Rule breaking: Why “kids’” activities work for adults too

If you’re anything like me, you’re a big kid at heart. What can I say, I’m my father’s daughter, the king of man child! So being the “youthful” teacher I am, I love making my adult students do “kids’” activities because, well, kids’ activities work for adults too. Let me explain in this addition of my Rule Breaking series:

Moving past grown-up talk

This all stemmed from a particularly fun present simple vs present continuous activity I did with a group of adult learners. I will admit, I was struggling and scrambling that day. We had done all the input of the grammar, practiced it ad nauseam (frankly, I was sick of the exercises for them), and now it was time to put it into practice, but how? The communicative practice exercises were, to be honest, BORING! In pairs discuss the following questions: “What are you wearing?” “What do you do in the morning?” “What are you doing right now?” 😴

I mean, I know that, practically speaking, these are questions and answers they will use from time to time, but seriously could I fill the hour and forty minute lesson I had with this activity? Absolutely not! 

Have no fear, superheroes are here!

So, what was I to do? We happened to be doing clothing as the vocabulary for that unit, and with two minutes left in the break I spied some A3 paper and pencils in the staff room, and inspiration struck. Superheroes! 

I had the students work in pairs and create and draw their own superheroes. Most of them created original superheroes, while others elected to use Spiderman or Ironman as inspiration. I was not too bothered by the originality of the hero. The crux of the activity was to: 

  • Create a superhero and describe what the hero was like using present simple.
  • Describe what they would be doing at this very moment using present continuous.
  • Describe their superhero outfit. 

I was a bit sceptical at first on whether this would work. Would a group of adults really get into an activity of drawing and colouring and creating a superhero? You better believe they did! 

I had never seen the class so animated and excited. Not only was the creativity of the students incredible to see, the target language was being used to perfection. Add in the fact that this activity now became a collaborative task in which mixed nationalities had to use English to communicate their ideas. Turns out the hour and forty minutes I had for the lesson wasn’t enough. By the time the lesson was over, most of them were finalizing their creations. I had planned for them to present to one another and then have a silent vote for the best superhero. This was a bit of a bummer for me, but it was done in the next lesson by the other teacher with whom I shared this activity. The feedback was nothing but positive about the presentations.

Find the inner kid in every adult student

This lesson consolidated my idea that “kids’” activities don’t have to be reserved for classes of kids. They can be beneficial for all ages, especially adults.

Usually the first thing I do when I get a new group of students, especially during a pronunciation workshop, is to give this spiel (which is usually accompanied by my extra over-the-top acting): 

“So, in my classroom, there is no such thing as being embarrassed or being shy. I WANT you to make mistakes; I WANT you to try something new, because that means you are learning. If you make a mistake, I’ll correct you and give you a high five. If you get it correct, I’ll give you a high five. This whole worry about looking silly – throw it out the window, because, honestly, I’ll make a big enough fool of myself, that none of you should feel silly.” 

I find doing this sets them at ease. If the teacher is a goofball and silly, then I shouldn’t be embarrassed, they say. Once the students are not worried about making a fool of themselves, they enjoy the activities and get so much more out of it. 

This lack of self-consciousness is why kids are sometimes the best to work with. They don’t care what the others think; they are just happy to be having fun. Once the adults drop this notion of being embarrassed, you can do any kind of activity with them, and they will actually enjoy themselves and get so much more out of it. 


I am an energetic English teacher with a specialized education (Master’s degree in education from Durham University). Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, I later studied in the USA and England, so I am very familiar with both American and British English. I have worked as an ESL teacher in Poland and Malta, and I know how to find an approach to students of different ages and temperaments, from shy teenagers to demanding company directors. I enjoy coaching and playing basketball and spending time with my (new) family!

My other rule-breaking ESL teaching tips

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Rule breaking: Why teaching grammar rules doesn’t always work

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2 thoughts on “Rule breaking: Why “kids’” activities work for adults too

  1. I absolutely agree! As an ESL teacher you should not only teach the language but also make your classes fun and memorable. I think almost any kids game can be turned into an adult one. And vice versa (withing some limits of course 😂)

    • Definitely! We are too quick to categorize activities where there is soo much flexibility. Don’t need to treat kids like kids, they thrive off being given responsibility and made to feel important.

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