ESL Games for Kids: Simon Says

If you're an ESL teacher for young children, you really ought to make good use of the children's game Simon Says. If you're an ESL teacher who isn't a native English speaker and who isn't aware of this game, don't worry, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know in a minute. For the rest of you, you're going to put the game Simon Says to use in ways you probably didn't experience as a kid playing it yourself -- cos you were playing just for fun as a child in your native language, as opposed to using to learn loads of new English vocabulary in a fun and easy way. Feel free to add anything not mentioned and realize that kids can learn everything very, very quickly. This game can also be modified for older children who already know this vocabulary by simply giving them a list of commands to do at once (just be sure you can keep track of what you told them to do!)

Prizes for Simon Says!

If you want to see kids learn *really* fast, have a Simon Says prize box with prizes for the winners. 3 rounds of Simon Says takes about 15 minutes or so and will motivate them more than 1 round (and one winner) would do. Some great prize ideas for ESL Kids Simon Says are:

  • Cute pencils with cute erasers
  • Lollipops
  • Cute erasers
  • Cute pens
  • Tiny bits of wrapped chocolate
  • Matchbox cars

Some Tips for Simon Says:

You'll need to "show" them what to do with new words, but once 90% of the class has got the vocabulary down, you should not be letting kids copy you or each other anymore. Let them know their eyes should be on you and not their neighbor.

Most of the game should be learning vocabulary, as opposed to getting them "Simon didn't say...." You want them doing as much as they can each game, rather then worrying too much about if Simon said so or not. Believe me, they'll be concentrating enough that they won't get bored with this. Slip some commands that Simon didn't say in there when you use the really easy stuff, or when you're down to two or three kids of the same ability. I use this for speed Simon Says when it's time to eliminate kids who are hard to stump!

How do you play Simon Says?

For those not familiar with the game, it's very easy to understand and very easy to teach it to children, even if you can't explain the rules to them verbally (due to language barriers). It's just a simple game of mimicry: Simon tells them what to do, and they've got to do it correctly, or they've got to take a seat. Example: "Simon Says touch your nose." And if you tell them to do something without prefacing it with, "Simon Says" they've got to stay in their previous position (eg finger on nose) until they hear Simon Say something else. If they touch their head without Simon having said so, they've got to take a seat. Simple enough, right? Right.

Using Simon Says for young ESL kids at a beginner level

Line your kids up in a single row so you can see all of them clearly. Make sure they've got some space between them for movement. Stand in front of them and give them your Simon Says commands. If most of them don't know the word, show them what it is at the same time you're saying it -- a few times (a few games, I mean) of doing that and most of them will have a new word memorized. The following are some good vocabulary words for total beginners which kids as young as 6 have no trouble grasping.

  1. Anatomy: "Simon Says touch your..."

    nose, ears, eyes, mouth, teeth, tongue, chin, cheek, back, tummy, arm, leg, foot, shoe, elbow, knee, neck, head, hair, hand, thumb, fingers, toes, shoulders, bottom. (You can add things like eyebrow, lips, ankle, heel, etc and kids as young as 6 will get it, but you'd probably be best off doing the more basic bits first.)

  2. Clothing: "Simon says touch your..."

    shirt, shoes, trousers (UK), pants (US), button, pockets, zipper, socks, shorts, skirt (things like hats and scarves, etc tend to not be in the game unless you've got them dressed up in them from the start)

  3. Actions/Verbs: "Simon says...."

    run, swim, fly, dance, hop, jump, eat, drink, sleep, stand up, sit down, turn around, clap your hands, snap your fingers, sing, laugh, cough, sneeze, yawn, smile, laugh, open your eyes/mouth, close your eyes/mouth, take your shoes off, put your shoes, on, cry, frown, wash your hands, brush your teeth, brush your hair


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