5 IRL Activities for a Texting Lesson Plan

What was the last text you sent?

Chances are it contains some kind of acronym or abbreviation.

We use ones like “LOL”, “TBH” and “XO” so much that they’re creeping into our spoken vocabulary, too.

Using slang over text is so much easier than writing out full sentences. That is, except for parents who can’t quite get it right.

Online text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of communication. Right now, 2 billion people are using it worldwide. This number is bound to include your students, but do they know how to write text messages in English?

It’s totally different from the way we write and talk IRL. If your students are English text messaging noobs, you can use lots of fun activities to teach them how it all works.

By the end of your class, they’ll be woke AF.

5 IRL Activities for a Texting Lesson Plan

Many ESL students spend the bulk of their time focusing on grammar. After all, it’s the hardest part of learning English. However, it’s not necessarily the most important. While students will need it for essay writing and exams, there will be other times where they have to throw it out the window completely.

That’s because grammar is frequently used in the wrong way, even by native speakers. Students will often find this in slang, song lyrics and shorthand writing. Instead of fussing over grammar in every lesson, focus on building your students’ fluency for real-life conversations. After all, online chat is becoming far more popular than emails and phone conversations.

In many cases, we choose it over face-to-face conversation. Students need to adapt their English for this.

If you have trouble dragging your students away from their phones in classes, try bringing those phones into the lesson. These activities will help you to do that. Students will love learning how to chat with their friends and become better English speakers.

1. Translating Text Speak

This activity is perfect for vocabulary building.

The way we write our text messages is completely different from the way we write essays or even emails. Text speak is a language in itself. That’s why you should arm your students with the knowledge and vocabulary they need to navigate this type of communication.

Start by giving a vocabulary lesson on texting lingo and acronyms. You can use Net Lingo’s Top 50 Popular Text Terms to get started. Simply ask students to guess the meaning of each word.

You don’t need to create any materials yourself. One Stop English has a great collection of text messaging worksheets. Students can use these to correct sentences, match text slang words to their meanings, and choose appropriate texts for different situations. There’s also a British Council texting lesson plan you can use, which comes with ready-made vocabulary worksheets, a reading activity, multiple choice questions and even a translation activity at the end.

If that’s not enough, check out ISL Collective’s a range of worksheets and handouts for text message lessons.

2. Create Your Own Slang

After your students have learned lots of new vocabulary, they can play around with it and put it to use in this next activity.

Language is constantly evolving, meaning new slang words are cropping up every day. A few years ago, no one had heard of a “selfie.” Now, that word has its own entry in the dictionary.

People create new words and abbreviations every day. Let your students use their imaginations to create some themselves. Some of their new words may even catch on!

Once they’ve come up with a few, ask them to put the words into sentences or short conversations for context. Then, they can switch their papers with other groups, who’ll have to guess the meaning of each word before replying.

3. Debate Time

Debate activities are perfect for practicing conversation skills and building fluency. They allow students the freedom to practice speaking without having to follow drills or restrictions.

Is text messaging making our lives easier or more difficult? Sometimes, the time we save by sending a quick text instead of making a phone call ends up being spent clearing up misunderstandings. Is it really worth it?

You can use this question to spark a debate with your students.

Separate the class into two groups: one in support of text messaging and one against it. Then, have the groups brainstorm the advantages or disadvantages of this type of communication. Make sure they take notes as they do so.

Conversation activity discussing the advantages and disadvantages of texting. Have students argue for and against the use of text messaging over other forms of communication. If your students aren’t familiar with debating in English, you can give them a list of debate vocabulary beforehand. That should give them some inspiration and help them get started. Then, it’s over to your students. All you’ll have to do is mediate the discussion and provide some prompts here and there.

4. Ranking

If you want your students to practice their speaking skills and critical thinking abilities, try this ranking activity.

These days, we’re doing more by text than we ever could before. We can pay our bills, book our vacations, order our food and even find prospective partners this way. You no longer have to have a face-to-face conversation to do any of these things. Is text always the best way, though? This activity will get your students thinking about that.

Prepare a list of different topics and situations. Here are some ideas for you to include:

  • Asking someone on a date.
  • Submitting your homework.
  • Arranging a business meeting.
  • Inviting your friend to a party.
  • Announcing a pregnancy.
  • Canceling an appointment with your doctor.
  • Breaking up with someone.

Put your students into pairs or small groups and ask them to decide whether or not each task should be done by text. They’ll have to discuss their reasoning in order to come to a group decision. Then, they can rank each one in order of how appropriate they are for text.

If you have some time at the end of this activity, you can use it to practice the use of present perfect. Simply use the list to have students ask each other “have you ever”? questions, like this one: “Have you ever asked someone on a date via text?”

5. Texts for Note Taking

Practice listening skills and speed writing skills by using text speak for note taking.

The benefits of learning text language stretch far beyond mobile phone use. These words can be used in lots of other situations, too. You might be surprised to find that students can even use them in an academic setting. While they can’t use these words in essay writing, they can use them to take notes during class.

The short words and abbreviations used in text language are perfect for when students need to jot things down as quickly as possible. So, use them to help your students practice their note-taking skills.

Start the first half of the lesson by going over various words and abbreviations that are used in texts messaging. Once students are comfortable with them, you can start to put them into practice. You can do this by either conducting a lecture, making a presentation, or playing a video. You could even show a video from TED Talk or a TV clip, if you like. Before you do so, tell your students that they’ll have to follow along and take notes as they listen. Emphasize the importance of speed and clarity. Afterward, go through their notes to check that they’ve used the vocabulary correctly.

Keep It Relaxed

If students struggle to understand and use the language in these activities, don’t worry. It’s hard enough to keep up with new lingo when you’re a native speaker, let alone when English is your second language. Remind them of that fact, and encourage them not to take it too seriously. It’s not a test, and they’re not expected to know all the answers, it’s just for fun!

These activities are designed to get students to start using new vocabulary, not just inside the classroom but also outside. After your class, they’ll be excited to try out their new words with their friends. You never know, you might even learn a few new ones, too!


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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