9 Innovative Ways to Teach ESL Valentine’s Day Vocabulary

Dearly beloved…

Wait, scratch that.

Haven’t we had enough of the old-timey Valentine’s Day routine?

Let’s step away from the heart-shaped chocolate boxes, the Hallmark cards and the tired old ESL Valentine’s Day lessons.

There are so many fresh, new ways to teach English students about this holiday and its vocabulary. In this post, we’ll show you nine of our favorites and how they’ll benefit your students’ language skills.

From online dating profiles to fake blind dates to celebrity couple gossip, these activities will make your Valentine’s Day lessons relevant and engaging for any classroom.

Why You Should Ditch the Romantic Poems

Your students aren’t going to use words like thee, ’twere or yonder in real life.

Antiquated words won’t help your students to have real conversations with native English speakers, so why teach them? Instead, focus on Valentine’s vocabulary that’ll be more useful to them.

There’s a reason why plenty of students struggle to stay awake in poetry classes. They can’t relate! In many cases, the subject matter isn’t engaging and they can’t see how it applies to them.

That’s why you should start using more interactive Valentine’s Day activities in the classroom. These ESL activities will introduce relevant vocabulary in a way that holds your students’ attention—therefore better preparing them to communicate in English.

It could be argued that today’s poems are often dialogues from film and TV! With the rise of streaming platforms and entertainment services, the quality of writing has never been better! Let’s face it, film and TV is more engaging, interactive and familiar for ESL students.

9 Innovative Ways to Teach ESL Valentine’s Day Vocabulary

Looking for Love

Online dating has come a long way. While it was once seen as seedy and desperate, it’s now a normal part of single life. Some even say that meeting a partner online is a way to a stronger relationship!

Depending on their age, your students may well have their own profiles on dating websites. Having them write dating profiles in English is a fun activity that they can apply to their own lives. They can write their profiles individually, in small groups or even as a homework assignment.

For a more traditional exercise, or with adult students who might not be familiar with Tinder, try writing lonely hearts advertisements.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

  • Relationship (and types of relationships they might be looking for, such as long-termcasual, etc.)
  • Girlfriend/boyfriend
  • Attractive personality traits, such as passionatesmart, ambitious, etc.

You could also use this activity to teach common abbreviations and acronyms. This crosses over to English textspeak, which your students will find useful for chatting online.

Some acronyms you can use include:

  • DTE (down to Earth)
  • GSOH (good sense of humor)
  • ISO (in search of)

Speed Dating

In speed dating for ESL, students are put into pairs and given a set time in which to talk and get to know each other. This fast-paced, conversation-focused activity will get students engaged and talking as much as possible. That means they’ll be more active, learn more and have fun.

As they’re moving around the classroom, they’ll have a chance to talk to as many people as possible. That’ll help them to get familiar with different accents and build confidence, too. This can also be a great way to get shy students talking.

The first step of speed dating is for students to write questions for their prospective partners. Have your students do this first, and check on their grammar while you’re at it. The questions will depend largely on your students’ proficiency level, but the basic idea is to have them learn about the other person’s personality quickly.

Next, you’ll need to set up a system for students to be matched up on speed dates. You can do this by giving each student a number and then separating the class into two groups, one of which will stay seated and another which will move after every round. Provide every student with a score card, and they’ll use this to note down which numbers they spoke to and whether or not they enjoyed their “date.”

Use a timer to keep track of each round, so students know how long they have to talk to each person. Then, have a bell or a buzzer at hand to signal when it’s time to change over. If you don’t have one, you can always set one up on your phone.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

Along with basic adjectives about personality, this activity is a great opportunity to inject some humor into the classroom with cheesy English pick-up lines! Here are a couple of examples:

  • Are you a magician? When I look at you, everyone else disappears!
  • I’m not a photographer, but I can picture you and me together.

Blind Date

On a blind date, couples are matched up without being able to see each other. You can bring this into your classroom for a fun, listening-focused Valentine’s Day activity.

Set up a partition, with one student on one side and three prospective partners on the other. The first student can pitch dating questions to the other three and choose their ideal date based on their answers.

This is a great way to practice listening skills, as they won’t be able to see who’s answering. That means they can’t rely on body language.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

This activity teaches relationship and romance vocabulary while getting students comfortable with forming questions in English. For example:

  • Where would you like to go on our first date?
  • Do you believe in love at first sight?
  • Are you good at flirting?

