Find out just how much fun ESL drama can bring to your lessons, helping your pupils learn and stay motivated
30 Fun ESL Plays and Skits that are Adaptable, Humorous and Easy to Run With Your Class
If you are teaching children in small groups or private one to one lessons this is for you.
Discover tips and insights into using plays for ESL and EFL, and get a free ESL play script to use in your next class.
If you’ve already got our popular classroom games pack then you’ll have plenty of ammunition for class time, but ESL skits add another level of fun to your lessons. ESL/EFL plays are ideal for including as part of an end of term show to parents or to the whole school. They help keep the group motivation high, increase your effectiveness as a teacher and ensure that parents keep sending their children to your classes.
‘My name is Olga Poshekhova, I’m from Russia. I started teaching English only a year ago and as you can imagine didn’t feel confident at all.
Your games and skits helped me so much!
Thanks to them both my kids and I had a wonderful year full of joy, surprises and fun!’
Olga Poshekhova, Moscow, MoMiMo English Language Workshop
Why don’t teachers use ESL Plays?
– “Plays look like too much fun, where’s my textbook? Learning English should be laborious and hard work.”
– “The children will make too much noise and I won’t be able to control their every word and move.”
– “I don’t have time for that, I’ve got 26 units to get through this term!”
– “I can’t use plays to teach English because I can’t act!”
Why teachers should be using ESL plays
The most effective way to teach ESL children is to provide them with opportunities to learn English in the context of everyday situations with the emphasis on communication skills. An ESL play does this efficiently, effectively and with a large dollop of fun thrown in as a bonus, which means the children will look forward to their next lesson.
– Young children use drama naturally. They are often in the land of make-believe: “This is our house, and this is the baby, she is just born and she has to sleep now”. They assign roles and direct the action: “I’ll be the mummy and I’m going shopping. You’re the daddy; you have to go to work!” And they slip in and out of multiple roles: “Now it’s my turn to be the teacher”.
– Older children love being part of something. Preparing an ESL play together is a bonding experience for the group. All children are involved, from the most shy to the most outspoken, and all contribute to the final outcome. Children want to belong and being part of a play allows that to happen.
– ESL skits can effortlessly save you time. Drama is not an addition to your 26 units, but a method of teaching them more effectively. It does not matter if you can’t act – the children will be doing the acting!
– Children love them, parents love to be involved watching them and your school will be happy too.
The Proven Benefits of ESL Drama
Aside from the direct benefits for learning English, which we’re going to look at lower down, using creative drama makes students more skilled and rounded individuals. One of the findings of a three-year study funded by the Guggenheim museum in 2006, Teaching Literacy through Art, showed that including arts education increases fundamental literacy skills in elementary school students. Students involved in these programmes also “scored higher on expression, risk-taking, creativity, imagination and cooperative learning.“
ESL skits provide practical experience in communicating, they give children the opportunity to learn to work together and to be part of something, to belong to a group and to develop tolerance and empathy as they begin to see the world from different perspectives. ESL skits promote active learning, which enriches and reinforces traditional school experiences. In addition, most children are excited by the prospect of performing in front of others as a chance to be the center of attention. So, when it comes to teaching English as a second language, no matter the age of the student, drama and children are a winning combination.
Why Should we Use Plays for Teaching English?
First, it’s authentic. Using drama enables children to use English appropriately in real conversations. English is taught in the context in which it will be used, which makes students aware of the language first and foremost as a means of communication and which is far removed from lists of vocabulary, work-sheets and textbooks.
The conversational use of language in an ESL play script promotes fluency. Whilst learning a play, children listen to and repeat their lines over time. By repeating the words and phrases they become familiar with them and are able to say them with increasing fluency.
ESL drama teaches children to enunciate their words properly and to project their voices when they speak, helping them to become clear and confident speakers.
Using drama to teach English also helps to improve the understanding and retention of language. By the time a child has read, rehearsed and acted out a scene focusing on the phrase ‘I’ve forgotten my…’ there is little likelihood of ever forgetting how to use it in context. The same would not hold true if the verb ‘to forget’ had been memorized by rote for a vocabulary test.
The active participation required in an ESL drama lesson involves not only the intellect but also children’s imagination and emotions. By encouraging self-expression, drama motivates children to use language confidently and creatively.
Drama allows children to tap into different learning styles – visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. Hearing the lines, seeing the actions, feeling the props, acting out movements and using expression all make the lesson a far richer one.
ESL skits are ideal for mixed ability groups. Children whose language skills are still very limited can be given fewer lines and in addition are given the opportunity to communicate using nonverbal cues such as body movements and facial expressions.
How ESL Skits Help With Student Motivation
“I have been using your plays with 5 year-old kindergarten students and the result is absolutely fantastic! They are not just having fun during the role-play, they have also started using the structures from the plays in various situations outside the classroom, at play-time, mealtimes, etc. The plays do get them to speak. And this is a very rewarding experience for us, teachers, to hear them speak, not just use the target vocabulary.
