The Totally Chill ESL Lesson Guide to Teaching About Stress

Are you feeling stressed? Can’t think of a new, exciting lesson for your ESL students? Or maybe your students are stressed out?

Learning how to talk about stress in English won’t just expand your students’ language skills—it’ll also help them to communicate about an essential and unfortunately universal topic with native English speakers.

In this post, we’ll walk you through fun but practical ideas to teach essential ESL stress vocabulary and idioms and have students practice using them in real-life scenarios.

The ideas below can be adapted to a range of proficiency levels and classrooms. You can use one or all of these ideas to create the perfect lesson on stress for your ESL students.


1. Introduce Stress-Related Words

The first step in any lesson or unit on stress is introducing key vocabulary. Students need to know and understand these words in order to discuss stress and stress-related situations.

Of course, you don’t need to start by handing out a plain old vocabulary list. Take the opportunity to open a discussion with the question: “What is stress?”

Ask students to shout out relevant words they know and write them on the board. Continue to get them thinking by asking some additional questions such as these:

  • “What makes you feel stressed?”
  • “What are some opposites of stress?”
  • “How do you manage/reduce stress?”

Here are some key vocabulary words to introduce and listen out for. You might have your own words to add depending on your class’ proficiency level—and they might even surprise you with some of their own!

Stress-related words:

  • Stress
  • Pressure
  • Busy
  • Overwhelmed
  • Tense
  • Workday/workweek
  • Overtime

Stress relief words:

  • De-stress
  • Calm
  • Breathe
  • Unwind
  • Relax

Before you move to the next stage in the lesson, where the English will get a bit more complex, it’s important to make sure students have a solid grasp on these basic words. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

  • Vocabulary games: English language games like Pictionary, bingo or charades are always a fun way to get your students to interact with new vocabulary.
  • Create practice worksheets: These could include crossword puzzles, word scrambles, word searches, matching lists or even fill-in-the-missing-word exercises. iSLCollective has online templates for you to make several different kinds of worksheets.

Make sure you choose one that’s appropriate to your classroom. For example, more advanced and older students may enjoy a completing-the-sentences worksheet, while younger students will probably engage more with a word search or word scramble.

2. Add Idioms and Expressions About Stress

Now it’s time to get students comfortable describing stress in real-life situations. Idioms and expressions are crucial here since they’re so prevalent in English discussions of stress and stress relief.

There are several ways to introduce the idioms. You can simply write them on the board with their definitions. But for added engagement, you might include them in a story and have the students try to guess their meanings based on the context. In this case, you could either read the story aloud and have the students practice their listening comprehension skills or you could print the story for them to read.

For more advanced students, it can be fun to have the students play a big matching game. Prepare strips of paper with one idiom per strip and its corresponding definition on another strip. Each student gets one or two strips and the students must work with one another to match all the idioms with their definitions.

This is a great opportunity to incorporate technology into your class. Allow students to search for the idioms online using their phones. They’ll have to interpret the definition online and find the closest definition on the strips you provide.

Stress-related idioms and expressions:

  • I’ve got a lot on my plate.
  • I’m burning the candle at both ends.
  • I’m at my wit’s end.
  • I’m drowning in work.
  • I’m swamped.
  • To burn out
  • To be stressed out
  • Work-life balance

Stress relief idioms and expressions:

  • To put your feet up
  • To catch your breath
  • To take a step back
  • To recharge your batteries
  • To get some R&R
  • To take some time off
  • To have a little time to oneself
  • To chill out
  • Quiet time

Once the students are familiar with the idioms, you can practice using them in a number of ways.

Of course, they can practice making sentences with these idioms, which is probably best for lower-level students. However, for more advanced students, the practice could be more discussion-based. Ask students to use one or more idioms to talk about their level of stress and what they need to do to relax.

Another useful activity to practice these idioms is by using dialogues. Divide students into pairs. The first student in each pair should describe their stress using one or more of the idioms. The second student should give advice on how to relax or de-stress using one or more of the idioms.

