no-prep esl activities

No Time? 10 No-prep ESL Activities, Warm-ups and Energizers

Sometimes I don’t have time or energy to print extra resources or activities.

Some days, like today, the printer in my office runs out of ink, the printer in the common area is jammed and while two colleagues are trying to repair it, I quietly leave to copy some activities out of a resource pack, but the copy machine I wanted to use, the one for students, the one that requires coins (a lot of coins) to operate, is not working.

I have no time, my lesson is about to start. Sounds familiar?

No-prep ESL activities are my life. I need them, I love them. I can’t get enough of them.

Let me know if you have any favorite no-prep ESL activities.

1) Questions? Questions!

This is a silly little game, it’s short and funny, which makes it a perfect no-prep warm up or an energizer. Put the students in pairs and tell them to choose a topic. Then, give them some time (5 minutes) to talk about it. The catch? They have to speak ONLY in questions! Its fun to watch and they can practice question tags.

2) Alphabet games

This is an excellent activity for vocabulary revision. Write the letters of the alphabet on the board, project it on the whiteboard, or alternatively tell students to write the letter down in a column. That is all the prep you need to do. Their task will be to write a word from a certain category/topic for each letter of the alphabet (you might want to omit difficult letters such as Z or X). And this is where the fun begins because this game has so many variations. The topics can include:

  • food
  • animals
  • objects
  • professions
  • phrasal verbs
  • adjectives
  • travel vocabulary
  • body parts and health vocabulary

3) Have you ever?

Tell the students to write down 10 questions starting with Have you ever. This activity is great for students that don’t know each other that well, but it works for all students, no matter what age or level. The students can be very original and curious and that can make this activity quite entertaining. When they’ve completed the questions, put them in pairs, and let them ask and answer the questions. At the end of the activity, ask them what have they learned about their classmates.

no-prep esl activities
Have you ever petted a tiger?

4) What has changed?

Choose a student(or ask a volunteer) to have a good look around, then tell them to step outside. With the rest of the students, rearrange the classroom. Call the student back inside and ask them if they can spot any changes. Great for reviewing classroom vocabulary and prepositions.

5) Free speaking

I sometimes do this at the beginning of the lesson as a warm-up activity and sometimes at the end as a “reward”. Put the students in pairs or groups of three and tell them they will have to speak for a minute or two about a certain topic. The topic will be given to them by their classmates and it can be anything from free time to more difficult topics such as volcanoes, nails, moles, or kelp. It sounds easy but it’s not, the task is to speak as fluent as possible, and under pressure, each second lasts much longer. You can find more topics for free speaking here.

6) Acting out

I have a created PDF resource for this activity some time ago, but I’ve recently realized kids don’t know the same stories I do anymore. I am too old now, I can’t keep up. So you can either use my older version or the no-prep version:

  1. On slips of paper, students write famous stories, e.g. Captain America, Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, etc. This is to guarantee that they will know them.
  2. On other slips of paper, they write movie genres, e.g. sci-fi, comedy, horror.
  3. Collect the slips with stories and genres.
  4. Put the students into groups of three or four (depends on the story).
  5. Give each group a story and a genre.
  6. Tell them they have to prepare a short scene from that story, BUT, they have to make the story according to the genre. So the result might be: Cinderella as a horror movie.
  7. Give them time to plan, write and practice their scenes.
  8. Enjoy the show.
no-prep esl activities
Keep on swimming!

7) Picture description

Tell the students to open their textbooks on a random page. In pairs, they take turns and describe all the pictures on that given page.

8) Word explanations

This is a quick no-prep revision I use at the end of every unit to recycle and revise vocabulary. Put students in pairs of groups of four, give them a pile of paper slips(20-40). Tell them to write one word on each slip. They have to work together to avoid duplicates. The words should be from a recent unit/topic, they can use textbooks or other resources. When they are done, they will swap the pile of paper slips with another group. This is when the game begins. They will take turns and draw a paper slip from the pile, explain the word without using the word or gestures. The student who first guesses the word gets a point and keeps the card. The student with most points/cards is the winner.

9) 5-second questions

Fast paced and competitive, no-prep required. Put the students in pairs or if you have a larger class into groups. Tell them they will have to ask each other questions to earn points. Appropriate questions, of course. Sounds easy, right? The problem is, they will only have 5 seconds to ask a question, and it has to be grammatically correct. To make it more stressful, the other student- their opponent can count down the seconds. If they ask a correct question in the time limit, they will get a point.

10) Oh, really?

no-prep esl activities
You don’t say.

This is another funny and short activity. Put the students in pairs and tell them they will have a conversation. The first student has to start with a short sentence, like this:

Student 1: I play tennis.

The other student responds: Oh, really?, and adds extra information( a word or a phrase).

So it should be like this: Oh, really? I play tennis every day.

Student 1 continues: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams.

Student 2 responds: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams in Monaco.

Student 1 responds: Oh, really? I play tennis every day with Serena Williams in Monaco while feeding dolphins.

And so on. Can they keep up?

The student who will form the longest grammatically correct (and at least a little bit coherent) answer wins.


esl vocanulary game
Vocabuary game
esl role plays
Role-plays
esl speaking activities
Speaking Activities

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