Teaching vocabulary has also become easier through your plays as for the children every single new word they are learning is now more meaningful as it is connected with their real life experiences. I have also been getting a very positive feedback from the parents telling me that their children like acting out these role-plays at home with their parents and toy animals. Thank you for this great material, Shelley. I’m Russian but teaching in Turkey.” Olga Keskin ELT Teacher Istanbul, Turkey
As teachers we all know that trying to teach an unmotivated child is like hitting one’s head against a brick wall. With very young children we seldom come across this problem as most kindergarten and preschool children are motivated by curiosity and the love of exploring new ideas. Sadly, as a child grows older, learning is often seen as a chore. Let’s look at some reasons children become demotivated and see whether the use of drama could be a factor in overcoming them.
The child’s experience of success or failure has a significant effect on their motivation to learn. If children repeatedly fail, even when they have put a great deal of effort into their learning, they are inclined to approach future tasks with a negative attitude. By using drama as a teaching method with the appropriate choice of play and roles, there is no reason why all children cannot experience success. The secret is to make the task challenging, but achievable for each child.
The teacher’s own enthusiasm goes a long way towards motivating a child. Anyone who has taught a classroom of children knows how quickly they pick up and reflect your moods. If you think your English grammar lesson is boring, so will your students!
By using drama as a teaching method and allowing children to experience language in the simulated reality of a play they will derive far more fun from the lesson which increases motivation. In addition, the chances are that they will be confident enough to use the language in similar situations in real life.
Drama techniques motivate children to learn by breaking the monotony of the English lesson and lifting the tempo as children discuss and act out their roles, learn what they are going to say and decide how they are going to say it.
The third major factor concerning a lack of motivation is the child’s need to belong. Watch an apathetic child in the classroom come alive on the playing fields and play his heart out for his team. That is where he feels he fits in, his talents are respected and he is part of the team.
In a drama lesson all children are equally and actively involved, each role is essential for the successful performance of the play. A sense of belonging can be achieved here that is difficult to attain in a more traditional classroom setting.
Another important motivational factor, related to success, is self-confidence. As children become familiar with their lines in a play, they become more confident in their use of language.
Even timid children, who generally withdraw from group activities and are shy about talking in English in front of their friends, will often come out of their shells when given a role which they are capable of handling.
Role-playing comes naturally to children, especially the younger ones and when playing a role they easily shed their shyness and inhibitions. As they discover that they can be anything, just by pretending, children grow in self-esteem.
The power of the persona: children who might otherwise be hesitant about speaking in public are often able to do so unselfconsciously when playing a part.
How to Get Started
If you have not yet introduced your class to drama there are many circle games that you can use to initiate dramatic play.
Violin Spolin’s Improvisational Theatre Games are a good way to start as they help the children relax, encourage them to use their imagination and help them become more confident.
In one of Spolin’s circle games the group stands in a circle. The first child turns to the right and makes a simple movement, the child on the right repeats the movement, then gives a new movement to the child on his right and so on until everyone has had a turn.
This game can be played with sounds as well – start off by making them non-verbal. As the children become more proficient at this game the movements and sounds can be accumulated, with each additional sound and movement eventually building the entire sequence into a form of dance. A verbal version of the game could combine the vocabulary you plan on using in a play with the movements.
Singing is also an excellent way to practise language. Once the children know a song and enjoy singing it, put the new words to the tune. Almost anything is possible. ‘Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques’ becomes ‘Eggs and bacon, for my breakfast’ without any trouble and is sung just as lustily! Put familiar tunes to phrases found in the play before you even introduce the script so that by the time you do introduce it the children know the key vocabulary and phrases already. Have the children singing in rounds and encourage raucous participation.
Adapting the Play
Once the children have begun to experience their ESL classroom as a fun and safe environment and are beginning to understand the basics of performing, it is time to introduce them to the real thing.
Choosing the right play is important. It should not only be age-appropriate but also appropriate for the language level of your students. It is also important, of course, to ensure that the lines spoken in the play are in keeping with the particular language areas you are teaching at the time.
– The plays on offer at the bottom of this page are written especially for ESL classrooms, for children aged 4 to 12 inclusive.
– They are short and repetitive and designed to involve the whole group, no matter how big or small.
– They combine fun and movement with language usage that is carefully planned to provide optimal speaking practice in real life contexts.
– Roles should be assigned according to your students’ language ability levels. Children who are more capable and more confident can be given more lines, while shyer children or those with a more limited vocabulary can have fewer lines to say, or repeat lines said by other children, or speak as part of a group.
– Every play can be used for any number of children. The beauty of this is that if a child does not show up to rehearsal or even to the final performance it does not bring the whole show to a halt. In a one-to-one situation where the teacher takes one role and the pupil takes the other, this is explained for each play within the notes section.
– Keep the script simple, but develop it further or modify it if your students’ proficiency or lack of proficiency in English requires it. Some lines in the play may be optional. Edit these freely to suit your needs, based on the main idea. The plays are written for beginners so if you have intermediate students you will either be able to learn the plays faster or you can add extra lines.