Tip: To ensure successful dialogues about stress and how to de-stress, it might be useful to pre-teach some phrases such as, “Do you have any advice?” or “What do you suggest?” to ask for advice, as well as “I suggest…” or “If I were you, I’d…” to offer advice.

3. Apply New Skills to a Usually Stressful Activity

Once students are comfortable with these vocabulary words and idioms, give them a chance to apply their new skills so they’ll be prepared for real-life English conversations. Here are some fun ideas to extend your lessons or to create a whole unit on stress. These ideas can be adapted for different levels and ages.

A Stressful Day: Exploring Daily Stresses

This activity encourages students to reflect on their daily routines. Students will write down their typical day in a schedule format.

For example:

7:30 a.m. — Shower

8:00 a.m. — Eat breakfast

8:30 a.m. — Go to school/work


Students should be as detailed as possible. The more detail, the more vocabulary they’ll need to use and the more practice they’ll get thinking and formulating thoughts in English.

Once they’ve written out their schedule, they should identify which part of their day is the most stressful. Ask them to consider the question, “Do I have a well-balanced day?” Instruct them to explain why or why not and ask them to think about ways they could make their day a little less stressful.

Writing out and discussing the day gives students not only the chance to practice stress-related words, but also the opportunity to utilize vocabulary related to everyday tasks and experiences.

Tip: For younger students, have them illustrate their daily routines instead of writing down their schedules. Then they can describe their day to the class and which parts are the most and least stressful.

Introvert vs. Extrovert: Comparing Different Ways People Feel Stress

This lesson looks at stress from a different angle and encourages students to think about themselves in a deeper way. We often think of extroverts and introverts as people who do and don’t like to be around others, respectively—but there’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, one of the key differences between these two types of people is how they manage stress.

To begin, administer a quick personality test to determine if the students are introverted or extroverted. Once the students have determined which one they are, instruct them to pair up so that introverts are with extroverts and extroverts are with introverts. Then, the students should interview each other about what stresses them out.

Have the students discuss what they do to de-stress with their partner. They can compare and contrast what gives them a lot of stress in life and how they relieve this stress. Together, the pairs of students should present what they learned about each other to the class.

Speaking with fellow students gives them the chance to practice their English speaking skills and to utilize the new stress-related vocabulary. In this activity, students must also exercise their ability to compare and contrast.

Roundtable Discussion: Stress and What to Do About It

This activity may be a nice way to close a lesson on vocabulary or idioms related to stress, but it can also be another separate, follow-up lesson on stress.

If possible, set up the students’ desks or chairs in a circle, allowing for a comfortable and informal discussion. As a class, discuss what makes people stressed and how to relieve stress.

As the teacher, you should have some questions prepared such as “Is stress good?” and “Is stress bad?” You can also encourage students to pose questions to their classmates related to the topic.

This activity allows students to freely express their thoughts and practice using vocabulary and idioms related to stress. It also gives students the chance to practice their speaking skills more generally.

The questions asked in the discussion circle can be geared towards the different ages and levels of your classes. Make sure that the discussion is respectful no matter your students’ ages. Here are some ideas to get you started, plus check out this very useful list of questions.

Questions for school-related stress:

  • Do you often feel stressed at school?
  • What’s the best thing to do when you’re stressed?
  • Who can you talk to if you’re stressed?

Questions for work-related stress:

  • Is your job stressful? Why?
  • How do you unwind?
  • What’s your go-to stress relief activity?

Questions for personal life-related stress 

  • What contributes to your stress outside of school/work?
  • Do you feel stressed about your family? Why?
  • Does money stress you out?


Be creative. Use one or any combination of the above lesson ideas and activities to structure the perfect stress-related lesson for your students.

For example, you might start your lesson with vocabulary and then dive into the roundtable discussion, or you could do a lesson on idioms and in the next lesson follow up with the introvert vs. extrovert activity.

I hope these activities and ideas will make lesson planning a little less stressful for you!

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