Teaching teens and adults English online

student in online lesson
03 Apr Shelley Vernon 1 Comment

*Hello there and thanks for visiting this page on teaching English online via a platform, or Skype. These activities suit any creative online class, but also confinement, such as during the time of the Coronavirus.


ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults includes online games book coverFirstly, if you already own my fun book of activities for teaching teens and adults in the classroom, here is a link to a list of games from that book that you may use online. If you don't have the book, there is a link to it lower down in the blog.  List of games from Teen/Adult Activities book for use online


If you are teaching from home, teaching online via Skype, Zoom or any other online platform, try these ideas to liven up your classes. And, if you like this blog, and you have an idea, please, pretty please, do share it with us in the comments!


How about a creative writing diary project? Students recount something nice or something funny every day, maybe with a picture. Students compare notes on what they did in the online class.

Have a competition to see who can do the most original or nice thing in their day and get the others to vote on it. See who can do something that no one else has done! It might be making some biscuits...with a special flavour...it might be skateboarding in the basement... Students have to prove it - by showing a biscuit in the online class, or showing a photo...otherwise they could say anything.


Get students away from technology for some of the time. It's well-known now that lack of exercise and too much screen time is a key cause of depression amongst the young. Let's get students to be creative away from their phones and social media. How about running an art project in English. For example, give students tips and know-how on how to take creative photos. Students learn about this, in English, and each one submits a photo or two to the pool, anonymously. All students vote on their favourites. At the end, the winners can be identified, if you like.

lightbulb idea* It's important that students submit their photos anonymously to avoid the social media 'we like sheep' phenomena, where you like the pic taken by your mate even if it's a load of rubbish because if you don't he will never speak to you again!  

* Creative pics don't have to be exotic. They can be taken with everyday objects. Who can take the most creative pic of a book? Taking real close-ups can be fun, because if you take a close up of part of an object, it can be hard to tell what it is. Have a competition like that, a guessing game, using pics taken by the students. Can you tell what this pic is? The first two pics are pretty easy to guess. The answers are at the bottom of the blog.


How about giving students instructions in English to do some origami? Students can each make a different model and show it to the others in the next online class. They could have the task then of creating a story, collectively, that involves each of the items made. Or, each student makes up a story with his or her origami object as the hero/heroine.


Ongoing projects that students share with the class could be to plant lettuce seeds in a pot at home. Even if there isn't much space at home, you can still grow lettuce by a window, in a salad bowl...It's also therapeutic to grow things. Some students may not be able to do this, in which case let them choose another project to create and share.

edgar artis creative dress from matchesHow about a dressing up project? Each student creates an outfit, from their regular clothes, with some makeup and a prop or two. They attend class in their outfit (if you have visuals), or send in a picture. Everyone guesses who the others are. Students can then present their character and say a few lines about him or her, who they are, why they like them, what they have done that is significant...or not. It can be anything - give students free rein. If someone wants to disguise themselves as their cat, why not? They can still tell you why they chose their cat, and what they like about their cat. Personally, I would be useless at this disguise task, and I would not even enjoy doing it. Doing something like the Armenian artist Edgar Artis, would appeal more to me - like this 'dress' he made from used matches. So...it's really important to give your students a choice of activity. 


Plays and skits. Read scripts in small groups or one on one. It might be too much of a drag with a large class unless you can do group work online. That said, some fun could be had with pronunciation practise, and putting expression into speech. This is brilliant for speaking fluency and confidence too. So, take a couple of lines from a play and have students put as much energy and expression into the lines as they can. Explore different ways that the lines can be said...with disdain, questioning, with joy, with laughter, hesitantly, with sadness. Try emphasizing different words in the sentence and see what that does to the meaning. Meaning is often transformed by a single comma. Let's eat Grandpa. Let's eat, Grandpa.  Check out my book of skits for teens here.


Science experiments students can do at home. There are plenty of sites online for ideas, this one looks good. https://sciencebob.com/category/experiments/ Demonstrate in class and have students try the experiment at home for homework...share any photos, or film and results in the next class.

30 circles from bob Mckim as an online activitySketching. Give a list of vocabulary words for students to choose from and have them sketch one of them, then share results. If you do this for five minutes in each lesson, students will get better at sketching. Have the most talented sketcher show the others how to sketch a specific object. You can find lots of great 'how to draw' methods free online. In the same vein, try Bob McKim's 30 Circles Test (McKim was a Standford University Researcher.) Students draw 30 circles and then take five minutes to turn those circles into anything their imagination can think of. 

Do it with any shapes. Students compare items drawn and ideas. Make it a cooperative or team game, with students working together to come up with the most ideas. You can cover a lot of vocabulary like this, and if you want to get more English into it, have students do a flash-fiction activity, by making up a very short story with ten items drawn in their 30 circles. Again, the more you do it, the better you get.

Of course you can do worksheets and readings, and these are super useful. But in this blog post, I tried to think of some more creative ideas, to get students involved in learning English in a more personal way. As you use more creative ideas, your students WILL become better at it. So do persevere, even if at first, everyone seems pretty shy.


You will find lots of concrete ideas that you can adapt to online use in my book of activities for teens and adults. The activities are written up for a physical classroom, but there are plenty of teachers using it for online ideas. Use them for vocabulary, grammar, writing tasks, speaking drills, and speaking fluency.


Answer to the close-ups: Tyre, Tangerine, Rose, Bread


Thank you so much, I'll definitely use some of these ideas in my virtual classrooms! Saskia

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