Play Ball! Bringing Summer Sports into the ESL Classroom

Play Ball! Bringing Summer Sports into the ESL Classroom

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 41,811 views

With summer weather steadily approaching, now is a perfect time to use sports as a vehicle for your ESL lessons.

Not only will it be fun for you, your students will have a ball learning a little more about American sports culture.

On Your Mark

Get your students thinking about sports with a couple of preliminary activities.
Either as a class or on your own before class, brainstorm a list of all the sports you can think of. Make sure you include games like cricket, ultimate Frisbee, curling, ping-pong, bowling, field hockey, rugby, water polo and any other more obscure sports that come to mind. Then challenge your students sort them into cold weather and warm weather sports. This will work best as a small group activity. See how many they are able to get right and then give them the answers.

Another preliminary activity you can do is give students a matching challenge. How well do they know the national sports of countries around the world? Using the list below, challenge students to match each country with its national sport. Some may be easier to guess than others, but this is a good time to review not only names of sports but also the names of countries, a task that can be more than challenging. Use a world map if you have one available and allow your students to pin the games to the appropriate countries.

Get Set

Now that your students are thinking about sports, it is time to look at a few in more detail. This is a great opportunity to have your students do some research either in the library or online and then work on presentation skills. Assign one sport to each student or let them choose one that interests them, and ask that student to research the rules of the sport. Each person should then give a presentation to the class on how to play. Allow the class to ask clarification questions of each presenter, and step in to answer if your student gets stumped. Games that might work well would be kick ball, dodge ball, ultimate Frisbee, Frisbee golf, baseball, badminton, bocce and croquet. All of these games can be played as a class though some will be more appropriate for larger classes and some for smaller ones.

Introduce your students to sports culture, too, with a few movie clips. Show how a team interacts before, during and after the game with movies like The Sandlot, The Bad News Bears or Kicking and Screaming. Alternatively, share clips that show crowds cheering for their teams. You can teach your students some phrases to cheer with like “go team!”, “defense!”, “go get ‘em!” and “you’ve got this!”. Ask your students what they might say if they were cheering on a team at home. You can make a chart in your classroom of sports cheers from around the world. You can have students discuss in groups or pairs how these cheers are similar to and different from cheers in English.

You can also introduce your students to the food most often associated with sports. Most stadiums offer their patrons snacks like hotdogs, peanuts, nachos, popcorn, soda and candy bars. This may be a good opportunity for you to bring some food into class and do a little teaching with cooking. While snacking, ask your students what types of food they might have while watching a sporting event in their home countries. Again, this is a natural place to discuss the similarities and differences between other cultures.


Now that you have learned the rules for summer sports, learned how to cheer and what kind of food to expect at the game, take your class outside for a little fun. Kickball is a great game to play if you have the space for it. It requires no equipment other than a ball and some way to mark the bases. It is also a short game and not likely to cause any injuries. Divide your class into two teams and encourage them to cheer for one another in English. They can use either the expressions they learned in class or the English equivalent of what they would say at home.

If you have more time for outside fun, you can also hold a mock summer Olympics with your class. Ask each student to bring a simple game to class and teach the others how to play. (If you have access to clips from the television show Minute to Win It, you will find easy, short and fun games that use only common household items.) Then play the games and award points to each winner. Whoever has the most points at the end wins the gold and bragging rights till the next Olympics.

No matter what sports you like or do not like, summer is the perfect time to energize classroom life with some lessons on sports.

You do not have to be serious or strict; just have a good time with your students. They will also get practice speaking English and learn new vocabulary in the process. The sun is shining. The air is warm. Go outside and have a ball!

National Sports

Anguilla / Yacht Racing
Bahamas / Sloop Sailing
Bermuda / Cricket
Bhutan / Archery
Brazil / Association Football
Canada / Lacrosse and Ice Hockey
China /Table Tennis (Ping-Pong)
Cuba / Baseball
Dominican Republic / Baseball
India / Field Hockey
Jamaica / Cricket
Korea / Tai Kwon Do
Lithuania / Basketball
New Zealand / Rugby Union
Norway / Cross-country Skiing
Scotland / Golf
Sri Lanka / Volleyball
Sweden / Football
Turkey / Wrestling
United States / Baseball

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