Quick Filler Activities for ESL Classes

Quick Filler Activities for ESL Classes

Filler activities are essential and every good ESL teacher has a handful (or more!) of simple, no-set-up filler activities for when a lesson finishes super early. But sometimes you don’t have ten or fifteen minutes – or even five! – to go into a more elaborate activity. 

Brett Cleveland Teaching StudentsWhat about those awkward two minutes at the end of class when you have finished all of your activities and are just waiting for the bell to ring? What about times when you can tell that the students are restless and need to just move and go crazy for a couple of minutes, but you are already crunched for time to get through everything in class?

It is times like those that you need a few of these super quick filler activities in your back pocket, that your class can snap into and out of almost immediately.

Twenty Questions

A classic. You think of any noun, and let them ask 20 questions total as a class to figure out what it is.

Teacher Says

If you’ve ever played Simon Says, you know how this game works. You give them actions to do, but if they do it when you didn’t say “Teacher says” first, they are out and have to sit down. Great for classes that have a lot of energy, and it’s easy to play a round in 1-2 minutes.

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Easy peasy, and great vocabulary practice. You can quickly pantomime some vocabulary yourself, or whisper a word to a student and let them go to the front of the class to try.

ABC chain

Give them a subject – animals, for example.  The first student has to name one that starts with A, and go through each student all the way to Z.  Better for more advanced students with a larger vocabulary.

Word chain

Similar to the ABC chain, except that students have to come up with a new word that starts with the final letter of the last word.  For example apple, elephant, turtle, every, yesterday. You can make it easier by letting them use any word they can think of, or more challenging by giving them a category.

Whiteboard Scrabble

One student comes up to the board and writes any word.  The next student writes another word that links to that one, scrabble style. Each new student adds a word until you either run out of time or run out of board space.


Throw a quick riddle out to your class if you have just a minute or two to fill up. Here are some great worksheets that you can get lots of good riddles from:

The ISL collective has great worksheets, as does Iteslj.

Freeze Dance

Another great active one for students with a lot of energy who might just need a little 1-2 minute movement break. Have them stand up next to their desks. Play some English language music for them, and let them dance in place until you pause the music.

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Everyone has to freeze, and anyone who is still moving after the music stops is out and has to sit down, or can come up to control the music.

Teacher May I

This one works better for smaller groups of students.  Students stand in a line, and you give them commands – “Tom, take two giant steps forward,” or “Jane, take one frog hop forward.” They must ask “Teacher may I?” before moving – if they forget, they have to go back to the starting line.

The first student to get close enough to touch you is the winner.


A classic kids’ game that is great for working on pronunciation and listening, and is almost always a good laugh. Start by whispering a message into a student’s ear, then have them whisper that message along to the next student. The last student says what they hear out loud, and it is sure to come out hilariously garbled.


You write a sentence riddled with errors on the board, and the students take turns coming up to correct the errors. Sounds simple, but kids love any chance to come up and write on the whiteboard, and they love correcting the teacher’s “mistakes.”

Stand Up Sit Down

This is a great active game that works on listening skills.  Choose a particular sound, or a particular word, whichever works best for your class. You say a word or a sentence, and if it contains the key sound/word, the students have to stand up.

If it does not they have to sit down. Encourage them to be as quick as they can about it, and eliminate those who get it wrong until you have one winner left.

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You know the drill – draw your gallows on the board, then choose a word or sentence and draw a line for each letter.  Students take turns guessing letters. If they get it wrong you add a head, body, arms, legs. If you get a whole person on the “hangman,” you win, if they guess the sentence before you have drawn a full person, they win.

Keep these ideas in the back of your mind, and you’ll never find yourself twiddling your thumbs in those few awkward moments before the bell rings.

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