ESL Animal Vocabulary: Activities & Games

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

In this lesson, you'll find some activities and games that you can do with ESL students to teach them animal vocabulary. The activities and games concentrate on putting the vocabulary in context.

Animals in Context

Teaching any vocabulary list to English as a second language (ESL) students requires that students put the taught words in a specific context. This is particularly true when it comes to animal vocabulary because, otherwise, students are likely to forget due to lack of usage. Thus, animal vocabulary lessons and activities should be fun and memorable so that students learn the new words and actually use them.

With that in mind, the following activities and games ask students to use the new words in a specific context and in fun, unique ways. All of the activities require introduction of the vocabulary first, ideally alongside visuals of the animals.

Remembering Words for Animals

This activity can be performed in pairs or groups of students, as you deem appropriate. Begin by having students prepare sentences in English that describe the animal vocabulary they've just learned (without using the actual name of the animal). Then, each student will read those sentences aloud to another student who must guess what animal is being described. Students can take turns describing and guessing.

For instance, student A might say 'This animal has huge ears and is gray.' Student B would then think through the learned animal vocabulary and respond with 'Elephant!' In turn, student B might say, 'This animal lives in the sea, is big and is often colored grey or black and white'. Student A would remember the word 'whale.'

Brainstorming About Animals

With this activity, your students can enjoy brainstorming about each animal. For this game, you'll give your students an animal vocabulary term, and they will write down as many descriptors of that term as possible within a limited amount of time. You can set the time limit according to the students' language level.

For example, students might brainstorm descriptors for the word 'dogs':

  • are very loyal.
  • eat once or twice a day.
  • need to be trained.
  • are wonderful domestic animals.
  • are very smart.

Animals in Movies

For this activity, students can work in pairs or groups. Assign each pair or group an animal, and then instruct the students to prepare a short presentation. This presentation will focus on a movie that features the assigned animal. Give the pairs or groups time to create their presentations, then have them present to the class.

For example, a group assigned the word 'lion' could present about The Lion King. Their presentation may include the lions' names in the movie, a description of the characters, a brief description of the movie's plot, and so forth.

Classifying Animals

This activity requires students to break down their learned vocabulary words into different categories of animals. So, it's particularly useful for students who have learned a large number of animal terms. Begin by providing students with a list of categories, such as 'farm animals' and 'domestic animals.' For more advanced ESL students, you may have them separate vocabulary into the types of foods the animals eat or habitats they live in.

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