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Top 10 ESL Activities for Older English Learners

Top 10 ESL Activities for Older English Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

From my experience, when you deal with older ESL learners, you have to take into account the fact that they do not want to look bad while practicing their English skills. Actually, activities and exercises should make them feel at ease and confident in their learning, as well as satisfied with the goals achieved so far. It goes without saying that the teaching techniques that include a direct confrontation between an adult student and the teacher or a classmate as a judge of their performance should be avoided so as not to make them feel uncomfortable. Here are a few ideas for you to try.

1) Personal Questions and Answers

Unless your learners are really shy, almost all of them enjoy talking about themselves and their families: they are usually proud of their lives, their retirement, their previous jobs, their families, and achievements. The activity can be practiced in twos, and the students ask each other for personal details and information. By doing so, they are exposed to language with pleasure and ease since they have the opportunity to show off their goals and their dearest loved ones.

2) Dictation with Self-Correction

Dictation can be a good strategy to enhance and develop hearing skills, check spelling, revise vocabulary as well as grammar. For this reason, the teacher could avoid grading older students’ dictations, which might negatively affect their writing performance. Before dictating live in front of the class, the teacher points out that the students will correct their mistakes by themselves.

Thanks to this technique, older learners can feel more relaxed and less anxious for the final result of the test; actually, they are at ease to guess new language, make mistakes and reconstruct the text if they miss the point. After the dictation, they make their own corrections and feel free to share their mistakes with the class, which will be anyway corrected and explained by the teacher.

3) Find the Mistakes

The students have to find out the mistake/s in each written sentence or in a text. Sometimes it is said that this type of exercise is not good because it leads students to focus on their mistakes rather than on the correct form of a sentence. Well, I can say my students benefit from paying attention to language accuracy; actually, they find this assignment really useful since it helps revise specific grammar rules, spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation. In addition, such exercises are often the starting point to teach new content.

Also read: You’re Never Too Old to Change Your Life and Do a TEFL Course

4) Listening at a Slower Pace

Course books usually have listening sections that can be played in class or at home. I have noticed it could be sometimes useful to technically adapt the listening pace of the recordings to the students’ level and needs because there may be conversations, instructions, stories, and other text types at a very fast pace that they may not be able to grasp.

If older learners do not understand such spoken language after 3-4 times they listen to it, they could get frustrated so as to stop listening for the purpose of understanding the message. In their opinion, speaking slowly also means speaking clearly.

5) Asking for and Giving Directions

Students learn how to use basic language for directions in the street, which they find particularly useful when they are on holiday or on business. It can be practiced in several ways; for instance, what they particularly enjoy is drawing on a map the way to reach a certain place, as suggested by the teacher or audio. They can also reproduce a dialogue they have just heard by role-playing in pairs: they ask each other for personal information such as their way home from the school or to their favorite local supermarket/coffee shop/cinema.

When possible, it is good to use personal information because this helps to keep the lesson more motivating and interesting. Last but not least, the teacher also focuses on grammar (prepositions of place, imperatives, etc.), vocabulary (names of buildings, useful phrases, etc.), and spelling by modeling and drilling new language to let them listen, understand and repeat.

6) Singing a Song and Choral Reading

Both introverted and extroverted students feel comfortable singing or reading altogether because they are encouraged by the group. In the beginning, they may be reluctant, but they really appreciate such choral activities in the end. Smiles and sometimes laughter spontaneously arise as they realize they are practicing pronunciation, intonation, new vocabulary, rhythm, fluency with so much pleasure and apparently without any effort!

Also read: Teaching English to Older Students: ✅ The Pros and Cons

7) Matching Pictures and Vocabulary

Matching techniques may provide students with a comfortable approach to revise and extend their use of language. You can use objects, cards, drawings on the board, or pictures from course books, and the students mainly work on their own to match vocabulary/phrases/sentences and the materials given. Then they check answers by listening to the teacher, audio, or other classmates.

8) Sentence Change

From present to past, from negative to positive, from singular to plural, and so on: adult learners usually like this way of practicing a new language. It is a kind of comfort zone because they know exactly the type of transformation required and the reference grammar pattern needed: once they have studied a rule and focused on sentence models, they successfully carry out the transformation. It also boosts their writing skills; actually, in their opinion, more writing means more thinking and, at the same time, more possibilities to remember things.

9) Homework Tasks

I usually try to make connections between the English language we study in class and the English language, which is used by media and native speakers in English-speaking countries. It is not just a matter of doing the required worksheets connected to a specific unit, and it involves optional searching for authentic sources online and offline for the students’ own pleasure and according to their interests.

For instance, when they are out of class, they can read extra books or articles focusing on their favorite topics, visit specific websites, find out English words in their local newspapers/TV news, leaflets, etc., that is anything that can really build up their motivation and confidence. When they are in class, they feel free to act out their responses by practicing interactive and fluency skills.

10) Games

Games may not be suitable for older learners who usually associated them with children and sometimes with a waste of time. So you have to carefully explain the reason why they need them for enjoyment on the one hand and for language practice on the other. For instance, if you have beginner or elementary students, I recommend trying ‘Hit the ships’ and ‘Snakes and Ladder’.

The first game is well-known worldwide, and it seems to be very good to revise numbers and letters. The students play in twos: they draw on their boards the ships, and then they try to hit them by calling the coordinates of one of the squares. As for ‘Snakes and ladders’, every space contains a question, an exercise, or an activity, and students take turns by tossing dice and do the task they find out. It’s suitable to revise and enhance the language studied.

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Of course, when selecting activities for practicing and developing language, it is always up to the teacher to understand the students’ level, preferences, and needs. At the same time, it is always advisable to use several kinds of activities to add variety to a lesson. Hopefully, if you have the age group I am dealing with, you will see that the above-mentioned ideas really work.

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