Lower Elementary ESL Activities

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a bachelor's degree in English Education from the University of Delaware, and a master's in TESOL Literacy from Wilmington University.

In this lesson, teachers will learn some effective strategies for teaching lower-elementary English as a second language (ESL) learners. This lesson will focus on pre-K through grade 2.

Learning Standards in Lower Elementary Grades

In the early elementary grades, ESL students need to acquire the same language skills as their native-speaking peers. The early elementary grades focus on beginner skills like handwriting, sight word recognition, and basic decoding skills. Let's look at some activities that can help promote learning during the formative years.

Copying and Tracing

Early elementary ESL students in pre-K and kindergarten are still learning how to write their letters, so activities that get them practicing these skills are ideal. Modeling how to properly write their upper and lower-case letters and use them to construct words is the foundation of early literacy. Have students practice tracing and copying their names as well as the letters of the alphabet. In first grade, students can extend this practice by labeling content-related pictures and diagrams using words from a word bank. For example, you might give students a picture of a flower and have them label the roots, stem, leaves, and petals by copying words from a word bank.

Roll, Read, Write

In advance, prepare a number of worksheets for this activity. Each worksheet should have a table with six columns and several rows printed on it. Write one number at the top of each column, one through six. Under each number, write a sight word. A sight word is a word that people can recognize just by sight, without having to sound it out. The more exposure students have to common sight words--words like the, and, too, and yes--the more their reading fluency will improve.

Provide each student with one die and have them roll it. They will read the sight word from the column that corresponds to the number they rolled. After reading the word, they will practice writing it in one of the rows under the appropriate column. The activity ends when one of the columns is full with written sight words.

Sight Word Bingo

Sight Word Bingo works just like regular bingo, except all the words on the students' bingo cards are sight words appropriate to their proficiency level. Students cover up words with a bingo chip when the teacher writes them on the board.

Picture Bingo

A variation on bingo for ESL students is Picture Bingo. This version is appropriate for low-proficiency students, as it relies on pictures of vocabulary words instead of the actual words. When you read a vocabulary word aloud, students will cover up the relevant picture with a bingo chip.


This fun activity will entertain students in all elementary grades, but it is ideal for lower-elementary students who are learning their basic sight words. To play, place a large number of wooden craft sticks in a plastic cup. Each stick should have an age-appropriate sight word written in marker at one of its ends. The sticks should be placed face-down in the plastic cup so students can't see them. Students then each take turns choosing a stick and reading the sight word written on it. If the student correctly reads the word, he or she gets to keep the stick. If not, it goes back into the cup, face-down.

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