Celebrity Couples

While “Romeo and Juliet” might seem like an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, it’s not the most interesting. Some students will find it boring and the archaic language will likely confuse them.

Instead, try a reading activity that’s focused on today’s celebrity couples. Hand out news articles about famous couples and provide comprehension questions and other activities to improve understanding.

Students will love being able to gossip about them in English. This activity can be especially useful when you’re teaching teenagers.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

Have there been any scandalous celebrity divorces recently? Any hook ups or break ups? Use them for your lessons! This is an opportunity to elicit the meanings of vocabulary like whirlwind romance, engagement and divorce.

Relationship Deal Breakers

Conditionals are always tricky. Students often complain that no matter how many times they study them, they can’t get the hang of them. Often, this is because they find it hard to use them naturally in conversation.

In this activity, they can. Introduce the grammar and use it to create relationship deal breaker questions such as:

  • What would you do if your partner forgot your birthday?
  • How would you feel if your partner cheated on you?
  • If your parents didn’t like your partner, would you break up with them?

Hand it over to your students, and they’re sure to come up with some fun and interesting questions that’ll get everyone talking.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

  • Girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner
  • Break up/split/separate
  • Stay together
  • Commitment

Dating Etiquette Debate

It’s always interesting to talk about etiquette in different cultures, and an ESL classroom presents endless opportunities to do so. You can explore the different marriage customs in a debate activity about dating traditions around the world.

First, introduce some dating traditions in a presentation or group discussion format—whatever is most appropriate for your classroom.

Then divide the class into two groups and assign one of the traditions you presented earlier. Decide which group is “for” and which is “against,” give them time to prepare their arguments, and then start debating!

If you’re feeling brave, try to tackle concepts such as arranged marriage and polygamy. However, remember to be mindful, as these can be sensitive issues.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

The vocabulary here will be largely dependent on the debate topic and your class’ proficiency level. But some basics to focus on include:

  • Ask [someone] on a date
  • Grab the check/split the bill
  • Flirt/compliment
  • Gender roles
  • Courtesy/manners

First Loves

Get nostalgic in the classroom by asking your students to look back on their first crushes, loves and dates. This gives your students a chance to practice using past tenses, too. This can start off as a discussion in pairs or small groups, then move on to the specifics of making and answering past tense questions.

After that, you can also teach idioms! Everyone loves idioms. While they can be tricky to get your head around, they’re a fun, lighthearted way to look at language—and there are a ton of English idioms that are relevant to Valentine’s Day.

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

  • Puppy love
  • To fall head over heels
  • A match made in heaven
  • Love at first sight
  • To pop the question
  • To be someone’s one and only
  • To tie the knot
  • To settle down

Agony Aunt

Have your students write a letter to an agony aunt (the writer of an advice column), giving details of a relationship problem and asking for advice. Plus, the simple act of letter writing is a new twist on the old ESL Valentine’s Day card activity.

Encourage them to give as much detail as possible, not only outlining the issue but also their feelings surrounding it. This is a good opportunity for you to assess their writing skills. Check over their grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. The way they’ve written about each problem will display how well they’ve understood the vocabulary.

Once your students’ letters are finished, it’s time to start reading and responding. However, this shouldn’t be down to you. Instead, the students will do it for themselves. Pass different letters around the class, having people answer the letters written by their classmates.

This is a great time to teach modal verbs for giving advice. List all of the different ways they can give suggestions, including a scale of how demanding they are. There’s a big difference between you ought to and you have to, and your students should be clear on that.

By the end of the class, they’ll be dating experts!

Vocabulary to Incorporate:

Running an agony aunt class is a great way to teach all kinds of relationship vocabulary:

  • Girlfriend/boyfriend
  • Wife/husband/partner/fiancé(e)/maried
  • Dating
  • Seeing [someone]
  • Like/love/crush
  • Unrequited

This activity can also include terms for relationship problems such as affairjealousy and infidelity.

Get Creative

No matter how you decide to approach your Valentine’s Day lessons, try to make it interactive and think outside the box. When English lessons are creative, both teachers and students get more out of them.

The more opportunities your students have to move around and engage in conversation, the more they’ll learn.

Try to implement some of these activities in your classroom, and you’ll be off to a great start.

Emma Thomas is an ESL teacher in Bangkok with more than five years of experience in teaching students of all ages. You can read more about her experiences as a teacher in Thailand at Under the Ropes.

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