If you like using themes when teaching adult ESL vocabulary or speaking classes, hold onto your kale smoothies and consider “health” for your next theme. It’s relevant and practical as health impacts everyone. Students can learn healthcare, nutrition, and exercise terms. You can explore cultural perspectives on health with your students. Most importantly, because we are talking about language classes, you’ll want to engage your students in meaningful health-themed activities which enhance their language skills.
So let’s talk about five health-themed activities that will get your students excited about learning and practicing their English skills. From role-playing a doctor’s visit to creating a health brochure, these health-themed activities are fun but also educational and relevant to your students’ lives.
Health-Themed Activity #1: Breaking Down Barriers by Role-Playing a Doctor’s Visit
Have you ever had to visit a doctor in a country where you couldn’t speak the language? Trust me; it’s stressful whether you’re there because you think you have the flu or you’ve had an allergic reaction to the painkiller your dentist injected you with. So, give your students a chance to practice what a visit might entail within the safety of your supportive classroom.
First, consider providing prompts or questions for the “doctor” to ask the “patients.” This can guide the role play and reinforce the vocabulary and grammar you’ve taught. For instance, the “doctor” can inquire about symptoms, such as “What are your symptoms? How long have you been experiencing them?” Additionally, ask about medical history, like “Do you have any allergies? Have you had any previous medical conditions?”
Assign some students as nurses or medical assistants to add authenticity and provide speaking opportunities to more students within a group. They can take vital signs or prepare the patient for the doctor’s examination.
Following the role-play, debrief the class, discussing new vocabulary or phrases learned. Encourage reflection on their own experiences with doctor’s visits and explore cultural differences or similarities observed.
This interactive role-play of a doctor’s visit will engage your adult ESL students in speaking and listening practice within a practical, real-life context. It cultivates language skills while making learning enjoyable.
Health-Themed Activity #2: Spread the Word by Creating a Health Brochure
Want a fun and interactive way to explore the theme of health with your adult ESL students that will give them practice with their writing skills and maybe technology as well? Try having them create their health brochures!
To get started, brainstorm a list of health-related topics with your students, such as exercise, nutrition, and mental health. Then, divide the class into small groups and assign each group a different topic to focus on. Encourage your students to discuss what they already know about their topic, do any necessary research, and speak with others to gather information and tips for maintaining good health. (This is an EXCELLENT opportunity to incorporate conversational visits.
To help guide the students as they create their brochures, you may want to provide guidelines or criteria for them to follow. This could include the length or format and the type of information they should include. You can also offer resources or websites for the students to use as they conduct their research to ensure that they gather accurate and reliable information. This is also helpful when you can’t give them a lot of time to spend on this activity.
Your adult ESL students can also flex their creative muscles and show off their design skills. Encourage them to think about making their brochures visually appealing and easy to read. You can provide examples of health brochures for the students to use as inspiration, or you can give them the freedom to design their brochures however they wish. This is where tech comes in–you can encourage them to use something like Canva to design their brochure.
When your students have completed their brochures, it’s time to showcase their work! Have each group present their brochures to the rest of the class in a group presentation or display them on a bulletin board or in a designated classroom area. Encourage the groups to share their findings and any interesting or surprising information they learned during their research or fact-finding conversations with others.
As you can see, creating a health brochure is a multifaceted health-themed activity that allows your adult ESL students to practice their research, writing, and design skills while exploring the health theme. This activity is a great way for them to learn about different aspects of health and how to maintain good health while practicing their language skills in a meaningful and authentic context.
Health-Themed Activity #3: Get Your Game On by Playing Health-Themed Games
Adult ESL students find language games irresistible because they’re engaging and interactive, AND the games align with their goal of learning English. Language games inject excitement and challenge into the learning process, cultivating camaraderie and friendly competition. They ignite a sense of achievement, boost confidence, and transform language acquisition into an enjoyable adventure, making learning truly captivating. You can adapt many different games to give them a health theme. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Health vocabulary matching game
Creating a matching game will give your adult ESL students a fun and interactive health-themed activity they’ll love.
To get started, create (or purchase) a set of vocabulary flashcards with health-related words and definitions. Have your students work in pairs or small groups to match the words and meanings. If your students are beginners, you may want to consider starting with body vocabulary flashcards before building up to more difficult health-themed vocabulary.
