Activity Name: Categories

Areas of Practice: Listening
Source: Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities, by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright
Setup: Prepare a list of words that students have already learned that can be broken into two categories (e.g., food/drink;
big/small; months/seasons)
Procedure: Write the title of each category on the board, separated by a vertical line, to make two columns. Have students copy this on a piece of paper. Model the game for a few rounds by showing how to play on the board: call out a word and choose which category it belongs in, then simply mark with an x under the appropriate column. For example, if the categories are food and drink, and you call out “water,” “hot dog,” and “apple,” you’d have 2 x marks under food and 1 under water.
Once you’ve demonstrated this a few times, have the students continue to mark independently. This requires them to listen to the words, understand what they are, and choose the correct category.

Beginners: If reading the columns and making marks will be difficult, you can also hand out printed cards and have students hold up the correct card for the category.
Advanced: Have students write each word, rather than just marking an x.
Virtual: This can be done quite easily virtually; just be sure that each student has a piece of paper. Use the whiteboard feature on Zoom screenshare (or similar feature on another videoconferencing platform).

Activity adapted by Rachel Sloan, originally published in Roanoke Valley English Ministry Bulletin, October 2021. Reposted by permission.

Flyswatter vocabulary practice

Fly Swatter Vocabulary Game

A fun and active game to help your students practice vocabulary.

This is a great way to practice vocabulary and can be used with words or pictures (or both!) on the cards.

Flyswatter Game

Areas of Practice: Vocabulary 

Source: MNA ESL Training

Setup: Write 9 vocabulary words on a posterboard or whiteboard (tic-tac-toe style). Have 2 (clean) flyswatters ready.

Procedure: Line your students up into two teams, with one members of each team holding the flyswatter. Call out one of the words on the board. The first person to swat the word wins a point for that team!

Beginners: Use pictures instead of words. You also might have the other students shouting directions on the board (especially if you space the words out) “go up! to the left! down!” – this promotes whole-class engagement.
Advanced: Call out definitions, synonyms or antonyms instead.
Virtual: Have students use the annotate feature on zoom to put a stamp on the word.

Activity adapted by Rachel Sloan, originally published in Roanoke Valley English Ministry Bulletin, September 2021. Reposted by permission.

I have You have card samples

“I Have, Who Has?” Game

A fun activity to help your students practice vocabulary by hearing, speaking and reading the vocabulary words.
I have You have card samples

This is a great way to practice vocabulary and can be used with words or pictures (or both!) on the cards.

Areas of Practice: lists of vocabulary (alphabet, months, days, etc.); reading; speaking; listening
Setup: You’ll need to create cards for this activity or print some off like these. Each card says “I have __. Who has ___?” For example, “I have A. Who has Q?” The next card has the answer and the next question, like “I have Q. Who has M?” The cards should continue through your list of items until the last card goes back to the very first “I have” statement to cover each item.

Directions: Pass out all of the cards to the students. If you have more items than students, they may get several cards, so try to mix them up well! Keep the first card and read it to start (for example, “I have hat. Who has jeans?”), then have students go through all of the cards. The student with the card that has the word reads that card aloud (for example,”I have jeans. Who has shirt?”) The game moves around the room until all of the cards have been read.

For a short video explaining the game, click here.

Beginners: You might need to use exaggerated gestures (like a shrug and quizzical expression for “Who has?”) and help students read the words on the cards. This is a vocabulary review and shouldn’t be used for introducing new vocabulary.
Advanced: When a student has said the word (e.g., “I have koala,”), s/he should make a sentence with it (“Koalas live in Australia.”) before reading the next part (“who has kangaroo?”).
Virtual: This is possible virtually, but will require extra setup, either sending a file of individualized cards by email or through chat before the game. You might want to save this one for an in-person lesson

Activity adapted by Rachel Sloan, originally published in Roanoke Valley English Ministry Bulletin, November 2019 & December 2021. Reposted by permission.

Open book with English letters flying above the page.

How to Help a Friend Learn English

Has someone asked you to help them learn English, and you don’t know where to start?  Learning any language is a marathon, not a sprint, and understanding this concept and a few basic principles about learning a new language can guide you as you help your friend in their English study.

Understanding Language Levels

Unfortunately, no one wakes up one day and speaks like a native; learning language is a process. As someone goes through the process of learning English, they progress through “language levels”. When you begin helping someone, it’s important to identify the level they are at, and then find lessons or curriculum that is appropriate for their level. If you choose material that is too easy, your friend will probably become bored and loose interest. If the lessons are too difficult, they may become discouraged and give up. For example, you wouldn’t teach someone the alphabet unless they are an absolute beginner, and you don’t want to recommend that your friend read an ESL news website if they can’t say much beside their name and where they are from. To help you identify your friend’s level, here is a brief description of what someone can do at different ability levels:

Absolute Beginners

When someone begins to learn English, they need to learn the alphabet and basic sounds each letter and the combination of letters makes.  As an individual’s basic understanding of English grows, they learn simple phrases and can have very basic conversations with others and identify words for common objects.


