End-of-Year ESL Activity: Obstacle Courses

My daughter, who isn’t really into sports, recently told me that she only likes gym class when they get to play sports that their teacher invents, such as “benchball”. She was surprised to hear that basketball was created by a gym teacher, and that it used to be played with peach baskets. My son loves anything to do with sports, but right now he’s obsessed with a running race challenge he invented at school. “You get to make up a new name for yourself every day, and every day is a new season. You have to win five races in a row before you’re crowned the champion!”

The idea of inventing anything (and making up the rules) is something kids get really excited about. This is why so many kids love obstacle courses! The end of the school year is a great time to have play days with obstacle courses. You can celebrate all of the obstacles that your students have overcome! Obstacle courses are useful for language learners because they can review vocabulary related to sports equipment and actions. They can also practice giving, writing, and listening to instructions.

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, here is an Obstacle Course Activity to try with your young English learners :

Warm-Up Questions

First, teach the word “obstacle course” and consider how it relates to language learning:
How is learning a language like going through an obstacle course?

  • It’s mentally challenging.
  • You have to figure out how it works.
  • You can’t move too quickly.

Next, talk about some of the specific obstacles language learners face:
What are the difficult parts (obstacles) in learning a language?

  • remembering new words
  • learning how to use different tenses
  • understanding instructions
  • pronouncing names

Review Sports Vocabulary: Nouns

Now, challenge your students to come up with some sports equipment (nouns) that can be used in obstacle courses. Work together to make a big list. Here are some that you may want to include:

balance beam
hula hoop
skipping rope
soccer ball

Next, ask your students to think of some other useful equipment that can be used in obstacle courses that isn’t sports equipment:

bean bags
foam noodles
inflatable pool
ladders (flat on the ground)
milk crates
pillows or pillowcases
wood (planks)

Sports Vocabulary: Verbs

Next, work together to review some action verbs that might be used in obstacle course instructions:

climb up, climb over
crawl under
hop, hop over
jump, jump over
roll, roll down

Think about special rules that sports often have:
No tripping
No tackling
No pushing

Kid Challenge: Design Your Own Obstacle Course

Put students into small groups of 3–5. (Or, if you’re doing this at home, gather siblings or neighborhood kids.) Tell the kids they are going to design an obstacle course for their classmates. They have 5 tasks:

1. Name the obstacle course.
2. Provide a list of required equipment (nouns).
3. Write a list of instructions (using action verbs).
4. Add any special rules (E.g., “no sandals” or “no talking”)
5. Set up the obstacle course. (You may want to assign a day for each group during the last month of school. Or, you may want to designate a fun day.)

PDF Printout

A Friendly Competition

Are your students or kids motivated by competition? If you want to make this activity competitive, here are some ideas:

  • Time the kids as they go through the courses.
  • Set up two courses side by side and make it a race.
  • Come up with penalties (time or points) for knocking over a piece of equipment or doing something incorrectly.
  • Give out awards (use superlatives, such as funniest walker, fastest hopper, silliest climber).
  • Blindfold the child who is going through the course and pair each child with a language guide who provides instructions.

Indoor Obstacle Courses

If you can’t get outside, challenge the kids to build an obstacle course in your classroom or home. Allow them to rearrange the chairs, desks, and tables. Time the kids to see who makes it through the quickest.

Related on Sprout English and ESL Library

Are you doing a lesson theme on Sports this year? This week’s Spotlight lesson on Skateboarding comes from our Discovery Center lesson section on Sports. .

I hope you’ll also check out this related posts about Active Games for Young Learners. You may also want to consider holding a year-end Student Olympics.

Next week on our sister site, Shelly Terrell will share a big list of ideas for wrapping up the school year. If you teach older students, you may want to check out ESL Library’s collection of Sports-Themed Lesson Plans for English learners.


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Tara Benwell

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry. She is the media director and head writer for ESL-Library, and a contributor to its sister site Sprout English. Tara is the author of an iPad storybook series for kids called Happy Campers Books. Her debut novel, The Proper Order of Things is available on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

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