We have one. Some are big and loud; others are small and reserved. And family is one of the most basic vocabulary units most ESL students study. But what are some easy, go to activities that give your students a chance to talk about these everyday relationships that play such a big role in their lives? Here is a collection of six such activities, simple and easy to prepare for class (some with no prep at all). Try one or all with your class when it’s time to talk about the people they love.
Try These 6 Simple Activities about Families
For this speaking activity, have your students bring in one or more pictures their family. Then invite each person to share a little bit of their loved ones with the class by talking about each of the people in their pictures. As they do, they should stress how each person is related to them as well as how each person is related to each other. This will give them ample time to use family specific vocabulary as well as the simple present as they describe the characteristics each family member possesses.
One of the simplest family activities is to have your students create a family tree. They should start by drawing a square (male) or circle (female) at the bottom of a page to represent themselves. Then they add their parents and siblings in the same manner. After that they add their grandparents and their parents’ siblings. They should continue until they no longer know the information to add to the tree. Once the trees are complete, have students get with a partner to discuss the people in their family. They can make general statements about their family such as, “My family has more men than women. The people in my family usually have many children.” Etc. Also encourage students to share some specifics about some of the people in their family. This is also a good time to have students use comparative adjectives as they compare individuals in their families to each other. For example, “My paternal grandfather is older than my maternal grandfather. My oldest sister is shorter than my youngest sister.”
Family Tree Interview
If you choose not to have your students create their own family tree or perhaps after they have created their own, why not have students create family trees for their classmates? Have students interview another member of the class about their family. As they ask questions, they should create a family tree for the person they are interviewing without letting that person see the tree. Then, when the interviewer thinks he has gotten all the information he needs, he should show his tree to his partner. She can then make comments about what he got right or wrong or perhaps show him the tree she created in the previous activity. Then they can point out any differences they see between the two trees.
This activity about families is also a writing and reading comprehension activity. Start by giving each person in your class a picture of a family. You can get these pictures anywhere – online, from magazines, or from your own reserves. (For particularly interesting photos, check out AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com) Then have each class member write a short paragraph describing the family in their picture. Check each person’s paragraph to make sure it is clear and accurate. Then collect all the pictures and all the paragraphs. Shuffle them and give them to your class. The class goal will be to work together to match each family to its correct description. Students are not allowed to match their own picture or their own paragraph. When the activity is complete, save the pictures and descriptions to use with future classes. If you like, you can divide your class into two groups and then have the groups exchange photos and paragraphs. Then race to see which group can make all their matches first.
If your students are at intermediate level or high beginning level, this might be an activity for them. In the first part of the activity, students will write a survey about families. They should choose around five questions that require simple answers. If you like, brainstorm with your class different questions that might work well for the survey. Then have each group of three choose their own five questions. In the second part of the activity, students go out in public to talk to native speakers. Have each group make several copies of their survey, give them a clip board, and have them get ready to talk to strangers. Review with them how to start a conversation with someone they don’t know. (Excuse me, would you mind doing a quick survey about families for my English class?) Then send each group out to talk to people. Each group of three should make it their goal to survey ten people. They can go to places like the library, a grocery store, a bus stop, a tourist attraction, or any other place nearby that people will be. If you don’t have any place near your school that will work, consider sending students home with their surveys for homework. When they give their surveys, students should ask their questions and then write down the answers they are given. If you like, come back to class and compile the information in a graphic and post it somewhere in your classroom.
If you are teaching or reviewing family vocabulary with your students (which can be very simple or very complicated – second cousin twice removed?!) try putting it in the form of a puzzle. Make a word search or a crossword puzzle, and see how many words your students are able to find or fill in. You might even consider having students write their own clues for a crossword puzzle. Then plug them into a free puzzle generator online and have students complete each other’s puzzles.
There are so many ways to listen, speak, read, and write about our families.
These are just a few ideas, but what are your favorites? What have you done with your classes that work well?