Let’s Play Grocery Store: Shopping Activities for ESL Students

By Cathy Sunshine

Shopping is a daily activity for most of us. But while it may seem simple, it actually imposes complex language demands. For starters, it helps to know the names of the foods and other items you want to buy. You need at least passing familiarity with pounds, quarts, and gallons, which are different from the kilograms and liters that most of our students know. Then there’s the question of prices. Most immigrants become adept at handling US money, but interpreting written prices such as $.69/lb. or $3.99 ea. or $2.29/doz. can be harder.

Comparison shopping is easier if you can read signs and prices. Photo: AP.

Shopping-themed activities are easy to do in the classroom, and they help develop a wide range of skills and vocabulary. For example:

  • Names of foods, clothing, furniture, and other goods.
  • The difference between count nouns (e.g., carrots) and noncount nouns (e.g., milk), and expressions used with them such as “How many?” and “How much?”
  • Words for units and containers such as a loaf of bread, box of spaghetti, carton of juice, head of lettuce, dozen eggs. These words make noncount nouns into count nouns.
  • Words for US weights and measures and how they compare to weights and measures in the metric system.
  • How to write and say money amounts. We write $1.59 but say “a dollar fifty-nine” or “one fifty-nine.”
  • How to express unit costs, like “$1.99 a pound” or “$1.99 per pound.”
  • How to read a store advertisement. What is the meaning of “lb.” and “ea.”? Which is cheaper, a 5-lb. bag of potatoes for $2.99/ea. or loose potatoes at $.99/lb.?
  • Language for interacting with sellers, such as “How much is this pair of shoes?” or “Do you have any whole chickens?”

Here are four shopping activities that can be used either singly or together. They are ideal for low-intermediate classes, like our Levels 1 and 2, but can be adapted for higher levels.

In reading prices, it’s important to notice whether they are “per lb.” or “each.”

Make a shopping list

Write “Shopping List” on the board. Ask students what a shopping list is and why you might make one. Tell students, “I’m going to the supermarket. What should I buy?” Each student comes up to the board and adds an item to the list. Prompt for quantities with “How much?” and “How many?”

Next, divide students into pairs. Each pair chooses what kind of party they want to plan — a dinner party, birthday party, or quinceañera, for example. The partners then make a shopping list for their event, including foods, decorations, and whatever else they may need. Make sure the lists include specific quantities. Finally, each pair shares the plans for their event and their shopping list with the class.

For higher-level classes, you can make the activity more challenging by giving each pair a budget —say, $100 — and having them estimate the price of each item, keeping the total within their budget.

Make a sample ad by clipping items from the newspaper. Include items priced in different ways.

Read a supermarket advertisement

Clip 8 or 10 items with their prices from supermarket ads in the newspaper and tape them to a sheet of paper. Choose items that are priced various ways — per pound, per bag, per gallon, etc., as well as “each.” Make a copy for each student.

Review the advertisement as a class, noting the abbreviations “lb.” and “ea.” and the different forms of pricing. For example, in the ad above, green peppers are 99 cents a pound, while red and yellow peppers are $1.50 each. Which are likely to be cheaper?

Ask each student about one item shown in the ad and elicit full-sentence answers: “Cecilia, how much are the oranges?” “The oranges are 59 cents a pound.”

Finally, write on the board: “How much is ____?” and “How much are ____?” Using the model questions, students then ask each other about the items in the ad. They can work in pairs, or you can simply go around the classroom, each student asking a classmate about one item. “How much is the cheese?” “It’s $5.99 a pound.” Seem too easy? Not for my 1B class last week. It was, in fact, quite challenging.

A supermarket ad created by two students.

Create store advertisements

This requires either posterboard or large sheets of paper like newsprint. You’ll also need colored markers, which are in the volunteer lounge.

Students should work in pairs. Each pair decides on what kind of store they want to open (supermarket, drugstore, furniture store, etc.), names their store, and creates an advertisement for it. The ad should include the name of the store, pictures of the items for sale, and prices, including the quantity, such as “Eggs, $1.29 a dozen.” They can also include other advertising come-ons such as “Low prices every day!” or “Buy 1, get 1 free!”

Finally, each pair presents their store and its offers to the class. When we did this, the students became quite competitive over who had the best deals!

Raid your recycling bin for props.

Play grocery store

This activity is easy and fun, but you do need props. I usually bring in some empty, clean containers from home, such as milk and juice cartons, cans of beans and coffee, egg cartons, etc. There are also some food containers and plastic foods in the volunteer lounge. You can add some real foods, such as potatoes and onions, too.

First, review the names of the foods. Give each student one of the items. “Leticia, what do you have?” “I have a can of soda.”

Next, move the teacher’s desk to the front-center of the room and arrange all the foods on the desk. On the board behind the desk, write the name of the market, first using your own name (e.g., “Cathy’s Market”). You and your co-teacher can then model a sample dialog between shopkeeper and customer. For example:

Shopkeeper: Good morning. Can I help you?
Customer: I’d like a loaf of bread.
Shopkeeper: Here you are.
Customer: How much is the bread?
Shopkeeper: Five dollars a loaf.
Customer: That’s too expensive!
Shopkeeper: I forgot to say — it’s buy one, get one free!

Each student should take a turn playing the role of shopkeeper (change the name of the store each time to feature the student’s name) and a turn playing customer. Even beginning students get into the spirit of this role-play, with customer indignation at overpriced merchandise being a favorite joke.

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5 Responses to Let’s Play Grocery Store: Shopping Activities for ESL Students

  1. Ashley Lipps says:

    A lot of great ideas! I once did something similar to the last activity in a level 2 class, except it was a restaurant instead of a store. We used the toy food available in the volunteer lounge. With students in pairs, a customer asked their server to bring them food and drink, which we set in the middle of the room. The favorite joke was the student who insisted on ordering a “monkey burger.” I guess the toy meat looks a little funny. :)

  2. Theresa Huang says:

    Thanks for sharing such great ideas!

  3. Pingback: English Worksheets, Activities & Games: In the Supermarket | English Worksheets, Lesson Plans, Activities, Games, Puzzles

  4. teacher cecille says:

    great ideas! thanks…will share you results after trying with our adolescents with special needs. teacher cecille, here

  5. Teacher Marshall says:

    Lovely ideas. I’m surely going to try them.

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