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Are you looking for English activities for kids? Sometimes, teaching ESL to children can be so challenging! Actually, this year I have a whole lot more kids to teach than I have in previous years – and it’s been an adventure!

So, I’d like to share some of my top tips, games I’ve discovered and ways I like to plan my lessons. Since September, I’ve been teaching seven-year-olds and nine-year-olds again. They’re all native Spanish/Catalan speakers and are learning English as a Second Language (ESL).

While I used to teach a lot of kids in Canada, a lot of them had English as a first language, and needed help with reading comprehension, writing and speaking.  While over the last few years in Spain I’ve had a couple kids each semester, this year I have quite a few.

There are two reasons I LOVE teaching small kids:

First, they have an insane amount of energy.  It doesn’t matter how tired you are, or if it’s your last tutoring session of the day, they will leave you feeling energized.

Second, they are so ready to learn. Now, that’s most of the time. When they are in a bad mood, it’s hilarious because it’s so obvious. As adults, we often hide our feelings quite skillfully, but kids seem to have their lives written all over their faces 🙂


How To Teach English To Small Kids

Well, there’s more on this in my “mistakes” section below, but here are my top three tips:

  • Water, Laughter, Movement –  Now, if you’ve read my blog posts before, you know I refer to this concept I learned at McGill University a lot. In fact, I find it works wonders when you’re working with kids.  Be sure they’re hydrated, have activities that keep them smiling, and keep them active!
  • Slow Down! – Be sure you teach concepts slowly. As much as kids love to rush around, they often get excited – and then frustrated.
  • Be Prepared for Change –  As a teacher, we’re usually prepared for change, right? Well, if you’re starting out teaching kids, be sure to be ready to change often! I always keep extra games and activities in my tutoring or teaching bag, so if they seem bored, we can switch it up.


ESL Activities Printables

So, where can you find ESL Activities for kids?  Printables and worksheets are some of the best ways to get kids to have fun while learning (especially if they can colour them in and use adjectives to describe while they work!).  However, the web is a mess when it comes to resources – too much choice, am I right?

Sometimes it’s hard to sort through them all.  You can head to my free printables library to check out my resources there (updated monthly!).  Other resources I love to use for kids are BBC Learn English Kids, Activity Village, and Edhelper.

Free Printables Library

Now, for my favourite English activities for kids!


5 English Activities For Kids

Okay, here they are!  My top 5 games to play with ESL kids this semester:


1.  Hide and Direct ESL Game5 Grammar Games for Kids and Adults

The first game on the list emerged as a result of one of those days where the kids I was teaching (seven-year-old twin sisters!) were in a super energetic mood. They just needed to move!  Now, how they have all that energy at the end of a long school day and after school activities, I don’t know, but that’s part of the fun.

Actually, this game is quite simple.

First, ensure students know direction words like right, left, turn, go straight, etc.  Also, review under, over, beneath, above, etc if needed. Then, have students work in pairs, with one partner hiding a small object in the room, and the other closing their eyes. If you’re a private tutor, you can play the “partner” role.

Then, the partner needs to “direct” their friend to the object. Be sure they get up! Movement keeps them happy and energized. They’ll be laughing, too, when they get the directions wrong and have to retrace their steps. Kids love to play games where they get to be active 🙂


2.  Paper Dolls

When I first tried this, I really wasn’t sure if it would work.  However, it turns out that using paper dolls is a great way to have kids learn clothing vocabulary.   Be sure you prepare the paper dolls (male and female), and the clothing beforehand.  Print a few out in black and white so students can colour them in and practice their colours (and adjective order, if they are more advanced).

If you have a few students that are more advanced, have them make a story with the paper dolls, and describe their outfits.


3. Animal Memory

Remember that game memory you played as a kid? Where you have to match different pairs by remembering where they were when they were last placed down? Now, this is one I mentioned in my last post.  I find kids love to work with animals, so animal vocabulary is a great place to start.

Actually, I have a worksheet for you on this one – pre-prepared memory cards for you to print out and use! Head to my printables library in the December 2017 section to get your copy.


4.  Pronoun Game

Using the paper dolls you created in activity #2, stuffed animals, action figures (or whatever the children like), you can teach pronouns!  Pronouns tend to be difficult for children to learn if their native language is a  “pro-drop” language like Spanish or Italian, where the subject can be omitted from a sentence.

It also works well to have students learn to use possessive like final-s, or pronouns like “his” or “her”. Simply have an object that the characters “hold” (like a marker, for example). Then, have students take turns says “It’s the elephant’s marker.  It’s his marker”, etc.

Be patient – it may take them a while to get the difference between “his” and “her”.


5. Spaghetti Heroes

Well, the final idea here is not actually mine!  This is a great game that one of my students, Aya Wattar, created. She’s studying at McGill University and teaches very small children. A “Spaghetti Hero” is her answer to an easy, fun class activity for kids.  Basically, the concept of this game is to have students make figures (pictures of their families, for example) from pieces of boiled spaghetti.

Spaghetti Heroes - ESL Activities for Kids

All you need to do is have boiled spaghetti, and pieces of paper.  No glue necessary  – the pasta sticks itself!

Students can use family vocabulary, or learn about parts of the face or body using this ESL activity.

Isn’t that such a fun English activity for kindergarten, or even an ESL class activity for grades 1 or 2?


If you need a few more ideas, feel free to check out my post from last month on  5 ESL Grammar Games for Kids, too!


3 Top Mistakes In English Activities For Kids

As promised, here are my three biggest mistakes!  It’s often hard to stop making these mistakes, too – because sometimes you don’t realize you’re making them!

So, my best advice is to stay cognizant of the following three items:


1.  Being Super Speedy

First, make sure your explanations are clear, and that you explain concepts slowly. While this is true for adults, too, I think it’s especially true for kids.  Speak slowly, especially at the beginning. Remember that it takes some time for students to get used to your voice, too!


2.  Not Recognizing Frustration Quickly

So, this actually happened to me a few weeks ago as I was teaching the “Pronoun Game” from the list above.  One of my students got so frustrated they looked as if they were about to cry!  Talk about a mistake – I should have recognized that frustration much earlier.  It took quite a few minutes of making the activity shorter, breaking it down piece by piece and a lot of stickers, to make everything okay again.  Be sure you are watching your students closely. Also, if an activity appears a bit difficult – change it! Otherwise, it gets very difficult, very quickly.  Kids don’t usually have as much patience as adults do!


3.  Preparing Long Activities

Now, by “long”, I mean more than 10 minutes.  Yes, I have six activities prepared for every hour of tutoring with kids!  Sometimes we only need 4, but I always have 6.  Remember the point I made at the beginning of this course – you need to be prepared to change 🙂 I can’t even count the number of times I’ve breathed a sigh of relief at having an additional video, song, worksheet, or game in my backpack!

Keep it short, simple and fun!


What are your favourite ways to teach ESL to kids? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, so scroll on down and tell me! I read and respond to every comment 🙂

Happy Teaching!


P.S.  Photography fans, the image in the main photo for today’s post is one I took right here in Barcelona, Spain in Park Guell

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