Pre-Teaching the Play’s Vocabulary and Phrases
Once you have decided on the play it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of rehearsals. While older and more capable students can be given copies of the play to read, this is generally not advisable for younger and less capable children. For all students, no matter what level they may be on, the emphasis should be on speaking, acting and movement, not on reading lines. It’s a matter of personal choice but my own recommendation is not to give out written lines at all.
- Pre-teach the vocabulary first. Use it in songs and in games like Spolin’s circle game and those in 176 English Language Games for Children or the preschool games book; chant the words, stamp out the syllables or act them out individually – this is really fun when using words describing emotions and actions.
- Now teach the key phrases. Once the children are familiar with the separate words let them start practicing the lines in the play. These short sentences can also be practised in games. The idea is not to have individual children word-perfect in their own roles but to let the whole class experience using the sentences and vocabulary in context.
- Rehearse. Only when children know the key words and lines of the play should you put together all the elements – words, expression and movement. Allow the children to use their own creativity in setting the scene, deciding on props, costumes etc.
- Keep props simple. Remember that, as far as the last two are concerned, these should be kept very simple, using the ‘less is more’ principle, and they only need to be included in the final rehearsals.
- You will find that if you give the children props too soon they can become very absorbed by them and take a lot of time arranging them and so forth instead of getting on with saying their lines! Therefore, give out the props when the play runs fluently. The addition of props is then a novel element to keep the children’s interest right through to the final performance.
ESL Play Performance
It is absolutely vital to put on a performance, even if it’s to the class next door, because it allows the children to feel the satisfaction of showing their work.
Usually it is possible to invite parents to arrive earlier to collect children from the last lesson of term if you give sufficient notice, or arrange a special time. One can often perform the play at the school, during assembly, or for a special performance. School heads are generally proud to show off class accomplishments to parents, so even if you are a visiting teacher running after-school classes the head of school still sees this as a benefit that the school has to offer to prospective pupils and parents.
A tip regarding the actual performance: don’t start the show with the play but instead have pupils sing a group song or two with actions, play some vocabulary games in front of the audience by way of a warm up and finish with the play. This helps the children get used to suddenly being in front of an audience and will mean they are much, much less likely to freeze up with nerves when it comes to saying their lines.
Preparation of posters and invitations could form the basis of another English lesson. If the prospective audience has limited English skills perhaps a translation of the play could be made available to them. I was once asked for subtitles by a parent, which surprised me as the language in the play was so basic, however it is polite and helpful to acknowledge the audience in this way.
Take a video of the play, if you can. Not only will the children love seeing themselves act, it will serve as useful revision whenever the children watch the play. It will enable you to give them feedback later and will provide you with a benchmark against which further development can be determined, plus you can use it to market your lessons and attract more pupils. A recording of one of your plays is a testimony to your success as a teacher.
Feedback From Teachers
The children in my beginners’ English class had such fun doing your free skit ‘Ready Steady Go!’ at their graduation last May that I was pretty well obliged to buy the book so I could propose another skit at the close of their summer session! They were begging me for a skit. ‘The Robot’ was perfect and so simple to do. It really helped the kids build confidence in their ability to speak English. Thanks for making us look good!
Becky Good, Battambang, Cambodia
I am currently playing the games with my daughter and she simply loves them. Now I noticed there’s a language trick in every script “Where are you going?/What are you going to buy? / Would you like versus Do you like?” They are smart choices and my daughter loves playing them.
A Free Sample Play For You To Try
Here is a sample play from the 30 ESL plays – Ready Steady Go!
Right click and save target as to save to your computer – it is a PDF so you will need Adobe Reader to read it.
Andreevain Romania sent in a picture and says: “I played ‘Ready Steady Go!’ with my kids and they liked it very much – here they are in the bus ready to go into the fantastic play world.“
From Cristina Roig: “Last week I did the play Ready Steady go! and The Restaurant with my class (5 year’s old) they absolutely loved it, we had a lot of fun and the parents were astonished of their capacity to start speaking some sentences in English (it is, after all, their first year). Your material is fantastic!“
Flexible Group Size: each play is written so that it can be performed by a teacher and pupil in the case of a one to one situation, or by any number of children up to a maximum of about fifteen. The reason for the maximum number is to keep rehearsals fun and flowing, and to keep children heavily involved rather than waiting for a chance to say a line.
Funny Skits and Scenes: the plays are often written with a humorous twist at the end.
Tips: the introduction contains a lengthy tips section on how to organize rehearsals and teach the plays. One of the key tips is to pre-teach the main vocabulary before even starting the play, as well as the main grammatical phrases. Another useful tip is to practise little and often rather than spending a whole lesson practicing, and to do everything from memory – no reading from a sheet of paper.
Immediate Access: these plays are in an e-book format so you can download them instantly and pay no postage. There’s no waiting and you can get started straight away. This also allows us to make the plays available to you at a very reasonable price. The e-book format can be downloaded to your computer and consulted online as well as printed.
Consider these 30 plays as a curriculum to keep you occupied for at least a year of teaching, supplemented with games and songs, or fit them in with your course book. You’ll get so much pleasure from preparing these plays, and your private students or small groups of children will enjoy learning with you in this way.
You will be able to download the plays immediately on processing of your order.