8 Low Prep ESL Listening Activities for Kids of All Levels

Simply playing a song or a CD with English conversations for a class of 10 year-olds won’t do it.

In order to stay focused and develop their skills, kids need to be actively engaged.

Which can present something of a challenge when you’re trying to get them to practice listening, of all things.  

Below, I’m sharing 8 of my favorite ESL listening activities for kids of any level of ability, along with tips on how to make sure your students are comfortable and engaged during listening practice.

They’re all easy, low-prep activities, so you won’t need any special classroom technology or materials. 


How to Make Kids Comfortable with ESL Listening Activities

Make listening a daily practice

A great way to decrease the stress that listening activities can cause students is by incorporating listening into their daily practice. Use an activity or game at the beginning or end of class that involves a lot of listening, but is interactive enough that the students won’t notice.

Break away from audiobooks and CDs

Stepping away from more traditional ESL listening activities will create a positive and fun atmosphere that students will learn to embrace. Rather than relying on typical audiobooks and CDs, try to stimulate your students’ imaginations!

One option could be to choose a story at the beginning of the semester and read parts of it every day. Make it a special treat and not part of the usual lesson plan so students look forward to it. Instead of asking questions at the end of the passage, ask questions at the beginning so students know what to listen for.

Step down as the leader to allow peer leadership

A good way to further facilitate this idea is by stepping down as the leader. Peer leadership is a powerful tool in the classroom which not only empowers students, but helps them to learn new concepts.

There are multiple ways to temporarily put students in charge in your classroom, such as allowing them to:

  • Lead warm-up exercises
  • Review homework
  • Explain worksheet directions
  • Dictate words or stories during activities

8 Engaging ESL Listening Activities for Kids

1. Draw Me a Story

Break out the crayons and colored pencils! In this activity, you tell or read a story to the class, and the students draw what they are hearing. The story could be anything from a book fragment to a short narrative that includes keywords and phrases from the lesson.

If you’re working with a low-level class, start with simple phrases that are not necessarily a story. Afterward, you can try to create a story about the drawings together. With an advanced class, start with an open-ended narrative and have your students create the story with you. This gives students the option to speak while giving the rest of the class a chance to listen to their peers.

This is a great activity to use with a mixed-level class because high-level learners will be able to pick out more details, while low-level learners won’t feel the pressure of having to answer questions.

2. Who Am I?

For this activity, you’ll need to prepare a list of descriptions of famous people, animals or everyday objects ahead of time. Each item on the list needs 5-8 details (clues) ranging from vague to highly specific. At the start of the game, break students into two or more teams. 

One student from each team will read the clues to their teammates. Teams then receive points according to how fast they guess who or what the clues are describing. For an added challenge, have the reader start with the most vague clue and move on to more obvious hints.

When working with a low-level class, you’ll have to keep the words simple: Choose themes such as food, animals, or holidays. To increase the difficulty, ask teams bonus questions about the word if they get it right or allow the students to write the clues themselves.

3. Whiteboard Race 

This one can turn into a very lively game because it gets students up out of their seats and moving. First, divide the class into two teams, with students standing a good distance from the board—they’ll need enough space for a short run. 

You’ll then dictate a word, phrase or short sentence while the students race to the board to write what you said. The first one to do so correctly scores a point for their team. The marker is then passed to the next student and the process is repeated.

If you are working with a low-level class, you’ll most likely have to stick with vocabulary words. To make practicing vocabulary words a little more difficult, dictate the word but have your students write it in a sentence. If you are looking for something even more challenging, dictate small sentences and require your kids to use the correct punctuation.

4. Touch and Go

This activity will require a little bit of preparation and is good as a warm-up for both high and low-level learners. You’ll need a story that includes essential vocabulary, and your students will need flashcards with these words on them.

Pair up your students or put them in small groups. Give each group 2-3 flashcards with vocabulary words on them. As you’re reading the story, your students must raise the card with the correct vocabulary word when they hear it in the story.

To raise the difficulty for high-level learners, read the story three times. Each time, students should rotate their vocabulary cards so they are not listening for the same words. Then, increase your reading speed each round—start off very slow and end with the pace you would use with another native speaker.

5. Chain Reaction Spelling

Chain Reaction is a combination of the whiteboard race game (#3) mixed with telephone. Divide your class into two teams and line them up opposite of each other. Each round, a leader and runner is chosen from each team. 

The leader receives a card with a word on it. Their responsibility is to whisper the word one letter at a time to the person in front of them. The letter is then whispered down the line until it reaches the runner, who runs to the whiteboard to write it down. This process continues until the whole word is written correctly on the board.

This is a great ESL listening activity for beginners. If you have an advanced class and want to make the game a little harder, get the runner to use the word in a sentence and write the whole thing on the whiteboard. 

6. Simon Says

One of my favorites is Simon Says: The super simple game in which you call out commands, beginning with “Simon Says,” and students must act them out. If a student acts out a command that didn’t begin with “Simon Says,” that student is out of the game.

Simon Says can be used to practice everything from verbs to body vocabulary and commands. Remember that you don’t always have to be the one leading the game—once your class has got the hang of the game, you can hand that responsibility over to the students. This will let them practice their speaking skills during the same activity and allow for peer leadership. 

7. Two Truths and a Lie

Another great ESL listening game is Two Truths and a Lie, in which students take turns saying two things that are true and one that’s a lie, and their classmates must guess which one is the lie.

Students will have to actively listen and concentrate in order to identify which claim is the lie. In addition to listening practice, this activity can be used to practice speaking skills, especially proper sentence construction. You could also establish a theme to target specific vocabulary you’d like the students to practice.

Two Truths and a Lie is also a great icebreaker activity for higher-level classes—it enables students to find out more about each other and gets them talking about themselves. 

8. Songs and Videos

Watching movies in English provides a great way for kids to practice their ESL listening skills and offers a relaxed setting in which to use English. Stop the video every so often to ask students concept checking questions to make sure they understand what’s going on. Students are usually pretty eager to answer your questions if it means they can continue watching. For advanced classes, the sky’s the limit for ESL video activities you could incorporate into the screening. 

For low-level classes where students would struggle to understand a movie in English, start with simple songs. Elementary-aged kids absolutely love to sing and dance, and introducing them to English songs is a fantastic way to get them practicing their listening skills. It’s also a good starting point for more complex listening activities, such as getting the class to fill in the gaps in song lyrics written on the whiteboard


The use of interactive activities in the classroom allows for kids to engage with all aspects of learning a new language without the pressure of a traditional classroom setting. Your students won’t even notice that they’re learning new words and developing their listening skills—they’ll be too busy having fun! 

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