Want to make the game more challenging? Create a variation where your students must use the vocabulary words in sentences. This will allow them to practice using the words in context and improve their grammar.
Want to expand on this health-related activity? Consider incorporating additional elements or challenges to up the ante for your adult ESL students. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
- Timed Rounds: Set a time limit for each game round, and encourage the students to work quickly to match as many flashcards as possible before the time runs out. This will add an element of competition and pressure to the game, making it more exciting and engaging. I like finding and using a well-known song that is exactly the length of time I want the limit to be. Students will know when they are running out of time if they are familiar with the song.
- Team Challenge: Divide the class into teams and have them compete against each other in a series of vocabulary-matching rounds. The team with the most correct matches wins at the game’s end. This can add an element of friendly competition or intense competition if your students are like some of mine were.
By incorporating these features or challenges into the vocabulary matching game, you can make the game more engaging and challenging for your adult ESL students. They will have the opportunity to review and practice their health-related vocabulary in a fun and interactive way, which lowers the affective filter and makes the words stickier.
Health Vocabulary Snowman Game
Here’s how to play: write a list of health-related vocabulary words on the board, but instead of spelling them out, draw a blank line in place of each letter. Have the students take turns guessing the letters in the word. Each time students guess a correct letter, they are closer to winning the game. If they guess an incorrect letter, draw part of a snowman. You’ll begin with the bottom snowball, the medium snowball, and then the small head-sized snowball. From there, it’s up to you how many more chances the students get (top hat, scarf, eyes, carrot nose, mouth, buttons, stick hands).
Do your students need something with a little more oomph? Try incorporating some additional elements or challenges to make the game more gripping and challenging for your adult ESL students. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Word categories: Instead of simply writing a list of health-related vocabulary words on the board, you can organize the words into categories or themes. For example, you could have a category for medical vocabulary, a category for healthy habits, and a category for fitness and exercise. Allow students to choose the category the next word will fall under.
- Clues: You can provide clues or hints to help the students guess the vocabulary words more easily. For example, you could give them the definition or provide a sentence that uses the word in context (but blanked out, obviously). This will also help them better understand the meaning of the words and improve their use of the vocabulary in sentences.
- Timed rounds: Set a time limit for each round of the game, and encourage the students to work quickly to guess the word as quickly as possible before the time runs out. This will add an element of competition and pressure to the game.
By incorporating these elements or challenges into the snowman game, it can become less about guessing the spelling of a word and more about the meaning of the word.
Health Vocabulary Crossword Competition
Create a crossword puzzle using definitions or sentences that use the words in context (but with a blank line taking the place of the word) as clues for health-related vocabulary words. You can use this the traditional way, where students work in pairs or small groups to fill in the puzzle. You can also create a variation of the game where the students have to use the vocabulary words in sentences as they fill in each word in the puzzle. OR, you could make this a team competition. Here’s how:
Tape the crossword to the board. Divide the class into two or more teams. Have the teams take turns sending a member to the board to complete one of the clues. Two things to consider:
- Timed rounds: Set a time limit for each game round, and encourage the teams to work quickly to complete as many clues as possible before the time runs out. I like to use a short clip of music that you might hear at a critical point in an action movie, for example, to make them feel the anticipation of time running out.
- Spelling support: To help the students who may struggle with spelling, you can allow them to request spelling help from their team members. Doing so can help ensure the students can complete the clues and participate fully in the game.
Whether working in pairs or small groups or competing as teams, health-themed crossword puzzle activities are a great way to review and practice important vocabulary related to health.
Health-themed board game
Another fun health-themed activity is a simple board game. Keep in mind that unless you can find one for purchase (or for free) that suits your needs, you’ll need to take the time to create it. Personally, I have always loved MAKING them because then I can personalize them using my students’ names and anything health-related that they’ve discussed in class conversations.
- To get started, create a game board using health-related vocabulary words. You can create one using a grid on a sheet of paper–this doesn’t have to be colorful or have lots of images. Students roll a die and move their game piece along the board, landing on different spaces that have vocabulary challenges or health-themed activities. For example, the students may have to use a vocabulary word in a sentence, draw a picture to represent the word, or act out the word.
- You can also mix things up by including multiple types of challenges on each space of the board. Doing so will help keep the game interesting and prevent it from becoming repetitive. Simply have the first person to land on the spot do the first challenge, and the second person to land on the spot does the second challenge. You can also set a time limit for each round of the game and encourage the students to work quickly to complete the challenges and advance their game pieces along the board.
