To start off, type out about ten definitions or phrases that cover the key vocabulary being learned in your class. Use a larger font so ESL students can see them easier. Leave some space between each word and add a couple of extra words that have nothing to do with the sentence. For example, if one of my sentences was “To get to the church you must turn right.” I would write that sentence with a large font and extra space between the words. I would also include words like “straight” or “drive”. These words are related to the topic, but they won’t fit in the sentence. Once you have your ten written, print them and cut out each individual sentence. Put a paper clip around the words for each sentence. Now, put all of the sentences in an envelope. In a standard sized class you’ll maybe want about ten envelopes like this.
When class starts, split everyone into groups of fours or fives. Pass out an envelope to each group. Instruct the students to pull out one set of words at a time and to spread these out on the table for all to see. The point of the activity is that all students will work together to put the words in order and to come up with a sentence that has meaning. Make sure to inform the students that there are two extra words included in each pile. When a group comes up with the correct answer they should raise their hands and you will proceed to check for accuracy. If the sentences are formed correctly, one student then mixes up the words, stacks them up, places a paper clip back around the words and selects another set from the envelope. As the ESL teacher, you will decide if the students got the sentence right.
Judging on your class and the classroom environment you may want to make this a competition. The first group to get all ten sentences correct is victorious. In my experience, this will really get your ESL students excited and thinking. Even students who are not always super motivated, in terms of learning English in general, seem to perk up when they realize that this is a race. You can come up with a prize for the winning team if you decide to make it a competition. There is the option of doing one sentence at a time as a class. If you choose this route, no group is allowed to continue to the next set of words until you have indicated that everyone has finished. At this point the class can go over the correct answer and the meaning of the sentence one at a time.
This ESL activity works great for all age groups. Provided that all students are actively working on completing the task, allow everyone to enjoy themselves. The noise level will get a little high, but it will be worth it and everyone will have fun.