ease into this fun and engaging ESL filler activity. Here’s a list of ESL vocabulary categories you may find helpful.

3. I Love

I Love is an ESL filler activity that focuses on students’ personal interests. It’s great for boosting classroom energy and useful for students to get to know one another better as well. I Love offers simplicity while serving up important ESL skills that students need to interact with native English speakers.

ESL skills covered in I Love include:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Sentence construction

This ESL filler activity is perfect for those few minutes you have left in class, acts as an excellent warm-up activity and serves as a powerful “get to know you” exercise for the beginning of a new year. Some similar activities you can implement can be found online as well.

Here’s how you can use this ESL filler activity in your next class:

  • First things first, give your students an example. Start the activity by telling your class a few things you love. For example, “I love dogs” or “I love to travel.”
  • Next, ask Student A what he or she loves. They may say, “I love English class.”
  • You’ll then repeat what they love and say something you love. For example, “Student A loves English class, but I love travel.”
  • Then point to Student B. Student B will say, “teacher loves travel, but I love pizza” and then point to Student C, who will say, “Student B loves pizza, but I love my dog Harry.”

The momentum will build as students each engage in listening and saying what they love. This ESL filler activity is certainly simple, but very fast paced.

4. Story Spoilers

Story Spoilers is an ESL filler activity that boasts creativity, allowing your students to listen, speak and communicate in a meaningful, fun way. This activity can also complement a lesson plan covering a variety of core topics such as household, places, verbs and verb tenses.

ESL skills covered in Story Spoilers include:

  • Quick English thought
  • Grammar
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Storytelling

The objective is to get students talking with one another in small groups about the short, open-ended sentences you develop. For example, you can write “I went to the park with my dog and…” The students will discuss the ending to the story and write a few outcomes down prior to sharing them as a class.

Here’s how you can use this ESL filler activity in your next class:

  • First, put your class into small groups.
  • Next, write an open-ended question on the board or have your students dictate what you say in their English notebooks.
  • Let’s say the beginning of the first story is, “I went to the park with my dog and… ” Those small student groups will discuss and write a few endings to the story—AKA spoilers. Put a time limit on this to keep the creativity and quick English thought momentum.
  • Once the groups are ready, ask Group A what their spoilers are. They may have written, “I went to the park with my dog and he ate my ice cream.”
  • Then ask Group B and so on, until all spoilers are read.
  • Finally, have students vote for their favorite spoilers to bring this fun ESL filler activity to a close.

You can also float around the classroom to check grammar and answer questions if needed. You can use this activity to check comprehension from earlier lessons too. Here’s another example filler activity similar to Story Spoiler you can easily use in your next class.

5. This or That

This or That is a choice ESL filler activity that gets your ESL students’ minds smoking. They need to be quick listeners and thinkers in this activity. This activity is certainly fast-paced and engaging, allowing students to make quick decisions in English to keep the exercises momentum.

ESL skills covered in This or That include:

  • Quick English thought
  • Speaking
  • Decision making

This ESL filler activity unfolds using the power of choice. Using demonstratives “this” or “that,” your students will conquer the fast pace of native English speech. You’ll need to have a few props ready for this activity, such as a hat, pencils, scarf, shoes, shirt, books, etc. for students to choose from. Each student should have one item.

Here’s how you can use this ESL filler activity in your next class:

  • First, give your students an example of how this filler activity will go.
  • Give each student one item from your prop box. Then ask Student A if he or she would rather have this (what you have) or that (what Student A has).
  • Student A will choose one item by responding, “I would rather have this,” what they have in their hand. Or “I would rather have that,” what you have in your hand.
  • If the Student A chooses that, they’ll come and exchange the items.
  • Student A will then ask Student B, “Would you rather have this or that?”
  • This continues until all students have asked and answered the This or That question.

You can even add demonstrative plurals into this fun ESL filler activity, using “these” or “those” to spark another level of ESL skills boosting power.


ESL filler activities are a fantastic way to engage students of all levels and ages to keep English learning fun and fresh.

Every teacher should have a few filler activities in their back pocket, ready to spark class intrigue at a moment’s notice.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade 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.

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