By personalizing the game, you can make the game more engaging and relevant to your students. (They’ll also think it’s more fun!)
Whether it’s a health-themed crossword competition, a board game, or a matching game, these activities can help your students review and practice their health-related vocabulary and grammar in a low-stress and enjoyable way. These games give your adult ESL students (and you!) a welcome break from more traditional exercises and drills and allow your students to use their language skills in a fun and authentic context.
Health-Themed Activity #4: Stepping into the Shoes of a Pharmacist by Role-Playing a Pharmacy Visit
Role-plays are invaluable in adult ESL classes as they provide practical and immersive opportunities for students to practice language skills and develop confidence in real-life situations. If you are working within a health theme, consider having your students role-play a pharmacy visit.
Before beginning, depending on your students’ level(s), you might want to pre-teach them some vocabulary they could need for a visit to the pharmacy, such as medication, dosage, and side effects.
Once you’ve armed them with vocabulary, divide the class into small groups and assign each group a different medication scenario. Have one student play the pharmacist role, and the others act as the customers. The pharmacist can ask the customers about their medication needs and recommend appropriate medication. For lower-level students, simply having them role-play the transaction when fulfilling a prescription will be enough. That alone could include asking for and showing ID, verifying personal information, etc. Another option is to have a pharmacist go over a medication’s warnings and possible side effects with the customer.
Think about including some additional elements. You can also include complications or challenges the students have to navigate, such as a customer who is allergic to a certain medication or has a medical condition requiring special considerations. You could even have the customer request a generic version of the drug, ask questions about how much their insurance will cover, and so on. Including such things will help the students practice their problem-solving skills and think on their feet as they act out the role play.
After each role-play portrayal, provide feedback to the students on their performance to help them identify areas for improvement and focus on specific language skills or vocabulary words as they continue to practice.
This activity is a great way to help your students feel more confident and comfortable in real-life pharmacy visits while building their language skills and fluency.
Health-Themed Activity #5: Voicing Opinions on Health Topics for Discussion and Debate
Integrating discussion and debate into your adult ESL classes is a great way to encourage critical thinking and increase student engagement. For a class ready for health-themed activities, consider providing health topics and having the students research and present their views. This activity is a great way to practice speaking and listening skills and learn about different perspectives on health-related issues. Alternatively, put students into discussion groups and have them talk about the topics.
You can make the activity more inclusive and tailored to your students’ language skills and interests by organizing the health topics by difficulty level. This helps your students choose a topic appropriate to their language skills and interests. Here are some examples of possible health topics organized by beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels:
- the benefits of daily exercise
- the importance of a balanced diet
- the importance of hand washing
- the benefits of a good night’s sleep
- the role of water in maintaining good health
- the impact of technology on physical activity levels
- the influence of the media on body image and self-esteem
- the role of vaccination in preventing disease
- the impact of the environment on our health
- the use of alternative medicine and therapies
- the connection between mental and physical health
- the relationship between stress and health
- the impact of social support on health outcomes
- the role of healthcare policies in addressing health disparities
- the ethical considerations of healthcare rationing
- the influence of social determinants on health outcomes
- the role of healthcare policies in addressing health disparities
As your students either research and present their views or engage in discussions on the chosen topic, they will have the opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills, as well as explore different viewpoints and arguments related to the topic. This activity can help spark critical thinking and increase student engagement as they learn about different perspectives and ideas related to the health topic.
In conclusion, incorporating health-themed activities into your adult ESL classes is a prescription for all-around awesomeness. Not only will your students brush up on their vocabulary and grammar, but they’ll also discover that laughter truly is the best medicine for language acquisition. So, go for it, and get ready to witness the magic of ESL health-themed activities. Remember, a healthy dose of laughter a day keeps the language barriers away!
More theme ideas!
- Theme Time: Hygiene in Adult ESL Speaking Classes: Helpful Tips, Fun Activities, and Cultural Considerations
- Etiquette and Manners: Helping Them Navigate Social Situations with Confidence and Grace
- Jobs and Careers: Creative Conversations in the Adult ESL Classroom
- Fall ESL Activities: 5 Simple Ways to Invoke the Spirit of Autumn