At this stage, people know some basic vocabulary and phrases. They can have  short, simple conversations and make themselves understood, even though they will often need to pause and think about what to say or write. They can recognize and identify simple information in basic writing. As they progress through the beginning stage, they will be able to correctly use past tense verbs.


As their vocabulary, understanding, and ability to use English to express themselves increases, learners move to the intermediate phase. Individuals at an intermediate level can understand the main point of everyday conversations, news reports, TV shows, etc. They can be active in discussions on familiar topics without preparation. As they grow through the intermediate level they will move from being able to write a personal letter about an experience they had to being able to write an essay, including providing reasons and supporting evidence for their position.


Finally, someone is considered advanced when they can communicate fluently, accurately and effectively. They have no difficulty understanding spoken and written language on a variety of topics. They can precisely and effectively communicate complex thoughts and opinions both orally and in writing.

The first thing you should do after you decide to help your friend learn English is to get a rough understanding of what their current English level is by having a conversation with them. During this conversation, ask them why they want to learn English and what their goals are. You can then look for vocabulary resources and lessons that will help them achieve their goals. For example, if someone wants to be able to communicate with their child’s teacher, you will want to look for lessons that have to do with school, classes, subjects, school behaviors and expectations. However, if someone is working in construction and needs to improve their English for communicating with their co-workers, they will need a completely different vocabulary. When you are talking with your friend to assess their level, also ask about their reading and writing, and if they studied English in the past. In some countries, children study English in school where lessons are mostly focused on reading and writing, resulting in listening and speaking skills that are less advanced. For others, they may have learned to have conversations in English for a job, but never learned to read and write. (For these reasons, someone may be at one level in their oral English skills, and another level for their written skills.) After talking with your friend, you should have a general ideal of what level they are at. If they need to use their phone to translate everything, start at an absolute beginner level. If they need the translator some, they are most likely still a beginner. If they do not use a translator at all, see which category above you think they fit into and try some material out from the level you think they fit into. If most of the words are new for them, try easier material. If they know almost every word, try something a little harder. Each lesson at the right level should have several new words, but not be overwhelming. Once you find your friend’s level – find appropriate lessons on relevant topics at that level.

As you are looking for material, be aware that different publishers and websites sometimes have different names for these levels. (Even within each level, there are different levels.) Some material is leveled from 1(beginning)  through 5 (advanced).  Others: A1 & A2 (Beginning), B1 & B2 (Intermediate), C1 & C2 (Advanced). Other sites may have levels 1 (beginning ) through 10 (advanced).

There are lots of ESL lessons available online and in books. You can check out some resources we’ve found useful here:  We are continually reviewing resources and adding links, so check back regularly. You can also log in and leave a review of the resources or suggest a resource you’ve found to be helpful. You can also read more about language levels here:

How quickly someone progresses through the language levels depends on various factors. There’s no “right” speed for someone to progress. However, the more time someone spends studying and practicing English, the faster they will learn and grow in the language. In the following articles in this series, we’ll examine the 3 key elements in learning English, as well as strategies and activities to help you and your friend.

Shannon Mann is the founder and CEO of TESOL Ministry. She has a M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Golden Gate Seminary (now Gateway Seminary). She has over 7 years experience teaching ESL in college and university settings and trains and mentors students working toward their TESOL certificate.

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Question mark to a light bulb

Obstacles to Opportunities

English as a Second Language (ESL) Ministries face a myriad of challenges: quality volunteer acquisition, training and retention, program funding, student participation and growth – to say nothing of lasting spiritual fruit. Often ESL ministry directors start off with little more than a heart for the Lord and their community, a handful of classes, and some teaching experience. However, growing and maintaining a successful ministry requires a broader skill set than most leaders receive. Similarly, many teachers in ESL ministries need additional training and support to facilitate the kind of English growth students hope for and spiritual fruit a sponsoring organization or church desires. Even teachers who have earned their TESOL Certificate benefit greatly from continuing education opportunities. TESOL Ministry was established to help ESL ministries, program directors and teachers overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities. Using technological tools and the skills many have been forced to acquire because of the pandemic, we are connecting our community in a new and exciting way to provide resources, networking opportunities, materials sharing, training, and exchange of ideas. In addition to connecting the ESL ministry community, we will provide information on an ongoing basis from experts and professionals in various fields to help you tackle the different types of challenges you face: whether you are leading an ESL ministry or helping a neighbor learn English. Welcome to TESOL Ministry!

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