How to create an engaging ESL lesson for young learners!

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

As a CELTA qualified instructor, I have taught English as a second/foreign language for a few years. Recently, I have been having more and more requests to tutor children and I have had to tailor my lessons. This has been a rewarding experience, as I have managed to merge my teaching experience with my ability to teach English as a language.

I had to figure out how I was going to incorporate grammar, speaking, listening and vocabulary, whilst making it fun for the learner.

Here are some top tips for doing just that!

1. #Vocabulary

All students have a strength but vocabulary is something that needs to be learned ALONGSIDE grammar.

Going around the house and finding objects

Every lesson, I ask my students to complete a homework task. One of those tasks is to find 20 objects that begin with a random letter of the alphabet. For example "T" could bring results like: toothpaste, tea, teapot, teddy bear, tulips, table, tangerines, television, tiles, toilet etc (results from the last lesson!)

This allows for a recap at the beginning of the next lesson and helps with retention. Alongside retention, students are able to ask questions and this helps solidify the new vocabulary. I tend to repeat the letters to help my students grow in confidence and encourage them to use their new vocabulary to complete a writing task.

What's in my bag?

I'm a mum, and I have random things in my bag. I don't know why, but it seems to be a universal law that mums follow. It's easier for students to associate words with PHYSICAL OBJECTS. I find it useful to make this activity interactive. For example, "what do you call a hairbrush in your language?" By turning the activity into a conversation, students can feel as though they are contributing something worthwhile to their teacher. And young children love playing teacher!

2. #Grammar

Grammar is easy to teach when you can attach a real-world scenario to it. For example travelling, breakfast, family.


This is a fantastic resource for ESL teachers, as you can search for simple videos and create comprehension questions. This way, you include listening and grammar simultaneously.

Recently, I used a video related to cars and combined vocabulary with colours and other common adjectives. We then used this for our speaking section of the lesson and my student told me about the way she travels in her native country. She then told me how she missed her best friend and I knew that would be a fantastic way to introduce 'possessive adjectives'.


I like to plan my own lessons, but for beginners it can be worthwhile investing in a book. I sometimes use books (with CD/DVD) to provide audio for my students, so they can be exposed to other accents. One of the downfalls is that you can be unsure of what was supposed to come next in the lesson. Some DVDs can be helpful as they allow you to build tests, and while you're still new, you can use this to judge the progress of your students.

Who wants to be a millionaire??

I use this format to test the grammar of my students, as it helps me identify the next level of progression. But make it fun! For every question my students answer correctly, they receive a sweet (make sure you check for allergies and any dietary requirements).

Looks simple and very easy to create. Try incorporating anything you have learnt about your student and hey presto! #engagement

3. #Listening and #speaking

Listening is probably one of the things ESL learners struggle with the most when learning a new language. Listening reinforces the vocabulary and speaking skills that you are trying to place into your learner. It can help with pronunciation and most speakers, want to speak like a native.

Clips from TV/Movies/Fairy tales

This can help students with understanding popular cultural quotes and seem less like work and more like fun! Examples of questions could be: What are the names of the characters? What job does Joey have? Who is Monica married to? Is Chandler funny? (Yep, you guessed it: Friends)

Watch the news and listen to the radio

Have your learners plan a mini-presentation on what they've learnt. Ask them to explain how things might differ in their home country. Get them to pretend to be a journalist or reporter or design a logo for their station. This provides ample opportunity to speak without a nervous barrier and recognise the differences in tone and register.

Children need to have fun whilst they are learning!

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